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.

  • Stephen Newport

    your comment speaks for itself

  • mrbeard

    i was about to type the same thing, try taking photos at a gig with 50 people and the only lighting behind the band, that’s when you earn your spurs

  • Tara

    You need not have named Milford Photo OR Michael Picard and the Fairfield Citizen by name to get your point across. Insulting Mr Picard’s work? THAT is not respect for your peers and if your point was not to bash them, then you failed in your task. You could have make the same points by not including the names of the photographer, paper he works for or the store in your piece. The actual names of these people/businesses is not necessary, and maybe in a few years when you mature a little bit you will see that. You talk about how YOU feel being young and disregarded, how do you think that Mr. Picard would feel reading your comments about his “blurred faces, poor lighting, out of focus and over-exposed images”????

    THAT is unprofessional of you and in bad form.

  • Andrew

    Any photographer that tells you a camera is holding back your skill level knows nothing about photography. A camera is only a tool, not unlike a hammer…having the most expensive hammer will not make you a better carpenter. Hours & years of shooting is the only thing that will improve your skill level. Those other photographers were only trying to justify the money they had spent on their equipment. The most important tool for a photographer is the brain behind the camera…period.

  • Olivia Paige

    I do not actually own a D4, I was using it as an example for this essay. I have been saving up for a D800 since April, and am hoping that with that I can try to learn more and try new things. At this point I do not think that it is necessary for me to own a D4 not just because of the hefty price tag but also because it has features that I dont necessarily need right now with what I am doing. Again, I was using the top line as an example for a scenario that I’ve seen when just wanting to try it out, not specifically my ultimate purchase.

    I am extremely lucky for everything that I have been able to do, and appreciate all the support and experiences with others that have helped me to see this side and approach everything as a learning experience. I know that the D3100 is not a “Pro” camera, but I was referring to it as one versus a point and shoot (which was my comparison), rather than within the Nikon DSLR range where it is entry-level.

    I understand that my behavior contributes to this view, but it is also the experiences that I have been exposed to leading on that view that I had expressed.

  • Stephen Newport

    Cool it, dude, people respond better when you speak a little more level headed. You’re essentially telling her to stop being cocky, while sounding like a prick yourself.

  • Olivia Paige

    Which is what I have been doing, up to the point where I got this assignment for class. I decided that in order to back up this side of a compare & contrast, I had to pull from those experiences and take the other side, not just the side that I moved on with.

  • Peter

    Olivia, Kudos to you for doing something you obviously love and intend to do as a profession. What you have described is just how the world is. Judgmental. I do it , you do it everyone does it. It’s what everyone does and is meant to do. There is nothing really unusual or “wrong” with that.
    You are young and without trying to sound condescending, you have many, many things to learn about people and society of which this is just one.
    Follow you passion and make the most of your talent. It would appear from the images posted you definitely have something going for you.
    My only advice to you is sty true to your beliefs and be careful who you piss off on the way up as you may meet them on the way down!

  • Olivia Paige

    Thank you! that’s my belief and everything that I am trying to do :)

  • Bow

    But looking at your EXIF data, it states that some of the pictures are taken with a D800.

  • Olivia Paige

    Thank you, I appreciate your comment as it has been something I have been thinking about a lot recently. I enjoy challenging myself but for some instances, like extremely low light dance performances, I need that higher ISO to get me there without the graininess. When on assignment (as you probably know) I just want to achieve the best I can, which is why I was using the term of “outgrowing” my camera.

  • Dave

    I myself am a relatively young photographer and i don’t get looked down upon.This tends to be because i treat people with respect and i don’t look down on them because they may have nicer gear than me. Results speak for themselves…

  • Olivia Paige

    Yes, that was when I rented one (as a birthday present from my parents) for the concert in April.

  • mrbeard

    this is a spoof, it has to be

  • Bow

    Yes, to gain respect, one has to give respect.

  • Tsunami

    I feel the same way you do. I started off as a photographer at 15 and slowly built my equipment. In 2010 I took some phenomenal shots at some activities which later landed me free passes to certain activities in which other “Professional Photographers” gave me a hard time because I was 16 without experience.

    Now I’m 17 and am still rolling with a few shots in magazines and making my transition to video. By the way Olivia, your photos are phenomenal, I don’t think i could have gotten such clear shots in a concert like that.

  • Tara

    *sniff* Meanie!

  • ATrapAtNoon

    The real world is hostile…blowing sunshine doesn’t help anyone. That’s not insecurity, that’s just life. Anyone who says differently has never worked for an art director ;)

  • Olivia Paige

    I understand that completely and if I had originally written this to be published on PetaPixel, I certainly would not have included that. It was used as description to add to my assignment rather than just stating “another photographer”, and I meant absolutely no harm to any of the people mentioned, though it came across that way. I have actually talked to Mr. Picard many times since that concert, and he has given me some great advice and we have had very lengthy talks over this topic specifically along with photography and photojournalism in general.

