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.

  • nicetry

    these weren’t taken with a D3100 though

  • lyl

    The average age of the enlisted professional photographers is somewhere between 45-50 years old. (Mind you, being professional has nothing to do with the quality of your photos, it just means you make money out of it).

    There’s no stereotype or prejudices you’re facing, it’s just statistics. And nobody is going to refuse to sell you an expensive camera if you have the cash. You might get a look or two of disbelief or surprise, but that’s expected, because you’re an oddity from a statistical point of view.

    And btw, the D3100 is not a “professional” but an “entry-level” camera. And professional cameras are not more difficult to handle neither do they require more abilities or knowledge. Quite the opposite. Entry level cameras are more restricted and more experience is needed to work around these restrictions and get a decent result. Pro cameras are easier to control, that’s why pros get them.

  • Lucas Jackson

    Olivia. 1: Don’t take any nay-sayers on this internets seriously, read the comments to this story, take a few nuggets of information away from it and ignore the angst that flows on comment pages. 2: Good work, continue to push yourself. The gear helps you to match the vision in your head to what you see on the back of your camera, if your camera is preventing that from happening it’s time to upgrade and you seem to be in that boat. Fun to read about someone who is so young that has figured out this is the profession for her, I wish I had figured it out that young.

  • Jason Kim

    compared to a lot of the essays (written by 15 year olds) that I have read, this was very well written…

  • Halfrack

    Note to the author – put a link into your site. There’s a few other “Olivia Paige” bits that fall into the NSFW area.

    My only advice – act like you’ve been there, and just keep shooting.

  • Brittany Walsh

    Olivia, it was a great article and you don’t need to apologize for it. As anyone involved in the photography community knows- most ‘professional’ photographers will always be butt hurt about the ‘newbies’. It seems they all crawled out of the womb wielding a DSLR and ‘everyone has to start somewhere’ never applied to them. Criticizing an English essay written by a fifteen year old and tearing her down only highlights their insecurities.

    Go work on your photos, people. I’m sure we all have things we should be editing right now. Picking on high school kids hardly pays the bills.

  • sammyze

    Olivia, I think using humor and self deprecation may be helpful additional tools you need not save up for. Not taking yourself so seriously (while still taking your work seriously) will most likely benefit you more than your next new camera will. Maybe the stares and perplexed faces came from people seeing the huge chip on your shoulder. Learning how to handle stressful situations with grace and confidence is something it sounds like you need to mature in.

  • Tara

    Libel, slander, defamation of character, bashing a mentor, etc are not “facts” and it’s not about anyone being “butt hurt”. It’s about this coming back to bite a talented young lady with a potentially bright career ahead of her in the butt. Future editors, employers, schools, or mentors who see this article attached to her name may be wary to work with her or hire her. It’s 100% about business sense and not putting your foot in your mouth. 20 years ago, none of us would probably have given it a second thought since there wasn’t much of an internet back then, but these days are different and things like this are searchable and can haunt you.

    Olivia, I am glad to see the individual’s name was removed from the article. It’s one thing to submit this to English class where only your teacher will see it, another to submit it to the world wide web for all to see…………. I hope that the next time you submit an article to an internet publication you remember this experience and learn not to make the same mistakes.

  • ATrapAtNoon

    If 15-year-olds want to work in the real world (and present themselves in the real world), then welcome to it.

  • ATrapAtNoon

    As I’ve said before…I’ve been there. It was the people who showed me what the world was really like that made me better. It’s not discouraging, it’s challenging. It seems like she’s taking criticism as a challenge, and that’s…awesome. That’s how she’ll grow.

  • ATrapAtNoon

    That’s….a little much.

  • ATrapAtNoon

    Except most people view photography from a website…my age isn’t on my website, people have no frame of reference. My images are all they get! I don’t meet m clients until I show up to shoot – at that point, it’s too late for my age to be a factor (maybe I’m 12, maybe I’m 80…who knows!)

    Saying, “Don’t associate with those people. You’ll be more successful than them.” is just plain bad advice (and a non sequitur). Jasmine Star is the queen of positivity, and whose career has she advanced the most? Her own. She’s just created a sea of poor to mediocre photographers that think they’re doing just fine. If you want to succeed, take criticism. It stings.

