As Of Today – I Am No Longer A Photographer.

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It’s been fun, photography. But I’ve moved on – I liked being with you and I’ll cherish what I learned. But I can’t be a joke anymore. Today I’m moving on with my head held high – Because, you see, words have meaning.

By definition, being an artist requires exhibiting skill and meeting some degree of standards. By definition, a photographer is usually one who practices photography as a profession. Practices, meaning by definition possesses knowledge of and skill in a given field. Is able to craft with. But the trouble is that’s ONLY by definition. The definitions have not officially changed. But practical use of the words has.

We live in a world that often abuses words. Eventually a word may become something different. Not by choice, but by fact. That’s what’s happened to photographers. Truth is, photography is barely recognized as a serious career anymore. It is simply owning a piece of equipment or saying a word. Perhaps the word was a mistake to start with, but we’ll get to that later.

Read carefully This is not a depressing story. It’s a story about moving forward – I have big plans for my work – I am not a photographer. And it feels AMAZING!

Recently I saw a veteran photographer who has likely done more jobs and taught more professionals than any of us will ever see. He gave notice that he was walking out –“So glad to be exiting what used to be a profession” — He said. It was a bit sad, but today I walk away in perhaps a different way. I’m not going to stop making images. But I’m going to stop being a photographer. I’m going to build a business not of selling photographs, but of custom furniture. This is not a new idea for me, but I’m taking it further.

I was fifteen in the early 2000’s – Y2k had passed with relative ease and digital cameras were just starting to get noticed. I would walk into the

gavin seim wall portrait show 300x217 As Of Today   I Am No Longer A Photographer.

Gavin’s Wall Portrait booth at a recent fair. Click for a closer look.

local drugstore and run the machine myself, cranking out 4×6 prints. I learned by trial and error (mostly error) and had no help from the internet. This was before everyone who owned a camera fancied themselves an expert. People were still taking snapshots. They just knew the difference. It took nearly a decade before I really started knowing what I was doing. I dumped film, became a digital kid and then came back to work with film and digital side by side.

See when I said I was working to be a photographer I was granted a certain respect. An expectation of study and skill was not considered optional. Even using a 35mm camera to photograph a portrait showed you were really an amateur. But when you said the word photographer, half the people in the room did NOT raise their hands.

Then a time came when an entire industry downgraded to 35mm digital that was actually worse than 35mm film. Only a few years before those same photographers would look down at anyone who used 35mm film because it was not good enough. You were expected to use medium format or larger for most work. The likes of which today’s SLR’s have still not rivaled for quality.

I know few anymore who are making a good living from photography. There are some, but it’s those who understand business and have a good approach – So YES, you can make it. But It’s almost embarrassing to speak the “P” word now. Saying you’re a photographer garners no respect – It’s akin to saying I have hair, I drive a car, or, I take showers.


Arelated a video we recently produced on the idea of wall furnishings.

What Happened?

Perhaps the industry caved? Professionals and organizations did not demand high enough standards or properly educate customers. Camera makers went for the numbers and big sales, telling everyone they could be a pro and make money money money. It was a business after all and perhaps we can’t blame anyone. We all had mouths to feed and what had stemmed from 150 years of rich photographic history changed in a blink. We barley had time to realize what was happening. New photographers were also part of it – At some point they LUSTED so much for respect that they DEMANDED to be called photographers right NOW, even though they had no training or real experience who are you to say I’m not a photographer” they cried.

They got their wish – Everyone finally started calling everyone else a photographer because they had a camera in hand. The problem was that while that sounded nice, it applied to everyone else with camera too. EVERYONE became a photographer overnight, but almost no one actually studied the light, presentation or art that had been the staple for hundreds of years. They simply demanded in a rather socialist narrative that they be part of the group. When everyone was an artist, no one was. The respect was gone.

Consumers no longer needed us – Today most people no longer know what a quality photograph is. They now pay people to make photos in which dad looks abusive, mom looks fat, the kids like Oompa Loompas and the dog looks mangy. People are literally selling photos that are worse than snapshots and consumers don’t know the difference. But they are realizing that they don’t need to pay for them because anyone can do it.

In 2012 I produced a film called EXposed. It did something few were doing  – It looked at the craft and science of image making. It studied Zones and light and ratios and exposure. Simple but little used things. It said that if you want to make serious images, you must get serious about your foundations. As of today that film has generated about a great deal of sales around the globe and just won a HOT ONE Award from Professional Photographers of America. Foundations have been ignored for so long that image makers of every level are realizing they need to take a step back.

Perhaps there’s hope. It seems many people want to understand craft. But how to make great images (rather than how to fix them) is so little spoken of today that people have literally forgotten the basics. Perhaps in time that desire will make the word photographer having meaning once again. But for now…

I Am No Longer A Photographer!

gavin seim wall decor 447x600 As Of Today   I Am No Longer A Photographer.It’s not that I no longer using photography. A Chef still cooks and a sculptor still chisels. I will continue to learn and teach photographics, but that does not define my trade.  This is business. I must grow and Raise The Bar. A smart businessman does not describe his trade with a word that has no value to his customers – The word “photographer” once had meaning, but it has been twisted beyond recognition.

Today I stop claiming it. I am no longer a photographer by modern definition. Which is the only one people recognize anymore. I’m going for more than being a photographer. Over the years I have become an art decor maker and I will sell myself as such. A sofa is more valued than a family portrait today. But the fine furniture I make will become the centerpiece of your room – I recently displayed my wall portraits at a large county fair. People were blown away. They simple are not used to seeing images used as wall decor and they liked what they saw. I received more interest and respect than I’ve seen in years.

There is another aspect here: It’s what thinking of ourselves as camera operators does to our perception and thus the result of our work. It’s not just a word. Master portraitist Ken Whitmire taught me the value of this premise and of the wall portrait itself. We should not be photographers. Not only because the word has come to little meaning today, but also because by it’s very meaning it lacks merit.

Ken teaches what may be one of our biggest mistakes. That was allowing the public to regard us as photographers in the first place – It’s a bit like to referring to Hemingway as a typist or calling a Surgeon a Cutter. We allowed our profession to be named after our tools and in so doing we degraded the value of the work we produce. Not only in our own minds, but the minds of others.

If you are professional trained to plan and prepare meals at a fine restaurant you call yourself a Chef. But it’s true that you still are a cook. Hemingway might, by strict definition, be a typist, not an author. And yet descriptive words have meaning. I’ll wager most chefs would not call themselves cooks. In fact they might not enjoy being offered that title. It’s only words, but they do have meaning in our work. If we don’t respect it, neither will others.

I make fine wall decor. Custom furnishings. Do I use photographics to achieve this? Yes, but that’s only a part of what’s involved – In fact far less of my time is spent “taking photos” than on the other elements involved in my process of planning and execution.

I will continue the business of being a Portraitist, a Pictorialist and Filmaker. Of sharing ideas in hopes that I can help Raise The Bar. Yes, there’s much more to business than what you call yourself.  But I believe that in time the consumer may realize that hiring a “photographer” means nothing in itself. They will realize that people without experience are duping them and many will seek out those who can do more.

Words have meaning. They should be respected. But let me be CLEAR. I’m not talking about simply changing your verbiage. I’m talking about fundamentally changing your own PERCEPTION and PRODUCT – If your mindset does not change, neither has your business. It’s taken me years to fully accept and apply this fundamental change in my work. But I’ve finally let photography go. I have not only left the word behind. I have truly changed what I produce. I make fine furniture for walls.

As I stop being a photographer I call to those who value craft, light and presentation, those who are willing to learn their trade before claiming to be a master. I invite them to join me in being makers of fine art decor for people’s walls. I invite others that have little experience to LEARN this trade of Wall Portraits (see article) and aspire to become a part of it. I invite consumers to come back to a time when life was simpler and the things you put on your wall were not pics, snaps or paper trash. They were treasured heirlooms.

