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Levels of photography


I got to thinking about the progress a photographer makes through the learning curve of this crazy business/hobby/obsession we have so wittingly embraced. I tried to analyze not so much the progress of learning but more of the progress of the finished product that comes out of the camera. That progress obviously increasing in technical ability as well as artistic ability.

Anyway, here are the levels I came up with. Keep in mind that these are not based on any standards and are just my opinion. Also understand that while we may move forward in our learning we are also guilty of 'backsliding' into the lower levels. After all, they do have a place in our photo albums. You know, the ones we keep to ourselves... Enjoy.

Documentary shot; This type of photo has no artistic intention. It is simply a photo taken to document an event, item or subject. There's seldom any thought about lighting, or artistic perspective. Composition choices are based on considering which view shows the most amount of information. The photo of your car after the accident for the insurance company or the electrical panel as you go shopping at the hardware store are some examples.

Snapshot; A snapshot is the most common form of picture taking. It is often a 'reactionary' form of photography where the photographer sees an event and quickly frames and exposes for whatever is happening at the time. You see these posted on Facebook and emailed to family members. The cliche-ish duck-face in the mirror self-portrait is a glaring example of the worst kind of snapshot.

Brag shot; When the decision is made to go from a snap shooter into more serious photography is made a conscious effort is made to start wrestling with the creative and technical end of photography. This is when the foray into 'making' a photo, not just reacting to one, sometimes results in a surprise. That one shot out of a hundred that makes friends say, "wow, you have a great eye. You should be a professional."

Consistently technical shot; A level of proficiency has been attained where there is consistently good quality photographs. These photographs no longer wrestles with the technical settings but concentrate on working the creative aspect. The routine stuff is what earns the money but the images still miss that spark those famous photographers everyone admires seem to get.

Commercial shot; Either product or fashion, these shots need to have a higher level of technical skill and artistry. So much is put into a single image that if they weren't selling something they could very well be on a gallery wall. These are the true money makers of the professional photographer. They often have a signature look representative of the photographer that took it.

Gallery shot; This is probably the top of the heap. These are the truly artistically expressive images that people pay serious money to collect. They often adorn gallery walls and thick expensive coffee table books. Images like these are definitely a labor of love as they often cost more to produce than the returns on them, though it does open doors to more work.

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