Am I a Professional Photographer?

What Do I Need To Be a Professional Photographer?

I love photography and I always seem to have a camera with me. But what is a professional photographer and can I call myself a professional? The answer is no. Even though I did get paid for two photography jobs in last year I can’t call myself a professional. Why? Keep reading and I’ll explain.

Harvest in Nebraska, Combines in the fields

Harvest in Nebraska

Three Things Needed to Become a Professional Photographer

How to transition from a hobbyist photographer to a professional takes guts. Which I don’t have. It also takes tenacity and time. So don’t quit your day job. There are a lot of myths about becoming a professional photographer and once your understand the reality of starting a full time photography business you might think twice.

BUT, if you are still reading here are my top three items you will need to start a photography business. Warning. Some of them are lumped together.

You will need a professional camera. Seriously! A Canon Rebel T6 is a good beginner camera for the serious photography hobbyist,  in fact it’s a great camera. But to get the sharpness and clarity like you see in magazines, a full frame camera is needed. Second, education, read, read, read and read some more. Watch videos, take classes.

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What is a Professional Photographer?

So what is a professional photographer? In my opinion it is someone who earns their sole income by selling their photography services and prints. They pay taxes, they have insurance, and they rely on photography for their income. Just like any business there are marketing costs for advertising, business cards, and insurance.

There are fewer and fewer true professional photographers in the industry anymore. With the advent of easily accessible digital DSLR Cameras the profession has changed. I’m not here to discuss or debate whether this competition and change is a good or bad thing, just that it has happened.

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Many professional photographers have gone to school to learn composition, lighting techniques and studio photography.  Many cut their teeth during era of film.

Even during the age of film photography, photographs were edited in the dark room with burning and dodging techniques. Post production work and photo editing is now is done in Lightroom and Photoshop. Photo editing is essential achieve the look and feel the photographer felt when viewing the scene in real life.

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This photo below was taken over looking Chicago and Lake Michigan at midnight. I didn’t have a tripod with me and set the camera on a park bench for a long exposure shot. The result was crooked and due to the cold I didn’t have time to get the proper white balance in camera. In Lightroom I was able to straighten the horizon and adjust the lighting to what my eye remembered.

Professional Photographers edit in Lightroom or Photoshop for the best results

True photographers plan their shots, they don’t just happen.

This was a case of “knowing” and planning my edit ahead of time. My goal was a 2:1 panoramic print, so I shot wide to allow myself editing space. I took only two shots like this that night.

Digital darkrooms in the way of photo editing programs have become very available for anyone and software such as Photoshop and Lightroom are tools. When used the right way they enhance photos and the viewer doesn’t even know a photo has been “shopped”.

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However like all tools many people use them incorrectly and then photography becomes more digital art. That is fine, if the final work is presented in that fashion. The photo above of the Chicago skyline is a good example of photo enhancement done correctly.

Then Who is a Photographer?

Planning and execution is the difference between someone who is a photographer and a person who just takes pictures.

A photographer is anyone who takes their photography seriously and is always looking at ways to increase their camera skills and techniques. They read books, they read blogs, watch YouTube videos on post production in Lightroom and Photoshop to learn how to get the most out of their camera and their photographs.A professional graduation photo

If you are like me it’s hard to drive down the road without seeing a photographic opportunity. You’re spouse might just be tired of you saying “Stop, go back, I have to get a photo of that barn” (fence, sunset, cloud, cow, lamp post, etc…you get the picture)

A photographer thinks about their shot “before” they take it, taking into consideration composition, lighting, and cropping aspect ratio. A serious photographer takes their camera off Auto and learns to shoot in Aperture Priority or Manual.

If your goal is to improve your photography, if you find yourself reading every photographic technique article that comes across your Facebook news feed, and if you purposely seek out photographic opportunities to share them with a wide audience then you might be able to call yourself a photographer. It may be a just a serious hobby. But you are a budding photographer.

I Am a Semi-Pro Photographer

That would be where I fit in. I am a serious photographer who has a “normal” nine-to-five job and occasionally gets paid for photographic endeavors? Very occasionally. I don’t advertise, but I post my best photos on several sites and on Facebook. I also sell my photographs on FineArt America and recently on InstaProofs.

Me, I’m a a hobbyist photographer.

But, since many people see that I can take decent landscape photos they also assume I can also take portraits. I can’t, or let’s put it this way, I’m uncomfortable photographing people.

Yet in one month I finally said yes to two people who asked me to photograph events. I photographed my first graduation and my first wedding. So now I can officially call myself a semi-pro. Will I give up my day job? No. But I will shoot graduation again, maybe not another wedding, it took the Mother of the Bride two weeks to convince me to do this one.

More about my first job as a wedding photographer later, overall I enjoyed it. They were a fun couple who could NOT of taken a bad picture if they tried, and the camera loved them. I received many compliments and the images turned out better than I expected.

Do You Take Pictures or are You a Photographer?