What’s next? I have to keep refining my presentation, my brand and my approach. I have work to do, but I have to a plan. If you want to follow along check out my newsletter or subscribe below.

As of today. I am no longer a photographer – I’ll look for you on the other side. Gavin Seim


Raise the Bar – Check out the Trailer for Gavin’s new Miniseries, PHOTOGRAPHICS.

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  • Alan Hutchison

    My name is Alan Hutchison, and I am proud to be a full-time working and very successful photographer! This industry is alive and well and don’t let anyone make you think otherwise! ;-)

  • Jason Eldridge

    What a great post Gavin. I have been in photography for about 20 years and very serious about it for 12. It does pain me to say that I am “a photographer” because as you said that word has lost all meaning. It seems that there are so many individuals that purchase a $1000.00 camera and suddenly they are professionals. The industry has become saturated. We have to be better, we have to be set apart… Your line of thinking has given me pause.

    As of right now I am not a wall furniture artist. Why? Because perhaps I am such a critic of my own work that what I see is failure. I have yet to take the best image of my life so it is difficult to spend the time and money to have it mounted for the wall only to set at my house never to be sold. But then again, if I never try….

    This article certainly grabbed my attention and I applaud you for your efforts to be set apart.

  • Elliott

    I understand your point. You’ve had this burr under your saddle for quite a long time. I think just as many people agree with you as probably disagree. I don’t think it needs to matter. The proof is in the results. Let anyone with a digital camera call themselves a photographer if they want to. I think there is a distinction even from just a “photographer” and a “professional photographer.”
    Anyway, I appreciate your art, your images, your posts and podcasts. But I have to tell you that I cringe every time I read your writing. One thing you are not and cannot call yourself is a proof reader or editor! LOL! I think you need to slow down in your writing just like you admonish folks to slow down in their photography. Proof read, proof read, proof read. I think it will help in ways you can’t imagine if you can write really well and not keep making the same spelling and grammatical errors. Just a little constructive criticism.

  • Cheryl

    Well, it’s a good thing you’re not a professional writer – did you not proofread? It’s B A R E L Y not barley. Barley is a grain. That’s just the first typo that turned me off to your article.

    The business certainly has changed – but there are many great photographers today that have learned to adapt to the changing market. Sure there are lots of “professional photographers” out there shooting weddings with Canon Rebels and Nikon D5100s – there were a lot of crappy film photographers too. One good thing about the changing market – there are lot fewer Olan Mills and big box studios out there today. It’s up to the consumer to do their homework, check portfolios, check references and select a photographer whose work represents the style the consumer wants.

    Based on your thinking, we should halt research and development on any product evolution because it might empower the consumer.!!?! Really, in any business there are those that know what it takes to manage a business and be successful and those that think they can gain entree by going the low-cost route. Those that choose the low cost route won’t last long – so why let them frustrate you?

    I applaud anyone that loves photography whether they are a “professional” or a family man/woman who wants to take their own beautiful family portraits or snapshots. Those consumers with discriminating tastes will continue to seek out the services of a photography artist that suits their taste.

    Wishing you much success in your new business direction.

    • Gavin Seim

      You accuse me of not proofreading yet I’m and forced to wounder if you even read what I wrote. You certainly did not absorb the concepts.

      So be it. When the first words our of someone mouth are a nitpick at a misspelled word I generally know they have no qualifications to speak on a subject.

      As for my level of writing, I actually am a professional writer and do a lot of training on the subject. But I’m not a professional proofreader. The two are different jobs FYI. My proofer is out today, but I don’t panic about proofing because whether every word is spelled right has nothing to do with the content of the words. I’ll fix the barley right now however for your benefit and I’ll have him look at the rest on Monday ;)

  • Alona Gross

    Hello, my name is Alona Gross, I have been taking photographs for several years now. I have been a professional image creature for about 3 years. I don’t just take photographs, I create memories. I feel that if you are going to make a living doing what you love, at least have something behind you that says you took the time to master your skills. Real talent and skills is what makes a photographer, not just having a building and equipment. There are so many people who take photographs and sell them that do not have a license or even took the time to learn anything about the craft. Those are the ones who make it hard for the ones who have the license and who have or are taking the time to master their craft. Photographers should be just like Hairdresser. You can’t do hair and get paid without having a license, so why should it be different for Photographers. We work so hard at what we do and don’t even get the respect we deserve. I’m hoping the world recognizes the real art makers from those who just think they are.

    • Gavin Seim

      With respect Alona, the images on the site you linked show little understanding of light or portraiture. Using words like “create memories” is not what makes our work valuable to consumers. It’s just words when not backed up by our product.

      But you’re right, a great image maker needs an artistic vision. Just remember that without an understanding of light it means nothing. Being a photographer takes talent and skill proceeded by proper education of ones craft. That’s where we should all start.

      Thanks for your thoughts. And please understand I’m not trying to be mean, but you come off as very over confident which is why I felt I should respond. Keep at it.


  • Ray

    Well done on the award Gavin, I am glad that it was recognized.

  • Andrew

    Those of you who decided to nit-pick this article should. E ashamed. Could you not understand the message due to a few grammatical errors, or were the errors significant enough to sway your opinion? Really?! You are as convoluted as those who call themselves photographers except worse… People Who know they are not professionals generally don’t lie to themselves or convince themselves they are better than anyone. But you who mince words and are so over-critical of a good article by a real photographer… You do no-one any favors as you cheapen the words and ideals set forth. Shame on you…

  • Andrew

    All grammatical errors due to touch pad on my IPhone…

  • Stewart

    Whenever people ask me what i do for a living and tell them i am a photographer mostly people seem uninterested and asy something like “oh my friend/wifes friend/uncle/niece/sisters boyfriend, does photography”, and the converation stops there, as you said in the article you may as well say you breath for a living.

  • http://n/a David

    I think an idea that sums up the whole article is “more people take photos with the iPhone than any other camera”. While I love my iProducts, think about this across the board: Instagram, while cool at first, now has taken the mystery and skill out of learning how the effect is done. Plus, not EVERY picture needs or “deserves” a filter. Again, while neat and speedy, where is the skill in just selecting a filter? I know, not everyone wants to “learn” how it’s done. There are those maybe even who don’t say “I’m a photographer” but like to take a picture and filter it because everyone else does it or it looks cool, ok fine. I 100% agree with this article. One, perhaps unrelated, issue I would like to add is the word “edit”. Hearing a photographer say they have to “edit” the photo shoot is one of the worst phrases, I think a client can hear from their photographer. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought (and unfortunately i did not get a chance to do film and darkroom) that photos were “processed”. Is this not what “photographers” do? I mean, Camera Raw was developed by Thomas Knoll who spent a lot of his life in the darkroom with his father. I believe he has given us a digital darkroom with Camera Raw. (I know there are reasons to use Lightroom now, but that’s not what I am getting at. Annnd…I am not the first to say “digital darkroom”) When someone says “edit” i think “fix what’s wrong”. When someone says process, I think adjust color, white balance, sharpen, crop, etc. It’s not an immediate “Photoshop” allusion. Maybe I am being picky, but my goal when I shoot a photograph is not to have to “edit” it, but to do the least amount of “processing” as possible. This involves learning the camera so that minimum adjustments are needed… Thank you to anyone who read this the errors, wrong ideas, and miss spellings are mine. Thank you Gavin for a great article! If you don’t know who Thomas Knoll is, you can see his name when Photoshop loads. It’s the first one. As far as I know, he still leads development for Camera Raw.

    • Gavin Seim

      Thanks David, Never met Thomas but familer with him.

