What is a professional photographer?

One of the questions that I tend to shy away from, is the “what makes someone a professional photographer” I’ve shied away from this for the simple fact that there are many different ways to qualify a “Professional Photographer” Today, I was talking to a friend of mine and she was telling about a pro photog friend of hers, who wasn’t getting image comments that she liked, so she took all her photos down. Is this how a pro should act? IMHO, no, not at all.

The comments I’m going to make next are qualifiers that I use to determine a “Professional Photographer”. In no way, shape or form, should this list be taken as the end all, be all of what is or is not a pro, just my observation.

First and foremost, a professional ANYTHING, is one that gets paid. Yes, there are doctors who work at free clinics and give away time, but these guys are financially at a position to where they can do it. How many plumbers do you see doing a DFL? (Drain for Love of it?) You don’t see much because these guys are all guys that are working to pay bills. Long ago, there used to be an unwritten rule that “75% or more of your income should be derived from photography, to be a professional” That rule has relaxed and last I heard, it was 50%-55%. I don’t get caught up on money “makes a professional” but I do believe that a significant amount of your money earned, should be from photography. If not, imho, you’re a serious amateur, hobbyist or semi-pro.

Presentation: I see so many “professionals” that don’t have, imho, the very basics needed to secure a job; business card, website, email with a legit domain. These are things that everyone needs, in order to conduct business. It’s been my experience that I’ve gotten jobs that I wasn’t truly qualified for, but because I was professionally prepared, I was looked at over those who were better qualified. I even had a client tell me “To be honest, there were a few others that had images I liked a bit better than yours (real fashion guys shooting a fashion project) but I felt uncomfortable sending confidential emails to a @yahoo.com account.”

There are many other qualities that makes a professional a pro, too many to document here. These two issues are two of my main concerns. Majority of the people out there doing photography now feel, if you get a “pro grade” camera, a hot shoe flash or four, that you’re a professional. To me, a professional is someone that gets paid for their services. A professional imho, on top of making money from their hobby, is someone that continually challenges him/her-self as well as what they know. I know many photographers who have become static, because they’ve become complacent with the work they do.

Another issue is to make sure you’re operating with in the legal limits of your city, state or township. I held a shoot a few weeks back where I put all the photographers on notice; I asked who all had a business registered? Out of 14 guys, three hands went up! If you’re not operating at a “legal” level…well, we all know what the opposite of legal is! State and Federal tax ID’s, business registered, these are other important factors.

One final note: Shoot for yourself and yourself alone! I get into debates about this philosophy because some feel we should be shooting for the clients. I digress and say the client books me because of the work they’ve seen of me. The last thing I want to do is end up shooting something that I hate, because there’s a pay check at the end of the day. That’s work. When I pick up my camera, “work” is the last thing on my mind!

Keep growing!


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