How to Not Be a Fauxtog

I was browsing through our stats this evening when I noticed someone landed on this site searching for “How not to be a fauxtog.” I decided to take to Facebook for answers. I picked a few of my favorites.

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  1. Charlie Brown

    Using images that you had your camera create in “P” or the green “A” mode as portfolio pieces is dishonest and will bite you in the butt real fast. If your client points to one of your shots and says “I like this look.” and asks you to produce that same look in some nightmare location, you’d better know what the hell you’re doing as a photographer….not a picture taker. You will NEVER learn to be a photographer until you have mastered the craft in “Manual” mode

    • dfwnikonguiy

      hey now – after 30 years of shooting manual I just learned the joy of ap. might actually have a ap merit piece 🙂

    • I disagree. There is nothing wrong with using program mode, as long as while using it, you monitor your shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder. I don’t know about all brands, but Nikon will let you flick the thumb wheel to adjust these vitals in program mode. You should be proficient in manual modes, and your decision to use program should be based on what will give you the best result and allow you to adapt, but there is nothing wrong with a calculated decision to use P.

    • hey now, aperture priority isn’t a bad thing, unless your priority is to keep things as wide as possible. Unless you’re way overpracticed enough to know the exact settings you need for every precise moment, shooting full manual isn’t really an option until you’ve knocked out a few shots on A/Av or S/Sv to find where you should bump your settings.

      Anyone who thinks that you’re not a professional unless you never take your camera off full manual is not only being a snob, but they’re just asking for tons of trial/error shooting. Dinking around in Manual to figure out your environment is even worse if time is of the essence. I’d rather throw my camera to program real quick if something catches my eye, but for sake of walking around the city I tend to keep things at a steady aperture of f/4 or so during the day. It’s closed enough (with my CPL on, usually) that I can aim at areas in direct sunlight, but it’s still open enough to catch people and details at street level that are in the shade, and it still gives a nice soft background even in relatively tight quarters. If I’ve got a situation like shaded people with direct light in the background, I’ll just double-check a shade-only picture I shoot off to the side in A, and switch to manual to lock that EV in place until I leave that area. If I’m in a bind, I’ve also got my AF/EV lock button set to toggle instead of hold, so I can just smack it while aiming at the shade and shoot to my heart’s desire in the mixed lighting.

      Light is constantly changing around you, there is no ‘right’ setting to keep fixed to, nor wrong setting. Who’s to say that photographers you like haven’t shot a picture you know and love in a priority mode? Yes, something taken in a studio will be planned. Landscape photography often takes multiple manual exposures combined into composites, and commercial shoots are very controlled in their lighting and settings. But, to capture a photo, to capture life and nature, the world that breathes color into its surroundings to create a composition, not a snapshot.

      That takes an eye, that takes concept, and it is a new form of poetry with every successful image. Photography as an art form is not a math test in which you need to show where you carried your denominator to get full credit.

      • The first thing that any good photographer, ammeteur or professional, needs is the ability to see a good image. After that, knowing how to make the camera copy that image is the second thing. Lots of “photographers” do that in reverse. They buy gear, read manuals, learn to shoot in manual, and produce lots of boring, lifeless, properly exposed and focused images.

      • Um… I guess I’m just a snob and “overpracticed.”

        I always shoot manual. They make an in-camera light meter for a reason, and hand-held incident/reflected meters too. I don’t spend any time “fiddling around” finding the right exposure, and I usually shoot concerts where the lighting is constantly changing from second to second. I never leave my camera on one setting. You call me “overpracticed.” I say I just happen to know how to shoot. It’s not a bad thing. It’s something you should aim for. It makes your time a lot more valuable and your images higher in quality.

        I don’t think everyone should shoot in manual all of the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to know exactly how to respond to light. And I’ve found I’m faster in manual than I am in any priority mode, and it allows my creativity to shine.

    • I feel old. When “priority” settings entered my life along with the blessing of auto focus I was overjoyed, as well as when I got my fist camera that moved the film to the next frame all by itself by the magic power of batteries. Camera’s settings are tools, quite useful tools in fact. The point is you have to know how and when to use them, but it’s not really much different than knowing when to use external light meter and when can you rely on the built-in one. In fact there are still alive The Snobs Of Yesterday who declared going without external light meter totally faux pas even for you vacation photos. Times change, tools change, fads change. Some time ago “shooting manual” would mean no light meter at all, perhaps in future it will mean you actually have to point the camera yourself, who knows! And what difference does it make what tools you use if you are still capable of producing the desired effect?

