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.

  • Heize

    These are good pictures for someone of your age. Keep it up, you’ll be great when you grow up. But never name names. Also, it should be considered, that you have to reflect on the past of rock journalism and the equipment they had versus the one you are using. DSLR:s these days do the job for you, it’s okay. That’s the equipment talking. But back then music photogs had to get the exposure right on film. It’s a diffrent thing alltogether. And for an untrained eye, poor lighting might be a misjudgement. Learn to read the pics, understand that you are a junior, and be forever and ever be humble and ready to learn, it’s the only way.

  • mrbeard

    something fishy about this

  • Sarah Bugeja Kissaun

    I’m truly impressed by your capabilities. Also very envious you have photographed a couple of the bands I have loved for almost half my life – but I’m really in awe.

    Regarding people stereotyping you – you can’t really blame them. Most 13 year olds don’t have the money to buy such equipment (they still attend school and cannot possibly have a job) – hell I’m a 19 year old and I don’t have money to buy any more camera equipment beyond the basics I managed to acquire with much effort and time. Not to mention, most 13 year olds also don’t possess such skills (which I believe is also due to the fact that most kids don’t usually have the opportunity to play around with such expensive equipment at such a young age, such as myself – I had to work my a** off for three months during the summer months to afford a moderate SLR and two very basic lenses, which I’d never tried out much before buying) – you’re just one of the unique and few. Therefore, it shouldn’t come to surprise that people find it strange seeing you there when they probably had to put in a lot more effort to get where you easily have slipped in – both with skill and even equipment. I would take it as a compliment if anything, since a very young and skilled photographer is not something you come across all the time. Though I must say you are lucky to have so much spending money at a young age – I’m still waiting for the day I can splash my cash like that.

    That being said, I wish you luck in your future as a photographer. You have outstanding talent and that will take you places… well it already is! :)

  • najeroux

    Olivia, it would seem that you are surrounded by persons who wish to pass on their opinions and experiences. One might consider closing ones laptop to drown out the noise, picking up ones camera and heading out to shoot something. You don’t owe any of these people an explanation. Your future is as bright as the energy you put into it. All the best.

  • Stephen Newport

    15 year olds don’t need the “real world” to jade them and be discouraged from pursuing their dreams, they need encouragement for the time being. The real world will creep in naturally

  • Stephen Newport

    Look at the comments dude, plenty of people care. Quit trying to steal her spotlight.

  • Scott

    It seems you are perhaps projecting some of your youthful insecurities on others in this essay. For example, you interpret the looks from other photographers as disdainful and harsh and assume to know what those people are thinking of you. It’s probably much more likely that they are simply surprised to see such a young person in the position of having a press pass at a concert and using a pro-level dslr. You have to realize that people are naturally going to look twice, not necessarily out of contempt, but more out of curiosity. Don’t take it personally. In regards to the title of your essay, it seems as though you are looking down on others for their perceived slights, and you want others to give you the benefit of the doubt, you won’t do it for them. And a final word about writing technique: you shouldn’t have to apologize and provide additional explanations and clarifications in the comments. Your essay should be able to speak for itself. Otherwise, congratulations on not being a terrible photographer.

  • Dave

    Olivia, you have got to learn how to pick your battles wisely. Some of these guys are clearly bashing you, and yes it is because of your article. At the same time, don’t be so quick to defend yourself from every comment made.

    Learn from your mistakes and keep going. You are doing a good job, just learn how to filter out noise from public eyes.

    Wisdom and Emotional intelligence takes awhile to learn.

  • Guest


  • Dave

    Also you name is a playboy models name, so it is possible you aren’t really Olivia, and also I do know that you might not be as young as you claim, and it could be an article to spark debate for more page hits! dun dun dun!

  • Marco Matos

    this is so typical.. Lol:
    Iam a salesman on one of the biggest electronic stores in Europe, and iam specialized in photography, For the last 6 years all i do on my day job is sell cameras for all kind on people.. And i don’t understand why some people take our advise so personal..

    If she came into my store i wouldn’t offer her a D4 .. normally i would have a talk with her and see a camera that would fit her type and level.. it isn’t usual a 14 year old teen to come into a store and buy a D4 .. it isn’t discriminating.. Its just not normal.. Do you understand? But if you really wanted a D4 you just need to say.. look iam here to buy a nikon d4.. And i can guarantee without any doubt that any Camera Salesman would have a enormous smile just thinking on the commission.. We don’t care… we get payed to sell camera not to judge your photo skills.. That thing is for teachers and art critics..

