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, itís 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, youíll get the same answer. The dictionary describes photographer as ďone who practices photography, especially: one who makes a business of taking photographs.Ē 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 isnít on making money. Itís on the characteristics, technical and ethical standards of a profession, and youíll agree that it involves much more than making money. This brings us back to the question Ė 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 isnít, and it shouldnít be. I know people who graduated in photography and do completely other things. On the other hand, some of the best photographers I know donít have formal education in the field. Of course, none of this means that photography school is wrong. But itís just not something that should determine whether youíll do photography or not, and how good youíll 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 theyíre 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 youíve made the step from an amateur to a professional? According to Joe (and I agree), this isnít 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, thereís quality of work. If itís not good enough (and youíre not willing to improve and learn more), you donít 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. Weíve seen an example of trashing a client on Facebook, thatís just not what a professional would do, ever. There are some more aspects of being a professional photographer. Based on the video, Iím sharing Joeís 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 youíre a professional, people matter. Thatís 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 couldnít think of anything to add, and I definitely wouldnít remove anything from his definition. What about you? What do you think makes a professional photographer?
Joe Edelman via DIYPhotography