  • MikeR

    At the end of the day, my opinion of what you have written does not matter. At least you got a reaction because of the words you have chosen.
    Now do the same with your photos, letting them speak to your audience and you will do well.

  • Olivia Paige

    As I stated previously, I have actually talked to Mr. Picard many times since that concert, and he has given me some great advice and we have had very lengthy talks over this topic specifically along with photography and photojournalism in general. I still go to Milford Photo and everyone in my family speaks very highly of them since they have been very helpful with many things. I respect both to a very high extent, and again was only using these to back myself up on this side of the assignment.

  • Katie Currid

    I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t already been said here, because you’ve obviously read and quite thoughtfully responded to the more negative comments (more thoughtfully than your original essay). I don’t believe you are the entitled person you come off to be, and I feel bad that you have to make a mistake like writing an unpopular essay with your byline on it for all to see, and all to comment on. It’s hard to fail so publicly, but if you take some of the more constructive criticisms to heart (though I think this article is more characterized by you being defensively 15 than an entitled private school student), you’ll be just fine. Keep up the work with your nice photographs and maybe just keep your head down on the Internet for a little bit longer (I learned that the hard way, too!).

    A former 15-year-old girl who has definitely — and snarkily — been there (currently 22)

  • ATrapAtNoon

    I don’t really see how that comes across as cocky – I didn’t say, “Be awesome like me”, I just said, “Be awesome.” Live in the real world…clients, bosses, art directors, and magazine editors are going to be harsh.

    If your world is all flowers and sunshine, that’s great! I wish it were more like that most days, but it doesn’t help a young photographer to make them think that’s how it really is.

    I didn’t write a great paper in high school until I was given a D on something I thought was pretty solid. I didn’t start shooting images that were pretty solid until someone told me my work sucked. High fives don’t make people grow…

  • Danordean

    I should have added in “I’m straying off the subject”. What I said didn’t have any point to the article. But really, any school with an 18 hole golf course is a little over kill.
    Didn’t mean to offend. I’d go there if I could.

  • Olivia Paige

    Thank you very much. And yes, Mr. Picard has actually been very influential to me after that event, and has given me some great advice for the future :)

  • fed_up_with_losers

    Again, reading the comments here about how whiny the author is…while the commenters themselves are being whiny…makes me wish for PetaPixel and other sites such as these to just turn off all comments.

    True, I don’t have to venture down into this rats nest of bitching(it’s always bitching, and I’m as guilty), but you guys need to lay off the author, or at least provide some constructive….no, forget that. Keep it to yourselves. No one cares about how you think your putting some monumental retort together to show your indignation about whatever, then pat yourself on the back about how clever you are.

    There is not one comment here on this thread that’s provided any insight into anything. Yes, including mine. So turn off the comments. Come and read the articles, then get on with your life. You see something here that makes yor blood boil? Too damn bad. Write a letter to the editor, maybe they’ll publish it next month.

  • Tara

    You should have edited out or changed the names when you DID decide to allow it’s publication here (or anywhere else on the internet).


    What you did was classless and tacky, not to mention unnecessary and hurtful.

    Instead of DEFENDING or justifying it, how about editing it, apologizing to those named (especially since you state that the Milford Photo experience was not even real??? I’m confused here……….) or even just accepting that you made a MAJOR faux pas? What you did in this piece is never acceptable. It’s even less acceptable to publicly publish an article with a portion of it defaming a store’s reputation only to later admit that the incident in question did not occur and is not truly reflective of YOUR experience.

  • danordean

    Also. This is a different danordean than the one bellow.

  • Olivia Paige

    Yes, it has been mentioned and responded to many times. I acknowledged these mistakes and have stated the reason for them with the assignment.

  • Ken Elliott

    You might consider getting a D700, and put your money in fast glass. Unless you have a large printer, there’s little the D800 does that the D700 can’t do. I have both and use both. Only large prints show any meaningful difference. A D700 with a 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 would be a huge step forward. Good lenses are more important (and a better investment) then the camera body.

  • Fedka the Convict

    Now I understand why people like Jeffrey Friedl (look him up) want nothing to do with PetaPixel. This article is so unprofessional and needed to be heavily edited. Whether or not you’re acquainted with a working photojournalist, there was absolutely no reason to cite him by name, or to rubbish his work, in this article.

  • danordean

    opps… wrong thing…

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I don’t see how that’s relevant to anything whatsoever.