  2. #1 Put down the Photoshop and Lightroom filters. Since the rise of digital photography, people have put an inordinate amount of time, money and effort into turning a horrible photo into a work of art by tinting it yellow or green.

    ‘Trendy’ editing techniques are, by their very definition, bad. Trends change and filters go out of style. First it was spot colouring – everyone loved it, but now it’s embarrassing and ugly. Then it was those god awful textures – like the torn paper look. Then it was cross processing, and now vintage effects. When done right they’re okay, but the majority of them look like utter crap and in five years, your clients will be outright embarrassed to show off their yellow and green tinted garbage photos. To a trained eye, it just screams ‘noob’.

    There is something to be said about the timelessness of crisp black and white photos and vibrant, life-like colours – they’ll look good fifty years from now as they do today.

    Same thing goes for angles – an angled shot looks good once and a while, but my God when I see some shots I just want to travel through space and time and grab their fucking camera and level it off for them.

    #2 Don’t be afraid to stop what you’re doing and purvery the scene, lighting and concept. If your clients won’t wait a second for you to get your shit together, then you need to take charge and tell them to relax for a second. I’ve been shooting for over a decade and there’s still times where I stop what I’m doing and think about what I’m doing before I start banging away.

    #3 When you’re a new photographer, the best advice is to scout your locations. Your clients will all try to schedule their shoots during their lunch breaks at high noon or something silly like that – as the professional, you need to learn what location looks best at what time and why. With enough lighting and skills, you can make any scene look reasonably good at any time of the day, but if you’re new, you have neither the equipment nor the experience to accomplish this and there’s no sense beating yourself up to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    #4 Be humble. Nobody starts out great and you do yourself a disservice charging people for your education. Sit down, have a picnic and spend the entire day looking at lighting and scenery. Watch an old black and white movie or television show to see what effect lighting has on mood and emotion. A great example is an old episode of the Twilight Zone (original) called “The Obsolete Man” – I watched a rerun of that when I was 4 or 5 and it stuck with me for DECADES.

    Watching well made movies really give you an idea for composition. When people kiss in the movies or show lots of emotion, is the camera man shooting at 17mm from 30 feet away to get an entire skyscraper building in the background or are they shooting close ups? Ask yourself why and learn to get in closer.

  3. I just wrote a blog about why people probably shouldn’t become “professionals”. It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Neat to be featured in this post, as well. 😉

    • Amen to that, Hillary. There’s such a ‘mystique’ to photographers that only non photographers see. The reality of it ranges from stressing about a slow month to editing, advertising, purchasing, etc. Actually shooting is less than 10% of a photographer’s job.

      Fauxtographers think “easy money for pressing a button” and that’s why their work sucks. They think “hey, I can make 3k for shooting a wedding too”, without thinking about the dozens of man hours involved or the cost of doing business.

  4. Learning any profession or hobby takes time, education (several methods available) and practice, practice, practice. there is “the Law of having to suck at new things” that everyone should keep in mind. Just because you have a new camera or had a few great shots does not mean you can be a professional. Being a professional takes time…I was a hobby photographer for more than 10 years and then went to a photography school and then assisted for several years and then started my own business. Even though while I was doing it just as a hobby I was hearing “you should be a photographer” – I knew I lacked the technical skills and experience to be a good, successful photographer. I chose to go to photography school – although today you can find a lot of the same info online for free but you need a good system of peers to critique with and the drive to get out and just shoot and try new things and see what happens with each setting. I see so many people with DLSRs set on “auto” and trying to compete in the market.

    Also new fauxtogs want to do it all – best is to find the style that works for you and focus on being the best you can be at portraits or weddings or documentary, etc. I don’t do weddings because there are so many excellent wedding photographers out there who can do a professional job. Of course I “could” do it too but it’s not the style I prefer or the amount of stress I’m looking for…I would rather let the people who want to do weddings well cover that part of photography.

