A few weeks ago I posted this status on Facebook:

There’s always been a part of me that’s a little uneasy being called “photographer”. It’s been shrinking lately, but it’s still always been there. Well, after this morning – after doing something I’ve wanted to do for years – I’m now completely comfortable with it. And it feels good.

And it’s true. I’m a photographer.

Unlike a lot of photographers, though, I don’t cringe when I see bad photos from phone cameras on Facebook. I think everyone should take and share photos; it’s a great way to record and experience what you believe is important about your life. I share more photos of my friends than they probably want, but it’s because I think it’s important to have that record.

But when someone goes through the transition I’ve been feeling lately – when he starts to label himself as “photographer” – my expectation changes. I think it’s fine for a photographer to share a quick snap every once in a while, but an artist’s presentable work should have some level of quality. If I see some sort of huge watermark on a crappy photo, it angers me. That’s when the label of “photographer” turns from passion to ego, and I never want to be the kind of photographer who believes every photo he takes belongs in a museum.

In order to reach that level of quality you have in your own work, you need to recognize your own strengths. I know I’m really good at performance (and to a lesser extent, event) photography. I’ve reached the point where if I don’t think I’ve performed at my potential, I get frustrated at myself. (That happened after Thursday’s dance showcase, for example.)

That doesn’t mean you can’t grow as an artist; I want to get better at portraits, so I’ve been asking friends to go out on shoots. They’re patient, and I think I’m getting better – but I still have a ways to go before I’m satisfied with my own work for that kind of photo.

It’s tough, too, because friends often do the friendly thing and tell you that your photos are great regardless of their actual quality, much like a friend would compliment you on your beautiful new cat even if she were a dog person. I’m sure some of the compliments I’ve received on my work from friends fall into that category. My goal is to share good photographs. If I post something that isn’t good, I want to hear it (hopefully along with some suggestions about how I can improve). I know I’m a good photographer, but a) I want people to mean it when they say that to me, and b) I want to get better.

Since I wrote that post, I’ve been living a dream I’ve had for years. I’ve been really, really busy, but it’s completely worth it – and I want the title of “photographer” to mean something.

May 6, 2013 at 7:58 am
Hi! I'm Justin Russell. I'm a proud Mainer living in the Bangor area. Thanks for visiting! I'd love to hear your thoughts about this post in the comments below. If you'd like to stay in touch, you can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or follow me at @justinrussell on Twitter.


  1. ShaneMay 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I think a lot of people go through these notions and feelings. I know that I did when I felt I had moved up in the ranks that I had self- established. And I totally agree about the people who post “bad” pictures from whatever device they’re using; I just like seeing the world photographed. For the most part.

    I graduated from college with a degree in English, and as such, I got used to having my work torn apart. It wasn’t ever fully malicious, but part of the process to get better with writing. Thankfully, that feeling of not taking it personally carried over to the photography, too. I can absolutely take hearing that someone thinks a photo is bad, so long as it’s followed up with something that could improve it.

    I never try to placate you or just give your ego a boost with your pictures. I hope you know if you ever showed me any for feedback that you’d be getting my honest take on them, and nothing hollow just so we stay Facebook friends. [I actually know some people like that… drives me crazy!]

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