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It's easy, right?

How hard is it to become a photographer?

In one sense, it is very easy. Get a camera and start taking pictures. Practice a lot. Look at your pictures and try to figure out how they could be improved.

This is where it gets hard.

Maybe you have the greatest camera in the world. Maybe you got a few nice looking shots the last time you went out to photograph. Then again, maybe what you saw is not the same thing that came out in your photograph. Why?

When an aspiring photographer starts looking for the answer to these questions, and learning about the physics and science and technique and composition and all the other stuff that goes into photography, they start on a path to becoming a truly great photographer.

What separates a good photographer from a person who just owns a camera? It has nothing to do with being a professional. There are professionals who knew much less about how to get great photos than the average amateur. There are hobbyists who know more about photography than the average professional.

Here's what separates the photographer from the camera operator: The ability to take charge of the camera, instead of just letting the camera do what it will. The ability to look at a photo and see not only what could be improved, but how it might be improved. The ability to do cool stuff on purpose, not just have cool-looking mistakes. And, finally, the ability to see, either in the real world or in your mind's eye, the photo you want, and then be able to capture that image.

What separates a photographer from a camera user? In one simple word: Learning. The coming series will answer common questions about photography for those who are ready to take that step.