      Good thought on the term “edit” Words do matter. I try to avoid that as well. I also try to get is as right in camera as I can. Once again it’s not just a word it’s a mindset.

      When speaking to clients I always try to use words like correct, retouch or none of them at all. Since I sell wall prints what I often say it Mastering The Print. It conveys the whole process generally.


  • Jack Larson

    You should do what you love. Personally I delight that so many people are enjoying photograph no matter what their level of competence. I do photography because I love it, and I don’t care all that much what the obstacles are.

  • stephanie deveau

    You will upset the masses with this accurate article Gavin. People don’t like hearing that their dream can’t become reality overnight because they demand it. “Veterans in the industry” aren’t bitter about the shortened time frame to learning, it is what they are learning that is the problem. Sure 25 years ago I was paying my dues, I’ll let the newbie slide on all those, (no matter how valuable they are). However, I will not give them a free pass to accept any YouTube and workshop as true education. Why? Because half of the workshops these days are taught by people that never learned the principles of photography. I have no issue with breaking rules, heck it makes me feel like a rebel. However, if you never learn the rules of photography you aren’t breaking rules, you are ignorant of them. There is a fundamental difference. The fast track at this point is get a camera, make a website, give a workshop, sell to other Fauxtographers. It is all emotion, passion and feeling… with no thought or artistic merit behind it. If you tell wanna be photographers here is an easy riches they will take it. I get that. What I don’t get are the consumers that can do better on their iphones than what they are paying money for. In the end, I too stopped saying photographer about 3 years ago. I felt the embarrassment in my own voice and desire to qualify it with events that make me a real photographer. I honestly am not sure when being a hobbiest became a bad thing. Why must everyone be a pro? There are tons of great cooks out there, but not everyone wants to open a restaurant. Some people will confuse bewildered for bitter on this I”m sure. I only hope consumers will again embrace art and forget titles like photographer. Titles don’t hang on the wall only art should.

  • Steve Bohne

    I stopped being a full time professional photographer in 2006. I told many other photographers that professional photography – at least where consumer photography is concerned – was a buggy whip industry. Many of these same friends and collegues in the business said I had a bad attitude.

    Today, many of those people are no longer in business. Or they are in business but if they didn’t have a working spouse, they’d be screwed. I have seen many of these “big name” or “hot shot” photographers. They take nice pictures, but they couldn’t even afford one of the products I sell at $88 a month!

    I did not have a bad attitude. No, what I had was the intelligence to recognize a trend. I earn an excellent living today as an insurance professional, making more money with less investment and less hours. Gavin had the balls to say it like it is, and Gavin just like me, you are taking some arrows for it.

    You are absolutely 100% correct: photography no longer holds a position of respect or status among most consumers. And one more thing: the people on here who nit pick spelling or grammar are the same douches that get an eBook for their Kindle for free, then give it a one star review because of a spelling, grammatical or formatting error. These people are small and insignificant, and this is how they try to lift themselves in their tiny little minds. Ignore them, they have no worth.

    There is still an opportunity to earn income from photography, but it is getting very difficult to do so as a full time job. I invite you to take a look at my blog:

  • Barb

    Thank you Gavin, for putting forth the effort into this article. I know it is your passion for this particular subject that exudes itself into your column here. I don’t need to have the words spelled correctly in order to understand the philosophy you are trying to convey; that seems to be splitting hairs somewhat and fairly screams insecurity. I don’t get hung up on the word photographer either. When people ask if I am a professional or a hobbyist, I just simply smile and tell them I take pictures. I guess for me it is knowing Whose I am that lets me relax on those titles. I appreciate you putting your thoughts out there for us to learn from (or not learn from) whatever may be the case for your readers. I like the products I purchased from you and use them sparingly but frequently. And, yes. light rules! I’m learning it from one of the best in the business and it is taking years. Patience, Grasshopper:)

  • Matt

    I get what you are saying and totally respect your position. In the end though, I don’t think paying clients really care how fancy the job title is. A garbage man can call themselves a Sanitation Engineer but they are still a garbage man. The fancy title for secretary is now administrative assistant.

    Regardless, I do agree with what you are saying, but in the real world, people just don’t see the artistry in a photograph. It’s sort of like the movie industry, where you have the artsy, well acted movies that do nothing at the box office. The critics love it, but the masses do not. Then you have the blockbuster hits in which the acting is awful. The lighting doesn’t help transform the story to another level, and it’s special effects driven. From an artistic perspective, most blockbuster movies are total crap. From a business perspective, they are a hit with the masses and rake in the money. The same goes for music, photography, and pretty much anything art related. It’s a tough hill to climb to be able to provide for one’s family for a living and produce photographic prints that are museum quality, It would be ideal if the masses saw the differences between a truly great photo and one that doesn’t belong in the conversation, but that’s rarely how it goes if ever.

    On a side note, I can’t stand when others criticize grammar mistakes. It’s writing for the internet people. It’s not a book on the New York Times best seller list, or some vital piece of literature. It’s writing for a blog, forum or the like.

    • Gavin Seim

      Good thoughts Matt. And while I agree in part it’s not entirely the case. For example we travel a lot. Our truck and the camper say Gavin Seim American Pictoriliast. Is says nothing about photographer. In the past I had vehicles that said photography. No one cared. But our current title gets people coming up all the time wanting to know more. It’s powerful from the marketing standpoint.

      Also I want to emphasize that I’m not merely talking about a name change. I’m speaking of a fundamental shift in how “we” see our own work and as such the level of quality and refinement we impose on it.


  • Gretchen

    I have always respected the art of photography and definitely can tell a good photograph from a bad one. I am not a photographer and I don’t try to be one. However, I do have to point out the slight hypocritical aspect of your “changing professions” to become an “art furniture maker.” I studied architecture and furniture design. Learned the ins and outs of it and have a degree. From what you mentioned you have done it as a “hobby” and now it will become your profession. I’m not hating on you for that, and I’m not going to even discount the level of your craft in the trade without seeing your work simply because you have not been properly taught and trained. And even if I saw your work and thought, it was less than the quality that “professionals” should be producing, if you love it and so do others that they will pay for it, then go for it! Sure, did I study the ins and outs of design, history of it, learn the craft inside and out. I see crappy furniture and design and think, sure that hits the masses and they like it, but there will always be a group of people who truly appreciate quality work. I’m not bitter if someone takes up furniture design and construction, in fact I LOVE that they also express an interest in my life’s passion even if they aren’t the best at it. Just thought you might want to have the heads up as you step into another “profession” that sometimes a novice can surprise you with their natural talent so we shouldn’t be so quick to discount them. Best of luck to you!

  • Gretchen

    And I do realize you aren’t actually creating “furniture” :)

    • Gavin Seim

      I most defiantly am producing furniture. Furniture for the wall. That’s the point. It’s true I’m not woodworking or doing upholstery and I don’t claim to do so. But what I produce for the wall is no less furniture. While I understand your previous comparison it’s not correct because in the furniture I claim to make I have a good deal of training and experience.


  • http://n/a David

    Thank you for the kind response and additional insight. I haven’t met Thomas Knoll either, but one day found myself researching (lightly) the history of Photoshop…oh the little things we learn…I like the idea of correct and retouch, it’s almost like they have a softer connotation to them, not an immediacy of change implied, compared to the “e” word. Thanks again for sharing. As a side note, I am FAR from being good straight from the camera…’s just a goal…


  • Jay G

    As a professional photographer now celebrating our 25th year in business, I totally understand and appreciate Gavin’s article. Our industry has certainly changed and not for the better. Our competition is no longer a studios group of artists, but any individual that can put a few shots on a website. However, as I am passionate about my business and this industry, I refuse to let it loose its respect. My belief is that you must evolve and educate your clients. We actually teach our clients how to hire a “professional” photographer, rather than spending that time selling ourselves. If our client sees the difference, they will become our customer. I hear Galvin’s frustration and that of many other of my colleges. We must stand together and show the world that “mom & pop” are not our competitors. That there is much more to being a pro, than owning a camera”. Empasize the skill it takes to create aesthetic lighting, unobtrusivly capture amazing shots, create images without “fixing it in photoshop”, and keep their business profitable. Don’t give up on us Gavin, as an industry. We can filter out the uncertainty, unprofessionalism, and unqualified photographers. Advice to new comers: learn this craft before you call yourself a PRO. And for our writing critics: I wrote this off an iphone and apologize for any typos or grammer issues. I AM A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER ((successful for more than 25 years) and still moving forward.

