What is a Professional Photographer in the Digital Photography Age?
In the age of digital photography, when anyone can go to the nearest discount store and buy an SLR camera and Photoshop or Elements, the lines between professional, amateur and hobbyist photographer are blurring. Years ago, when I was a kid, the definition of a professional photographer was much more obvious. You had the professionals making a living doing photography and the serious amateurs who loved the art of photography.
In the new digital age, where photography and photo editing is at everyone’s fingertips, and darkrooms are almost a thing of the past, everyone can be a photographer (or at least they may think so). “Professional photographers” are on every corner now, dozens in every town, thousands in every city. As I wrote my article on “Pricing Photography” a few weeks ago, one theme that came up was “if someone is not charging enough, maybe they are a hobbyist.” But can that be? Can you accept money and just “shoot for fun?” The two do not necessarily go together, at least not in the United States where the government wants its piece of the action.
So this brings us back to the question, “what is a professional photographer?”
How can we define this term? By my definition, I am NOT a professional photographer. I am a hobbyist! I love taking pictures and I enjoy the art of photography. BUT I do not make my living shooting photographs for others. I make my living helping both pro and hobbyist photographers enhance their photos.
To me, a professional photographer is:
- Someone who makes a living taking pictures, or at minimum a portion of their income.
- Someone who has established a legitimate photography business or who is employed by one.
- Someone who pays taxes on their income derived from photography.
Now some gray areas:
- Quality of work: If a photographer’s work is excellent, it does NOT mean they are a pro. And likewise, if the work is poor, they may be one. I know many people earning a living in photography who shoot horrible photographs and have no editing or retouching skills. And I know some amazing amateurs and hobbyists who have incredible portfolios, but choose not to do photography for a living.
- Business Skills: Some photographers are great business people. Others are not. Understanding the business and marketing often will separate the unsuccessful from the successful. And I can tell you with certainty, that sometimes the “best photography” does not come from the most successful professional photographers.
- Pricing: Higher or lower prices do not determine if someone is a professional. Unfortunately, if someone is a legitimate business, and decides to undercut others, that is their choice. If someone is extremely high priced, it does not necessarily mean they are the best in the area either. Sometimes price will mimic skill set and abilities, but often times, it will not.
Remember, just because you love photography or are talented, does NOT mean you need to be a pro. And when you hear someone is a professional, keep in mind that it does not define how good they are at photography or business. It just shows they “set up shop.”
Now it is your turn. Are you a professional photographer? If so, why do you consider yourself one? If you are not, what title would you give yourself, how would you define your role and why do you feel that way? Feel free to agree or disagree with my opinions. I want to hear yours!