Setting the Aspirational Bar

January 29, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Often run into online discussions lamenting the thin borderline between Pro and Enthusiast. To me the line isn't so thin: if you make more from selling your prints and skills than you spend on equipment and software a year, you are a Pro. If you make enough that it is your sole source of income you still a Pro, but a very, very good one.

People look at my best work and tell me I should "turn pro", as if it was a simple decision. In actuality, just to get to minimal pro level as defined above, you pretty much have to work with people, because - let's face it - people pay more to have their pictures taken than scenic landscapes do. 

I am a niche photographer. I do landscapes mostly, though am increasingly adding the big dramatic birds. Having acquired a used Canon 100-400mm, specifically for birding, I'm doing more Herons, Great Egrets, and Eagles which are all totally over photographed, and, pay poorly for any photos taken of them. The ROI score for that lens is outgo $1K, income zero/zilch/nada. I am not a Pro. 

Last week we had dinner with some folks who are pros. Roger and Bette Ross do landscapes, and have made some income selling scenic prints, but make much more shooting seniors, school sports and other "people" work. They are a lovely team who have put in the time and effort necessary to build a paying niche in a small rural area. They qualify as very good Pros. But it takes ongoing work, as Roger said, you have to market, and you have to consistently be there for that market. While they continue to sell some of their landscapes, becoming the semi-official photographers for a school district, is what makes their business viable.

So for "pros" the marker is easy, you earn the money, you earn the label. Within that there are levels ranging from "A very good living." to "It covers my expenses."

While I aspire, or perhaps more accurately, fantasize reaching the lower level of Pro-dom, I once again got a reminder that even in the Enthusiast community there are levels of achievement. 

While having dinner with the Ross's, Roger told me of a recent trip to the Ft. Stevens State Park to shoot a group of Snowy Owls that have been hanging around the Parking Lot C area on the Clatsop Spit. As mentioned, I'm expanding into the more dramatic birds, and Snowy Owls certainly fit that. So the very next day, even though the prediction was heavy rain, I could see a window on the satellite weather view, so I quickly threw everything in the car and sped to Parking Lot C. Got there while there was, indeed, a break in the weather, and also just in time to see some white feathers disappear over the horizon.


It was nasty cold, mostly due to windchill, with a few birders about, and I was stumped as to what to expect. Bird photography is 20% equipment, 20% being in the right spot, and 60% knowing the birds's behavior. I talked to a someone who said that a nice male had just been sitting near the parking lot, but, was the one I'd just seen as distant tail feathers. And, while there had been up to five earlier in the week, this one seemed to be the only one visible today. 

I had parked in the middle of the parking lot away from the action, leaving the tripod in the car while I scoped things out. So I figured that was my day right there: tail feathers. Just then the owl lifts and starts heading directly back towards me.

And lands 50 feet away from where I'm standing and sits there looking directly at me as if to say, "Wasn't there something you wanted to do?"

Oh god, oh right, right, right, you're right; I want to take your picture, I... Let's see should I run and get the tripod 'cus I've got this monster 100-400mm on, or should I... Oh god, oh right, right, right - just... Oh JUST shoot damnit. 

So I go into Spray and Pray mode, and shoot like crazy. Total Buck Fever. After about 15 minutes, the owl nods as if to say, "That'll do for today." and flies off into the marsh. Only then do I start looking at my camera settings. The lens was on 250mm focal length the entire time, when I could have gotten is so, so tight with the 400mm setting. The focal points were still set for rocks and trees which tend to move much less than owls, and.. I could go on, but you get the drift. As woefully dependent on dumb luck as when I was shooting the eagle pair

Mind, I did get some nice pics.

But so much potential for much better, and once again I'm foolishly depending on spray and pray, the lowest rung on the Enthusiast's ladder.

No, actually I'm convinced there is a lower tier, and the word for that would be: 



  1. A person who claims an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.
  2. A person with an amateur interest in the arts.

Yep, that's me; lower tier three, middle rungs. Sigh! 


Location:  46°13'38.31"N  124° 0'51.34"W


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