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What is a Professional Photographer in the Digital Photography Age?

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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!

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  1. deb on August 12, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I think there is so much gray but I think if you are accepting ANY money for taking photos then you are in business and should be conducting yourself in a legal and professional manner. If you are paid for services then you should be claiming, taxing and have insurance to protect yourself, your gear and your clients. If you are not running a legal business then you should not accept money. Now the criteria for a professional is knowledge, image quality and treatment of your clients. That is so subjective.

  2. stephanie wind on August 12, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Oy. I so much suffer on the business end. I am KILLING myself in that department.Great article!

  3. Paula Leach on August 12, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Even though I am not currently ‘earning’ my living as a professional photographer. It is my long term goal. I opened my business nearly 3 years ago, and am still struggling to find profit. This is mainly because my standards are very high, and I’m still putting everything I earn back into my software, equipment, marketing, etc. The other factor is every Mom with a digital thinks she is now a pro because her kids are cute. They also believe that it’s $200 I didn’t have yesterday so I don’t care I’ll take that and give away all my images on disk. It’s a problem. I think our main goal should be to educate new photographers as to the wonderful photography education available, teach them to care about training their eye to SEE the real difference in what they are putting out and what professional produces. The other aspect is educating your client as to why you charge what you do, and why your worth every penny. That’s my 2cents on this topic.

  4. Julie Martin on August 12, 2010 at 9:29 am

    GREAT ARTICLE that addresses many things I have been wondering about. While I am not a professional photographer, I am moving in that direction. While my photography is linked to my clothing business, I do anticipate making a portion of my income from photography in the near future.I think I would give myself the title of “advanced amateur”? I guess in my mind I consider a “professional photographer” someone that makes MOST or ALL of their income from photography. I don’t consider someone who occasionally takes money from friends for photos a true PRO. I also think of pro photographers as GOOD at what they do. While that is not always the case, I want it to be. 🙂 I think eventually I will be “semi-pro”.

  5. Jessica on August 12, 2010 at 9:59 am

    “Professional” denotes that one is being paid for a service. It also implies that one knows what he or she is doing, and I’ve noticed that many a “professional” photographer these days doesn’t seem to know jack about composition, elements of art, principles of design, rule of thirds, etc. Personally I do not consider myself a professional photographer; I do consider myself an artist, though. Even though I’ve studied art all my life and took my first of many photography classes in 8th grade (about 25 years ago!), I do not sell my photographs and I do not presume to know everything about photography.

  6. Rhonda Broich on August 12, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I’m a hobbyist. And, with the (mostly free) education found in books, magazines, and great websites like this one, I’ve improved my skills over time to the point where people are making assumptions, and just asking, “how much do you charge?” To which, I reply, “I don’t charge. I’m not a professional.” My people, who love me, are starting to tell me I should become a professional. But I don’t want to. That would take all the fun out of my work. Having said that, how can a hobbyist like me avoid “believing her own press,” so to speak? Are there websites where we can have our work critiqued? More importantly, for free?

  7. Carolyn Benik on August 12, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I agree wholeheartedly with Deb’s comment. There is a lot of gray, but if you want to be a pro and consider yourself such, business should be established, and taxes paid. As far as talent goes, that’s clearly subjective. I didn’t start my business until I felt that I had technical knowledge of what I was doing, as well as an artistic eye, and a feel for what my style should be. I’m still in my Portfolio Building stage, so my prices are low, but eventually they will be higher. I don’t make all or most of our famiy’s income from the business, but I make all of MY income from it. 🙂

  8. Michelle Johnson on August 12, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I am a hobbyist with dreams of going pro in the not-too-distant future.I’d just like to point out that in most areas you can operate as a “hobby business” where essentially, you charge to cover some of your expenses, but you don’t actually make a profit. You still have to pay taxes on any income and you can’t deduct expenses, but in most cases, you don’t need a business license, etc.