  • Tara

    And again, you should edit out their names and issue a public apology to them, because what you did here was wrong on many levels. Please, put your pride in your essay aside for a moment, try to listen and learn from the comments rather than defending the article. Some of us may be trying to save your hide.

  • Olivia Paige

    The Milford Photo experience was real, but the experience was then added to by other experiences. I have acknowledged everything you said many times, and stated the reason for the comments.

  • Tara

    You’re still missing the point, sadly.

  • ProPhotographer

    Olivia, firstly great work. Correct me if I am wrong, but was this a school assignment that you have to write an essay about discrimination or the like? If this was the case, I find the content appropriate for the intended reader. Yes, it does sound a little entitled or whiny, but at the end of the day your photos do speak for themselves.
    Believe me when I say this, there are so many photographers that are way better than I will ever be, but I am making a lot more money than they’ll ever dream of. The reason for this, is it to be a professional photographer, you need to be a great photographer, great business person, a great salesperson, great computer photo editor, and the list can go on.
    Good luck with the future!

  • Ken Elliott

    Just a FYI – when you say “both of which I saved up for and purchased with my own money.” that kind of language makes people say “wait – how did a 15 year old get that kind of money?” Yeah – it comes across as “the money my rich parents gave me”. I don’t know – perhaps you have a job. But people with jobs generally don’t say “my own money” as it’s a defensive phrase. I think a lot of the flak you’re getting is due to you not understanding the impact of the words you choose.

    BTW – a photographer is one who draws with light – not a camera operator. And your link doesn’t go anywhere.

  • Fedka the Convict

    It would only be fair for Milford Camera to slap you with a lawsuit for tortious interference with business. Perhaps – but I doubt it – you’d get the point then.

  • Chris Gaffan

    Stop trying to be a white knight Stephen, the handful of people she came in contact with made a bad example for everyone else…Not everyone cares

  • Lavona

    Olivia, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone but yourself. A little advice though, if you want to be accepted in the photo community (or any professional community), I would recommend laying off the public criticism of your peers. It doesn’t make a you a better photographer, but it can cost you jobs. You can learn a lot from other photographers including the ones that might not be as talented as you. Your photos are not bad, but you still have a lot to learn. You talked about another photographers blurry images… I see most of yours are not tack sharp and could use some fine tuning with the cropping and toning. Watch your ego.
    It’s not easy breaking into photography at any age, and your lucky you’ve gotten a head start and are able to afford nice equipment. Don’t get so caught up in people’s judgments that you grow bitter–it’s way too early for that.
    And don’t think it’s just because you’re young. People are idiots and are constantly trying to show you that they’re smarter, more talented and more knowledgable about EVERYTHING, not just photography, at all ages. My husband is a photojournalist, and people are constantly bragging about their cameras or asking him if he wants to borrow their “better” lens (when his is the best on the market). It doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s their own insecurities, and probably in your case shock that someone so young has worked hard enough to get the opportunities you have.
    Work hard on your craft, and forget everything else. Use the energy you would spend worrying about what other people think and make yourself better.

  • Olivia Paige

    I apologize and am only trying to give reason for what I stated through the essay. I did not mean any harm to the people stated and respect both very much.

  • D.Morgan

    Olivia: Hey! LOOK AT ME! I’m a girl who just got her period started and guess what: I KNOW HOW TO SHOOT PHOTOS! Here’s a lengthy article about it..
    World: So what? You’re not special. Get over it and stop bragging

  • Sterling

    Nice school essay. You’ll laugh at it in 10 years.

  • John

    Change camera shop.

  • Auntipode

    An observation: It’s fairly easy to master the technical side of photography for someone with talent, but it takes time and an extra measure of maturity to learn to understand, deal with, and forgive prejudice, arrogance, stereotypes, tempers, and attitudes, … especially your own.

    Of the two, knowledge and understanding of human nature is more important than knowledge and understanding of photographic technology. Observe people, don’t judge them. Learn to work with and, when necessary, around difficult people. And try to remember, in the end, only kindness matters.

  • Jillian

    Reading through these comments… I just have to say, the author is 15 years-old and she’s standing by what she wrote. Yes, I agree she shouldn’t have named names, but it’s part of the learning process. Have none of you ever made a mistake? The ruthlessness with which some of you “adults” and “professionals” are going after this girl is unbelievable.

  • Mike

    SLR does not mean professional. Stop thinking that.

  • Olivia Paige

    yes, I had tried out the D4 (hence where the example came from) but decided that for what I would be using it for and the point I’m at it was a better choice for the long run to go after the D800.

  • opiapr

    There is no need to apologize you are just stating facts if that hurts anyone sensibility well they have to deal with that.