  • Gretchen


    I understand that you what you are doing is shifting perception of what people are purchasing so they recognize the value, but I think in some ways you are doing a disservice to your profession in assuming the name of another existing profession, and that was the point I was making – or trying to make by the comparison. Furniture is a very functional thing in its basic forms. Sure there are pieces that are art but I look at what you do and others in photography that are true experts in what they do as artists that are creating art that is invaluable. To me (even as a furniture designer who values quality design) I consider good photography – portraits especially, to be a greater value than any piece of functioning furniture. I guess that I’m saying that I understand your want for the shift in thinking of what you do to change, but assuming a profession that exists and in a sense is a different thing than what you are doing. When I say I’m in furniture design, do you not think the masses assume I work for some outfit making designs for Target? Yes, but I know and those who value my work know better. And if you are set on this name will I be seeing you at the Milan Furniture Fair this coming Spring?

  • Stacey


    I have no interest in dissing the writing, unlike many who have posted here, I make errors…even on the final draft – it happens. My thoughts are about the “name change.” This “issue” has bothered me since I became interested in (whatever we are calling it) photography. When I started reading the blogs of the pros, there was an ANGRY tone, lots of posts about the start-up folks and posts about “Why we charge so much.” My take away on it all was…jealousy. Here is my question – why are you (and many others) so upset over the fact that others are interested in photography? In this day and age, did a group of people really think they could control interest and the power of one?

    I am a teacher. I went to college and got a masters degree – did my time. There are now programs where people can come right in from the workforce and fill teaching jobs, there is Teach for America and home schooling. Let me start with home schooling. Anyone can do it – they call it a school and they are the teacher – am I jealous or threatened as a public school teacher? I’m not, but I could be. I use these shifts to make me work harder and look at the reasons families choose to home school. Teach for America gives college graduates who did not major in education a chance to teach after a few weeks of training (*GASP* no student teaching!!!)….I read their manuals and the books written by Wendy Kopp to learn anything I can – TFA’s are often quite successful! Golfers emerge in their teens and basketball player who have trained for years are sidelined by a hot-shot out of high school – it is in every field.

    Home Depot has created a country filled with people who are contractors and handy all on their own, but you don’t see the fine home builders picketing Home Depot and calling themselves “sculptors” because “everyone thinks they are a contractor.” Cooking shows have made so many people “cooks” yet people still go out to restaurants! If these people with a “camera and a pop up flash” are taking your work, it might be time to turn and look at it with an open mind – not an angry one.

    Just yesterday, I met a woman who sells curriculum to schools that teaches science ALL ONLINE and I asked if it was intended to replace science teachers….we have to ask those HARD questions and then do what it takes to stay on top. We have online learning at all levels…in fact my district is using Schoology to promote online and in school learning and the new teacher evaluations have caused a LOT of stress to people – but we all have to step up – we cannot be threatened by change and other people in the field. Teachers always get, “You do not work summers..” yada yada. I NEVER bother to defend that statement when it is made. The people I care to appeal to already know the truth and the proof is in the product – why can’t photographers relax and trust their work?

    Hope you can get back to a positive place :) – Stacey

    Call yourself a photographer, anything else is going to warrant an explanation that will sound snarky and angry, not confident and happy. The “camera and a pop up flash” guy is going to get more and more business and get better and better…because he has the right attitude.

    • Gavin Seim

      Stacey your thoughts are reasoned and I appreciate that so I will give a reasoned response. However they are not good comparisons.

      First of all I’m not in an unhappy place. I’m in a business that I enjoy. That comes first, not whether people think me high browed. What I sell is high quality and I want to convey that. For the record I did not just start using this idea nor is it new. It has been working and I’m only taking it further.

      Most importantly the comparisons you make do not work because you made examples comparing DIY amatuers to claiming you are a pro. If you followed my work and many other you call angry you’d find that for years we have been teaching others, sharing ideas and trying to keep the industry standards high. We have given our efforts to try and give consumers quality. We have paid our dues and it took us as long to get there as any collage degree.

      I home school and was home schooled so I can speak to that quite well. Any good parent who can read and right and cares is qualified to teach their kids every boit and mpore than what they will learn on school. They are as it were unpaid professionals since parenting is their job ;)

      To make a comparison to photographer you would have to literally have moms walking into your schools and telling your principals they will do your job for 1/4. The principal takes them up on it regardless of their experience and you are our of a job even though they will not do a good job. Everyone is happy because they say they are doing a good job and nothing gets done. Ironically not much is getting done in our schools even with so called professionals running them. But that’s another issue that gets into a lot of bureaucracy.

      If that happens you let us know how it feels having someone walk in and claim they are experienced at something they have no experience whatsoever at and then take your job.

      How about building. What if everyone with a computer and cad software started designing airplanes, skyscrapers and bridges for 1/4 the cost, but had no experience at all. Would you say that the people saying they should “learn their craft before going into business” are being angry?

      The reality is there is no other industry where quality and professionalism has been so disregarded as it has in photographics. I’m not separating from sharing ideas with people, from teaching them to do it right or from collaborating with skilled professionals. I also fully appreciate those that aspire to be pros and are willing to learn their trade. I also respect those who want to do DIY photography but don’t claim they are masters when they are just starting out.

      I am distancing myself from the word and modern idea of “photography” because it has little in the market and it lacks specificity in the first place. I am running a business and in doing that my goal is to make something more than average and also make a profit. The fact that everyone can now produce “decent” images has only increased my resolve and over the years has pushed me to make far better images than I ever imagined.

      Take care… Gav

  • Eric

    Finding an updated or new title for offering “Professional Photography” could help separate the pro’s for a moment, that is until new photographers slap it on their printable business cards.

    This is how professional photographers felt when 35mm cameras came around and people had the gull to call themselves professional photographers.

    Every industry has or will go thought this. The Photography portrait industry isn’t immune or extra ordinary. Think about any and all industries: Car mechanic, painters, furniture makers, driveway installers, manufactures, hair stylist, contractors… endless.

    Just like a hair stylist and a new pair of scissors… Heck, any service industry that produces or has an end result. The “professional” portion of any career or ability is in the details. If the customer is happy, then the completed job has been a success. If the customer is unhappy, you got it – not successful. There are some brand new photographers that get their first digital camera and can quickly outshine some seasoned “professional photographers” instantly.

    It all boils down to supply and demand. The supply of new photographers and the source of future new “photographers” is an avalanche. What photographers earn on average will continue to slide further and further south. Guaranteed. Unless you have a special niche or lucky enough to find some wealthy clientele, get ready to go back to school to find a job that can help you support your photography career.

  • John Phoenix

    I’m getting tired of the industry allowing people to degrade what it is really about – the client, the art and the ability to produce stunning images, some to sell, some to show. So you are tired of fighting for the prize – seems you never had it in your heart. You can feel this way and think you were a photographer – and no matter what today brings or says about the profession, the only ones who are good and don’t give up were born to be there in the first place.

    A few years back I was in a art gallery and stating “anyone could do this abstract art…” and there I was challenged by my companion.