  9. Jen at Cabin Fever on August 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I think the defining line is paying taxes for it and having a legitimate business name. But I agree… the line is blurring. NEK Photography Blog

  10. Cally on August 12, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I agree 100% and I am PROUD to be “just” a hobbyist. I love it and its an outlet for when I cant stand my day job. Would I like to be a pro? H*** YES! Someday but as my husband is just now building his career I don’t have the luxury to quite and depend on photography 100%. But again SOMEDAY!Therefore slow and steady is what I am after. I am still learning every day to be better, and slowly investing in my equipment. No Nikon D3 for me anytime soon :(. But I love what I do and yes I have a website so I can make some spare cash with photography, for several reasons, 1… to build my portfolio now before I want to go pro. and 2… so I can keep putting money away to support this hobby without my husband really seeing the effect on his wallet! :)Even the IRS does allow for a hobbyist to claim income and any expenses (up to the income) associated with the hobby. That makes it more fuzzy because you can do business under your own name and really never need to file paperwork. I have talked with my CPA about it several times and for now since it is truly a hobby for me I am still filing my taxes as above.

  11. Grace on August 12, 2010 at 10:31 am

    This is such a honest truth for photographers now and although I consider myself a professional, I have tons of friends who are attempting to make the leap. I have a few reasons I consider myself a professional. I conduct myself in a business manner- and opperate as a businees. I have a accounting practices in place that record everything. I have pay taxes multiple times a year. I keep milege books in each car. I have a business plan and a chart for growth. I have S.O.Ps for goodness sakes. I think in this world of blurry gray lines, if you are conducting yourself as a business, that dictates weather or not you are a professional photographer or not.

  12. Cally on August 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Sorry mistype on comment 9, I meant quit not quite!

  13. Jill on August 12, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I am a professional (for a few years now) and darn proud of the work it took to get here!! Loved photography since childhood, spent the thousands of dollars and years of my life in photography school, graduated at the top of my class and work hard to continue my education now. I look for great lighting, and work to keep my images technically correct as well as creative and appealing to others. I understand retouching and editing in Photoshop, and I’m pretty darn good at it!! I get paid for my work, pay taxes, and have some cute business cards!! Haha! What gets me the most is the same as some of the other posts here. The moms with a nice camera and cute kids get work by undercutting prices. People think they are creative because they click one action in PS on EVERY image and call it a day. If their “clients” could only see the difference side-by-side they’d see how a wide-angle lens used in every shot is not flattering anyone!! *heavy sigh* Sorry… This just hits SO close to home lately!! Thanks for the opportunity to vent!!

  14. pam on August 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I appreciate that you point out that a “professional” can be high priced, earn a living and be lousy, while the non professional can be fabulous and earn a litttle money here and there. In photograph communities the conversation heats up and it is a bit wearying. People get angry if the gal down the street didn’t put nearly as much dough into her equipment as they and now they advertise open for business. Price variances drive people batty. People need to accept the landscape of today’s photography world and carve their path without so much whining. (I totally fall into whining sometimes with my own local issues)I call myself a serious hobbiest that gets paid to shoot for people sometimes. I don’t know if I will go the govt defined business route yet based on the quantity of paid-to-shoots I am doing. But when I am the offical camera in a situation, those depending on me consider me to be a “professional” and I should completely live up to what that means.Just a thought to consider…we use the word “pro” differently from the word “professional”. Though it is derived from the word professional, we use it to mean *very* good at something. I think that is my more serious goal, to be a pro. A “professional” I am not sure yet. I want my work to be seriously good, and I have plans to give a lot of my work away. Don’t worry, a lot of the recipients can’t even afford walmart photos.

  15. Brian Woodland on August 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    The beauty of the free market system is that consumers ultimately decide who is a professional (long-term) and who is not. Speaking as an accountant who is just learning photography, if I can’t deliver my accounting work at the time, quality, and accuracy demanded by my employer then I won’t be a professional for long. I’ve seen this debate repeated a couple of times since taking an interest in photography, but ultimately the debate will be decided by consumers.

