Don’t Let Photographers Look Down On You Because You Are Young

Since the moment I walked into Milford Photo looking to buy a professional camera in the winter of 2011, I have been exposed to constant judgment for being a rich, stupid and spoiled 13-year-old who wanted an expensive camera to take “artsy” pictures that I didn’t know how to take.

Contrary to society’s beliefs, I do not fit into that stereotype in any way, shape or form. Unfortunately, I am associated with this stereotype because that is the view society chooses to observe and overplay.

Apparently in this day and age, professional cameras are used by “professionals”, or n: a person engaged or qualified in a profession, in this case photography. But where is the specified age note that says you can’t be young?

That’s right, there is none.

However today’s society believes that in order to really be a professional, you have to be old (or at least older than 13), and know every single thing that you are doing and how to do it perfectly, while of course having all the fancy camera gear that supposedly represents your skill level. Conversely that is most definitely not the case.

A prevalent scenario is going to a camera store in hopes of purchasing a camera.

Suppose I walk into the store, at the age of 15 now, and ask to buy a small point-and-shoot camera in my favorite color pink. It will be given to me, and most likely the least expensive one.

Now suppose I walk into the same store, at the same age, and ask for the oh-so very expensive Nikon D4, one of the most professional — by its features and the skill level it takes to use — cameras on the current market. I would be questioned as to why I needed it, if I knew how to use it, told about the alarming price tag, and probably offered a smaller, less expensive, easy to use camera.

Now suppose a grown businessman walked into the same camera store and asked the same question.

First, with the point and shoot, he would be asked if that is what he for sure wanted, given a more expensive one, and potentially would be offered a more professional and advanced camera. If he asked for the Nikon D4 or Canon top of the line equivalent, it would be handed over to him with not a doubt in the sales persons mind.

Now, lets look at what the two of us needed the cameras for.

I was looking to upgrade my Nikon D3100, a professional-level camera but a few levels down from the D4. I am a concert and sports photographer, using my photos for an online website, portfolio, and for sales to fund my camera and lenses.

I have been using professional cameras for 2 years, and have been told by my peers as well as experienced, knowledgeable older photographers that I had outgrown my camera, and had used it to the maximum point where my skills could no longer develop and be shown, as they were being held back by what my camera was capable of producing.

And I was being questioned by the sales person on why I needed the D4 and if I knew how to use it?

Now lets look at the businessman. He was an amateur photographer, doing it solely for a side hobby next to his Wall Street name. He needed a small point and shoot camera that he could take with him through the city and home, capturing memories of his children and family.

He had no reason to get the Nikon D4, for all he needed was a camera to keep up with the speed of his lifestyle and his kids as they ran through Disney World on a family vacation. Something that everyone in the family could use, that was easy to understand, and that could do the few things that he needed it to do.

So why then was he questioned about whether or not he wanted the most advanced camera on the market and not just given the small point and shoot that he had asked for? Was it because he was in a suit and looked like he had the money to spend? Or was it because he thought he didn’t know what he wanted; and apparently someone professional-looking like him needed the big fancy camera?

Is there a difference between age and skill that sales representatives can notice from the person asking the question about the camera? No, there isn’t.

Yet somehow every where I go I am faced with the same judgmental looks and people thinking that I shouldn’t be there or that I shouldn’t have the camera gear that I have.

On April 17th, 2012, I faced this stereotype in the clearest daylight possible. I had a photo pass to a huge concert, and upon entering the building with the pass I was questioned by security and other photographers if I was really supposed to be there, how I got there, and then my name so they could actually verify it.

After they read my name on the master list of verified photographers, I then got stares and questions as to how that even happened. The thoughts were clear that night as I got glares and perplexed faces while I did my job taking pictures for the school newspaper.

The expressions demonstrated puzzled looks as to how I got a photo pass to begin with, followed by the thought that my photos must be absolute s**t and that I had no idea what I was doing with a professional Nikon camera.

I became tense from the surrounding environment, thinking that the other photographers and journalists had a lot more experience and skill than I did, and was intimidated from what I thought was power and expertise.

The following day, I published my photos. A few hours later, I received a friend request from a top photojournalist at the Fairfield Citizen. I accepted it, not knowing the reason for his request, and browsed through his photos from the previous night.