    The very next day I spent maybe 2 hours making a painting on canvas, dried it in front of a fan – went to the gallery and asked to have it put up on consignment. The gallery manager was very excited to see my new work – I eventually hung 8 large canvas paintings there – but grew very tired of it very fast, even though I was selling. You see, it was not in my heart – it was not something I dreamed of doing, and then did – it was all a farce – proving to someone, anyone can do it – same as photography – but those of us who don’t see the world in your eyes, well we keep on working our craft, photography because we were born with it in our blood.

    Many people have made the statement that is made by this author…it doesn’t make him right – it only shows it was not something he was born to do. He should have started with his dream of making furniture from the start and left the photography to the real photographers. That is today’s problem too many part timers who think you can shoot everything on program and take it out of the camera and hand it away. I’m not saying the author has done any such thing, but it is what has made the business more difficult, the cheapening of our art. Glad to have one more non-pro off the market.

  • Jay

    Great article Gavin
    Newbies will not understand your level of passion. Digital is the new dope for many attempting to create imagery without thought. Many or most never intended to make this their career and certainly did not consider this during medium format and pro-35 film days at a buck a shot. Many are striving and producing good work while others create shrapnel. The social media post remarks are most damaging, revealing the shallow and borderline ridiculous comments on how great the posted image is when in fact it is the opposite.
    I am sure many will attack me for my 1st amendment right.

  • Tad

    “Any good parent who can read and right and cares is qualified to teach their kids every boit and mpore than what they will learn on school”.

    I think you’re doing the exact same thing to writers and teachers that your article accuses others of doing to high quality photographers.

    Its not nit-picking on the meaningless to point out that someone who calls himself a professional writer appears not to know the difference between “right” and “write”. Spelling and grammar are at the very core of good writing. These aren’t typos we’re talking about, these are fundamental misunderstandings about the usage of the language.

    And then to make the claim that any parent is every bit as qualified as any teacher? A parent is just a person who has a kid. How many kids are home schooled because Mom and Dad don’t believe in evolution? More than just a few, I submit. To argue that someone who doesn’t understand and doesn’t believe in science is just as capable to teaching it is more than a little absurd.

    You seem to want to have it both ways on what a learned professional is. When you do it, its valuable and anyone who hasn’t put in the same kind of time and effort is a hack. But when you’re the one who hasn’t put in the time and effort to reach a high level of understanding, then there’s no fundamental difference between a real professional and a guy who just thinks he is.

    At least be consistent. Good teachers and writers are just as separated in the level of their professionalism and expertise as photographers.

  • Tad

    “…when I said I was working to be a photographer I was granted a certain respect. An expectation of study and skill was not considered optional…”

    Do you not see that you’re doing the same thing to writers and teachers?Because of the burst of blogs, everyone now thinks he’s a writer. Saying you’re a writer doesn’t garner the same level of respect that it used to. Because of the rise in home schooling, everyone thinks they’re a teacher. Tell someone you’re a teacher, and point to the college loans you’ll be paying until you’re 35 for the teaching knowledge and credentials, and you’re likely to receive the response, “A teacher? That’s great, so am I! I home school my little Timmy…”

    You devalue those professions and then write a lengthy article decrying how devalued professional photography has become.

  • Tad

    (By the way, feel free to link these comments into the same post)

    Lastly, I’m not unsympathetic to what you’re saying. I totally agree that professional photography has taken a hit. Part of it is the natural course of technology making available to everyone what used to be available to the few. Remember when you actually had to focus? And know what an f-stop was? You certainly don’t anymore. Light used to be one of several different components that had to be mastered to create compelling photos. Now its pretty much the only thing left. And when Adobe figures out how to light a photograph properly after the image has been shot, there will be nothing left to separate a professional from an amateur. And I have no doubt they’re working on it, and I have no doubt they’ll figure it out someday.

    I’m just saying that while you have a valid argument, you’re doing what you accuse others of. It makes your point a lot weaker to claim the photography high ground while also claiming that pretty much anyone can legitimately call themselves a professional writers and teachers.

    • Gavin Seim

      Sigh… Tad. I feel you’re trying to make this petty and personal. But I will offer you one response.

      Your comparisons are silly. As I pointed out previously we’re talking about people claiming to be PROS and hiring out as such – Parents teaching their kids compared to someone saying they are a professional in a specific field is not the same at all. No one is more qualified to teach their child than a loving parent. But you do raise one valid secondary point. Any education system that teaches that the universe was created from a random BANG and that such is real science, is a NOT qualified to teach the topic and will remain far away from my kids eduction.

      The silliness of this school comparison is that parents are NOT claiming to be professional teachers for hire. They are just caring for their family and often instilling values in them because the schools will not – To top it off our public education system is doing a worse job than at any point in our history and it’s well known that kids home schooled are better educated. But we’re getting off topic. If you want to discuss politics you can touch bases with me via email or Facebook.

      As for typos in my comments. We’re back to the silly nitpicking. It also seems you don’t have a lot of writing experience. Spelling and grammar are NOT the very core of good writing. Good writing is about conveying your message. The best authors in the world have proof readers for this very reason. That said I certainly know the difference between right and wright.

      Being a professional writer is actually quite similar to photographics. It takes practice, study and experience. The difference is you cannot get away with faking it. Abilities are clear. Once again in comparing my writing to inexperienced amateurs you operate without facts. While format of a work has little relevance to the experience of the author. I have been blogging as you say for many years. I also started writing even before I started in photography, which was at age twelve. I also take education in writing just as I do in photography and learn to do it better. I have an award on my wall for fiction work with my brother and we have a 100,000+ word novel in the 2nd draft sitting on our computers. We are continually studying to make our writing better.

      It’s also funny you compare writers to photographers. Once again you miss facts. I have seen the writing community first had in recent years. They are nothing like the photography industry where people claim they are experts at day one. Writers are far more timid and the expectancy of learning ones craft is far more normal. Being an author has not been degraded in any similar fashion to photography. There’s is no machine that will do it for us and as always, it’s hard work and patience that makes words come alive.

      But that’s another topic.

      Take care, Gav

  • Tad

    I’m sorry that you completely missed the point of everything I was saying. And for some reason my first reply is not even there at all in which I made my main point, which I will now repeat since it hasn’t been made at all. Following that, I will try to refrain from making a big deal out of an incredibly scientifically ignorant statement about the Big Bang and evolution. For all the value of home schooling, its very clearly failed you in that respect. Like it nor not, compatible with your personal beliefs or not, evolution is as much a fact as gravity. If you don’t acknowledge that, you’re just scientifically ignorant. I’m sorry but its true, and its not even debatable.

    And seriously, did you really say, “I certainly know the difference between right and wright”?

    But lets get to the real meat of the matter: photographers.

    My original, non-published post made the point that you’re fundamentally wrong about people’s ability to identify excellence. Customers know exactly and immediately that your photography is superior to the photography of a new professional. They don’t go to them because they can’t tell the difference, they go to them because THEY DONT ALWAYS WANT the difference. The difference costs a LOT more money, and the resulting prints are overkill for their needs at the time. Most people regard wall print, highly professional level photography as a rare event. Many people regard it as a once-in-a-lifetime event. What would you have these people do in all those intervening years between wall portraits? No one replaces the wall portraits they spent $800 on last year with a new wall portrait this year. OK, maybe not “no one”, but very few ordinary middle class people. But little Timmy and little Lisa continue to grow and change. They want to document those changes. But they don’t want to document all those changes in a big, expensive way. Since you don’t offer a lower quality, lower price option, they go to someone who does. Everyone knows full well that their quality is not up to your standards. People aren’t stupid. When people hire a photographer like that, its because they want something better than they believe they can do themselves, but nowhere near the cost of what you do. They are just as professional as you are, but no, they aren’t as skilled. They know that, and their customers know that.