  16. Jerome Pennington on August 12, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    What matters more, the IRS definition of a professional, or the client’s?In my opinion, sound judgment is the difference between professionals and amateurs. By definition, amateurs are driven by passion. Professionals are passionate too, but it’s tempered by business and creative judgment developed over years of experience, client feedback, and one too many mistakes. Demonstrated exceptional talent in a particular niche may be substituted for some of that time and experience.Sound judgment increases efficiency and ensures that the client receives what they asked for plus a bit more, but nothing less. It’s not always evident in your portfolio, but it is revealed in the initial conversation. It informs things like kit selection, whether to hire one or two assistants, and post-production planning.You want clients to feel they are choosing a professional. Technically and aesthetically, your online portfolio may make their short list. Evidence of your ability to consistently make decisions that benefit the client gets you the job.

  17. Maggie M on August 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    There is a lot of gray area and I think this will continue to be a hotbed of discussion and debate. I really like Ken Rockwell’s post on why photography is not a profession: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/pro-not.htm

  18. Carolyn Gallo on August 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I am an artist. No one knows what that means either, but it’s what I feel I am in my heart. Photography is the medium that is pulling at me the most, and I think my point-of-view is an artistic one (whatever that means.)Currently I do not have a photography business, but I am slowly working my way towards one. I would like to contribute to my family’s income, and I need to feed the need for upgraded equipment and classes.I will not let myself get bogged down with the “professional” label. I plan on treating clients professionally, and someday soon running a small business professionally and producing the best, most artistic, work I can. If it makes my clients happy and earns me more business then that’s all I need :c )

  19. Shannon Meadows on August 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I am a photographer….some call me a pro others may think I’m not. I have a studio, business, business cards, networking, memberships to local chambers and Woman in Business. I shoot on location and in my home studio. I provide services for those who request. I charge and not a hefty amount, because I’m trying to undercut other photographers?? NOPE! Because I want my clients to be able to afford “Memories to last a Lifetime” I LOVE what I do and it’s the first career (not job anymore) that I truly love. I donate my time to OpLove ReUnited for Military deployments, births and Homecomings. I pay my dues, taxes and family time. I come from a SMALL town…..yes we have atleast a hand ful of photographers and I’m hearing of them on a regular basis. I try to keep an open/friendly relationship with them. Some of them feel intimidated because we specialize in the same type of photography. I don’t feel that way. Two photographers could meet with the same client and they will know who they want to go with. It is their choice, since it is their pictures. I look at it that way so I don’t get frustrated with other photographers. I did have a client at the end of our session of her children tell me she would like to get into photography. I didnt’ realize at that moment the real reason she wanted a session was to see how I shoot, and what I do. Next thing you know she has a website identical to mine even with the same music, $20 cheaper on my costs and the same packages provided ALL WITH HER POINT AND SHOOT CAMERA. Now, THAT I’m not ok with. If you want to be a photographer, my advice is be up front and honest with another photographer…don’t copy them….ask if you can follow. I’ve had two others request to 2nd shoot a wedding, the way you go about it makes a world of difference. Sorry, got to venting on here. Just frustrating a little. I LOVE working with other photographers I just have to go to the next county to get someone wanting to share with me 🙂

  20. Krista on August 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I think I’d call myself an aspiring professional photographer. I LOVE photography of all sorts, working with people, and I know that doing what you love can make for the best sort of work. That being said I do take “good” photographs, but I’m always seeing things I wish I could do differently or know how to do. That and I don’t have a few of the tools I think I need to really be a professional. And paying taxes just means you’ve managed to make enough that the government cares about it. Right now I make less than I spend on tools and learning!

  21. KED on August 12, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    I am a total and very happy hobbyist with not a single drop of desire to go professional, even if I ever reach that level. Finally in my life I have something that I love doing. It is for me and I plan on keeping it that way (I just might be a bit selfish!). I have never wanted to be my own boss and the idea of the buisness side of the industry seems to take the fun out of my hobby (for me). Much luck to all that are thinking about, trying, starting or well established in the buisness side!