What I saw was blurred faces, poor lighting, out of focus and over-exposed images that I would have never expected out of a top photojournalist like him. I followed up with research into another photographer who was there, and noticed similarly produced images. I then proceeded to receive comments upon comments from the photographer complimenting my images and wondering how I captured “truly amazing and remarkable shots”.

The constant influence from society led me to think the same way the “professional” photographers thought of me. I thought that they were outstanding photographers who had the fancy camera gear to go with the title.

They looked official writing for these big publications, and I expected jaw-dropping results. But they weren’t all that. And they thought that I was going to have terrible photos, because I was 15 and photographing for my school’s newspaper. They thought I had the camera for show, that I didn’t know how to use it, and that I wasn’t supposed to be there. In both cases, the opposite was true.

Society’s view of age versus skill level and the made up logic of professional cameras has lead to conclusions discriminating others. Yes, while we may have the same camera and the same gear that does not mean that I am less talented because of my age.

Experience is everything, and simply seeing a person with a camera cannot make up for what’s produced by them.

Great photographs come from hard work, persistence and determination to succeed and experiment with failures along the way, not just magic from the silent snap of the shutter.

Though it’s true that some teenagers have professional cameras simply because they can, it is important to take a look at their background before drawing the point of them merely being spoiled and ignorant.

And the same goes with adults; just because you have the gear does not mean you are automatically in the lead of everyone else.

I have worked hard to prove society’s stereotype false, for I ultimately believe that if an adolescent demonstrates dedication and expertise in their art and photos, they deserve a chance in the sometimes-dismissive world of photography and professional cameras.

Update: This post has been edited to remove the name of an individual

About the author: Olivia Paige is a 15-year-old photographer who currently attends the The Taft School in Connecticut. You can visit her website here and her Flickr account here.

  • Michael Clark

    Is it possible that some of the “glares and perplexed faces while I did my job taking pictures for the school newspaper” that Olivia interpreted as being due to her age might have actually been due to her unintentional violation of photo pit etiquete?

  • apollo

    I started too 16 year old and I’m 20 now and I never had problems with my age. I started my business and I first did photography and videography jobs for my school. Then I started to photograph weddings at the age of 18 and then I proceeded to funerals, parties, celebrations and etc. The thing you have to justify: You’re young, you’re not as experienced as the older photographers but does it matter if you can take stunning pictures? No. I never care how people think about my age and in the end, I think that it was a good idea.

    To Olivia, please, don’t buy D4. It’s way too complicated camera if you currently have D3100. You won’t get all the juice out of it, YET. First, buy D7000 or D600 but mostly, invest to good glass. I had Hebrew Trinity with my old trusty Nikon D60. D60 was a lot worse than D3100 is. I used D60 for…couple years and then I changed my body to D300s which I used for 3 years, very trusty, very good but I don’t recommend it anymore, D7000 is a lot better, technically. Now I’ve got the D4 and I’m still using my D300s as a secondary body and backup. D4 is a good camera but I think that it’s wrong choice for you. The differences between D4 and D3100 (controls and etc.) are so different that it might be a big problem.

    You have nice pictures. They are nice but there’s couple technical and photographic issues. I’d recommend that you move slowly forward, don’t make a dramatic jump. If you buy D7000 and D600, that would be a very good deal for your use for now.

  • YouMustBeJoking

    Perhaps. I think it’s more than a stretch to call her an “accomplished photographer”. The skill level here is still pretty basic. All that adulation followed by the Mozart comparison just left me a bit…dumbfounded. These are concert photos shot in Av – nothing remarkable here.

  • Jason

    Hi Olivia,

    Unfortunately looks DO matter. I’m a 24 year old freelance newspaper photographer but I look no older than 18. I get the same judgmental stares and condescending questions that you mention in your piece.

    I won’t talk more about the name dropping issue. You already know that was out of line.

    But what I want to say is that you can USE your looks/age to your advantage. On some kinds of assignments, looking/being young can actually be advantageous. For example, when photographing stuff I’m not supposed to, stuff that needs official permission at malls or other private property, I’ve gotten away with doing things by just playing nice with security and saying I’m doing a school project.


  • this guy

    i love how the post has been edited to remove the name of the individual yet directly below it it gives he details in the “About the Author” section

  • WKYA_Radio

    well, unless they are talking about low light shooting..some cams are definitely better than others.

