"f-stops and shutter" and all the other technical knowledge about photography matter, but they're not the only thing that matters. The very first thing that matters about photography is subject matter. Start with something to say that's worth saying and you're at least half way there. Start with nothing to say and it matters little what else follows. I'm always bemused by people that are interested in "photography" as if it's an end in itself. They are excited by the process and flail around helplessly looking for something to apply it to. It's like people that say they want to "write" but when questioned haven't the faintest idea what about and have little engagement with real life or any definite opinions about it. So the absolute golden rule is to remember it's the medium, not the message. Put another way (badly misquoted, probably): "There's nothing more depressing than a sharp picture of a blurry idea." There are people that love cameras and all the paraphernalia of photography. That's fine. Many of these people call themselves photographers. They can call themselves what they like. If they want to spend more time reading (and writing) equipment reviews and defending their choices against others', that's up to them. Some people would rather spot trains than get on one to go somewhere. I once met a guy with a collection of sixty Leicas. He was nearly blind and had never shot a single frame. It takes all sorts. Some people are obsessed with the technical process of photography and are highly skilled at it. Nonetheless, they have little to say and no passion for anything other than photography. Fine. But what if you do have something to say? Doesn't it make sense to learn how to say it as eloquently as possible? To expand your repertoire, your range? We all know that cameras are getting much better at automating many of the technical aspects of photography. This means that many people can now get technically-good photos in many situations without having to know anything much about what's going on inside the camera. That still leaves composition and timing and in my experience it's a lot harder to teach people how to do this effectively than to teach them the basics of exposure (or focus). No amount of aesthetic training can teach anyone how to find something that's worth shooting. What about the situations where we don't want a "good" exposure? Where we want to do something different? What about extremely long and extremely short exposures where the normal rules don't apply? Many types of photography just can't be done on "auto". The situations are too complex and usually they require equipment (eg. large or medium format) that typically doesn't have much or any auto. Photos stand on their own merits at the end of the day. It matters little after the event who took them and how they did it. But who can argue against the idea that knowing more about what you're doing gives you many more opportunities to shoot in difficult situations, to choose creatively between one technique and another? Is this ever a disadvantage? Not in my experience. I'd favour the passionate photographer with little technical skill over the techno-fetishist with nothing to say any day. But I'd also encourage them to learn as much as they possibly can and I don't think I've ever met a really keen photographer that was doing it for a purpose that didn't try to learn as much as they could. Two words of caution. Passionate photographers that start learning technical skills can get bogged down in the details and lose the bigger picture. It happens but the good ones constantly refocus on their subject matter. Also, motivated people that are learning always go through a phase when they start taking worse photos than when they started. The technical skills haven't been fully learned and the process itself distracts them from the subject. Often, they get it wrong. (Every photographer sometimes gets it wrong.) But soon enough they come out the other side and making good technical decisions becomes almost automatic. f/8 and be there? That sounds like macho bullshit typical of some photojournalists. "Be there" is obviously what it's all about in every area of photography and often the very best go to insane and devious lengths to be where the action is that the second-raters just can't manage. But at the same time, I've never met a photojournalist (at least at the national press level) that didn't know what they were doing. Tales of dodging bullets are more exciting than those of ploughing through the books. Given the choice of technical competence and being there, you'd be there. In practice, the first is a given and the second is where the effort goes on the day. Professional or amateur? It's about money and absolutely nothing else. Show me the invoices and you're a pro. No invoices and you're an amateur. It says nothing whatsoever about ability either way. Ironically, many amateurs dream of being pro while many pros dream of being an amateur and having the freedom to shoot whatever they like. Sometimes life really sucks.