  22. Jen Turner on August 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I think there are now “Photography Businesses” and “Professional Photographers” the two can be the same or very NOT the same. The difference, to me, is that a “Photography Business” is someone who may or may not be trained or really even know what they are doing, but they are being paid for their photography service. A “Professional Photographer” is someone who is trained in the basics of photography skills (ie lighting, posing, camera equipment, basic computer skills & workflow – and this is the minimum)utilizes professional vendors (and thats a loose thought, I dont think its a requirement, but it should be), and has a basic business set up (even if they contract out their business work). They may or may not be in business, I dont think you have to be active necessarily to be a “Professional” but you have to have at least a “minimum’ amount of education and knowledge. This means that you can capture, accurately & consistently well exposed and composed images with a minimum amount of shooting (Im not saying you have to shoot fewer pictures, I am sayig you should be ABLE to shoot a few images and have them be consistent and accurate). So, to me, what has blurred here is these 2 designations. But I will stand on one soapbox and stand tall on it….if you are receiving ANY amount of money for your work, you should #1 be collecting and paying sales tax & #2 paying income tax on that amount….that is the LAW, it is not negotiable and not open to discssion. Now the income tax part has a minimum (I want to say you have to claim anything over $600 a year) but sales tax is not. In fact I verified that this past week for an article I am writing and they said absolutely ANY amount charged for a service such as this is taxable and anyone not doing that will be looked for. Remember…you all have websites, how hard to you think it is for them to find you or for someone else to turn you in…just a thought to remember.

  23. Bobby Johnson on August 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    My accountant says that the IRS considers me a ‘professional photographer’. I’m good with that.

  24. Katie on August 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Even pro studios (like olan mills, yuen lui) don’t do fabulous work..but they are professionaland the part about accepting money making you pro is untrue. Uncle Sam does recognize hobbies. Its after you accept a certain amount that you need to report it. So someone could, in essence, charge for their photography and not “go pro” or pay taxes on it. As long as they’re not making more than the allowed hobby amount per year.and that might just be what craigslisters and some “mom-togs” are doing.

  25. mandi on August 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    as someone who has been trying to pursue photography for the past couple years I have been very intereted in these recent articles. They have really opened my eyes. I’m defintely ameture, working towards pro.

  26. Lindsay on August 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Honestly, I am a mom of really cute kids who aspires to be a pro photographer some day, but I really hope that “arriving” at that doesn’t make me as whiney and snobby as a lot of “pro” photographers come off online. I read posts constantly on this topic and pricing that I’m just horrified by.I’d love to see more women trying to lift up other women in this business, especially considering that so many women get into this field in an attempt to make “mother of small children”, “good wife” and “breadwinner” all be hats that fit their heads simultaneously. Support for others, even those who are “floundering” or making common beginner mistakes, would go along way. Sharing the art one has created is a vulnerable position to be in, and I hate to think that anyone would hesitate to take a jump of faith in opening a business to support their family doing something they love because of these catty comments I see so often.The only thing I actually disagreed with in this article, Jodi, was when you said “Everyone can be a photographer” (or at least they make think so). I disagree with the portion you put in parentheses. I think fear is the only thing that would cause anyone to be unable to be a photographer, if it was what they wanted. It does take education, but that is there for those who seek it. It does take creativity, but that is also there for those who seek it. It takes time and effort, but if you want it, you can do it. I think that applies to pretty much everything in life, but art and business are no exception.I can’t wait to take one of your workshops! I just finished my summer photography classes, so I’m free for some of the upcoming ones 🙂

