Its time to open a can of worms…
I’ve been asked this questions a couple of times by students and work colleges in the past. What makes a photographer a Professional Photographer. What gives them that ability to classify themselves as that elusive professional that raises them above others in the field…
Its was something I’ve scratched my head at for a long time in the past.. You see the word bounded about on line in peoples linked in profiles, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and blogs… “Professional Photographer” “Professional Seasoned Photographer” “Award Winning Professional Photographer”, you’ve seen them I’m sure… Additionally Ive read countless forum arguments pop up online… You’re a professional if this… You’re a professional if that…. You can only classify yourself as a professional photographer if you’re blah blah blah…. It’s in these places I really do see the ugly side of the industry. Its the downside of the creative world. Egos get involved and that breeds jealousy and envy, a little like the old Star Wars saying about being led to the dark side, it is a slippery slope for some..
So here are some of the many, You can only be a Professional If scenarios Ive come across in my time and how I’ve come across many a argument to counter such proposals. Ok.. So here is my take on it. First off, these are MY opinions… if you disagree… then thats your opinion, and I whole heartedly respect that, but may not agree with it.
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1: You can only be classed as a professional photographer if you earn all your salary from photography
So a photographer that runs a successful business with a book of clients and good reputation, you’re not allowed to deviate from your photography train tracks to earn any money… Wow, I’ve got a quiet period and have the ability to do some interior design consultancy for a local boutique hotel… Oh but wait, I cant as that would forfeit my status as a Professional Photographer…
Additionally, there are a plenty of “Cowboy” and “Cowgirl” photographers out there…. You know the ones. Complete wedding packages for £499.. Yup they may be booked up for the next 7 months every weekend shooting, the standard of photography is that you would normally see on the website http://youarenotaphotographer.com/ but hey… its a bargain and a photograph is a photograph right?
Just like that cheapest quoting cowboy plumber you called to fix your shower! He was busy and fitted me in around the rest of his bookings, You had to call a second plumber that cost 3 times as much to fix his mistakes… But hey! A plumber is a plumber right???
2: You can only call yourself a professional photographer if you have the most expensive equipment available.
Tools of the trade…. Yes, equipment is key and having equipment that is of a good standard is kinda paramount. BUT…. Its not the status quo… Do I utilise the latest Broncolor flash systems and Hasselblad cameras for my photoshoots? No….
I use equipment and tools that I know can do the job. Be it Canon / Sigma / Elinchom / Bowins etc etc… They may not be the Bentley Continental of the photographic world, but they get the job done and get the results I need for my clients.
I’ve met a couple of former city boys who spent best part of a mortgage on camera equipment straight up… Lovely guys, really nice, humble, no egos. Canon 1D’s L lenses from 24mm all the way though to 600mm and wanted to just “become” photographers..
Having great kit is a joy to work with, but it certainly doesn’t make you a photographer, especially not a professional.
3: You take the best photographs in the history of the world and your portfolio is stunning
This one is a little more difficult. Firstly, your portfolio of your “Best” images could be amazing and stunning, however these are the lucky shots and the majority and rest of the 99% of your work is utter gash. the Second, is the case that you actually do take phenomenal photographs, but you have zero desire to work in the industry, you love it as a hobby and as an escape from your day job that earns you a good wage. You just simply love photography and are skilled at it…
I know a couple of people like it. Their Instagram feeds are stunning and often smash others who class themselves as professionals out of the room… Yet its just their pleasure and fun to share their work to the world…
4: All of the above
Ok, so you’re all of the above… You work full time (but not all the time) in the industry, You have well maintained and quality equipment and your portfolio isn’t just hit and miss. I must be a professional photographer right?
Well…… Not so fast there buckaroo….
You may tick all the boxes above, but there is more to being a professional…
Reliability, are you there on time? Did you get there early to make sure you were there on time… You know how the saying goes, if you’re not 15min early, you’re late!! Are you respectful to the staff you work with? Do you have an ego problem? (Something i’ve come across too often in photographers), Are you one of “those Photographers” that use their position to groom and abuse models like a certain celebrity photographer who I’m amazed is still in the business. Are you all smiles to the CEO and Marketing Director but a vial rude and arrogant asshole to the runners and reception staff?
Being a professional extends from just behind the camera, its how you hold yourself as a ambassador to the industry. Are you someone that people can look up to for help, guidance and moral code… If so.. You’re on the right track.
Don’t get me started on this.. Qualifications in the creative world are as reputable as a Omega watch purchased off a man in a BMW in a service station… The saturated university and education realm of Photography Courses are indeed good places to learn, however that bit of paper that tells me you got a 2.1 in Natural History photography tells me nothing…. Its about what you can deliver that matters… Its one of the great thing with photography, you cant fake your way through it… You HAVE to deliver…. You cant hide behind co workers or excuses… You’re the start and stop of the whole process….
A qualification means nothing…. SHOW ME your skills!!!
So…. What DOES make you a professional photographer?
The million dollar question… Here we go, as simple as possible.
- You are able to carry out photography as requested by your clients brief and that you have taken on.
- You act with courtesy and politeness with all those you work with, from all levels.
- You create photographic work that matches or exceeds your clients expectations
- You are able to use your experience to adapt to unforeseen situations that arise during a photoshoot. From mechanical failures, lighting issues, timings, locations and access, you must be flexible.
- You plan for the worst case situation in both the photoshoot and redundancy of information & data
- You are compensated monetarily for the services you carry out, and cover all your expenses & time worked at no lower than the minimum wage for all hours on shoot and editing.
Its these simple facts that in my mind, that can make you a professional photographer.
As I said at the beginning, there are too many ego trips in this industry, and are often totally unwarranted. They will berate and demotivate anyone wanting to work hard who’s starting out in the industry and they do so because they are afraid of the competition coming up behind them that are more skilled, more adaptable and at the and of the day…. more professional.