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Friday, March 23, 2012

Why are Photographers such Jerks Sometimes?

whattheduck.net
What The Duck Copyright 2012, Aaron Johnson
Spend any amount of time on photography forums, or simply be out in public with a camera, and you'll run into them...photographers (sometimes professionals, sometimes not) who treat anyone who asks them a question like a complete moron who doesn't deserve to be breathing the same air they are. While this happens with people other than photographers, there seem to be a high percentage of photographers in the "jerk" category. Ever wonder why? I do...
In some ways, it's a tough time for professional photographers right now. Photojournalism jobs have dried up and mostly gone away, everybody has a camera on their cell phone, and high-quality (and inexpensive) digital cameras produce results good enough for many people to be happy with, so they don't use pros as often as they used to. Still, the reaction of many more "seasoned" photographers to anyone who dares ask them a question makes me scratch my head, and wonder if they've gone off the deep end. And the less informed the question, the more sarcastic and caustic the response is likely to be.
As an example, when I did my review of the Yongnuo 603C flash radio triggers last year, I also posted a short review of them on the Amazon site where I purchased them. Among the comments to my short review there was one that bitterly chastised me for thinking I was a "pro" simply because I owned a nice DSLR, and stating that a real "pro" wouldn't use $30 flash triggers. I replied to the comment, stating that it was my work that made me "pro," and that using $30 flash triggers instead of $275 ones when the $30 ones worked fine simply made me a smart pro. I haven't got a clue what level of knowledge or experience the poster who made that comment has in photography, but it's typical of the kind of comment I'm talking about here; snarky, arrogant, condescending.
Sure, it's annoying to be working a job, and be approached by newbie amateurs with their first DSLR in hand, asking newbie questions that to a seasoned pro seem so obvious and basic ("What scene mode are you using? What kind of lens is that? Why are you using flash in the daytime?" etc.). But is it really necessary to be rude and condescending to people who clearly are interested in what we do for a living, and how we do it?
There are plenty of counter-examples, by the way. Well-respected pros like David Hobby, who writes the Strobist blog, have made a great reputation for themselves as teachers and mentors. They go out of their way to share what they've learned, and no question is too "newbie" for them to handle. The same goes for industry luminaries like Joe McNally, Bryan Peterson (link to his outstanding book below), and many more. In fact, with few exceptions, I'd say the more open and mentoring a photographer is, the more they're liked and respected -- among other pros and non-pros.

I understand the frustration that is sometimes felt when "some guy with a camera" starts bugging you with simple questions, or somebody tells you your photos must really be great because you have an expensive camera, and so on. And it would be so easy to be rude to such people, and dismiss them with an arrogant, "Go away kid, you bother me." And if you're in the middle of working, you won't always have the time to stop and give them a good explanation anyway. But I do try to at least be polite to people who approach me, answering them when I can, or telling them "I'm a little busy right now, if you'll hang around for a few minutes I'll talk to you when I'm done." when I can't. And I see answering questions and helping "newbies" get started as improving the level of all photographers -- not as helping out the competition.
Most of us have invested a lot of time and effort, and endless hours of practice, into making great images. Let's not forget, though, that there was a time when we too were newbies who didn't know an f-stop from a hole in the ground, and that there was probably somebody who helped us learn things or pointed us towards ways we could learn it ourselves. It's not that hard to answer a few questions, and it sure as heck gives photographers a better reputation to do so.

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