A photographer's guide to being a photographer

By Clint Alwahab, CNN

A vintage camera, a sullen disposition and maybe even a beard: these are just a few of the things you'll need to get started down the road to becoming a photographer, says Thomas Vanden Driessche.

If you are considering getting involved in the world of photography but don't know where to start, Belgian photographer Thomas Vanden Driessche would tell you to think about which scarf you look best in.

Vanden Driessche's satirical book, "How to be a Photographer in Four Lessons," is a field guide to spotting photographers in their natural habitats that picks apart the stereotypes of just about every type of photographer.

To the uninitiated, it might not be easy to spot a "modern" photojournalist (Hint: He's the guy photographing a parade while simultaneously tweeting about said parade) or a "bad amateur" photographer – the guy asking the modern photojournalist which lens/camera body combination is his favorite.

The idea for the book began when Vanden Driessche stumbled upon a vintage photo booth at an exhibition in Brussels.

Inspired by the exhibition, he tried to make a creative sequence of images in the booth.



"You have a vintage camera, you have a roll of film, you have a model, then you can make a nice picture," Vanden Driessche told himself.

And so the lessons on how to be a "contemporary photographer" were created.

With that strip of four photos, Vanden Driessche decided to build his book of lessons from scratch.

He typed up the lessons on an old Valentine typewriter, cutting and pasting them into a notebook with a strip of images accompanying each one.

In the end, he had an Indiana Jones-like holy grail for photojournalism.

After receiving positive feedback across social networks for the first lesson, Vanden Driessche then found his next lesson at the Perpignan photojournalism festival.

Mingling with some of the most influential photographers in the industry, he noticed the war photographers adhered to a specific "uniform," with their leather jackets and their Leica M's hanging below their bearded faces.

"It was then easy to quickly produce a 'How to be a war photographer' lesson," Vanden Driessche said.

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Different genres of photographers seem to lean toward certain characteristics.

Want to be a contemporary photographer? Grow a beard.

Want to be a surrealist photographer? Be Belgian.

Vanden Driessche considers himself relatively new to the world of photojournalism, having decided to take up the profession in 2009.

He sees himself fitting into many of the categories of photographer he's poked fun at.

"If you take my clothing style, you can clearly recognize me as a 'contemporary photographer,'" Vanden Driessche said.

But the "unexpected and strange" concept for the book linked him to surrealism.

Working in the press brought him closer to the plight of the "modern" photojournalist, and his personal work reflects that of a Dusseldorf or Helsinki photographer.

"This question of category -- and also hierarchy -- is one of the key points of this work," he said.

Vanden Driessche doesn't believe photographers should be limited to one form of the craft.

"In a certain way ... I'm trying at my own little level to fight against this crucial need to always catalog photography and to put people in a box," Vanden Driessche said.

There is a growing disparity in photojournalism, according to Vanden Driessche.

A standard has been set that to be considered a "real" photojournalist, one must be "tough" and "constantly jumping in one plane after the other."

Vanden Driessche questions whether the definition of photojournalist is really that narrow.

He wonders why a photo story shot by a father trying to pay bills every month is viewed as less interesting.

"His vision of people losing (for economic, social or political reasons) what he himself has tried to build at home could be an added value for sure," Vanden Driessche said.

Despite these issues, Vanden Driessche still believes "photojournalism and documentary photography is more alive than ever."

"In this new era where images are everywhere and everybody produces them on a daily basis, the added value of having a real, personal vision, a strong journalistic background and editing capabilities, is more important than ever," Vanden Driessche said.

Replicas of Vanden Driessche's original book will be releasing in November in French and English.