Top Ten Ways to Separate the Cameraists from the Photographers

Posted on 13. Sep, 2010 by in Business, Everything, Top Ten Lists

It’s been a while since I wrote a top ten list and this one came to me in the middle of the night during a visit from the anxiety monster.  You know the anxiety monster?  He’s the guy who helps you worry about one of everything.  I’m trying to turn that negative night into a positive by channeling the energy into something entertaining that might make you think a bit about whether you’re a Cameraist or a Photographer.

Oh, and to the best of my knowledge, Cameraist is a term I coined to describe someone who is just interested in capturing images and not so much about making photographs.

If you’re a Cameraist who is easily offended, I beg you to read no further.  You will anyway, but I’ve taken care of my responsibilities by warning you.

With all that preamble out of the way, presented below, in traditional count-down order, are the Top Ten ways to separate the Cameraists from the Photographers.  Oh, and since it’s my list, I get to editorialize a bit after each of these points.

10.  A Cameraist thinks that a histogram is a medical procedure performed on women to help with their “lady issues”.  A photographer realizes that a histogram is arguably the single greatest tool built into digital cameras that helps photographers make better photographs.

  • Are you afraid of histograms because they look like graphs and remind you of high school math?  Get over it, educate yourselfand use this tool to make well exposed photographs.

    Canada Lynx walking on bright, sunny snow - CA

    Canada Lynx walking on bright, sunny snow - CA

9.  A Cameraist insists on telling you all about how many megapixels their camera has.  A photographer realizes it’s about quality instead of quantity.

  • Megapixels?  Please get over yourself allready.  There are lots of images being made with older 4 and 6 megapixel SLR cameras that out perform any micro-sensored Point-n-Pray Megapixlonic 5000 on the market today.

8.  A Cameraist thinks that the only thing holding back their image capturing skills is the ability to afford more expensive equipment.  A photographer can make a good photograph with whatever equipment is available.

  • Don’t believe this is true?  Go find a pro and trade cameras with them and shoot the same scene.  You won’t believe how much better your camera got.

    Long-tailed Weasel photographed with 6 Megapixel original Canon Digital Rebel

    Long-tailed Weasel photographed with 6 Megapixel original Canon Digital Rebel

7.  While viewing an event from the 43rd row of a stadium a Cameraist wants to make sure their flash fires to illuminate the scene several stories beneath them oblivious to the fact that the only thing their flash is illuminating is the guy eating a hot dog 5 rows below them.  A photographer realizes they’ll never get a great image from the 43rd row (or 10th row for that matter), leaves their camera at home and enjoys the show.

  • This is a personal pet peeve that drives me insane.  First of all, YOU”RE TOO FAR AWAY!!!  Second of all, why do you want a picture of those ants on the stage/field anyway?

6.  Cameraists are oblivious to the fact that they may be interfering with a pro photographer trying to do their job.  Photographers wouldn’t dream of getting in a pro photographer’s way or interrupting a shoot.

  • Go to most any modern wedding and you’ll see the poor pro having to compete with a gaggle of SLR slinging Uncle Jimmies and Aunt Marthas interfering with the pro trying to do his or her job.  People!  Get over yourself and give the pro room to work.  Oh, and no, they don’t need your suggestions either.  (Note, this is probably the primary reason I’d never consider photographing a wedding).

5.  Camerists think that the “P” mode on their camera stands for Perfect.  Photographers actually change their camera’s settings away from fully automatic mode.  Oh, and for clarification, automatic mode hereby includes Portrait, Sports, Night, Macro and Backlit modes.

  • Yup, sometimes you actually have to THINK to make a photograph.  I’m sure this will change when the K-Tel Autocapture 5000 is finally released, but until then, yes, thinking still counts.
Polar Bear upset with Cameraists

Polar Bear upset with Cameraists

4.  Camerists expect different results even though they keep repeating the same actions.  Photographers learn from their errors and work to perfect their craft.

  • If you think you’ll get different results from the same actions, Einstein thinks you’re insane.  Look it up.

3.  Camerists think everything can be fixed in software.  Photographers try to make an image as perfect as possible in the camera.

  • Nothing drives me crazier than to hear someone say “Oh, I’ll fix that later in Photoshop”.  A lot of people who think they can fix it in Photoshop actually suck at Photoshop.  Learn some skills and make a photograph.

2.  Camerists believe their friends and relatives who tell them what great images they capture.  Photographers constantly seek peer feedback and study other photographers’ work.

  • If you only listen to your friends and family you’ll be the world’s greatest photographer, as long as you only live in your own real tiny world.  Take some risks and expose your work to a wider audience and you might be surprised by what you can learn.

