If you wanted to name the biggest complaint of professional photographers in the digital age, youd have a lot to choose from. Demand is falling. Prices are dropping. Photography schools are growing just as jobs are disappearing. If it was always difficult to make a living taking pictures, its safe to say that times are particularly hard now.
All of those are good reasons to grumble but theres one complaint that stands out above all the others: Everyone thinks theyre a photographer now.
Its the inevitable result of cameras that are cleverer than the people who sell them and editing software that was once only found on the desks of professional graphic designers now available for free online.
Give anyone a decent digital camera and a good view, and after an hour or two, almost inevitably, youll end up with a selection of attractive images and someone who thinks theyre Annie Leibovitz.
That doesnt mean they arent though.
Talent is spread unevenly and not everyone discovers their abilities early. There are plenty of amateurs who could have made successful professionals had they picked up a camera earlier, chosen a different career path or who werent enjoying what theyre doing full-time now.
But theres a difference between an attractive image and an exceptional one, and the wrong person to ask about the quality of an image is always the person who took it. So how can you tell if your photography really is as good as you think it is?
What you shouldnt do is trust what you read under your photos on Flickr. The photo-sharing site has no shortage of mediocre images with long pages of positive comments. Thats because offering a compliment is a good way of receiving one, and contributing is a powerful form of Flickr marketing.
Better then to join a group and ask for constructive criticism. That might be harder to take its likely to be less complimentary but it should show you how close you came to shooting a perfect picture, and the advice will help you to get even closer next time.
Better still, because group members are selective theres a greater chance that the people offering the comments will actually understand what theyre looking at. Choose a group used by both professionals and amateurs, and your viewers will be able to see where you want wrong, understand how you made the mistake, tell you how to put it right
and appreciate all things that you did so well.
A compliment is always worth more when it comes from someone who really can tell a bad image from a good one.
Take a Prize
You could also try submitting one of your images to a competition. There are plenty of these on the Internet these days, so you have to choose carefully. A weekly contest held by a site with 30 users a month might not be worth winning. Getting your pictures shown on the BBCs website might not deliver any prizes but it is free to enter, highly competitive and a good sign that youre better than average.
You could also try submitting your photos to a peer-reviewed photography publication like JPG Magazine. Although the final choice wont be solely down to other photography lovers the editors have the last word being chosen is still a good sign that you have something that most people dont.
Return to the Stone Age
A tougher test of your talent though would be to strip down. Ditch all the hi-tech wizardry that makes shooting easy, turn off the cameras automatic features, deny yourself the benefits of post-production and see how you do with nothing but the bare camera essentials.
Its how photographers used to learn their trade, and it would be a good test of how much you know as well how much you can do. You dont have to go analog do photographers still need darkroom skills? but photography talent isnt just about framing and composition. It also involves an understanding of light, shadow, focus and depth. How much do your images owe to your talent and how much to your cameras features?
Ultimately though, the biggest test of your talent is also the most satisfying. When someone is prepared to pay for one of your pictures, you know youve got something valuable.
JPEG Magazine www.jpgmag.com/people/ScarFoo