    Those photographers you dislike so much are simply doing what you won’t do. They’re providing a lower quality of service for basic documenting of lives. You’re providing a very high quality of service for very special documenting of lives, usually landmark events or particularly special moments. Life is mostly a series of not particularly special moments. I think its disingenuous of you to knock the photographers who are willing to do the work you refuse to do. Shouldn’t consumers have that option? That’s one of the problems with pro photographers in the past, this insistence on spending several hundred dollars for way more than the customer wants or needs, or doing it themselves and having only snapshots. Its as though you could either buy a fully decked out Lexus or no car at all. People like the option of paying $100 for some decent photos of their kids they can give Grandma. They know the lighting isn’t very good. They know the posing isn’t up to par. They don’t care. They’re willing to accept it. They just don’t believe that every decent shot of their ever changing kids should cost a month’s salary.

    • David


      I appreciate what you are attempting to accomplish here but I must say that I do agree with a couple of your detractors. In my mind there is no such thing as a person who is respected or not simply because of a word. I believe that you earn respect and nobody can take that away from you. What matters is what YOU think and not what anybody else thinks.

      There are so many people that are trying to re-create themselves simply by using another name. Baloney. Either you are a person who makes their living taking images with a camera (a photographer) or not. A simple alteration of words doesn’t change what you are doing or even how you are doing it.

      I am a teacher. Over the course of many years I have earned the respect of students and my peers. This wasn’t easy but it has been a worthwhile endeavor. Even though I consider myself to be very good at my profession it does not mean I feel the need to be called something else to be shown respect. Yep, there are a lot of really crummy teachers out there. More than ever before actually. So if I am to feel good about myself and keep getting that paycheck should I require that all who address me now need to call me something other than just a “teacher”? How about “Educational Specialist” or “Youth Apprenticeship Professional”

      I agree with Cathy and her comment that you are a bit of a snob. Maybe you really should quit photography and try your hand at something else. You seem to have a pretty well inflated ego.

      By the way, I have been designing and building custom furniture for over 35 years now (I teach the craft as well) and I have much more to learn. Calling yourself a maker of fine furniture bothers me. I have no problem at all with you calling yourself a furniture maker if you actually spend the time in a woodshop.

      One day, when you’re all grown up you’ll likely find that none of these labels you have come up really matter. It’s the picture stupid.

  • Tad

    Sorry, this is my last post- promise!

    It occurs to me, though, that you don’t seem to be aware of your own role in the very problem you’re complaining about.

    Who do you think the overwhelming majority of these people are that you’re preaching the photographic Good Word to on this blog? On this page you’re sad and/or angry that photographers with little experience. training, or education consider themselves (incorrectly) to be the equals of technically superior photographers, thus confusing the public and devaluing the good name of the profession. Then on another page of the same blog, you admonish your readers to start thinking bigger, lose the focus on small prints and small prices. Price themselves like the pros that they are!

    Gavin, you and the other seminar circuit messengers are the ones telling those inexperienced photographers to position themselves the very way you’re unhappy about! All you have to do is read the comments to know that your audience is made up entirely of photographers new to the business.

    You should ideally either stop advising inexperienced folks to call themselves photographers and act like they’re the equals of experienced pros like yourself, or stop complaining about inexperienced folks who call themselves photographers and act like they’re the equals of experienced pros like yourself.

    I have a feeling you’ll do neither, that you’ll find some way to justify both contributing to and bemoaning the problem at the same time.

  • Jessica Gardner

    Hi there, I can relate. I left varisty having majored in Photography and I assist people just because it is money and a recent Photog, she didn’t even know how to expose properly, to use her speedlight flash even with her Canon D1 Mark II. It makes me sad. I have only a smaller camera but I worked really hard to learn all technique.

  • Jonathan

    “…No one is more qualified to teach their child than a loving parent…”

    Did you really just say that? I agree nobody is more qualified to teach their kid…manners, how to tie a shoelace or how to aim when pissing, but when it comes to academics you have literally got to be crazy to think that (unless of course the parent happens to be an actual teacher). Not to mention the fact that home schooling kids destroys any hope of normal social interaction with their peers…

    “… Any education system that teaches that the universe was created from a random BANG and that such is real science, is a NOT qualified to teach the topic and will remain far away from my kids eduction…”

    I am completely gobsmacked by this. I knew you were a Christian but this is fundamentalist archaic idiocy.

    Now, back to the photography…thankfully the big man in the sky created light on the, what, 3rd day? so we can take pretty pictures etc.

  • Mike Sweeney

    Agreed. I stopped calling myself a photographer two years ago. I use the phrase “visual artist”. I’ve branched out into a good many aspects of visual art that a “photographer” would not normally be involved with. I’m blending photography, cinema, tech, writing and having a good time with it all. I’ve also gone back to a day job while I sort things out the way I want them be sorted. I don’t feel bad really, a good many of the greats worked “jobs” while creating their art. If that’s what I need to do, so be it.

    It’s funny you mention writing. The art of writing is falling into the same pit as photography. Far too many people do not appreciate good writing. Those that can produce it are being paid less and less for their work. Self publishing is at the tipping point of obliterating the traditional publishing industry. My last book was self published and distributed by Apple via iTunes and I made more with that method than I ever made with the traditional publisher. Was it as polished as it could have been with a publishing house? Probably not but at 2.99 it was “good enough” for people for the type of book it was. Just like the 5.99 automated 8×10 print from Target or Wallgreens is “Good Enough” for 80% of the people.

  • Cathy


    I have followed you for quite some time, and I just have to say that I am really disappointed. You are very young, and a little immature, and have become a bit of a snob. I know you will now say that I am silly and nitpicking you. But your professional reputation is in the balance here.

    One day you might look back on your blogs and give your head a smack. To be a master at anything takes years and years and YEARS. Just look at who the masters are. You are passionate about what you do, but that does not make you a Master. Everyone, EVERY ONE, has to start somewhere.

    Just do your work, Gavin. Continue to become the best YOU can be, and please quite trying to become King of the Hill…because that is what your blogs are starting to sound like. The best teacher is one who gives, and sacrifices and encourages others. Not mocks and belittles the ones who are “below” him.

    • Gavin Seim

      Cathy thanks for your comment. I don’t think you’re nitpicking. The people I respond that way to are actually nitpicking. I’m fine if people disagree with me. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned.

      Don’t misunderstand me. I share almost everything I learn free of charge with any skill level. I’m not sure how I can be faulted for that. I am honest and yes opinionated, bit I always encourage those who wish to learn. I have been doing this for many years and I still have much to learn, but I’ve also learned to learn to do a project right and be confident in that process. I don’t believe I will ever be king of the hill. I’m just trying to stand out in my niche and Raise the bar on our craft.

      If you consider what my overarching approach is I think you’ll see that I have no problem with those learning. Only with people being something they are not which happens a lot. I’m not mocking anyone. As a businessman I have to look at the larger picture. This article really does not apply to the enthusiast and I think some people miss that. I’m speaking from a business perspective, from the perspective of those seeking to master not only a craft, but a profession.