    The other thing..

    Is getting into concerts.. i don’t know how it works in the USA but here we need to be certified photog to get in and shoot..
    if people look at you its just because it isnt normal a 14 year girl shooting on the pit.. Every now and then i work on concert shooting concerts and we live by a set of rules that helps everybody .. And sometimes we get the teens.. they come in .. the shoot with flash they raise the camera in front of other photogs.. There is a experience needed in this type of journalism that you don’t get just by having talent .. And it shows on your photos, iam not talking bad but simple things like fingers that are cut , instruments out of frame, hands and heads from the audience, the subject not being in composition.. You have a long road ahead of you.. but you need to stay humble.. if you dont, you will never get the respect that you think you deserve..

    Keep on shooting.. and never think you are better than the others.. you will stop seeing your mistakes and never evolve.

  • Dave

    Anyways all joking aside, I would like to add: This is Photography, with very few barriers of entry. So you will have to expect this kind of behavior quite often. As it is called: You will get a lot of HATERS.

    Everyone is out to attack you with the thought in their mind: “Oh what do you have that is so special?”

    You don’t see the hate often in other professions because the barrier of entry is simply a lot higher. There is more of a filter. Good example: Engineering, Robotics, Aerospace and other professions that require a lot of math.

  • Johannes Reinhart

    Go get them tiger!
    …you probably realise that you have to deal with stereotyping all your life’s, especially if you do things differently (but that’s a strength too).
    Good Luck!!!

  • Russ Catalano

    First off d3100 is what I got my mom for her birthday, not a pro camera but a consumer camera with five different ‘auto’ options. Second this just sounds like a kid bragging about how much better he is than other photographers (and names them) and complains about not getting respect. Why kids don’t get respect is because for the most part it’s about ‘how much better’ they are, not about the love for photography and art. I was a child photographer with a small dslr like the 3100 and I was the same way, but one day this kid will run into a kid just like him and he will grow up.

  • friendtoya

    I’m glad you expressed the sad reality of many people with attitudes in photo shops. I’ve done photography for nearly 25yrs and I understand where you’re coming from.

    Now, just keep a positive attitude about your work. Have integrity for the quality of images produced and for the people or subjects you will photograph in the future. Put your heart into it, respect what you see through your lens, and do not, ever, have the same bad attitude towards others. Best to you and your career.

  • Tom Blachford

    If all goes to plan with your career one day you will look back on those photos and this entire essay and pacepalm at yourself.

    I started young also and had a chip on my shoulder about it but as you get older and realise how much you mature each year and how much better your work gets. Eventually (hopefully) you realise its probably just best to keep your mouth shut and get down to business.

    There is always going to be condescending camera store staff (buy online), always going to be people older than you, younger than you and professionals getting overpaid to produce work that isn’t up to your standards. In the end all you can do is put your money where your mouth is and go out there and build a reputation for doing the work you can be proud of, people take notice.

    Less whingey, more snappy.

  • Digiratti

    Damn you for being young and wanting to shoot…they’re being born everyday…isn’t there a way to stop it? Okay, pulls tongue out of cheek…live and let live. If you respect those who have gone before you and paved the way to make your life a little easier, then show it. Pretty simple. A grateful attitude goes along way. You’re always going to find jerks in any field. You’re also teenager and have little life experience. Don’t most teenagers think they know everything anyways? Hopefully we all learn a few things as we get older (obviously some, more than others).

    I was helped out along the way by many of my older, more experienced pros, who were very patient and kind. They wouldn’t have done it if I was a punk (not saying you are – hell, I have no idea who you are and what you’re about). Who knows, you may find a new career in something else before you’re done.

    Word to the wise…everyone in every profession has to compete and do it with what they have been given including god-given talent, hours of work, trial by error and fire, and yes, a little money from the folks doesn’t hurt. I’m sure most here weren’t raised by wolves and having folks with money shouldn’t be a life sentence.

  • brandon

    I couldn’t read much more than a few paragraphs. This is silly BS written by a silly kid. hey kid, read this back to yourself in 15yrs, perhaps you’ll get it then. I’m afraid youhave much to learn, but it’s okay, we all did, and do.

  • Syuaip

    “I received a friend request from Michael Picard, 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 enjoyed the article, up until that part came along. Poor Michael Picard.

  • Bart Aldrich


  • Trent Levitt

    What’s the website address? I’m afraid to click any links when I search your name.