  27. TH on August 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    We all have to start somewhere and I will tell you my experience. Before taking my photography passion seriously I had a “professional” photographer by the name of Tracy Raver come to my home to shoot my family. Maybe you have heard of her. She charged, but not tax and was reasonable. She was about 1 year into starting her business. I didn’t start paying tax with her until about our 3rd year with her! And look where she is now! You have to start someplace and you need to charge something, and yes, you need to pay taxes, but let’s be real. When you are truly starting out, you aren’t even making enough for uncle sam to give you a second look. I fully plan to pay taxes when I actually start making money. Making $50-$100 here and there is covering my time and costs and I am by no means able to live on it. I look forward to the day that I am able to pay taxes because it means that I am making money that is meaningful. I want to be legitimate, but how can you get to that point if you are giving your time, resources and product away for free? You have to build towards it and have mentors that are willing to guide you. It’s hard to tell somebody, “Sorry, I know I never charged you before, but now I have a tax id and need to charge you $200.” I find it hard to believe they are going to be willing to continue having you take their pictures. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up, not just say, “I think I will buy a camera and be a pro photog and charge money, and pay the taxes”. Those of you who criticize, where and how did you start?

  28. Casey on August 12, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    The rule of thumb (guidelines I remember when I started in this business 17 years ago was that your income from photography, to be considered a true professional, had to be 80% of your entire taxable income.) I never labeled my self as a professional until I reached that point. That is being honest to myself AND my clients!@ Brian Woodland: In our free market system we still have to educate our consumer because most couldn’t distinguish the difference between a merit worthy print as established by the PPA and a Sears or WalMart photo. The PMA in a 2006 did a survey and posted figures of 30% per year entering the world of photography (scary). If I remember correctly the term coined for those entering into photography were labeled Digi-moms. Those whose spouses could afford to have the wife stay home without impacting their bottom line. Our city if overflowing with them. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard, “my friend just started her photography business and she’s going to take our photos for free” How does one compete with that? I’d love to be able to do that, unfortunately, my family likes a roof over their heads and we all like to eat!

  29. Jenna H on August 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I am a full time professional, meaning I have no other job and I earn almost all of our household income through photography (my husband works part-time). I lovingly refer to those who claim to be professionals that either don’t have the work to back it up or don’t earn a living through their photos to be ‘fauxtographers.’ While I want to encourage anyone with aspirations of becoming a professional photographer, it bugs me that folks aren’t taking the time to learn their craft before presenting it as a commodity. It just makes me want to work harder on my own skills.

  30. Marea on August 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    I would call myself a “serious amateur”. I am taking photography classes at a local community college. I like entering in photo contests and recently got 2nd place in one. I just love taking pictures, honing my skills and learning all that I can about photography. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll feel skilled enough to charge for it, but that’s not really a goal. However, I do tend to agree with your opinion of what constitutes a “professional photographer”. And, honestly, I have seen work done by so called pros that I really didn’t like. It’s all so subjective.

  31. Angie on August 12, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    I loved the article!!!! I guess I would call myself an “advanced amateur” as well. I love photography and know photoshop and portrait re touching very well. Will I ever go pro? Maybe I hope to someday soon but for right now, I’m happy just experimenting and learning the art behind the camera and how to take an image that makes you say WOW! I just shoot with my soul and knowledge I’ve learned and am always eager to learn more 🙂

  32. Aliy on August 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    I started as a hobbyist and switched into professional at the beginning of the year.Here is my when I was a Hobbyist/now that I’m a Pro breakdown.I shot on a whim, random work that came to me/I have contracts and set time tablesI would shoot anything/I have a nicheMy equipment was what I had/My equipment suits my needs and is redundantI gave away my images/I charge for digital filesI said I owned my work/I ACTUALLY file copyright paperworkI made extra cash/I make 100% of my livingMostly Automatic/Mostly ManualQuite/AssertivePaid taxes/ Charge taxesFigured nothing would go wrong/I have insurance

  33. Tiffany on August 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    I am definitely a hobbyist! I love photography and editing but I simple do it for fun!! 🙂

  34. Kristal on August 12, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    AMEN!I am a hobbyist, I don’t take pictures of for anyone but me (or the occasional family member).I am not entirely sure just charging can make you a pro as I have seen way too many photogs charging for “very” sub-par work.

