Are You An Artist Or Just Another Photographer?

I just finished Linchpin by Seth Godin. After reading several of the chapters multiple times, I’ve been thinking about what’s truly wrong with many of the industries today, including the photography industry. Linchpin

I talk on this blog all the time about becoming better at business, and thinking of ways to reach out to your specific customers. But the one thing that ultimately is wrong with the industry isn’t the desire to be a photographer. It’s the desire to be an artist.

In Linchpin, Godin says:

“Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. An artist is an individual who creates art. The more people you change, the more you change them, the more effective your art is.”

If you like snapping a few pictures, and making a little extra money to take the family out to dinner, you aren’t an artist. You are simply doing the job of picture-taker.

You’ll never find a picture taker that brings out the emotions in his client.

You’ll never find people referring a picture taker again and again.

You’ll never find a picture taker with a successful business model that allows them to make a full time income within the photography industry.

Why? Because they simply take pictures. There is no emotion in them – they simply record what pops up in front of the camera.

In order to change people, you have to evoke emotion. They have to burst into tears when they view your albums. They have to stop and stare when they come across a large portrait. They have to recognize your work instantly because it’s so unique; so different from anything they’ve ever seen before.

To be an artist, it’s not about copying what everyone else is doing. Its about finding your own path.

Its about discovering a way to make your own photography truly stand out from the competition, and give your prospects and clients a reason to invest in what you have to offer.

Is it possible? Definitely. Can you still be a successful photographer today and make a VERY good living at it? Definitely. If you are willing to put the time into stretching yourself beyond the picture taker mentality, and stepping into the role of artist.

And a good place to start is by reading Linchpin – I highly recommend it.

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We're the co-founders of VirtualPhotographyStudio.com and have been writing on this blog since 2004. We started Virtual as a way to help photographers stretch beyond a part time income, and develop strategies to become a Five Figure Photographer or a Six Figure Photographer. Ultimately its all about lifestyle, and if your goal is to live as a photographer 24/7, we think you should have the knowledge and the tools to do so. Welcome!

  • http://www.snaph.de setia nugraha

    Thanks for the article …. but i think every photographer is an artist

  • http://www.richard-vanek.eu/ richo

    I agree here with you, but in photography industry there is very little art. And beeing artistic is not going to guarante that you will have success as the art is very personal

    At the end without connections and advertising it is almost imposible to make decent income.

  • http://www.abcfolio.com Janek

    “You’ll never find a picture taker with a successful business model that allows them to make a full time income within the photography industry.”

    I think you are wrong here. Successful business model guarantees full time income even if you are just a picture taker. Many wedding photographers are the walking proof.

    Janek

  • http://roteague.wordpress.com Robert

    Let’s see …. I shoot 4×5 … I certainly don’t do it for my health, and I certainly don’t do it for the huge number of images I take. If I wanted to be a picture taker, I’d use a DSLR.

  • Mick Buston

    Up until two months ago I would have struggled to understand the difference to which you are referring. I often heard pros advise that you need to learn how to make a photograph as opposed to simply taking a photograph.

    I am relatively new to photography, having bought my first DLSR in March 2009, but I have found what i have been looking for all of my life – a passion. But what to do with it.? The novelty of taking photographs on a DSLR and seeing what they looked like on my Mac in comparison to my point and shoot snaps was incredible.
    But quickly, that wasn’t enough.
    I tried shooting models I met via Model Mayhem but was very quickly frustrated that all I could do was replicate what had been done 1000’s of times by everybody else, and probably technically not as well as them. But people were pleased with what I was doing and many were willing to pay. But I didn’t want to shoot soulless pictures, money was not enough. So no weddings, no portraits, no landscapes, I wanted something more creative. I wanted every single photograph to tell a story or to provoke the viewer into reading a story, their own story, in each photograph. And I wanted to gain pleasure from what I was doing. Sure I want to earn money doing what I love, but not at any cost.

    I have recently finished writing, directing, photographing and producing a photo story that will be published later this week via Blurb as a photo book and as a companion multimedia video. The photo story is based on my interpretation of a song I heard by a band (Boomerang Girl – The Good Ship Band) I have been photographing since Jan 2010 and I now know what I want to do. Create more photo story books based on my own creations, my visions, my interpretations. Kind of like a visual writer. Some will be fact based, others will be purely creative fiction. And each photograph has to stand on its own and tell as story. And even more pleasing for me is seeing these photographs in print. Either in a book or a selection chosen as wall prints for people to buy and love. Digital photography has many plusses but one negative is that too many images remain on a hard drive somewhere, lost, buried and forgotten.

    By undertaking this project, I stretched myself far beyond where I was comfortable and that was such a scary feeling. Is the technical quality of each photograph in the story brilliant. Nope, far from it. Are there things I would have done differently? Yep, pretty much all of it. Do I still have a long way to go before I cross into fine art territory? Certainly do. But without taking on a personal project like this, I would never have known what my failings were, where my limitations were or what I was capable of despite all that.

    Sorry for rambling but finally think I have reached a massive milestone in my photography. I have become a picture maker as opposed to a picture taker. And there is a difference. Am I an artist now? Perhaps I think I may be. I am certainly a creative person now and am slowly becoming comfortable referring to myself as such.

    Only time will tell if it is commercially viable or not but I know for certain I would rather do this for free than to take soulless pictures for fortunes.

    Mick

  • http://www.rolfhickerphotography.com Rolf Hicker

    Most pro’s I know are both – they are real artists BUT also trying to make a living. I don’t know ANY pro’s which I would call a “picture-taker”. I think the definition “photographer” needs to be set first. I came originally from Germany – you were not allowed to call yourself a photographer unless you had the right photographer education.
    Today everybody with a camera calls themselves a photographer, although I would call many of them picture taker. There is nothing wrong with a “picture taker”, it can be a hobby, it can be the love to taking pictures but when we use the term “photographer” then in my eyes it takes a little bit more. It takes creativity, a lot of hard work AND a lot of knowledge as well. A real photographer never will be a “picture taker”.
    I’m a full time professional for over 25 years, yes I have to take many pictures I don’t classify as art, I need those to pay my bills BUT I also do a lot of art photography – does that make me an artistic picture taker?
    Most photographers I know they do a lot of picture taking to survive and a lot of art to help the survival but ALSO to touch other people, to make them happy.

  • http://pixelbuz.com Taylor Moore

    Linchpin has been one of the greatest influences for me as a digital artist and photographer. Great article and insight.

  • http://www.bostonthekimagery.com Laura Boston Thek

    Thank you for this!! The subject is very near and dear to my heart!

    Well said,
    Laura

  • http://www.davidwolanski.com Dave

    Seth’s books and blog are amazing. I highly recommend getting on his mailing list for daily blog posts!

    Dave

  • http://cjmckinney.com carla

    Beautifully said. That simple shift in phrasing — from “taking” a picture to “making” a picture — illustrates the difference between making art and, well, not. Taking a picture implies something pretty static, and in a way passive: the creative push-pull that makes something new from the available pieces seems to be missing. If you make a picture, though, you’re engaged, actively bringing a vision into reality — which is what an artist does. Because I’ve been writing some articles and blog posts about photography and creativity, I’ve been browsing the message boards on photography blogs and sites, and the debate over what makes someone a “real” photographer pops up again and again. I wonder if the debate is really over that difference between the picture taker and the artist.