  • miki

    it’s relevant about being rich

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I said I didn’t know if Taft is a good school or not – the admission price doesn’t tell me anything

  • Chauncy

    Your photos are average

  • J I Photo

    Olivia, your photos are beautiful. It’s sad to me to see just how many commenters have confirmed your statement that people stereotype young photographers. You didn’t ask for confirmation of your thesis, but you got it anyway. Don’t let the haters get you down. There are plenty of teens like you who are good photographers, and their results show that their gear is justified. I’m 17, I’ve spent more than $3.5K on gear, and I can say that it’s been worth every penny. And yes, better stuff can improve your photography, as any of the haters would be forced to admit. Your essay is great, but I’m afraid naming names is going too far.

    If you people who have said nasty things from behind your computers actually cared about photography, and wanted to help others become better photographers, you wouldn’t be flaming Olivia for stating what she’s observed. Maybe you should try to become a better photographer instead of whining about someone who is genuinely talented. When have you denied the possibility that you needed a better camera, or that yours limited your abilities? Your “helpful” comments about whiny, spoiled rich kids only show you up as the hypocrites you are. Olivia, keep up the good work!

  • Kate Pardey

    Thanks for writing this Olivia, it’s wonderfully written. The general tone of the comments is getting me down, sounds like a bunch of dudes who are a bit sad they got old! Keep on making beautiful things and experimenting (and writing about your experiences, that’s something a lot of togs couldn’t do to save themselves!). x K

  • Theo Leinad

    I lol’d so hard…

  • Silva

    This whole fuss over camera bodies just proves that you’re incapable of actually thinking like an adult, something which you seem so dedicated to prove. Who cares if it’s a d3100 or a D4? Just buy the camera and get the shot. I got jeered at for buying a Nikon D7000 a year and a half ago after shooting a decade of 6×6 and 6×7 by some colleagues and my local camera salesman. As a person who’s nearing double your age, people have opinions. They share them. Professionalism is about how one works, not what’s hanging around their wrist or necks.

    You’re being the typical teenager when you think that only you experience problems because of your age (or lack thereof). It doesn’t get any better as you near the opposite end and are what you would deem a “professional”.

  • Jack

    I don’t look down on you for being young.
    I do, however, look down on you for describing a camera as ‘the most professional’.

    Poorly structured, conclusions not logically linked with premise, repetitive overuse of certain terms with varying meanings throughout the piece (ie, ‘professional).

  • Jaytee

    So you’re bitching about the salesman doing his job? Lets face it, not many 15 year olds need a D4, so what’s wrong with the guy checking that you’re after the right tool for the job and not just blowing your cash?

    I’d be far more concerned if they had a 15 year old walk in and they pushed the D4 on them!

    You sound arrogant.

  • Anonymous

    just because she goes to Taft does not say anything about her socioeconomic status. several kids who go to expensive boarding schools are there on full scholarship which they earned through there hard work and dedication to school work. if you don’t know her personally, which i highly doubt that you do, then there is no way for you to automatically assume that she goes there simply because she can afford it, not because she deserves to be there.

  • Anonymous

    that means the school is rich, not necessarily that the people who go to it are. kids get into that school for working hard and for their dedication to education, and several people there are on full or partial scholarship.

  • Baeden Cox

    Photographers are an arrogant bunch. Take this essay for example.

  • Baeden Cox

    It’s not just people older than you that are looking down on you, it’s people in your age bracket as well now. This kind of stuff makes me understand why people would view the younger demographic as utter retards and wouldn’t want us around when they’re doing what they get paid for.

  • Otto Fochus

    As a youngster this seems a much bigger deal to you than it really is. Ultimately it will be a very short period in your life and career and you’ll realize it for what is: things out of the ordinary generate questions. You’re very lucky to be gifted with above average aptitude and you have an above average chance of making something of yourself. Now get over it and stop expecting everyone to kiss your tush.

  • Bill

    Try filming a live event whilst half way through a crew from the BBC start unpacking and setting camera equipment up whilst you’re attempting to stream the footage live. If anything this just made us want to produce the best shots we possibly could and hopefully afterwards get some tips from the professionals.

