The Seven Kinds of Photographers I’ve Met

My journey in photography started a little more than three years ago. During that time, I have taken a darkroom class, read numerous blogs, sat for a family portrait, written a blog, participated in forums and discussion groups, read reviews, watched videos, and read multiple photography books. As someone who stumbled into photography without preconceived notions, my interactions with other photographers have been enlightening. Over my brief three years, I’ve noticed that while photographers comprise an eclectic group, there are discernible personality types that stand out. Here are my observations to date.

Collectors know things that most people consider entirely unimportant. For example, a collector will know the proper screw on the base plate of the 1958 model versus the 1957 model—and they will call you on it. Unless you want to get your feelings hurt, NEVER show your (supposedly) collectible camera to a collector. Within minutes, you will be in tears because the serial number is off by 1290, AND the shutter speed dial should be silver on the sides and not black. You have a clumsy fake or a bad repair.

Collectors have charts and diagrams that baffle the average person, so don’t ask for more information. Collectors talk about cameras and lenses like sommeliers talk about wine—do not embarrass yourself and try to join in. If you find an old camera and want to determine its value, be humble when approaching a collector. Say up front, “I know this is probably junk, but could you tell me what it’s worth?” They get this a lot, so whatever they tell you, thank them and leave quickly.

Collectors like boxes for their typically pristine items. Do they actually ever use their items? I still have no idea, and I’m not about to ask.   (I have questions from time to time and need to stay in their good graces.)

Cameraphiles like exotic cameras most people have never heard of. The cameraphile is perfectly capable of arguing the best camera produced by year in any country. Need to know the best TLR ever made in the Czech Republic? A cameraphile will know and, if it is sufficiently exotic, will likely own one. Cameraphiles tend to have intimate knowledge of every camera they own. Blindfold 10 cameraphiles and fire a shutter, and by sound, they will identify the year and model and tell you (and be correct) whether it needs a CLA.

As best I can tell, collectors and cameraphiles differ mostly in how they build their stashes. Collectors tend to focus on a few product lines or possibly a single company or era. Cameraphiles have broader concerns and may cut across companies, years, or models. I bought a Konica Pearl from a cameraphile whose impetus seems to have been “beauty.” He had stunning collection– most of which I had never heard of–and he had never used any of them.

Pro photographers do not play around with gear. They buy what they need and upgrade when it helps the bottom line. Ask them the best way to get a shot or how to adjust lighting, and they will gladly tell you, but it will be in jargon you don’t understand. Even worse, they will suggest gear you can’t afford and never heard of. It is very much like having my plumber explain the technical reasons the water heater exhaust is not up to code. I simply nod and pay the bill.

The image is the thing. Give an artist a light-tight box that can capture an image, and something amazing will come out. Artists seem to be in a permanent creative state. They see shots five steps before they exist.

Avoid artists unless you’re one. Otherwise, you will be left wondering why you even own a camera. They make complex shots seem simple. Do not even bother trying to replicate one of their photos.

True Believer
They own gear from a single company, and that company is the most excellent camera company ever. No other product can compete with Product X from their chosen company. Images made by cameras and lenses from their favorite company are obviously sharper with better color science and bokeh. In fact, there are light wavelengths that can only be seen when looking through the viewfinder of a camera from their favorite company.

Holding a camera from their favorite company elevates every photo they make to high art (at least in their minds). That random image of the guy on a street corner eating an ice cream cone with a few drops melting down his jacket? Being one of the great unwashed, when looking at the photo, you see just a shot of a messy eater. Fortunately, the True Believer will gladly explain to you (with barely contained exasperation) that it is a perfect post-modernist encapsulation of the wretchedness of industrialization-induced overconsumption.

Gearheads don’t take many photographs. They mostly like showing off their gear and buying the latest anything as soon as it appears. Even though they never shoot video, 120 fps 4K is absolutely essential. Gearheads will gladly regale you with stories of their last five cameras but will rarely ever show any images. They read all the blogs and magazines and can quote reviews verbatim. Get to know a gearhead—you can get great used gear from them at reasonable prices whenever new models come out.

Emulsion Whisperer
Here we have the Masters of the Zone System–they know and have prepared every possible dilution of Rodinal. Want to know how D-76 compares to IlFOTEC DD-X when developing expired Pan-X? What about pushing HP5+ to 3200 with the least amount of grain?

Never under any circumstances tell an emulsion whisperer that you use a monobath–very likely, you will be slapped. Emulsion whisperers find mistakes in the Massive Dev chart and experiment to create new entries. I’m confident that somewhere there is an emulsion whisperer who has invented a cough syrup and cherry coke-based developer that gives low grain,  excellent tonal range, and pleasing contrast to Tri-X pushed five stops. Emulsion whisperers tend to eschew 35mm in favor of medium format. The grandmasters go large. Don’t hold me to this, but I hear those with darkrooms wear special robes.

It takes all kinds of photographers to make a world—this is my impression of some I’ve met. What about you?


    1. Author

      Within the realm of photography, there is more than enough to satisfy anyone’s curiosity. I’m fulfilling my dream of shooting every Minolta SLR. But I also want to master studio lighting to create still life images. Nothing wrong with having fun…

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