Seven levels of photographers by Ken Rockwell

Photo by Phkoopz/Deviantart

Photo by Phkoopz/Deviantart

There are a lot of things to agree and a lot to criticise what Ken Rockwell wrote about the seven levels of photographers. One thing is sure: it already has an official Hungarian version on the author’s website (it is a small thing for readers of my Hungarian blog, but definitely something very important for my felow Hungarians). This classification is widely spread around by many photographers with great joy. Of course this writing builds on stereotypes and most of the time it is harsh and unjust just like all jokes usually are. However if we ourselves aren’t the target of the joke we are happy to join laughing  at others in agreement. Like it is with horoscopes: there is always something true in jokes  too – especially the best ones. Enjoy the writing and be reminded it is a joke – but maybe not all of it is. Especially when it hurts you the most!

“The Seven Levels of Photographers

Artist: Top Level 7 („Heaven”)

This is the highest level.

An artist fixes his imagination in a tangible form called a photograph. He captures the spirit of place or person, real or imagined, in this photograph and the viewer responds to this.

An artist is a complete master of his tools. When creating art an artist transcends common existence as his spirit flies up to meet that which he is capturing. He may practice and learn his tools while he is not creating, however when creating the camera becomes an extension of his mind. No conscious thought is expended on the technical issues with which he is a virtuoso while creating photographs.

To make a musical analogy, a musician may woodshed his scales, but when he’s jamming he’s not even thinking about fingerings. He’s lost in the passion of the moment.

Just like professional surfers who have a dozen boards or pro guitarists who have 23 axes, an artist may have a slew of cameras, each for a different purpose.

Likewise, other artists may only have one camera, or none at all. It just doesn’t matter.

Artists sometimes dress funny and tend to stay up late. They usually prefer to photograph attractive young women and are proud of it.

No one ever sees their work since they have crummy ability to promote themselves, and sadly, usually don’t even appreciate their own excellent work. Those that do drop down to Whore, which sadly and paradoxically means you will never see the work of a true artist unless you know one personally. Good artists are usually too embarrassed to show their work to anyone unless you are intimate with them, since their work is their soul.

Artists use any sort of camera, including pinholes and disposables, or 8 x 10s. They use whatever instrument they need to create what they want.

Whore: Level 6

A whore is an artist who sells his soul by accepting money or drugs for his art.

By lowering himself to this level his vision is compromised.

Why? Because when one depends on selling one’s soul to pay for one’s food and pad one does not screw with the program, which means that one does not try new styles.

If a whore’s work pays his bills after years of trying, it’s unlikely any whore will be open to trying new styles while he still needs the dough.

Artists with representation (meaning they are represented by a gallery or an artists’ representatives just as pimps do in the sex trade) may lose that representation if they change their style.

Therefore, art for sale from one person rarely gets better or different.

The style that sells is all a whore’s johns and pimps (representatives) want to see. See Barnbaum’s book on artistry. It is extraordinarily difficult for a successful whore to change styles once one has been accepted.

Read more about the whore class at The 10 Most Overpaid Jobs in the US.

Amateur: Level 5

People who earn less than half of their income from photography are amateurs. This has nothing to do with the quality of their photography.

This person loves to create photographs. Good amateurs of pure spirit can transcend the other levels directly to being an artist.

People who shoot weddings and etc. on weekends as a side line from their day jobs are still amateurs; they just charge for their photos. And as you read here they may also charge a lot for their snaps.

Amateurs who think that better cameras will improve their photos are at risk of descending to the lowest level of equipment measurbator. Too many amateurs have been misled by camera makers into thinking that they need good cameras for good images. This thought is poison to creating art.

Amateurs who lose themselves in creating great images are set for a path of enlightenment.

Being an amateur is a good thing; from this level one can rise to the level of artist rather easily.

Amateurs almost always shoot Canon SLRs.

Snapshooter: Level 4

This is my mom and most people. These people want memories, as opposed to photographs or cameras.

