Originally posted 1/28/21
I've always been a photographer, at least since I was ten years old and my grandmother gave me a B&W Brownie camera that took 126-speed film. Even then my photos often looked like picture postcards. It was difficult to do enough chores to pay for film and developing. For those too young to remember, "developing" was the process of getting the photo from film to photo paper and cost money for each print. My photos spoke for themselves and I knew that it was a skill I possessed. In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone to school and become a photojournalist as soon as I could manage it. Getting married and having kids at a young age pretty much prevented any such career.
That being said, I've truly enjoyed this pursuit as a semi-professional over the decades with various 35mm cameras, first with film and eventually digital, and I estimate that I have taken about a quarter-million snapshots in my life. My current collection of higher-resolution photographs consists of over 30,000 pics, or about 3,000 photos per year for the last ten years. There is no better feeling of snapping a pic of an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event.
All is not all sunny and roses for a true photographer, with downsides that are all-too-common for us all. Here are a few of those drawbacks.
No "off" switch
I take my cameras with me nearly everywhere I go, ready for the spur-of-the-moment or once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. But, since I'm married, I recognize that wearing my harness with both my Sony digital cameras (one has a long telephoto lens) doesn't always make me socially present. She's a real trooper about it but I feel guilty monopolizing our outings, so I'll sometimes leave the gear at home (in our case, home is a fifth-wheel RV).
Two things often happen while I'm trying to enjoy scenery or a function sans my gear. One is that my attention is always focused on the possible shots all around me, never to be taken. I'll see a flower or a bird and instead of just thinking about its beauty or uniqueness, I'm thinking that if I had my camera I might stoop down just so to get the correct angle or background, or move a little left to frame it between trees or buildings. Don't get me wrong, I do think about its beauty or uniqueness, but that is short-lived.
Second is that an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event appears before me and all I have is a smart-phone, which isn't even in camera mode when I want it. Wildlife photos, in particular, can be fleeting when you aren't ready for them.
No matter what I have invested in equipment, someone else has better, especially authentic professionals. I see photos published all the time that make me think about how I couldn't even get that shot with what I have.
You've seen the pros (or the wealthy wanna-be pros) walking among us with the telephoto lenses that are white, not black, two feet long, six inches wide. Some pros even mount their cams on anti-vibration, anti-shake gizmos that seem to hover in front of their faces. I estimate that the last pro I saw had equipment that cost over $50K, and that was just what was with him. I'll always envy that.
Always on the lookout for a shot can get you into trouble, like the time I passed a photo opportunity in the Colorado mountains, backed up on a cliffside road and nearly drove off the edge. I stopped in time, one wheel having dropped off the road, and my four-wheel drive pulled me back onto the dirt road. But this highlights what can happen.
On average, two to three deaths per year in the Grand Canyon are from falls over the rim, and similar accidents happen all over the country from photographers, pros and amateurs. It's so simple to lose sight of where you are, how precarious your position, and your focus firmly staying on the subject at hand.
I can't tell you how many times traffic on country or farm roads has prevented what looked like great shots. Once, in Georgia, I slowed down when I saw a picture-perfect ranch house at the end of an incredibly long driveway. Unfortunately, like much of the South and Midwest, there was no shoulder to pull off onto, and the six cars behind me weren't exactly thrilled that I slowed, let alone stop. I continued down the narrow road and looked for a place to turn around. After about two miles I ended up giving up on the shot, but convinced that I would have an opportunity for a similar pic on my drive. That didn't happen.
Likewise, I had to pass on a stunning farmhouse that had crumbled to the ground in Alabama and a century-old ranch entrance sign in Texas. Wildlife isn't usually cooperative, either, and I often miss by mere fractions of a second near-perfect views of birds, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, wolves and others, but especially birds, which can be frustratingly quick and skittish.
When I miss those opportune moments, they sometimes haunt me.
Photography doesn't pay
Everyone with a smartphone is a photographer these days. Give a monkey an iPhone 12 and look through its camera shots at the end of the day and you'll probably find at least one really good photo. Likewise people who turn their phones briefly away from their selfies in time to get a great pic, then plaster it all over social media like they've been doing it all their lives. Sorry, do I sound bitter? I'm not.
Professional and experienced amateur photographers have a difficult time selling their work. Writers are experiencing the same issue, with over a million titles being self-published every year from authors of various skill levels. It's difficult to complete with the sheer volume of it all.
At one time an average person seeing a splendid landscape print would consider buying it to frame and hang in their homes. I have bought many prints in my lifetime, even though I consider myself an excellent photographer. Now, that person may believe that they can do as well themselves, taking note of the aspects of the shot so they can try to duplicate them in the future. Of course, average people haven't invested the same money in equipment and haven't spent long hours, sometimes hundreds of hours, trying to be in the right place at the right time. But, somehow, they believe they can easily take a shot to hang on their walls.
Photographers that make a living from their passion are fortunate indeed, and those few career positions are scarce. Many popular magazines and websites, such as nature, science, news, fashion, leisure, travel and entertainment periodicals, use in-house photojournalists and accept outside work. There are just too few opportunities for the number of talented shutterbugs, let alone the masses with smartphones.
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,