      Take care, Gav

  • Clem T. Webb

    Thank you for your insight and thoughtful approach. Words, indeed, have meaning, yet so few of us deem them worthy of serious consideration. I’m amazed at the collective ‘exercise in missing the point’ so many of the above responses represent.
    40 years ago, as I began my formal study of photography, my Father predicted this day. (He’s long since gone – over 30 years ago.)
    So many ‘digi-pros’ so little work to go around… My response then is the same as it is now: there will always be those few who appreciate a good eye, and the experience and expertise to employ it effectively. However, as with poachers, it’s not the game that is taken that hurts, but those who are frightened away.
    In our narrative, those “frightened away” are represented by potential clients who allow the glut in the market of mediocre standards to “dumb down” the collective expectations of the buying public.
    I admire that you’re re-inventing yourself and your approach to continue to be able to ply your craft and art.
    I have taken a slightly different approach, giving most of my work away to non-profits and missionaries. However, I was never truly a portraitist, but doing more photo reportage, without actually being in journalism.
    I make no pretense of ever having been even moderately successful, except as a human being. I love what I do, and will continue to create – even without many clients. It’s too important to me to not continue, if that resonates…
    Thanks again. Be safe.
    Clem T. Webb

  • Vance Wagener

    Gavin, I was turned on to this site by another photographer who’s skills I respect. Your article is an interesting read.

    From my perspective I would disagree that I am an artist. IMO there are very few Artist to begin with and even fewer who work in the photographic medium. I am creative, skilled, resourceful at problem solving and deliver a strong product. .But I would never delude myself that I was an artist. I am capable of creating art but that is not how I make my living. A true artist take years, months, weeks or at least hours to produce art. Even when Picasso would sketch something on a napkin…it wasn’t art. It was a doodle. He never made any of his painting or sculptures within a few poultry minutes. To be a photographic artist one would have to go through a process similar to other artist. ie: conceptualize the image, sketch out a story board, find talent/subject …one might spend weeks picking out/purchasing/making props for just one image. Hours if not days placing the sets. Stand ins for lighting runs, full makeup/hair artist and stylized ward robe. All before execution. For me…Making beautiful images in a series isn’t enough for me to call myself an artist. Because I am skilled and proficient it honestly takes me no more though or decision making than what I do when deciding what to have for lunch and how I will get there. Even when I make emotionally inspiring images at a wedding…even though it may take more forethought and a slightly more difficult skill set..I still don’t buy it rises to the level of artist. What I am is a Professional Photographer. I’m even a Certified Professional Photographer which means that an actual commission certified me as such and that it’s not just something I made up in my own mind. If I ever get to the point that I don’t have to worry about overhead and making a living…I might try my hand at art. Until then I’m happy being not a photographer but a Professional Photographer. Just my personal opinion.

    Even if we disagree on this point…I would applaud you for the thought you put into it and the courage to publish in an open forum. Discussions such as these are important to the industry as a whole. Thanks for writing this.


  • Tom Vickson

    I have so many comments about this but I’ll stick with just four. 1) I mostly believe everything you say, here, but not all. 2)That said, this profession is now getting harder, so you’re quitting? What kind of an attitude is that? 3)This piece was so wordy and could have been about half the length. 4)You think this time in the history of photography is the only time professionals complained about untrained photographers encroaching on their territory?

    • Gavin Seim

      To the point Tom. In answer. #2 – I am certainly not quitting. I did point that out. I am improving. If a fry cook become a chef he has not ceased to cook. He has only raised the bar. #3. It’s funny how quickly we tore of reading This piece if less than 2000 words. It’s hard to even get people to read that in the internet. But I wanted to cover it from every aspect. Even as it stands many missed my intent. #4 No, in fact I love studying photographic history and this has come up many time. But never has the industry been so discredited as it his today. Never have so many camera done so little.

      Thanks for your thoughts… Gav

  • Jonathan

    Back on point to photography. Your view is not one that I agree with. My business is thriving, and not just in comparison to the photography industry, but I am thriving when compared to pretty much any profession on the planet. Maybe your business is drying up, but that should tell you more about your own state of affairs than of other peoples. As you keep saying on your podcasts you have other streams of revenue, which is lucky for you if your photography isn’t making you money.

  • roentarre

    Gavin, I totally agree with you. I gave up doing photography for the sake of bread-winning. Instead, I take photos when I feel like it. Full respect to the courage to speak out your thoughts.

  • Emily


    I have been doing Photography for the last 7 years and own my own business. I continue to be frustrated by the industry when I hear “my Uncle just bought a professional camera, he is shooting our wedding” The Industry is beautiful in the sense you get to create something everlasting for yourself or for a client, the chance to be unique and challenge yourself. It’s competitive though and I have priced myself out of the market purposely to challenge a client to do there research rather then book their Uncle. I enjoyed your article and I wish you the best of luck and look forward to a more creative brand that you are able to create. Good luck to you!!!

    All the best,

    Emily Boughey

  • James

    Hey Gavin, my name is James and I am a photographer.

    I’ve been listening to your show for a number of years and really enjoy it. I appreciate that you are a bit of a purist at heart (and an opinionated one at that) and have heard many similar comments to yours at my local PPA group…though usually from people 2-3 times your age. Your recent article really struck a chord with me because it was so passionately written yet my photographic experience is nothing like this.

    The article by and large seems to be a semantic argument about the word “photographer”. I agree completely that the photography industry has changed dramatically in the last decade or so. Then again, so has just about every other profession.
    In the 80’s and 90’s when cable networks began to be prominent, and production equipment became more available, suddenly everyone was an “actor”. Ten years ago during deregulation everyone and their cousin was a “real estate agent” or a “mortgage broker”. When home recording became available to the masses, every DJ in the world was suddenly a “music producer”. The words didn’t change nor did their meaning, the caliber and quantity of the people behind those words changed.

    “Saying you’re a photographer garners no respect – It’s akin to saying I have hair, I drive a car, or, I take showers.”
    Man I am really sorry you feel that way, I couldn’t disagree more. Saying you are anything should never garner respect in itself. Respect should be reserved for what you do.

    I am sure neither Jack Nicholson nor George Clooney are bothered at all that there are more talentless people than ever calling themselves actors. It does not bother me that quite a number of clients call themselves photographers. They still spend their money with me.

    “By definition, a photographer is usually one who practices photography as a profession.”
    I don’t think that would be by definition. There are thousands of starving artists out there (actors, writers, painters, sculptors etc.) that are fantastic at their craft and will never make a living at it.

    My wife and I have had a photography business for over ten years now, and since 2008 it has been our sole occupation. Though small, we have experienced growth every year. I am by no means a “master” at my craft. While I’m confident in my skills I also recognize I still have massive room for improvement and am constantly taking steps to do so.

    I make a living marketing and selling emotion filled products and wall art and my primary tool is a camera. I am very proud to say I am a photographer and am happy to share that title with anyone. Don’t worry about the word, worry about what you do.

    I’d be thrilled to chat more about this on the show, it might be a good topic to hear from both sides.

    take care,

    • Gavin Seim

      Thanks for your thoughts James. I’m not likely to change your view at this point so I’ll make a few quick points.

      “Saying you’re a photographer garners no respect” – This is a true statement and I see it all the time. Being one garners no respect either. People just don’t think much of it. If they seen amazing wall portraits their mind may change. Why, because they see you are not a photographer in the modern sense. That you actually make art decor.

      “By definition, a photographer is usually one who practices photography as a profession.” – It’s what the dictionary thinks that I was going by here ;)

      You make many comparisons to other trades. They are reasonable, but no trade has been taken over by non tradesman like photography has.

      Also if you think I’m just about the word here you missed my point. The word is relevant. This is a business and marketing ourselves is critical. A chef does not call himself a fry cook. That said I tried to really convey that this was not just about the word, but about the perception of how we see our work, what we produce and what others see of that result.

      Finally I looked at your work. Very compelling images and it’s great that you are doing well. But I would argue that you as well are not a photographer, at least not in the modern sense. You are clearly selling art decor. I barley saw an image that was not heavily manipulated with textures, colors and artwork. I’d say that photography is one of the smallest parts of your work. I’m not knocking it, as I say it’s compelling. Just making a point.