Snapshooters who are graphic artists or otherwise visually literate people often make fantastic images that impress everyone. These snapshooters are artists and don’t even realize it. They usually dress better than the artists who think they really are artists.

Believe it: it’s the photographer who makes an image, not a camera.

Snapshooters use point-and-shoot and disposable cameras, which give the same excellent results as the Leicas, Nikons, Canons and Contaxes used by everyone else.

Professional: Level 3

A professional photographer is a person who earns his entire living (100%) from the sale of photographs.

Professionals do not create art for a living; they create images for commerce. They usually have some familiarity with the tools and can get out decent images, however they may or may not be able to capture imagination.

Of course professionals may create great images, but that’s on their own time.

Professionals spend very little time worrying about cameras, except when they need to get them repaired. They spend most of their time looking for work and pissing about how all the other photographers in town are dropping their prices.

Professionals spend more on film and lab fees each month than they spend on camera gear in a year.

There are no professional nature photographers. They all either have day jobs or make their wives support them.

Professionals shoot Nikon SLRs, Mamiya medium format and Calumet 4×5″ cameras. They cannot afford gear as good as most serious amateurs.

Unless you are a commercial photography buyer, or know one as a friend, you have not heard of professional photographers. The ones you may have seen in camera ads proclaiming that they use this or that camera are just spokesmodels.

Professionals don’t have websites and don’t put out technical newsletters. Those people are usually amateurs.

Rich Amateur: Level 2

These are amateurs who, by having too much money, buy lots of equipment which can fetter their freedom of expression. They are mostly men, and many are old or retired.

Rich amateurs shoot Leicas, Contaxes, Alpas, Hasselblads and Linhof 4x5s. These are great cameras, but the results are the same as the Zenits, Pentaxes, Bronicas and Tachiharas.

Today they mostly shoot Canon 1Ds-Mk IIIs, 5D Mark IIs or the Nikon D3X.

These are the same idiots who bought the first 2.7 Megapixel digital SLRs designed for newspapers like the Nikon D1 back in 2000 just because they cost $5,000. They gave technically poorer results than the film cameras used by snapshooters. All because it’s expensive doesn’t make it good.

Bad rich amateurs think fuzzy B/W images of poor people are art.

Some rich amateurs fall into the bottom spiritual level easily because they worry too much about equipment, others go straight on to create great art since they don’t have any worries about equipment since they think they own the best. Oddly, few rich amateurs produce ordinary work. It either rules or sucks.

Equipment Measurbator: Bottom Level 1 („Hell”)

These men (and they are all men) have no interest in art or photography because they have no souls. Lacking souls they cannot express imagination or feeling, which is why their images, if they ever bother to make any, suck.

These folks have analysis paralysis and never accomplish anything.

Does poring over a microscope analyzing test images have anything to do with photographing a Joshua tree at dawn? Of course not. Even worse, time wasted concentrating on tests is time not spent learning useful aspects of photography and certainly time that could have been better spent actually photographing. Test just enough to know what your gear can do, and then get on with real photography.

They are interested solely in equipment for its own sake. They will talk your ear off for hours if you let them, but as soon as you ask to see their portfolio their bravado scurries away, or they think you want to see their cameras or stocks. You can read why cameras simply don’t matter here.

Most seem to come from technical avocations, like engineering, computers and sciences. These people worry so much about trying to put numerical ratings on things that they are completely oblivious to the fact that cameras or test charts have nothing to do with the spirit of an image. Because they worry so much about measuring camera performance we have dubbed them “Measurbators.” Unfortunately, many of them wander into looking for information on camera performance.

Many of them also play with audio equipment, computers or automobiles. They enjoy these toys just like their cameras for their own sake, but rarely if ever actually use them for the intended purposes.