1.   Camerists “capture” images.  Photographers make photographs that tell stories.

  • Yup stories.  It’s kind of an abstract concept of a static image telling a whole story, but think about it and it kind of changes your view of photography.
Grizzly bear drinking from the water in the bay

The Drink

Have another differentiator to contribute or just want to pick on me because your now a disgruntled Cameraist?  Please feel free to contribute a comment.

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48 Responses to “Top Ten Ways to Separate the Cameraists from the Photographers”

  1. Jeff Bartlett

    13. Sep, 2010

    Not a bad list, although I fear its primed for criticism.
    Personally, Number 6 really resonates with me. Nothing gets my feathers in a bunch like somebody telling me how and where to do my job. I’ve always wanted to head to work with the guilty party the next day and bark commands and suggestions at them for a few hours…

  2. hagen

    13. Sep, 2010

    I think a wedding is a bad example for #6. While it is a very common situation to highlight the problem, we will never be able to control the family & friends and nor should we be able to. That is the environment we are expected to work in. You wouldn’t expect a waiter to make everyone sit down while you ate at a restaurant would you?

    Yes, consideration is a sadly lacking part of our society. And your example, whether it is by camera totting people or just people walking and standing in front of you (at the baggage carrousel, reading a sign etc), it’s one of my pet peeves.

    Anyway, before we get ourselves over excited, I enjoyed this piece

    • Daniel Wermuth

      14. Sep, 2010

      Great list. I disagree with Hagen though on the wedding. I’ve shot over 500 weddings. You have to control, or learn how to adapt, every set we shoot, studio, location, or weddings.. The Art of Crowd control is essential.

      My old Instructor still sits on my shoulder, nagging me, lol, shoot it right in the first place and you don’t have to fix it later.

      The World of Digital has turned allot of Photographers into idiots and allot of idiots into Photographers. lol

      Thoughts from my simple mind.
      But what do I know. I have only been shooting for 40 years and learn something new every day.

  3. Robin Clifton

    13. Sep, 2010

    Nice article. Appreciate hearing what it takes to get there.


    ~ A cameraist hoping to grow into the photographer.

  4. Jason

    14. Sep, 2010

    Number 7 is the one that gets me. How in their minds do they think that a tiny little light is going to illuminate the entire stadium. Wait that is your point, they don’t know.

    Number 5 is a favorite for me too. If you want to make good images you have to get off the automatic settings. I just love when someone ask me which setting I used to make an image. Like it is going to matter they are never going to be in those exact same conditions again. I usually just smile and rattle off the f-stops, iso and shutter speed.

    Great post Paul.

    • Patrick

      15. Oct, 2010

      Hahaha! About that last point, I know EXACTLY what you mean! I do the same thing: “Yeah, I did ISO 200, f/8 at 1/200th of a second. Underexposed a third of a stop from my meter to compensate for those upper highlights” and what really gets to me is their reply: “Uhhh what? So was that in landscape mode?” UGH!!!! No!! my camera doesn’t even HAVE those ‘idiot modes’

  5. Fredrik

    15. Sep, 2010

    A brilliant list. Even to an occassional cameraist, most of them were known if not formulated, but they bear repeating. Every time I read or remember then, I make the extra effort to make my next snap more like a photograph 🙂

  6. Jon Tiffin

    16. Sep, 2010

    Great list and editorial comment!! I actually have a few colleagues that are C’s and not P’s, scary now that I think about it.

    In fact I had a #6 just last weekend. Insisting that because he was in a public park that he could shoot the sports portraiture right along w/the hired and permitted pro. I asked twice that he not proceed before I just walked away before I justified exactly how far up his ass I was going to shove his D200 & vintage 80-200mm 2.8. I’m glad I’m not getting paid to fight turf wars…

    • Sithspit

      15. Oct, 2010

      Yes, because he’s in a public park, and unless he’s in a restricted area (press only, staff, etc) he does have the right to shoot as well; it’s called the First Amendment.

      On the other hand, as you describe it, he sounds like he had a stick (or an 80-200 lens) up his arse and could learn some manners.

  7. Michele Stapleton

    17. Sep, 2010

    Actually, I tell folks that P stands for Professional. 🙂 And, I’ve gotten over feeling that I have to shoot everything in Manual.

    If you are shooting weddings or something that requires really fast reaction and the light is constantly changing, there are times that you are better off using the auto modes. A professional knows how to really work the automatic modes, say with minus/plus compensation, with flash, etc. There is no sin in using auto modes as long as you know what you are doing.

    • Phillip Briggs

      20. Sep, 2010

      I entirely agree with you there, auto is just another mode on the camera and, as you say, can be useful in the right circumstances. I’ve been taking photos since my first Zenit E SLR, when there was only the manual mode (aided by a dodgy built in exposure meter) but I’ve learned to appreciate all the help my DSLR can give, especially when there isn’t time to give the photo much thought beforehand.

