What does it mean to be a professional photographer, and what makes you a professional photographer? Is it about earning money and making a living from photography? Or perhaps there is more to it? In his latest video, Joe Edelman tries to give an answer to these questions and define what makes a professional photographer. And according to him, it’s definitely not just about the earnings.
Most of us define professional photographer as a person who makes a living out of photography. If you ask Google, you’ll get the same answer. The dictionary describes photographer as “one who practices photography, especially: one who makes a business of taking photographs.” So, based on the first part of the definition, everyone is a photographer nowadays. But what defines a professional?
Again, if we look it up in the dictionary, this is what we get:
Interestingly enough, the focus isn’t on making money. It’s on the characteristics, technical and ethical standards of a profession, and you’ll agree that it involves much more than making money. This brings us back to the question – what makes one a professional photographer?
Self-taught or formally educated?
Is it a degree that distinguishes a professional from an amateur? From my experience, it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. I know people who graduated in photography and do completely other things. On the other hand, some of the best photographers I know don’t have formal education in the field. Of course, none of this means that photography school is wrong. But it’s just not something that should determine whether you’ll do photography or not, and how good you’ll be at it.
Some people learn every day, practice, develop new skills, understand and apply the theory of photography. They are more professional than those who are self-absorbed, who only pick up the camera when they’re paid and who think they know it all. Whether they make money or not, the first group acts towards photography in a much more professional way.
What makes a professional?
So, when you learn enough to start earning from photography, does this mean you’ve made the step from an amateur to a professional? According to Joe (and I agree), this isn’t the case. Making money is not what makes you a professional.
A website, business card, and expensive gear are not what makes a professional. No matter how much you invest into these, there is much more to cover if you want to succeed.
First of all, there’s quality of work. If it’s not good enough (and you’re not willing to improve and learn more), you don’t stand a chance. Then, there are business skills. Running a business is an art of its own, and my hat goes off to anyone who knows how to do it right. If you want to succeed as a professional photographer, this is the skill you need to own. Last, but definitely not least, are interpersonal skills. If you suck at communicating with people, you are also not very likely to succeed. We’ve seen an example of trashing a client on Facebook, that’s just not what a professional would do, ever. There are some more aspects of being a professional photographer. Based on the video, I’m sharing Joe’s definition:
Professional is an attitude. Professional is a behavior. Professional is a standard. Being a professional is the way in which you approach your work, the amount of effort that you put into educating yourself and knowing your gear, like an athlete knows theirs. It is the amount of self-motivated learning that you do, not just in the beginning of your career, but throughout your entire career. It is the amount of practice that you do to shore up and improve your techniques. It is the amount of research that you out in before you take the shot. It is the quality standards that you maintain before, during and after the shoot. It is the follow-up that you do with your clients. It is definitely the relationships that you build. And most importantly, being a professional is how you treat your subjects and clients. If you’re a professional, people mater. That’s what a professional is.
In every field, being a professional goes far beyond making money from something. So why would photography be an exception? There are certainly many criteria you need to fulfill to call yourself a professional, and Joe has covered most of them in his definition. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything to add, and I definitely wouldn’t remove anything from his definition. What about you? What do you think makes a professional photographer?