Younger ones play video games or engage in chat rooms and web surfing. Older ones join “camera” clubs. (You should join photography clubs, but never camera clubs or any clubs that try to score art, since art is entirely subjective and cannot be scored numerically.) Likewise, these people never create anything notable with any of this other gear either, but they sure get excited by just having, getting or talking to you about it.

The one type of gear these people ignore is the only type of gear that actually helps: lighting.

Someone with a decent portfolio is not an equipment measurbator. Someone with more cameras than decent photos just may be. People with websites teeming with technical articles but few interesting photographs probably are.

Do not under any circumstances deal with these people, talk to them, read their websites or especially ask them for photography advice. To the innocent they seem like founts of knowledge, however their sick, lifeless souls would love to drag you into their own personal Hells and have your spirit forever mired in worrying about how sharp your lens is. If you start worrying about this and you’ll never photograph anything again except brick walls and test charts.

These people are easy to identify. If you’ve read this far you’ve probably seen their websites. They always have lots of info about equipment, but very few real photographs. Beware of any information from any website not loaded with photography you admire.

Other people have other words for these people. This article here adds some more perspective.

I had to pull most of the photos of equipment off my site because these people were spending more time looking at my equipment than my art! The bandwidth for which I pay was being eaten up by these idiots looking at my lenses, instead of looking at the photos in my gallery which is the whole point of this site. That’s why all the stupid pages like this one are in yellow, so that their eyes hurt too much to waste too much time on the nuts and bolts.

Most people who waste my time e-mailing me with technical and equipment questions through this site unfortunately belong to this unenlightened bottom group. Almost anyone who actually worries about the level they occupy belong to the bottom. Many of these folks stalk the Internet, and spend hours getting off “contributing” to technical websites and photography chat rooms like, and instead of making photos. The guys here aren’t too bad, and most of the Leica people here are just equipment collectors.

Online Expert: Level 0

(these guys don’t take pictures so they aren’t a level of photographer.)

This level never existed before the Internet, because cameras were never as exciting as sports cars or missiles for men to research.

This became terrifyingly apparent one day when I got an email from someone who didn’t think an example I posted of a sharp lens was sharp. I was confused, since it was exceptionally sharp, which is why I posted it. When I asked this reader “not sharp compared to what?,” he replied that it “wasn’t as sharp as a different example of a different lens” he saw posted on some other website.

Holy Cow! This was a guy who doesn’t even own a camera! He spends his time researching them and spreading his irrelevant opinions all over the Internet!

The Internet is ablaze with these guys. Forums and chat rooms are loaded with them. Photographers don’t have the time for forums. We have more photography to do than time to do it. See The Two Kinds of Photographers.

Photography was never cool enough before digital to attract men’s attention for no particular reason. Personally, the muzzle velocity of a Barrett 50-calibre sniper rifle is far more interesting to me than the MTF of a digital camera I’ll never use. If I worked in an office and could waste my employer’s time researching personal hobbies on the Internet, I’d rather look at pornography than research other people’s cameras.

This level has existed in the automotive marketspace forever, with young boys learning every possible performance specification of Corvettes and Ferraris. We boys start this more than 10 years before we can get a driver’s license, much less be able to buy our own Ferraris.

Boys love to learn about cars, guns, motorcycles and anything technical. I know I sure do. We men never grow out of wanting to know everything about everything, and telling you so.

Just because any car nut can tell you every possible performance specification of a Ferrari doesn’t mean he can drive, much less compete, much less in Formula One, and much less win at it. Most of these people live in places where they’ve never even seen a Ferrari, much less ever owned one themselves.

Today with digital photography, we now have the same lookie-loos researching digital camera specs just for the bizarre fun of it. Ignore them. They love to talk and research, but aren’t photographers.”

Reminder: Parts with italic letters are not my thoughts I just reposted them. I don’t totally agree them. If you feel hurt by these words you should blame the writer of the original text – ore more likely yourself you recognised in the criticism. This writing is meant to be humorous and take it like that: please think about it and have a good laugh!

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