  • kilopapa

    Having shot a multitude of shows and still being relatively young (19) I have shot with many of your type, and none of them last. Not because they aren’t any good, but because simply the bands and venues and peers get tired of the attitude, and lets face it big shows are dirt easy to shoot, I’ve shot all of them on A without even having to look at them. It’s the little underground shows that are the hardest, but also the most rewarding, especially if you are allowed to use flash. So i suggest try expanding a little, try a tougher tighter gig and that will let you know if you’re really up for the task. Also lets be honest you don’t need a D4 and a 3100 is an entry level, not even prosumer. Learn your terminology and it will lend to you legitimacy and prosperity as an events shooter. remember all a photographer really is, is a service provider.

  • lidocaineus

    All I have to say is that in a few years, you’re going to look back on this piece and cringe.

  • hanonymous

    With all due respect, your responses appear very aggressive and defensive. Instead of trying to justify your criticisms or defend the fact that you still admire this photographer’s work, I would suggest a formal apology. That’s what you do in the real world. If your name is out there as a photographer and you make a mistake, you need to own up to it. Simple as that. Don’t respond with arrogance or attempt at justification. Doing so only makes you appear more immature. Your photographs are good, but I wouldn’t put yourself on a pedestal. They are average. You may be a young photographer, and that’s all the more reason to respond to criticism maturely and appropriately.

    As mentioned before, to badmouth another photographer BY NAME makes you look immature and spoiled, whether you are or not. After all, I don’t know you and I can’t be the judge of your personality.

    Be happy with your opportunities and developing talents. Learn to be humble. Learn to respond to criticism without hostility or getting defensive. Do not rely on more advanced equipment to make you a better photographer. That is my advice to you. I wish you the best of luck in the future.

  • hdc77494

    Olivia, while you are obviously a very accomplished photographer, few people your age have the combination of talent, discipline and opportunity to reach your skill level. Most of us without an instantly recognizable name are not treated any differently by those who don’t know our reputations. Most of us, again like you, have to prove over and over that we are in any way exceptional. Many of us, however, are humble, and need validation that our results are exceptional, and in fact seek acceptance with the same earnestness you seek instant acceptance. Humility is a two edged sword. Too much of it and you may not reach your potential. Too little of it, and you may ignore valuable and credible negative feedback. I commend you on the quality of your work.

    Lastly, may I recommend a movie, Amadeus, a story about two artists, one of whom effortlessly produces monumental work, and another, whose love and passion for music is far greater, but lacks the innate talent to ever match the results of his idol. Please have pity for the Salieri’s among your peers.

  • kiddo

    kid’s these days…

  • hdc77494

    Wait wait wait, you mean, you don’t even own a D4 much less know how to use one? And your excuse for smearing an actual working professional photographer was because you had to keep the tone of your writing “in character” for the school essay assignment? AND you continue to offer that as an excuse, but you have never written an apology or retraction nor edited the article you allowed to be distributed to thousands of professional photographers through Petapixel??? Your cognitive dissonance is astounding, even for 15!

  • Bob

    Well, that was a total waste of reading time!

  • Jo Shmo

    Great article…and your photos rock !

  • Chris Gaffan


  • Matt

    All I can say is I myself started shooting at a young age with a canon rebel still an expensive camera for a 13 year old. But unlike how you sound I never took it for granted I used that thing until a couple months ago when the shutter literally just would not work anymore and only then did I upgrade to a 5d mark to paid for by choosing it instead of a vehicle. Also I do not openly mock others in the work I have gotten very good advice from people that started out like the ones you described. Yes I have had the same stereotypes as you and probably more do to the fact general concinos here is if you have a good camera might just be a perv.

  • cy

    I agree with Tara; what ever talent you have is not immediately apparent to anyone that first encounters you so why be surprised when they treat you like the teen you appear to be? Get over it. I imagine that your age often plays in your favor as well in other respects ( getting a different reaction from your subjects due to your age that other adult photographers might not get).

  • Fred

    How many time will you seen a genius young photographer with a D4/1Dx shooting out there? Very rare to my experience. Mostly what I saw here is some rich student brought their D700/5DMkII with 70-200 f2.8 at their study tour or class holiday taking pictures of each other with Auto feature. I can say you are a genius but many young people out there isn’t doing their part to make you look like a genuine photographer. It’s not easy to recognize a genius.

  • Karl

    Good job Olivia, I have the same experiences at some local camera stores so I decided to order my gear through online websites, save me $ on tax and the best part is I dont give my $ to those retards.