    The saying “fake it ’till you make it” is important – yes, you need the confidence but you also have to be realistic. Before I became professional (I was holding down a dreaded corporate job to pay the bills…and student loans), I would introduce myself as a photographer while traveling – that really helped me build confidence – saying it out loud helped motivate me to want to learn more and become professional…but at the same time I knew I wasn’t ready to say that at home and compete with the market.

    I guess my advice for anyone who is in fauxtog status and wants to be taken seriously and also who wants to be a good photographer is accept that as with any profession, you cannot just start at the top…it takes years of learning, practicing and building your own style. I am always perusing the photo sites to see what others are doing – to get inspiration, new angles, new lighting, etc…and at least once a week I’m improving my software skills (free online tutorials) or reading about other photographers… you have to make yourself part of the industry and that means connecting with others and accepting the level you are currently at…while striving to get to a higher level. I hope to never reach that highest level – I want to always learn more, try new techniques, etc. It’s the way, not the destination that intrigues me.

  5. I’m going to speak up for the benefits of using aperture priority or shutter priority – there are times and places that it works and works well. For instance the bulk of my work is hunting/fishing related.. and all of the lighting nightmares that come with that.. I don’t have slaves, poppers, light boxes etc. available to me in the field – and when a dog is coming in from a long retrieve on early morning, just before sun up, duck hunt.. to fully make it work – I can’t change manual settings as he flies across the flooded field or lake.. Aperture priority and shutter priority have saved my butt on more than one occasion. Please don’t assume that because every shot is not shot in full manual that A: I don’t know how or B; it makes me less of a professional. My job is to produce what my clients want – however I have to achieve that. I dare to say that many outstanding studio pros would be absolutely lost in a duck blind, a deer hide, or hanging off the edge of a bowfishing boat at night on a turbulent river..

    • shooting in aperture or shutter priority is NOT at all the same as shooting in the Program or Auto modes. With aperture or shutter priority – at least you have to choose what you want the image to look like so you need to know what you want in focus or what speed you need to get the desired result. I think the people (including me) who were complaining above about people shooting in auto mode was not at all intended for your style (I was talking about using the auto mode where the camera does all the work: the green square setting or the P setting on most cameras). The base setting on my camera is Aperture mode, F8 (that’s the sharpest on my lens*) and 100 ISO. Before putting my camera down after shooting, I reset to these settings so I’m ready for my next shot…and then can adjust from there. I use Manual only when using a tripod, night photography or other images where you have time to adjust and expose properly.

      *you can go to and search for your lens and see where the sharpest F-stop for that particular lens is…and also any other issues people have with it, like vignetting or mechanical issues you may encounter.

  6. I’ve been an avid hobbyist photographer for several years, and I know enough about photography (and business) to know I don’t want to be a professional photographer. I’m much happier doing things my way, taking pictures of what I want, when I want, and how I want.

    Photography is a business, and as with any business, you need to know what you’re doing. It’s not just about taking cute pictures of babies, it’s about paying taxes, having real experience, earning a reputation, dealing with customers, doing stuff you don’t want to do, and knowing your craft. I wouldn’t go to a restaurant whose chef who just learned how to turn on a stove, and I wouldn’t want a photographer who just learned how to turn on a camera.

    Just because you *can* take pictures, doesn’t mean you should do it for a living.

    • Very true…but there are many different types of photography – not all are commercially driven. I did advertising photography for a few years and wanted to hang myself! Then I got into Editorial photography (travel magazines mostly) and it wasn’t any better (for me). I still had to get “their shots” and do it how they wanted. I would always supplement with my own shots in addition to what they requested and more than half the time they chose to go with my shots/ideas rather than what they thought they wanted. These days I rarely do commercial work and stick to documentary and fine art…the income is much less but my quality of life has greatly improved. I have peers who are happy and successful photojournalists, wedding photographers, advertising, etc. I think just as not everyone would be happy or successful being an accountant or a teacher, you have to find the style that works for you and then develop that. But photography can also be a fantastic hobby if you enjoy it. To each their own….except for fauxtogs, of course :-p

  7. grrrr….. hashtags on Facebook. Talk about not knowing how to correctly use a tool.

    • Actually, both sites work together now. You can tag something on Twitter and it will appear on Facebook, for instance, so you only have to post a message once.

