The world is full of people who aspire to become photographers, but how do you know when you actually become one? Is it when you own a camera? When you start commissioning work for others? Or does the title come with the simple act of taking photos?
Perhaps the real question we should be asking is: where do we draw the line between wanting to become a photographer and actually becoming a real one?
The question of authenticity is pretty prevalent in most creative fields. When does someone who writes truly become a writer? When does someone who creates art truly become an artist? Some people grow so caught up in this distinction that they hesitate to use the labels on themselves, no matter how long they’ve been in their field.
In fact, many creatives, including photographers, struggle with impostor syndrome, the pervasive feeling that their accomplishments haven’t been fully earned and the internalized fear that they’ll be exposed as a fraud. They believe their success is due to luck rather than hard work, and as a result they hesitate to label themselves as a true creative — or sometimes choose to never label themselves as one at all.
Which brings me back to the question: what makes you a real photographer?
The answer, it turns out, is simpler than you probably think.
If you own a camera and use it, you’re a photographer. If you commission work for others, you’re a photographer. If you take photos, you’re a photographer.
If you want to be a photographer and you actively make an effort to be one, you’re a photographer.
As humans, we get so caught up in labels and how they define us. When we describe ourselves to others, we’re always careful about the words we use; we often fear someone will ask for proof and we’ll find ourselves stumbling to provide evidence. But why? Why do we feel such pressure to measure up to a certain standard before self-identifying as something we already work so hard to be?
Look at it this way: if someone told you they were a student, you wouldn’t argue with them. In fact, the only proof they’d need is that they went to school, not that they got good grades or attended class regularly. The same goes for nearly every job or hobby in the world, so why treat the creative industry differently?
At the end of the day, action and intent define what you are, not the validation of others. Believe it or not, you have the power to define who you are.
So the next time you’re struggling with whether or not you should call yourself a photographer, just do it. Own it, even if it feels strange or scary or maybe even a little wrong, even if you fear how others will respond. Say it without hesitation, without offering to show proof. Say it proudly, in a way that screams, “This is who I am, and this is something you cannot take away from me.”
Say it in a way that makes even you believe it, until you finally do.