I take pictures. I take a lot of pictures. My camera goes everywhere with me, although to be fair that’s not a challenge; I use my camera phone as my primary camera. Sometimes that’s obvious, since as cameras go, it’s still a phone. I don’t consider myself, creatively, a photographic artist first; I am humbled daily by the images shot by any number of other photographers – including my 16-year-old niece, who recently took up photography, and has since shot any number of outstanding images of insect wildlife, dog facial expressions, and life*.

I take pictures of squirrels.

I take pictures of squirrels.

I take a lot of pictures without worrying much about whether or not I am ‘good enough’ to be ‘a photographer’. By definition, a photographer is one who shoots photographs. I’m that. I’m a lot of other things too. What sets me apart from any professional photographer (who earns a living taking photographs with a level of technical ability worth paying them for), or an artist who works in photography as their medium (who, whether they earn a living or not, takes wonderful photographs, images that capture something about life and the world, that people want to see), is The Ratio [of great shots to wasted ones]. I am a student, an amateur, a woman with a camera phone; I take uncounted pictures to get one great shot [maybe] – and am quite willing to make use of pictures that communicate something to me, personally, but which are not particularly skillful or extraordinary pictures. A professional would take potentially many pictures, and get many that were precisely what they were looking for, and a professional would be unlikely to make use of poor quality images. An artist might take more pictures – or not – but would likely have many more shots that capture something quite extraordinary. The ratio of great shots to ‘why did you bother’ shots is very different for someone just snapping pictures along life’s journey, and someone who is skilled, studious, gifted, or driven by artistic purpose – or all of those things at once.

A favorite floral shot; some pictures capture something that lasts.

A favorite floral shot; some pictures capture something that lasts.

One lovely thing about life is that practice is a thing; I could become a more skilled photographer with study and practice. (My photography has improved quite a lot over the past couple years.) I could become a captivating artist with a camera, with more study and practice. (I occasionally take some amazing shots even now.)  There are all those verbs involved, and results that vary based on choices and opportunities – and inspiration. With practice, the ratio of great shots to wasted shots would change in favor of great shots – because we become what we practice. Yep. Some things are exactly just that simple. I can’t actually see any particularly obvious dividing line between ‘dinking around with my camera phone’ and ‘I’m a photographer’ – Only a ratio of great shots to crap shots, a ratio of meaningful images to trite images, and a ratio of great pictures taken to all the pictures taken.

Sometimes I don't quite capture what I was going for.

Sometimes I don’t quite capture what I was going for.

Having said all of that, I’ll add that I’m not certain the ratio has ‘real meaning’ or value beyond words; I love taking pictures and don’t care much whether I am ‘a successful photographer’ by any definition but my own. I enjoy taking the pictures, and in some cases even those that ‘didn’t turn out’ capture something of value, or are meaningful to me in some way. I could definitely grab hold of the ratio as an idea and beat myself down for not being ‘good enough’, or not growing fast enough – instead, this morning, I just observe that it’s there, as a thing – maybe – and that there are differences among us. My young niece has far more talent and aptitude with a camera than I do; it shows in the pictures. Happily, life is not a competition; I am free to enjoy her photographs alongside my own.

It's a journey. Each step I take is my own.

It’s a journey. Each step I take is my own.

Today is a good day to see the world with new eyes. Today is a good day to enjoy beauty and wonder. Today is a good day to be who we choose to become – by practicing. There is so much freedom to choose who we are, and who we want most to be. The labels are less important than the verbs. There is a whole world to explore on this journey.

*I am choosing not to use any of my nieces images in this post, although I am thinking about her work, and have it open on another tab of my browser, where I can look at it while I write. My choice to use only my own work in this post is based on my Big 5 relationship values; I have not been given explicit permission by the artist (my niece) to use her photography in my blog. It’s irrelevant that she is 16, or that she is my niece; she is the artist, and her images are her own work, owned by her, and using them without her permission is a theft of intellectual property. Yes, I’m serious. Please be considerate of the work of artists, get permission, give credit, and don’t seek to profit financially from their work without authorization – in advance. It’s just common courtesy.