      So aside from the fact that it’s less than accurate, why would you give yourself an uphill battle. Every time you say you’re a photographer you have to then prove you are not just another person calling themselves a photographer because that’s what they assume. Why not skip that step. I was amazed how much more interested people came at the signs on my cars and the words on by business card when I STOPPED calling myself a photographer. It allowed me to convey the relevance of what I do without fighting every step of the way.

      In the end as long as you are producing something more than picture, wall portraits, decor for the wall. I think we’re mostly on the same page. But the words as well at the intent still matter.

      Take care… Gav

  • Semmick Photo

    Funny, I am not a photographer, really, I am one of those amateurs that picked up a DSLR and started making money by creating images. But I have never called myself a photographer. When people ask me if I am, I say no, but I do tell them that I take photos and make some money with it. I never said I am a photographer because I do realize it takes a lot of skills and creativity to be a true photographer and to be a photographer by profession. But now it seems that you have just promoted me to your level, because I am not a photographer too.

    @Jay, I think amateurs are more passionate then many pro photographers. In fact, I think there are a lot of amateurs that create far better images than the pro photographer out there.

  • Gavin Seim

    Uh Jay. Working in photography and having website where you promote and sell your work as a photographer is calling yourself a photographer ;)

    If I may quote from your own website – “Semmick Photo is a hobby that turned into a professional passion for Photography and its vast and unlimited possibilities to express vision and capture moments in time!”

    I have to wonder if what really doing it putting yourself out for hire as a pro, but at the same time hiding behind the fact that you lack experience so you have an excuse. Not sure of that and I’m not poking at your work. It just what it felt like when I read your statements. It’s risky to walk the fence.

    Best, Gav

    Just an FYI.

  • Semmick Photo

    I knew you would bring up that quote because I knew you would misread it. I am talking about a professional passion, I am not claiming to be a professional photographer. I am very passionate about photography indeed. Maybe even more then a pro. I am not saying I lack experience either. You read very selectively. Also because you didnt quote another part from my site, which is not backing your claims.

    And yes people can hire me to create images for them. I am still not a pro, I dont make a living with photography. Its like my mom baby sitting my nephew, she gets a fee for that, but she is not a professional baby sitter as its not her profession. I dont claim to be a photographer, and that whats your article about.

    In fact you are now calling me a photographer, because I sell images, but… in your article you say, just because someone sells images, doesnt make them a photographer? Which one is it. :)

    • Gavin Seim

      I won’t go in circles with you. You say you’re passionate. I hope so and I won’t argue with that. Use that passion to Raise The Bar. As for the wording on your site. I just suggest you either say you are or say you are not. You’re trying to cover every side in the way you word things but in the end it just looks like you lack confidence. It’s not me you need to convince. It’s yourself.

      Best of luck… Gav

  • rod macdonald

    I’m glad to read this: ‘I most defiantly am producing furniture.’ As a professional writer and one-time professional proofreader, I’d be a bit embarassed to have let that one slip through.

    But wait – maybe that’s exactly what you meant??

  • Carl

    So essentially what you are writing about is the fact that photography as a profession aka business went from something that had rather high barriers to entry to one with virtually no barriers to entry. If your business model still resides in the previous you will die, if you adapt to the new reality you may survive.

    Add to that the fact that many without ability now pawn themselves off as “pros” (whatever that word means today) which causes significant confusion as well as an overall lowering of expectations within the marketplace.

    Technology has allowed this to happen to many professions.

    You might want to rethink the “furniture” piece since these days most of it is produced in China and is NOT custom or of the quality previous associated with custom furniture. A victim of globalization and the desire to own perceived quality at cheap prices…

    Good luck to you.

    • Gavin Seim

      Been there done that Carl – Rethinking and adapting is exactly what I’m talking about above.

      Thanks for your thoughts… Gav

  • Brad Ross

    This was a very good read, the responses, and the various responses, and your video, you may want to know how I stumbled onto to your link, via dpreview, the Olympus SLR thread, and someone talked about a thread about leaving professional photography. I consider myself a good photographer, but only call myself a photographer among others who also see them that way, they produce good photographs, but for most it is a hobby, which many think is an antiquated word, but it fits me, and if many would admit fits most people with all these new cameras. my only question is, as being a past (and I would guess) , a future real photographer, who actually makes his,profession that way, when you did not have an assignment or client, what types of things did you photograph on your time off, or were you so burnt out from working you did not? (I am a psychologist working with children with brain injury, so on my time off, I really do not want to do a similar thing), I take a lot of macro bugs, or birds, or flowers, but the people thing, not so good at (yet)

    Brad Ross

    • Gavin Seim

      Thanks Brad.

      As to your question. These days I don’t have that problem. I’m doing a lot of things between teaching, writing and building my portrait and pictorial brands. That variety keeps me engaged. That said at those times where I was full bore doing portraits, weddings and the like and that was the bread on the table, I honestly did not do a lot of photographics for myself. I enjoyed my work, but I was tired by the time those jobs were done.

      I and blessed to have the variety I do now and I’m using that flexibility to build my art decor brand in the way I feel will have longstanding value. “Taking pictures” is an industry that’s failing. Few are making it. So I’m trying to do something more and at the same time do less of it.

      I don’t want to sell particleboard commodities. Those can already be had for next to nothing. I want to sell find handcrafted cherry wood.

      Best, Gav

  • Linus Moran

    Great article Gavin and with you all the way. The reality of the ‘profession’ has been bleak for some time and if you aren’t prepared to embrace, research, evolve you may as well roll over and die. Well thats my take on it….

    i’ve learnt more in the last 3 years than in the last 20. Not in taking pictures so much, but in marketing, mostly what NOT to do. But atleast now I can see the fun again in the work.

    I’m ready for the challenge and like you – I’m not a photographer… I like to see myself as a multi media professional. I am unique and I offer a service – thats what separates me from the crowd.

  • Sharleen Nelson

    Unfortunately Gavin, the writing profession has been degraded in the same way. With the advent of content mills, everyone fancies themselves a writer. As a professional journalist, it is disheartening and downright insulting to see the kind of pay they offer and what these so-called writers will accept.

    • Gavin Seim

      Sharleen writing has been effected by people working for next to nothing. But that happens in nearly every industry in any down economy. It’s not like photography. I’m an active author. My brother and I have a series on fiction novels in the works. We go to writing conferences and events and it’s refreshing how different it is.

      In writing there’s not the attitude that you are great simply “because” you write or own a pen. There’s no machine to do it for you and everyone has the expectation of having to learn and make their way. Go to a photography conference and you’ll find everyone talking big, pretending their something they are not and flaunting their feathers. It’s a very different world.

  • PassingBy

    Technology has made it easier for the common folk to dabble in the field of photography, however, it’s true essence has not changed. Professional photography still exists, and there will be, for a long time to come, those who practice it and produce respectable work, however, and mainly due to readily available photo technology, we will be seeing a lot of “people with good cameras” take good photos. That, however, will not change the meaning of this field, in as much it will the ability for photographers to remain as profitable.

  • Ben Garza

    When I went to get my senior pictures done (some 20 years ago) I walked into a studio and the most respected company/photographer in the area took my senior pictures. They asked that I turn, adjusted light, and took a photo. They spoke to me and tried to get me to smile and took several more. I had never been to a photographer before. Those are the worst pictures I and my parents own of me. Great lighting, great presentation but it didn’t capture me. That was the attempt my parents made to get me the best there was at the time. They emptied their pocketbook for this guy. Having said that, photography has changed for the good and for the bad. There are more options than there used to be. Mostly better options too. Gavin, I’m not qualified to tell you anything. But I know enough to say that you are on to something. The industry has changed. It’s too bad that so many regular people with a camera now call themselves photographers. I think there needs to be a line drawn between amateur photography versus a professional photography and even artistic photography. The industry is filled with 80% amateur photographers. But most consumers know the difference between someone with a camera and you. We just know.