  • /p/rotog

    >implying D3100 is a professional camera and not babbys first dslr
    >”talented photographer”
    >centered snapshits everywhere
    >implying my sides haven’t departed

  • op204

    Great Pics! Just remember, it is human nature to want to categorize people and put them in boxes. We all do it. That will never change. My advice is, when this happens to you again, simply smile. And think about the fact that you are much more than the box that person just put you in. And realize that the fact that they put you in that box, speaks more about who they are as a person than who you are as a person.

    Also, get yourself some business cards. People take you more seriously if you hand them a business card. Preferably ones with samples of your work on them.

    And last but not least,

    “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”–Yogi Berra.

    Given your talent, an ounce of humility, will earn you tons of respect.

  • Scheiße

    I see you came from /p/, faggot.


    A few salient points , but if any 15 year old turned up to do a professional job ( plumbing , car repair , decorating etc) you would question it .And no one would think a 13 year old is a serious pro photographer … or pro anything . Because she is such an exception and has found her vocation very young then these reactions will happen , take it as a compliment

  • kyoshinikon

    I was that kid too however my canera was the laughed at minolta x-700

  • Dikaiosune01

    I haven’t seen so many comments on PetaPixel for a long time.
    Olivia will not get any validation from me. Stereotypes are there for a reason; it is kind of sad that Olivia sees stereotypes as part of our framework. Olivia’s work certainly breaks that expectation of what is expected of a 15 year old. Will I stop thinking that most 15 year old’s are just instagram addicts? No. Will I stop making stereotypes? No. Will I start thinking that Olivia’s work more seriously as a concert photographer? Yes

  • Brian

    What’s interesting is why there may be a difference in the way customers are treated in a store. I’d expect that sales staff are going to do their best to show the products that they think they are mosy likely to be able to sell to customers.
    Without knowing the full history of every customer that walks through the door, I’d except age groups and, to a less extent, gender are the first thing that would trigger a train of thought. Consider you average car saleman, who see a couple with two small children walk through the door – his isn’t going to usher them directly towards the expensive two seater sports car because he is most likely wasting his and their time. If the mother subsquently tells the saleman that she is buying a sports car for her husbands birthday (because they are stinking rich and that’s the kinda thing they do) then, fine, the saleman will shuffle them across the showroom.
    Sales staff are always going to TRY and guess your needs. They aren’t always going to be correct and you will have explain what you want – no big deal really.
    Also, imagine the saleman that convinces a teenager to buy a $4000 peice of kit with daddy’s credit card when all that they needed was a $100 point and shoot. That salesmans is going to get an earful when daddy comes to return the item. I’d expect staff to find out exactly what item the customer is in need of – to do that you may have explain your background a little. Again, no big deal.
    This isn’t discrimination or anything it’s the hands on bespoke service that you’ll get from a human being. If you don’t want that, buy online.

  • Me

    Oh noes the world is so cruel and stuff. Grow up.

  • Keewa

    Funny how almost all of the comments confirm that people look down on you because you’re young :)

  • Erick Watson

    There’s a difference between being young, and being immature.

  • Erick Watson

    Instead you should edit the article. Honestly.

  • Mitch Manz

    When’s the next edition of ‘Teenagers Complain’ going to be published?

  • Sid Ceaser

    “Also you are misinformed calling the D3100 a professional camera.” . . . Wait, wut? I can’t tell if this is a elbow-in-the-ribs joke or if you are being serious. Gimme a 6mp Digital Rebel and I’ll knock it out of the park.

  • Aus_Guy


  • fahrertuer

    I think the comments aren’t looking down on her for being young but for behaving like a selfish, spoiled brat without any sense of decency

  • armorfoto

    Take this as a lesson, Olivia. Stay off the forums unless you’re ready to get down in the dirt. You’re better off spending your time shooting. You’ll get shredded 15 different ways whether your work is any good or not, and arguing or defending your position only encourages more nonsense like this. Your pictures are competent records of produced stage shows, they’re not bad and they’re not great. Shooting concerts is one of the ways young photographers get started, indeed, it’s how I got started 40 years ago. In my experience, camera stores are in business to take as much of your money as you are willing to give them, usually more than that. They are astoundingly democratic- they’ll take anybody’s money, regardless of race, religion, creed or age. The good ones offer a level of advice and service that help you spend that money wisely, knowing that you will be more likely to spend more money there in the future. Your explanation of your experience at Milford Camera, if true, sounds anecdotal and and a little too obvious and simplistic. Just keep shooting, post your pictures as they continue to evolve and improve, and try to stay a little more mysterious when you talk about yourself. Good luck!