  8. Joe

    17. Sep, 2010

    Cameraists seem to be afraid of getting down on their hands and knees to get the right shot, or are afraid of what people think if they go up to a person and say “I think you look interesting, mind if I take a couple photos of you?”

    Cameraists also seem to complain when their camera doesn’t have an on-board flash (5D II) *THIS is my biggest irritation… If you can’t handle not having an on-board flash, stick to your baby toys, and leave the DSLR’s to the grown-ups…

    • Nick

      17. Sep, 2010

      I’m guilty of a couple, especially number ten. I never look at the histogram. I look at the preview and as long as I like the composition and the image doesn’t look too over or underexposed I’m happy with it. I don’t even look at the histogram in post. But I like my images contrasty and don’t mind clipping in the blacks as long as the highlights aren’t too hot.

      I also leave my camera set to P half of the time. I find that my camera and I have very similar tastes and as long as I have a sharp image that isn’t too bright or dark I’m happy with it. Now the other half I’m trying to freeze motion or use depth of field, but then I put the camera in aperature or shutter priority and that works well for me. I only really ever use manual for low light situations.

      But then that’s my style and I’m sure we’re all guilty of breaking a rule here and there. The real question is, what do you call someone who says something like “nice capture” as compared to “nice shot” or “nice photo”?

      Very enjoyable list, though.

  9. Scott Valentine

    17. Sep, 2010

    I don’t have this in a catchy format, but I’d like to add that Photographers know how to differentiate between the image they’d like to capture and what the client expects to see.

    Great article – thanks for posting this!

  10. Michael Snapes

    25. Sep, 2010

    agreed. but what about separating photographers from average joe’s. everyone has a camera today. for example, we ( get orders for great photos on canvas from amateur photogs who have taken a photo with an iphone. Your thoughts?

    • Paul Burwell

      25. Sep, 2010

      I think anyone can make a great photograph. I think a photographer can do it consistently.

      And I too, have seen lots of great photographs made with point-n-shoot cameras along with camera phones.

  11. Robin

    30. Sep, 2010

    What sucks is that most people that are photographers were once Cameraists, right? I know I was and am in the process of learning professional photography. I feel like so many photographers want to put me in the Cameraists category because I’m new and learning. It’s frustrating.

    • Sara

      15. Oct, 2010

      Same here.
      I’m ashamed to admit that when I was first getting into photography I only looked at megapixel size and what type of auto modes I could get.
      I’ve now seen the light. 😉
      I work hard at improving and learning and I will get to the point where I will be without a doubt a photographer, not a cameraist.

  12. Laura

    16. Oct, 2010

    this is great. and so true. and I have to admit I’m guilty of some, like number 10. I normally edit my pictures in lightroom and just do with “personal taste” and just the feeling for it. and I mostly use on of the preset modes, but I try and play around with the other modes. I just need someone to tell me what every setting will do to my photo and how I set it up and everything…

  13. Roger Hart

    16. Oct, 2010

    This is an interesting list, though it’s possibly too kind to the dedicated ‘Cameraist’. Point 2 deserves a little amplification, however. Having other photographers and visual artists analyze and critique your work is very important (and if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen), but I think the single most important thing you need to do is study the work of acknowledged masters. So buy some books and LOOK at them. If you can’t improve your visual education and your eye by studying the work of Adams and Cartier-Bresson, for instance, you should find yourself another activity.

  14. Akira Miyashi

    17. Oct, 2010

    I’m a cameraist. Now that I’m aware of it, I guess I shall change my ways of thinking and looking at things. 😀
    Nice article by the way~ ^^-

  15. Christian

    19. Oct, 2010

    Love it!

  16. Christian

    19. Oct, 2010

    I think the blogger means that a Cameraist tends to call themselves Photographers. Anyone can buy a camera and be a Cameraist. But it takes a true photographer to make a great photograph. If you can feel emotion and see what the photographer sees, thats a true Photographer. A Camerist goes out and buys an expensive camera and immediatley calls themselves a Photographer and doesnt even know how to work the damn thing. So, there really is a difference.

  17. Christian

    19. Oct, 2010

    It doesn’t mean that a Cameraist can’t take a great photo, I think what the blogger means is that a Cameraist automatically thinks they are great photographers because of thier camera, not because they know they need to have an eye for it to make a truly great photograph. Theres actual talent, and then the people who all of a sudden “figure out how to look at an Xray, now they magically became a doctor.”

  18. shell

    19. Oct, 2010

    After reading many of the comments on deviantART, I had expected this to be quite rude in an arrogant manner. I am pleasantly suprised and agree with nearly everything I have read, which in itself is an oddity.

    I am a naturalist photographer and it takes some doing to make certain my images tell a story, but I believe that is so very important.