  • John Nathaniel Calvara

    If only most people would realize age doesn’t really matter. I showed most of my adult friends that I’m a professional photographer and most of them got pretty impressed after they saw my photos. (I’m 15, by the way) Now, most older photographers (mostly adults) ask a lot of questions from me on how I get the shot…
    It’s almost been a year since my photography life has started. And I wanted to tell all the young photographers that are let down by old whipper-snappers that age don’t count, show them that you are capable to become a young professional or a young great artist.

  • Jay

    I wish I had the skill you have now when I was your age!! Keep up the awesome work and never EVER allow the world to judge you! In future w**ker photographer cases please hand them a business card to your site and tell them to shut up! :D

  • Jay

    Also I would just like to add: SHE IS 15 years old! You evil jerks! Back off!

  • Jeff

    Since reading the article and then your comments Olivia, I think a lot of the article is a rant/venting of held in fustration. Also a lot of facts changed to emphasize the rant. Example: “I do not actually own a D4, I was using it as an example for this essay.”

    Erik you’re right. This quote from movie Moneyball sums it up pretty well —
    “I know you’re takin’ it in the teeth out there but the first guy through the wall he always gets bloody. Always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business but in their minds it’s threatening the game. Really it’s threatening their livelyhoods. It’s threatening their jobs, threatening the way they do things, and everytime that happens, whether it’s a government or way of doing business or whatever it is, their the people who are holding the reins, hands on the switch, they go batshit crazy.”

  • Stewart Doyle

    I’m an amateur photographer. I also used to work in a camera shop when I
    was fifteen, (twenty eight now, jeeze, time…) I’m also a very good
    salesman and i will say this – If someone is old enough to ask for
    something and has the ability to purchase said something, I would sell
    it to them. Maybe with an extra battery, some flash memory, maybe up-sell the kit lens, and a bag to tote the damn thing around in. I
    wouldn’t have sold them a tripod, because the ones we carried sucked
    ass… But I might have suggested taking a look at the manfrotto catelogue…

    Olivia, you might have run into a salesman who looked down
    on you, or, perhaps, was not a terribly good salesperson – woe unto them next annual review. Or, maybe, who actually cares VERY much about photography and wants to give his customers the absolute best choice for them.

    Most of us are
    more interested in how much commission we can screw out of the sale to care
    about your age or technical ability, and depending on how badly off the company is, more interested in making the sale to keep our jobs secure. (The closer a company comes to going out of business, usually the more strident the urging to upsell becomes).

    I don’t say that to be mean or anything, merely stating a truth. Part of any sales job over and above a convenience store clerk will have had *UPSELL* drilled into them at every stage of their training, at every review, at every team meeting, at every staff night out…

    A salesperson will offer that businessman the more expensive camera NOT because of his appearance (although the image of affluence will influence just how far we might push them towards the higher price brackets), but because we want them to SPEND MORE MONEY. That’s it. That is ALL and usually the only reason. My only question if a young person asks me for something apparently way above what they OUGHT to be able to afford, is how they plan to pay for it. I always hope they can.

  • Meh

    Having chanced upon this article and read it thoroughly, allow me to make a few observations:

    1) The shots were good, show there is talent and potential – however these 2 qualities don’t have anything to do with experience and tact, and both the shots and article show that.
    2) The article is defensive, typical of someone with a big but bruised ego – all you did in this article was actually confirm yourself as a self-entitled, spoilt teenager,
    3) In a few years from now you will regret/feel embarassed by this article – when you are mature enough to realise that self-righteousness, naming & attacking people, giving bad publicity on a blog and making a melodrama out of it is neither good for your professional image, nor for your pocket probably.
    4) A Nikon D3100 is not near anywhere a professional level camera – this however doesn’t mean you can’t take great shots… a couple of years ago I had a photo picked for a company calendar, taken with a simple compact camera, while the other shots I suggested, taken with a D700 were completely ignored by the same company. Hoping that I didn’t sound too self righteous and by keeping myself anonymous I hope to make the point, what I meant by the situation I mentioned is simple, and it will serve also as a conclusion:
    You are not a good photographer because you say you are, but because others say so. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and no amount of bragging or begging is going to change that – such behaviour will make things worse

  • Jake

    I admit the younger kids some of them do have skill and at the same time I admit many of them don’t have the maturity which is the compromise only a few risk takers would be willing to take in bring these young “mozarts” on. But that’s all about growing up I suppose. Don’t worry ive been in your shoes we all have. Three to five years after you get past the “whole world is out to get me phase” (who hasn’t been through that). You’ll look back on this and probably realize it could have been handled differently but like i said growing pains.

