Defending the Amateur Photographer

Pamela Chan,

Although I’m too young to be a called a Baby Boomer, I’m old enough to say that I’ve been taking (making as some would say) photographs for decades.  When I was ten my great-grandmother gave me ten dollars. I used the money to purchase a camera that used cartridge film.  This type of camera attaches a whole new meaning to the term “point and shoot”.  In those days my family were on what diplomats call a “hardship post” and we didn’t have ready access to film. This meant that I had to be very careful about the photographs that I took.  I had one shot at a shot and I had to choose my subject and composition carefully.  These cameras also used special flash bulbs that you could attach onto the camera.  These were in short supply as well.

Eventually I progressed on to other cameras that used rolls of film and built-in flashes.  When I was 15 I took control of my father’s Ricoh and beat it into the ground, dragging it about Japan were we lived at the time.  In the summer after my 16th birthday, I bought my first SLR in a camera shop in Hong Kong.  It was a top of the line Canon and cost a good chunk of change.  I bought it using money I had earned working at part-time jobs in and around Tokyo.  Ten years ago, in Tokyo, I over 500 dollars to buy a gem of a high end point and shoot camera by Ricoh.  I could never make such a purchase now, although ironically this camera is much cheaper these days as most amateur photographers don’t use film anymore.

Nowadays I use a digital SLR by Olympus that I bought 6 years ago and a point and shoot by Canon that is four years old. To be more accurate, I use the less sophisticated Canon and my cell phone camera most often because they are small and portable.  By digital standards these cameras are already out of date.  I struggle to manage my digital data (in terms of backing it up) and I’m still organizing loose photographs that didn’t make it into one of my many photo albums.

When I was 12, I attended a week long university course where I learned more about photography and composition, in particular.  I have shown my photographs in exhibitions and have enjoyed developing my personal style over the years.  An opportunity to study photography formally would be immensely helpful as I could strengthen my understanding of technical aspects related to use of the camera and related subjects.

If you know me personally this history might be mildly interesting.  If you don’t, you might wonder about the point of it all.  Recently I read a online content in which the author mused about how she sees her own photography attempts while in public.  She realized that taking photographs of her children could be part of her effort to collect photographs for Instagram and her blog.  Could her efforts impede her ability to model appropriate social behaviour to her children?  I see this issue from a different perspective.  Could people perceive her photography efforts as being focussed on feeding the social media machine?  (Statistics don’t support this assessment as only 1 in 15 mothers, for example, publish content online.)  This assessment of a woman’s photography efforts may seem to be an unreasonable unless you have heard people’s comments about others or had a judgement directed at you.  Since I have a long relationship with photography, contemporary attitudes surrounding amateur photography do concern me.

Have you ever taken a photo of your partner or child in a non-private setting and had someone say “no photographs” in response? Did you think that the setting was not particularly proprietary in nature?  Was your photograph focussed on your subject? Were you being discreet and not using a flash? Was there no obvious signage up saying that photographs shouldn’t be taken on site? Did you hesitate to ask for clarification because you didn’t want your current or future opportunities to be affected by your response? Did you feel that assumptions were made about how and where you would be sharing your photograph that weren’t accurate?

Most people who know me know that I publish content online and that I have an active presence on social media websites.  If you are connected to my personal Facebook page you will also see that I share photographs on my page on a regular basis.  Most of my shared photographs feature nature or close ups of things like flowers or objects.  From time to time I will share photographs of my family and children for the benefit of friends and family who live around the world.  I am rarely in the photograph because I’m usually the one behind the camera.  On I prefer to use my own photographs and use photographs of my children that show the back of their heads or show them at a distance.

On and my social media pages I won’t share:

* other people’s photographs;
* photographs of people who have not agreed to be featured on my site;
* photographs of events that feature people other than my immediate family;
* photographs from events or spaces where you are not supposed to take photographs without permission;
* photographs of content or event that is proprietary in nature;
* photographs of other people’s children; and,
* viral photographs depicting other people who have not agreed to have their photo published online by me.

If I do share a photograph by a journalist on Twitter, for example, I add in the name of the news agency and I am prepared to remove it if they ask me.  My one share exception would be photographs of the British royal family.  I have used these photos without knowing who took them. Could you find photographs on my site that fall into any of these categories, save for the last one? Probably. I am not infallible but I do make an effort to meet these standards.

Thumbnails for cover photos featuring my photography (and an
image of washi paper, bottom right) on my personal Facebook page.

My decisions about sharing personal photographs on my personal Facebook page are in line with standard practice.  Most of the people connected with my personal page know me on a personal or professional basis.  I am careful about tagging people and prefer to notify people about the existence of a photo as a cc.  In one photo album that contains copies of old family photos I have put a note requesting that the photos not be shared to other people’s pages.  This doesn’t stop a person from taking a copy of a photo and sharing it, of course.  I avoid sharing photos that do not feature someone at his or her best.  You will never find a photograph of someone in one of my Facebook albums that shows red eyes or a contorted facial expression!

Since I do try to respect formal requirements about when and where I can take photographs, and how they should be shared online, I expect other people to respect my efforts as an amateur photographer.  Outside of restricted circumstances and protocols, how and why I take photographs is my personal business.  Efforts to second guess why I am taking a photograph will – dollars to doughnuts – probably be inaccurate.  How many photographs I take is also my concern. In pre-digital days I paid “full freight” for film and processing. Nowadays I handle my own image data.  As long as I don’t have my camera in people’s faces, in an intrusive way, my photography interests shouldn’t concern others.

I put time and effort into developing photography skills.  I compose photographs with care and think about the composition and technical aspects to the best of my ability. I also spend a good amount of time editing my photographs.  I don’t have the most expensive cameras, photography coursework and vast amounts of photography hours under my belt, as professionals do, but I still manage to achieve results that others appreciate.  I make an effort to respect protocols related to photography and expect others to respect the care that I take and communicate concerns accordingly.

It’s true that cell phones have made everyone a photographer; however, not everyone considers themselves to be an amateur photographer. Many people simply take/make photographs to capture a moment and share it with others.  I am not an online publisher grabbing photographs indiscriminately to be broadcast without due care and consideration. The women and men I know publishing online content maintain similar standards. Indeed some of them are more talented, as photographers, than I am.

I take photographs as a form of artistic expression and to document the important places, spaces and events in my life.  When I do share my output online, I take care – to the best of my ability – to do what is appropriate.

You can comment about this posting using the comment function below or on the Facebook page. Your contribution matters so don’t be shy!

Daily Dish Archives: Pamela Chan,


BCFamily on RedBubble

Bottom right: A photo I took quickly – purely to capture the fun moment.
I included it in a collage of photos posted on a piece about Will Stroet, which was shared with the artist.
I was invited to the event as a member of the parent blogger community and the expectation was
that I could, if I wished, share images from the event.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

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