    Check out my photography on facebook, deviantart, and zenfolio– shell4art


  19. Embassy Pro Books

    20. Oct, 2010

    I tend to agree that at some time, all photographers started out as cameraists. However, it is true that not all cameraists can transition into photographers because in order to be a great photographer, your eye has to be able to catch things that the naked eye can’t. There has to be talent behind the camera. It isn’t the camera that makes the shots, the camera takes them.

  20. AustinB

    05. Nov, 2010

    Great list.

    I must say though, I believe #1 is a bit oversimplified. As someone who primarily photographs natural landscapes, I look at it differently. The goal is not necessarily to ‘Tell a story’, (as there often isn’t much to ‘tell’), but rather to translate an irresistable, magnetic, sense of place. Doing so pulls the viewer into the photograph and ‘into the place’ momentarily. When this is acheived, a trully sucessful photograph then illicits an emotional reaction (joy, humor, fear, etc. etc.)

    Of course, this is not to say a story, theme, or message cannot be conveyed, but I think the mark of a great photographer starts with bringing the viewer into the image, and that is where I see the great divide between ‘cameraists’ and photographers. When viewing images this way the separation is incredibly evident. A cameraist never pulls you in…and therefore you experience nothing in viewing the image. A photographer pulls you into a ‘place’ wherein you experience and intended (or perhaps unintended) story, emotion, concept, etc.

  21. Ekij

    30. Nov, 2010

    Number 6 can be taken too far. Sure it’s polite for the amateurs to get out of the professionals way but some wedding photographers act like they own exclusive rights to all images of the Bride and Groom.
    The professional should set up the shot, take the pics they want and then step back and let the amateurs bash off a few shots. The the pro steps in again to set up the next shot.

  22. Tim

    27. Dec, 2010

    As an admin for a photography site, we have more “cameraists” than we have photographers on the website, and it’s annoying. I never thought it was possible to take a bad picture with a Nikon D90, but, the cameraists on our website prove me wrong every day.

  23. Don Giannatti

    09. Jan, 2011

    Not sure how this makes anyone a better photographer.

    We sure do spend a lot of energy attacking one another, though. Could spend that energy focused on becoming better at what we do.

    But that is hard. I know.


    • Paul Burwell

      09. Jan, 2011


      No attacks intended.

      Rather a call to those who spend more time worrying about the specifications of their cameras to get out and do something with them.

      Call it satire. Call it sarcasm. Call it humour.

      It’s just a joke, get it?

  24. Lovely Lyn

    09. Jan, 2011

    This gave me quite a chuckle 🙂

  25. John M

    09. Jan, 2011

    I am sure that this post was intended with some humor, but I do not see how it promotes or inspires anyone to move beyond their current level of expertise. You describe yourself as an “educator”. A professional “educator” would have written this post to help and inspire others to improve.

    • Paul Burwell

      09. Jan, 2011


      The post is a tongue-in-cheek look at the many folks who seem to spend most of their time of Internet forums comparing the length of their lenses or number of megapixels instead of actually taking pictures. That’s all.

      Read my other posts. Lots of free education there.

  26. G

    09. Jan, 2011

    Congratulations on being an elitist. As a pro, I welcome more people to pick up a camera and explore and enjoy it any damn way they please. Just because you’re a hack with technical knowledge, doesn’t mean these people have any less of a right to take photos.

    And as far as #1? Complete rubbish. Please tell me the story your clichéd animal shots tell. Puh-lease.

    • Paul Burwell

      09. Jan, 2011

      Thanks G(?) for the insightful comment.

      Obviously satire doesn’t play well in North Carolina.

      Check out the rest of the site before you make yourself look silly.

      And the only cliché here is the anonymous drive-by coward who posts vitriol.

  27. Todd

    09. Jan, 2011

    Preach the word, Paul

  28. MarkT

    10. Jan, 2011

    Alrighty, you just play rough. I found this post by searching text from another blogger/photographer who seemed to be pretty offended. I was kinda’ wondering myself as I read this.

    Maybe HTML needs a tag to let people know to partake the following text with a long spoon.

    All that aside, you make some good points. My personal fave is the stadium flasher. Imagine their disappointment when all their photos are under-exposed because the camera was expecting the subject (half a mile away) to be lit by the flash.

    I’m ‘guilty’ of some of the habits you mention; thanks for the prod to change those habits.

  29. Amila

    07. Feb, 2011

    Though it was astonishing to realize that I’ve been a camaraist for the most part, I’m glad to have realize that as I do want to be a photographer, I always have. I can’t thank you enough for showing the importance of histogram, I used to avoid looking at it too. I should have come across you earlier! 🙂

  30. E

    13. May, 2011

    To those who are offended:there is a disclaimer above,in case you haven’t notice


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