  • jx

    great article and photos =)

  • vale1005

    Right on Olivia! Love your work. Sadly you’ve learned, many photographers are a snobby bunch.
    Good to see you stayed true to yourself.. keep on shutter bugging, you’ve a talented eye.

  • Rudy Torres

    Sounds like this Picard needs to step his game up. haha I got the same when I started. You’re way ahead of the curve kid, keep it up. I got that and still do on the press line and in the pit from a few agency hacks. I laugh it off, while they make pennies on spec I’m inhouse making more than them and whatever mediocre GWC the local rag can send over combined. If you only knew how much they don’t make off their images be they good or bad you’d see there is nothing to snooty about. Photography is a saturiated field and with dwindling and empty budgets for content mediocrity has become acceptable, I see nothing wrong with calling out names.

  • carl

    One serious point you may have missed is vital for your success – no matter what way you go or what you want to do – You need to understand that the way you are treated is based upon the way you act. I don’t know you, yet your article makes you sound like you have a giant chip on your shoulder, and an axe to grind. If you act like you write, then I certainly can understand why you don’t get the respect you think you deserve. Just because you know how to use a camera certainly does not qualify you as a professional – indeed you sound much more amateur than most of the snapshooters I had to deal with as a pro on assignment. The biggest part of being professional is getting the assignment and that takes personal skills – the type of camera has not much to do with it. I say you can tell a pro from a hack by counting the dings in the body and wondering how they get images on ancient gear that blows everybody else’s work out of the room.

  • carl


    the images you posted are okay, but you might want to think about getting better composition and better lighting on faces as I think you are too far away from you subjects and thus are not really capturing emotion as well as you could – frame 4 6 and 7 work better – they all need to be cropped, and except for the yellow one, they strike me as under exposed – Also I think if you are going to do this kind of shots, you need the artists to be looking at you – the last shot might have worked if we could see a face in the image – but without beads of sweat, or the eyes, it is kind of dead. You also need to avoid the shadow of the microphone falling on the face as you have in several frames. In one of the frames you cut the drummer in half. All in all silhouette is okay I guess, but it is overdone I think, especially for this particular type of shoot. If you compare frame 2 5 and 7 with the other images you can begin to see what I mean by telling a story – but again they need to be more personal and up close to make it move. And if you crop those same frames in really tight and brighten them up maybe a stop or so – I think you would have a pretty good start. By the way – that’s why we have big lenses and fast cameras.

  • Adam

    I’m 15 years old as well and I live in Ireland. I started photography at 13 and I got judged the same as you. Don’t get me wrong there’s many older photographers that I like and I’m friends with but there is a lot that think they can do whatever they want because they are older than you and are apparently ‘professional’ but looking at most of their work you wouldn’t think it. At hurling matches I have been pushed out of the way by other photographers (But I sorted that out myself) and got awful looks off nearly all of them just because I didn’t have some big 500 F4 or more than one camera. But I started off with a D3100 and worked my way up selling photos etc. until I had over 4500euro worth of gear. Don’t listen to most of there commenters on this post, they’re silly adults that are getting worried because they know you are the future and will soon someday be bigger than they ever were. Especially don’t listen to this user Tara she seems like a very sad individual that is jealous of you and just wants to make you feel bad about your work, she obviously has loads of spare time on her hands and keeps pinned to this comment trying to ruin anything your trying to do. Nice photos, keep up the good work!

  • rdwrt

    Actually, as a 15 year old girl with a hello kitty camera, and bringing guts and talent, you can make photos that no one else can make, because no one sees you as anything close to a pro photographer. That just as a tip. What about “probably offered a smaller, less expensive camera”. Since when is that an issue? A D4 is optimized for studio work, if the guy tells you to bring a D700 to concerts because the compact size makes it easier in crowds, seriously, if you don’t want to get advice, just buy the thing online. Non issues….

  • Bob

    All I can say is…know that feel…especially if you carry a pro film camera