  35. Lori on August 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    According to this article; I’m on my way to bieng a professional photographer. The process of establishing the business legitimately is scary to me but I’m serious about my passion for photography, so here I go ;).

  36. Amy Jo on August 12, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    TH~ You are my new best friend. I have been saying that time and time again with some of the snooty pro photogs that think they’re hot snot on a silver platter and find nothing more pleasurable than expressing their fear of more competition. At least fear is what I get from it. We all started somewhere and all have the same goal: make your dream job a reality and do exactly what you love doing, regardless of your “title.” I don’t make very much either, but I did go get a business license because I wanted to. I wanted that confidence and new found glory that ultimately raised my confidence and helped me up my game. I still don’t consider myself a pro because I have a lot to learn.

  37. Bob Wyatt on August 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    IMHO to be a pro requires the following conditions:minimum level of competencyalways give at least 100%be committed to always expanding your skillset with educationgiving back something to your communitybe reimbursed at a rate that tells everyone you are serious about your craftalways strive to make your customers understand there is a very good reason they have chosen you

  38. Clipping Path Service on August 13, 2010 at 5:18 am

    really awesome article! good work 🙂

  39. Cerebral Aperture on August 13, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I am an amateur photographer. I don’t pay my bills with my work, nor do I care to be under the kind of pressure that would force my work to be controlled by others and their check books. I don’t consider myself to be a great photographer but I have enough skill and experience to hold my own and every day I continue to learn and grow some more. I am very clear to the people I shoot with who I am, what I do, and specifically what they should seek out a professional for. I am upfront about these things and unfortunately I think that many people aren’t. It’s one of the main reasons I have people come back to me. Being honest about our abilities and taking the time needed to educate the public on photography is something that is necessary for all photographers regardless. It is too bad that it doesn’t actually happen.

  40. CaptPhil on August 13, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Let’s see: 25 years of photojournalism. A couple thousand publishing credits. Today, I’m running the QA Dept. of a manufacturing company. Reading this article makes me wonder: Am I a pro? I still shoot on occassion. But, I don’t get paid for it. I do it because I love it.

  41. Christina on August 13, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I didn’t take the time to read all the comments, but I think ‘professional’ isn’t defined by money in any way. It’s defined by quality and mastery. A professional of 30 years once told me that a ‘professional photographer’ is a photographer who can ‘shoot anywhere and in everything’. It’s a mastery of the art (and not of Photoshop). It doesn’t matter what they do with their skills either (career or hobbyist) if they have mastered it, they can consider themselves at a professional level.

  42. Brian Woodland on August 14, 2010 at 12:08 am

    @Casey said: “@ Brian Woodland: In our free market system we still have to educate our consumer because most couldn’t distinguish the difference between a merit worthy print as established by the PPA and a Sears or WalMart photo.” I agree. Photographers do need to work to educate consumers. A few years ago my wife and I took our children to Sears or Target for photos, which we would never do now. Consumers have to go through a learning process and photographers have the burden to educate and attract business.Using the accounting business (again, sorry) as a comparison: There are different levels of accountants and they each have a price range that makes sense for their skill set: (1) accountants with advanced degrees and multiple certifications and/or a legal background can charge the most and they will find clients who will pay their premium fees, (2) accountants with one advanced degree and one certification can charge less and/or be employed by a company that values their background and work, (3) accountants with a bachelor degree and no experience can find entry-level work at a lower rate, and (4) bookkeepers can find clerical work for a lower rate or work from their own offices or home offices and charge less than CPAs to do daily/weekly bookkeeping work.At each level they get paid what they are worth by customers who are willing to pay… or they go out of business or change professions.At this point I see photography as a stratified profession – renowned artists and commercial photographers on down, and at each level they will find customers who are willing to pay based on what value they offer.The onus is on the photographer to educate their consumers, demonstrate their skills and value, and improve their skills and credibility in order to move up to the next level and find clients who are willing to pay prices at the next level in their progression.Great discussion! I have learned a lot from all the perspectives offered.