  8. i have a serious problem with one of those comments at the top. my full time position is a full time photographer for olan mills and i also do my own stuff on the side starting to branch out and build a client base so NO i cant afford to pay taxed on my own work when im lucky if i make $1000 a year doing my own stuff because of all the unqualified picture takers out there only charging $30 for everything including prints and copyrights. the only way i can get any business is to do it fairly cheap but its not b/c my product isnt worth more i just cant charge more right now b/c the way people think. i am a PROFESSIONAL just b/c i can’t “pay my dues” on my own work doesn’t mean jack!

    • If your work is of professional quality, then people will pay appropriately. I have to charge enough to make a living and pay my taxes and I’m still thriving with new clients. And last I checked, there were HUNDREDS of fauxtogs in a 50 mile radius of my home. If you don’t want to pay taxes now, and you get audited later, you’ll pay 10 times in fines what you would’ve paid in taxes.

    • Little known fact- not paying taxes on income made doing a service like photography or selling a product like prints- is a FELONY in pretty much every state. That means jail time. I agree with the other reply, also. If your work is good enough, people will pay appropriately. If you can’t afford to pay your taxes, you can’t afford to be in business.

    • Seriously, if you can’t make enough work/money doing photography, because of the ‘fauxtogs’ out there – I would be taking a good hard look at the quality of your own work. Because if people aren’t willing to pay you for your work, that’s probably saying something right there.

    • rin1010

      Hun, paying your bills by working for olan mills doesnt automatically make you a photog. I know this from working at a similar company back in the day. You are a sales person who happens to pose people and snap a button. When you start being a real entrepreneur and paying your taxes, then I’ll retract my opinion of what you’re doing.
      For now, work on building skill and business sense. Best of luck to you.

    • clearly a feux. The people out there that suck at photography don’t annoy me as much as the people that don’t pay taxes. In the mean time enjoy all the goverment funded crap that the rest of us struggle to pay for while you BREAK THE LAW and skip out on paying taxes.

  9. About the only version of professional photographer I would want to be is doing sports shots for the local paper. I have spent the last season doing pictures for a sports blog and while it has been fun, it has also been alot of work. In the course of a football season, I think my work has improved but I still need to do lots more work on it. And basketball….I feel hopelessly lost but I am still having fun. I have absolutely no desire to do wedding or portrait photography.

    As for Auto mode…..I like it sometimes but it seems like it gets a little wonky around sunset or sunrise.

  10. Photography as a hobby & not even dreaming of it as a profession

    One of my friends thinks he’s a professional photographer for owning a simple Nikon and having been in an internship in a photography business. Not even practice makes everyone professional or even good, so just because you have taken pictures and known a lot about photography even for some time, don’t claim yourself as a professional.
    This is quite different from what is often said (you define what you are etc.), but in a business like photography, you often can’t define your own professionalism – your clients do.

  11. The only one I disagree with is the last half of the second to last comment. Perhaps you have a concept the requires a series of images. Whether it be a story, or simply made stronger by having more than one image.

    All the technical stuff is great to know, and will help you in getting your shot quickly, but it all comes back to the photographer. Just because you fork out the money for a great body and great lenses, does not mean you can take great images. On the flip side, a great photographer can take a great image no matter what the camera. Whether it’s a 1DSmkIII/D3X or an iPhone, it’s being able to see the image, and capturing it.

    Editing photos is probably the hardest thing I’ve come across as a student. Yes, student, going for my BFA in photography. Chooseing one image out of 50+ shots taken might be easy, but choosing one image out of my best work to submit is damn hard. I obviously like different ones for different reasons, and have to choose the best not only from my own perspective, but the best in regards to what is being asked for.

    As for the rest of the comments, I agree. Your camera dial should never touch that green box, and stay away from the P one as well, if you can afford to. Av and Tv are useful for shooting specific things with a specific purpose, but get used to and very comfortable with your good good friend, M.

  12. grateful mom

    Mika ~~ Could you share those useful URLs?

  13. If you work in a pet store full time.. your not a professional photographer.. your also not an accountant. That one goes out to “Mr me to” from Blacktown Sydney who informed me of his multiple professions after he found out i was a professional photographer & my wife is an accountant.

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