  • Toronto Mike

    one thing I find it sad is how many people need a D4 or the like to think they a good or to be more “PRO” and for the people who told you that you grew out of the D3100 and its been pushed to its limits and you couldn’t develop your skills anymore LMAO what a joke!. Come on your gear doesn’t make the shots you do! its sad that we keep feeding the trend that we must always have the most expensive “whatever” to be the best. Heres one thing tell me why you coudn’t have used your d3100 to get those shots?? look pretty standard to me…..what was the need for the D4??
    you don’t take a photo you make it !! so it shouldn’t matter what camera you have in your hands !!!

  • Albi Kl

    Ken her statement was in response to RMillward’s comment:

    “…the ability to get great shots out of THAT will say significantly more about your talent and your future than the fact you had your Dad’s AmEx…”

    Assuming that she had assistance from her parents’ money for no other reason than her age further validates the point she makes in the article. She has every right to clarify to RMillward that her equipment did not come from “Dad’s AmEx”.

  • Albi Kl

    Well just to clarify the sterotype she was referring to was:

    “…13-year-old who wanted an expensive camera to take “artsy” pictures that I didn’t know how to take…”

    She was speaking specifically of those who own DSLR’s as status symbols as opposed to those who have a genuine interest in the art of photography.

  • Albi Kl

    How pathetic would any organisation look to take a minor to court over a school essay. I would like to think Milford Camera have a little more common sense than that.

  • Keru

    Ho well, it’s simple.

    – a 15yo with a pass for concert is uncommon, yes.
    – a 15yo willing to buy a D4 is also uncommon, to say the least, while a rich clueless with with the same camera is a well known cliche.

    And now, great news ! Some photographers think it’s a competition and take it too seriously. And nope, you’re not arrogant, they acted like *ssh*le so you fight throught it. As you just learned, your reaction wasn’t the smartest one but, meh, who care ?

    PS : You can prove whatever you want, some people will still think you don’t deserve the gear/fame/money/life/wife/house/car/whatever they can’t have. Forget them.

  • Albi Kl

    Articles where people want to bash the author, work or artist are those with the greatest number of comments. Controversy grabs people’s attention and Petapixel has intentionally used this a number of times to drive traffic to their site.

  • Mansgame

    Who are you again? More importantly why should we care?

  • Renaldo Creative

    Great article and awesome work.

  • Prabawa

    I hope one day you’ll learn that:

    – Photographs don’t have to be “properly exposed” and “sharp”. Pictures can be better due to the blur and extra zing.

    – Badmouthing, disrespecting, and otherwise condescending behavior can be, just like what you did: unintentional.

    – There’s such a thing as “pot calling the kettle black”.

    – Your hormone-fueled insecurities, and desire for validation can make you see and hear things that simply weren’t there.
    I quote:
    “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.”
    Your being tense? That’s real.
    Their thinking that your photos must suck? Nah, that’s just your hormones.

    – Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

  • John Sluder

    How not to make headlines in the photography world…

  • ATrapAtNoon

    I’m actually really happy I’m not 15 anymore! If only I had known the things then that I know now… ;) But please, for the love of Zack Arias and all that is holy, don’t say “togs”.

    You and I are about the same age, though, so maybe I’m not old enough to be sad about it yet…

  • YouMustBeJoking

    Are you seriously comparing her work to Mozart’s?

  • DoYourHomework

    Her Flickr feed answers enough of those questions to make the assumptions that are being made, I think.

  • DoYourHomework

    Again, her Flickr feed will clear that right up for you.

  • posesawkwardly

    Olivia, you’ve got pretty impressive writing skills given your age, and your social and photographic skills are certainly beyond mine at that same age! As far as the premise of the article is concerned, I can appreciate what you’re saying, but I can’t say these employees are crazy to assume someone in highschool won’t likely be purchasing a $5k+ camera. It’s very very rare. That being said, they should treat you with the same level of respect as a customer of any age, race and social standing.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Thanassi Karageorgiou

    Yes, you still have a lot to learn. About photography and about life. People, ALL people, make judgements based on appearance EVERY DAY. Yes, even you. If you say you don’t, you’re a liar.

    The salesperson’s job is to make sales. They’re paid to make generalizations and judgements on consumers based on appearance. If a 13 year old girl came up to me and asked me for a D4 i’d laugh too. I’d then point her in the direction of a small pink camera that would fit a typical 13-15 year old’s needs. The fact is, most 13-17 year old girls don’t know much about photography outside of instagram and facebook. The salesperson made a good move by lumping you up into that category because the odds are he would be right. And the fact that he tried to deter you from buying a D4 is not a bad thing. I wouldn’t want to sell someone a D4 if I didn’t think they needed it.