  43. MarshaMarshaMarsha on August 16, 2010 at 1:37 am

    I am not a professional, but a serious hobbyist. And even if I were a professional, I would probably charge very little and “undercut” others. Not because I’m out to make money or steal business from the pros (I have another business and don’t need the extra money). I would charge little to nothing because I WANT EVERY FAMILY to have a good family portrait. I want a Senior to have a pretty picture of herself, even though all she could “afford” is Walmart (if that!). Some (not all) photographers get so bent out of shape on the whole pricing thing. Y’know, they can charge a bunch and have the clients that believe that you get what you pay for. And I’m sure they and their clients will be very satisfied.Me? I’ll just take pictures as a ministry to the people that cross my path, to those that are on a limited budget. I just wish there wasn’t such an automatic assumption that more affordable equals poor photography or lack of “professionalism.”And no, I definitely do not think less of photographers that charge huge amounts of money. Their time and talents are often worth it! So much energy and hard work go into developing a talent and style, and they should be adequately compensated. My fur only goes up when things get snooty or condescending.

  44. Manuela on September 7, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I loved the article!I’m a hobbyist! I take photo’s of my family, friends and there friends. I have loved taking picture for many years since my first daughter was born….and only ever had a basic point and shoot camera. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve moved more into understanding my camera, the skills and the fields associated with it to become a better photographer. But I myself don’t need a label……I do it because I love capturing all those precious moment and making memories that last for generations to share…..I just love it and look forward to every moment when I can pull out my camera. I’m always learning and will continue to learn. And by the way…To me the term professional states a master in his field, but that my opinion. MPC I love your site!!!

  45. Danielle on November 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I have never wished to undercut other photographers. I have struggled with pricing but came to the conclusion that I want to charge what I would be willing to pay and also the people I know. Recently I have been thinking of changing prices. I had never looked at it that way though. Thank you for giving me something to think about.

  46. LaTonya on June 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I agree that a Professional Photographer is one that have a legit and established business. What I’ve learned about being in the photography business is in some cases, it’s not our client that is the worst critique of our work but it’s our fellow photographers. Unless our clients have an extensive understanding of art and photography, they can’t tell if the logistics are correct in an image. Please don’t get me wrong, Yes, you should always give the client your best work ever! It’s the client that is paying their money for our services and if they book us in the first place, they must have been happy with what they have seen. If photographers would just focus on their love for the art, learning the needs of their clients, not worry what other photographers think or what they are doing without degrading others just to stand out from the others, then I believe that you will be successful. Someone will always be better than me in this industry but we all have to start somewhere. Technology is evolving which it is making it tougher market. Be different and your work will speak for itself. Bottomline is, if your clients are happy with your work,then I wouldn’t worry about what other photographers say. Besides, they are the ones hiring you. 🙂

  47. Chris Cline on January 6, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I have referred to the last 16+ years in Photography as the “Digital Diaharea ” era. Some of the “Photographers ” i have came across do not know one single thing about lighting, subject matter, posing etc.. they don’t know what it was like to sit there and shoot a wedding to have to go back to the darkroom, roll there own film on the canisters process it and then after a contact sheet they would know if they are screwed or not. NOW , they read a blog or another’s website, write down poses they saw on line and go out and shoot 65 shots of each pose, then delete 60 of them and rinse and repeat. Then they post there ” work ” on social media so there friends can tell them just how awesome of a ” Photographer they are. To me i don’t care if you have been shooting for 20 days or 20 years. but RESPECT the craft enough to be straight forward with your clients/ mother’s next door, and give whoever came up with the pose the credit and then do your best at copying it. But don’t refer to yourself as a ” Professional” thats like saying, the person in the karaoke bar singing Taylor Swift is a Music Artist.

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