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If you are a pro photographer, you have probably heard this line in the past. It probably came from someone who liked your photos, but who only found your gear and editing software to be worthy of appreciation. If you haven’t had an encounter like this yet, you are either a lucky pro or a photographer who hasn’t met enough people yet. People tend to exaggerate the influence of digital technology in photography, and these are the extreme cases.
So let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that sometime in the future you will have this dreaded encounter. What do you do? How do you react?
First of all, as with everything else, each individual reacts differently. Confident photographers will try to keep from laughing. This of course is the positive response. But I know photographers who had a very hard time rebuilding their self-esteem and confidence after such an episode.
Now, I am obviously not going to tell you how to react or act in public. But after being there myself, I can tell you what works and what doesn’t. You need to evaluate your interest in that person’s opinion. Is it someone who loves photography but has no idea what it’s about? Or is a potential client with a need, but poor knowledge in the field? As cruel as this may sound, your actions will be dictated by the interest you have for that person.
Either way, the last thing you want to do is burst into flames and start your hour long speech about how insignificant the gear is compared to all the education you invested in, the thousands of hours you spent photographing and all the workshops you went to. You know that’s true, I know that’s true, but it’s very unlikely that a person who thinks your camera is the hero will understand. But this shouldn’t go unexplained either. You should mention it, but you should have diplomacy in your reply. Use comparisons. My favorite one, and this is quickly becoming a classic, is with chefs and cooking. When you go to a restaurant, have a fantastic meal, do you honestly think it was made by the chef or the oven? Examples like this are good for telling your thoughts in the other person’s language. Ideally, if someone who has this opinion about your work is a potential client, you should be able to walk away. Unfortunately, so many photographers don’t have that privilege and their prides and egos have to take massive blows.
But the people who compliment your gear instead of you are rarely bad people. Most of the times, they are just uneducated in the field of photography. I know it’s hard to believe in this day and age when there is so much photography everywhere, but that’s also a probable cause if you think about it. It’s not their fault that every other Joe is a photographer with a $2000 DSLR. If you were and outside viewer, you too would probably look at the whole thing with less credibility. If everyone knew how to cook like a prize winning chef, the concept of fine dining would go away.
What these folks need to understand is that the photography market has many levels. You have amateurs with kit cameras, and you have world renowned artists with gear worth a fortune. These are the extremes, and most of the guys and gals out there are somewhere in between.
Bottom line, whenever an episode like this takes place, take a deep breath and keep your cool. If it’s the kind of person who keeps an open mind, you will stand a good chance of showing them the light. If not, you are better off practicing the ancient saying “ignorance is bliss”.