    Many friends ask me recommendations on cameras to buy either as gifts or for themselves. My first questions are always, “How much do you want to spend”, and “What are you going to use it for?”

    Preconceived notions and prejudice will always exist against minorities. You are a young photographer, a minority in a world of many more older photographers. By definition, you are under-experienced. But that will change as you get older and shoot more. Older people know this and that’s why they’re condescending. Younger people like yourself THINK you know everything, and that everyone older is just stupid or not in touch with the current state of your passions, but you’re disillusioned. Photography is a slow-roast. You don’t get amazing overnight.

    “…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….”

    LMAO. Young-buck mistake #253: Believing that “All DSLRs are ‘professional'” simply because the camera manufacturers, the marketing campaign, or the general consensus suggests it. My Samsung Galaxy Nexus, a professional-level cell phone, has less shutter lag than the 3100. You’re a self-proclaimed concert and sports photographer. You realized you needed a full-frame, high ISO, rapid fire beast, not an entry level body with a dumbed-down UI. Congrats.

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

    Here’s where I will agree with you. There are plenty of wanna-be faux-togs out there who pick up the trade in their 30s or 40s for the thrill of the title or getting backstage or whatever other in-the-moment instant gratification comes of it. They have disposable income from their steady 9-5, so they spring for all the most expensive gear, under the guise of “professionalism” and instant talent. Regardless of how good they are or think they are, they will never shy away from the chance at bullying or ostracizing a kid. They might intimidate you out of a great shooting position for a shot opportunity. They might discredit your choice of gear or try to give you some half-assed pointers that they read on the internet the day before. Its the way life is. Everyone thinks they’re a big-shot and pride is ugly.

    You will continue to encounter these types for as long as you shoot. You will also get over it and learn to ignore them, while getting better.

    But for God’s sake, stop whining about how unfair it is and how hard you have it. It’s not like you’re Black and will always be Black. It’s not like you’re short and will always be short. You’ll get older, wiser and grow thicker skin. Hell, being a woman is harder than being a young photographer. Do you complain about that too?

    Your shots are nice, but I would also edit down the photos on this post to the best 3-5. That’s another thing you gotta learn, young buck. Editing down.

    Good Luck.

  • Odille Esmonde-Morgan

    Excellent comments Olivia and your photos are top class. I have similar tales of misogynist camera store salesman who assume a large older lady can’t be a serious tog either. I get a mean thrill by opening my camera case and trotting out the medium format digital gear therein! Keep photographing, you have a good eye and your work is top class. Just proves the old maxim of ‘don’t judge a book by the cover’is still current!

  • Jon Spanos

    Nice photos but for the record the D3100 is NOT a professional DSLR camera.

  • Jon Spanos

    D3100 pro camera FTW!!! lol

  • greg

    I generally enjoy Petapixel entries but I don’t get why this extended whine was chosen. Complaining about being treated as immature while _being_ immature? Tedious. Focus on the work, please.

  • Ken Elliott

    Perhaps that is how you do it. But bands seek me out because of my approach. I do indeed paint with lights, and place radio-triggered strobes on the set when I can. But if you study the position of the house lights, position yourself correctly and patiently take your time, you can “paint with light”. BTW, I’m single shot. I don’t spray-and-pray. But if your style works for you, then keep doing it.

  • Pdp

    Your photos are good, especially considering your age (and I mean that in a “you have a lot of time to keep experimenting and learning” way rather than a “stereotyping because of your age” way), you removed the names, and you’re very well spoken and have had good defenses in the comments. I could care less what camera you use, where you got the money for it, what school you go to (take advantage of your good education- not everyone is so fortunate), etc.

    If anything take all of this with a grain of salt and let it be a lesson in having a thick skin, which is something that you need in any field that involves critiques. As you age, you’ll learn more about the business side of things. In the meantime, keep shooting, experimenting, learning from others, and being nice.

    Also, the debates on what constitutes a photographer and what constitutes a “professional camera” are absurd, snooty, and irrelevant. To those who are defensive about these entitlements: grow up.

  • Michael Clark

    Perhaps hdc77494 is comparing her opinion of her own work to that of the fictional version of Mozart portrayed in the film.