I've been a full-time photographer for over 10 years now. Due to me basically throwing away the first 21 years of my life, I never went to college. So when I became a photographer I had to teach myself everything. Back then there's were little in the way of online tutorials or blogs that walked you through the process of becoming a photographer. Not wanting to be a hack; I would sit on the floor of book stores in Nashville and learn all I could about the art and craft of photography. Fast forward to today and as many people are fond of saying "everyone is a photographer now." The field of photo making has definitely become very crowded with people buying their first camera and then literally the next week being paid to do a shoot. Due to the sudden influx of these new photographers many older, established professionals look down on, make fun and fear these "newbies." They act like the old guy telling the young kids to get off his lawn. They bemoan about how these young people are destroying the culture and business of photography with $500 photo shoots. I personally welcome any new/young photographer into the field. We all had to start somewhere; none of us entered the scene knowing half of what we should have.
But what does make me sad is the way photography is being understood by so many new shooters. As well as talking to photographers in Nashville, I belong to several photo groups on Facebook, Google + and others. These are places where new photographers post work to be seen and critiqued by others in the community. What I've seen for the last few years is a heavy emphasis on gear and lighting. Someone will post a great photo and all anyone wants to know is "what lens did you use?" Which brand of lighting was it" What camera did you shoot it with", "What f/Stop did you use?", etc. I never see anyone ask "how did you get the person to smile like that?" "What's the story you were trying to tell?" etc.
In these groups if a photo is even the slightest bit soft, out of focus or shadowy it gets berated as a bad photo. Meanwhile any photo, no matter how boring, stale or hum-drum it is gets raves upon raves if the lighting is "technically perfect" or there's a "nice bokeh." Basically, someone will post a photo of a girl standing with a bland pose, no emotion, nothing to draw a person in, but the background has pretty, blurry bokeh and people will say it's the greatest photo they've seen all day.
They are not seeing the humanity behind the photo, only the machine. My fear is that we are raising up a generation of photographers that don't understand that what makes a photo great is not the technical as much as it is the human connection. Some of the greatest photos have been; blurry, poorly lit, grainy, etc. but the one thing they all have in common is that they have captured a moment that evokes an emotion from the viewer. This is especially important for commercial photography, as the photo needs to prompt the viewer to take an action (buy a product or service, donate money, etc.)
I've never been a big fan of photo schools because A) I never went to one B) I've heard a lot of people talk about how much they focus on fine art and not on commercial photography. But I'm recently changing my mind on the subject. I know see that without a proper education in the history and fundamentals of photography a person can easily think it's all about what brand of gear you use or how technically perfect you can light a shot.
A photo school won't teach you everything you need to know to become successful, but the foundations are essential to the story telling that is photography. For those who can't go for one reason or another; do what I did and park yourself on the floor of a book store and learn all you can.