Home forums General Photography What makes you a professional

2 replies, 2 voices Last updated by  Steve Valentine 2 years ago
  • Steve Valentine

    What makes a photographer a professional?

    Selling a single image? Selling a hundred images?

    Selling an image for a quarter? Selling an image for $100?

    Professing your are a professional without selling any images?

    Is a photographer just a photography regardless of the labels professional or amateur?

  • John Planck

    These are thought provoking questions. As I have been thinking about your post I have debated with myself what “professional” means for any skill, and considered some sense of quality, knowledge, and client satisfaction specific to photography.

    At first I simplified this and thought, “I am a professional driver.” I drive my car everyday, no accidents, varying weather and road conditions. I have thousands of hours of experience and miles. But there are  licensed “professional” drivers. They have met some qualification and had some training or exam to demonstrate competency to be licensed. So, maybe being paid (or compensated) for your work as a photographer and/or your prints is part of being a professional photographer. I am only thee years into digital photography and I have been asked to shoot senior photos, a prom, a wedding, and offered money for one of my prints. I did shoot one senior portrait session, one prom, one engagement, and passed on the wedding. I also was turned down by the person who wanted to buy my print when my price seemed to high to them. I received two cases of beer for the senior portraits session (from the parents!). The engagement was my son’s, and the wedding, well that would be my son’s too. I had the knowledge to shoot the senior, prom, and engagement as far as lighting, posing, etc. Technically I had the chops, and all parties were thrilled with the results, and so was I. Of course I did these to learn and gain experience because I do not consider myself professional. The wedding definitely needed a professional wedding photographer, not me.

    In my mind a professional has the knowledge and experience to do the job with confidence, and relative ease. They aren’t thinking about f-stops, shutter speed, flash angle and brightness, etc. like I am… like I have to. They are just doing it, it is second nature to them. That is not to say they haven’t pre-visualized what they want, had to struggle with bad light, etc. But professionals have a tool box of strategies to use that they have learned over time, or the experience to figure it out on the fly, fast.

    Finally, a professional produces something unique and and inspiring. For me right now I just wow my friends with my photography because they are technically nice (usually better than cell phone pic ;-)) and interesting subject matter. I have only wowed my photography friends (many of them what I would consider professional) with a few interesting compositions, unique lighting, etc. I remember going to an art fair last summer and seeing pictures captured from the upper peninsula. Quite a few were the exact same photos I took of light houses, beaches, waterfalls when I visited the upper peninsula. Same perspective, etc. This isn’t all bad, I was flattered that my photos appeared as good as theirs. But, it awakened in me the need to see creatively. I have some natural ability for this, but taking a composition class was fundamental to how I was seeing things. Same with an architectural photography class.

    Am I a professional? No, not yet. Do I aspire to be? Yes and no. I love this too much as a hobby, as art, as mental wellness, to let it become a job. And it will only ever be a job if I get paid and have deadlines. However, I could get paid and still love it as many of my professional friends do. For me it would not be my primary source of income, but for some of my friends it is. But I see in their work passion, even if it wasn’t a job they would have chosen personally, even though they have to pay the bills, I see them still producing work that is inspiring, that makes it worth the price they pay as a professional making a living.

    I would love to hear a response from a professional photographer. And thank you, to those of you who are paying the bills with your professional gigs. As we all know from blogs like “I’m going to shoot my first wedding, what lens do you recommend?” Cameras and lenses don’t take great photos, people do. And you professionals are those people.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by  John Planck.
  • Steve Valentine


    Thank you for taking the time to provide your thoughts on this subject.

    I started to add my views to the original post several times shortly after you posted yours except each time I thought I had captured them I thought of another viewpoint which negated my ponderings.

    Professionals are, as you said, proficient, within their chosen vocation. Professionals no matter the work have chosen to earn their living from the results of their efforts.

    To me, a professional photographer is someone who purposefully chooses to sell the images they capture. They must be technically proficient, knowledgeable, creative, and skillful to be successful, i.e. repetitively selling images.

    Amateur photographers can be just as proficient, knowledgeable, creative and skillful as professionals, but their photography purpose is non-monetary. Amateurs use their images for their own enjoyment, the enjoyment of family and friends or simply for the challenge of capturing an image.

    I’ll always be an amateur because my photography purpose is for my enjoyment and those close to me. I will work to increase my proficiency, knowledge, creativeness and skills with photography. Maybe someday I will attain levels equal to a professional but even then, I still will be an amateur.

    Steve V.

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