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Do you love taking pictures of things that are dear to your heart and sharing snapshots of time?
  • Are you always creating images of friends and family during events and gatherings?
  • Is your phone filled with more selfies and Instagram photos than your DSLR?
  • Has your camera never left auto mode, or do you know how to shoot in manual?

If so you love to take pictures, and that’s okay. A picture is a snapshot in time that preserves a memory. We should all take pictures, it preserves our history and memories.

How to Photograph Concerts

Huey Lewis and the News

 But becoming a professional photographer is so much more!

A professional photographer never stops learning about exposure, composition, and photography techniques. A professional photographer spends just as much time marketing, editing

Next Step in Becoming a Professional Photographer

Find a mentor, a physical person to shadow and photograph together. Work, plan, learn, and plan some more, create a business plan. Learn not only about the craft of photography, but the business side. Don’t undervalue your work. Don’t give your work, or skill away, or sell it for peanuts. Attend seminars, watch YouTube videos, and read books. Yes, books, the hard copy paper object with sheets of paper in between. Take notes in the margins, use it a business guideline.

Many of the books below are written or recommended by top professional photographers such as Ken Rockwell and leading photography websites such as Digital Photography School.

Digital Photography Boot Camp: A Step-By-Step Guide for Professional Wedding and Portrait PhotographersDigital Photography Boot Camp: A Step-By-Step Guide for Professional Wedding and Portrait PhotographersThe Photographer's MBA: Everything You Need to Know for Your Photography BusinessThe Photographer’s MBA: Everything You Need to Know for Your Photography BusinessAdobe Premiere Pro CC Classroom in a Book (2015 release)Adobe Premiere Pro CC Classroom in a Book (2015 release)


So Where Do you Fit?

Where do you and your camera fit? I’d like to hear your input on the topic and if your goal is to become a professional photographer, a semi-pro, or if you just want to enjoy the hobby for your own benefit. Leave a comment below.


20 thoughts on “Am I a Professional Photographer?

  1. I’m a non professional photographer. I am always planning the scenes I want to photograph and someday hope to sell some landscape and moon photos. But I don’t have a DSLR. I do have a really good auto camera with an excellent zoom lens and some manually adjustable features. I can’t afford a DSLR yet ;). But this is more than a hobby. It’s on my mind all the time and I can’t look anywhere without seeing a shot I want to take. Loved your blog entry 🙂

    1. Then you are a photographer, you don’t just take pictures, but strive to improve your composition. It wasn’t too long ago that I had a Fuji camera that had some manual settings and I used aperture priority to get better shots. Keep it up. Please subscribe if you haven’t and come back again. I’m going to start a new series on Fridays that will start in August.

  2. I really appreciate the questions you ask and the thought process between pro vs. semi-pro vs. hobby. I’m not sure where I fit in, or where I want to fit in, but you’ve got some good food for thought here.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and it seemed a good time to post. Make sure to come back again. I have some photography posts in the works I’m planning.

  3. I’m not a professional but I do plan things out. I see pictures in everything almost like looking through the cameras eye. Quite often I find myself just looking for that one of a kind shot. I see something I have to stop and take that shot….if I don’t frustration sets in….lol. I do love photography!

    1. Thanks for visiting, sorry it took me so long to reply. My blog got inundated with spam. I’ve gotten selective about when I bring out my camera anymore. But I regret when I don’t carry it in the car. Please come back again.

  4. Thanks a lot! This is very useful. When i shoot my first wedding i always worry about photo’s quality, I’m without any flash and just a D5100 Nikon. I’m still a college student(business) which start with hobby until now i practice and learn to enhance my skills. My target is to be pro!!
    Hope you share more knowledge to everyone.

  5. I consider myself to be a photographer who is still learning not earning. I only recently made this distinction. My husband caught me at the top of a metal ladder on a tile floor trying to balance while taking photographs of 10 large green bottles on a shelf in a holiday cottage we were renting.
    Once he had finished telling me off (it was dangerous really), I just told him I was a photographer and what did he expect?

    I think you were very brave to shoot a wedding, I can’t see myself doing that. I like sports and wildlife myself and I am always sorry when I don’t have the camera with me!

    1. Oh I have done the same thing, balance on a rock wall to get a shot of a waterfall. Never give up, keep learning, photography is a life long endeavor. Always something new to learn through the lens.. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note, it’s greatly appreciated.

  6. Such a great read! I’ve always wanted to pick up photography as a hobby, especially since I explore and travel a lot. Last year, my bridesmaids graciously gifted me a DSLR as a wedding present to kickstart this desire. Since I work from home and have a flexible schedule, I actually have a lot more time to dedicate to learning photography and would love to turn it into a source of income. I will be starting a digital photography certification course in the Spring at my local community college. I will most likely look into some of those books you mentioned–thank you for sharing your insights 🙂

    1. Glad to hear you jumped into photography with a passion and are dedicated to learning the craft. Pick your niche, don’t try to be a master of all. Be realistic, create a brand, and realize that in this day of photography sooooo many other people are getting DSLR cameras and wanting to do the same thing. Make money taking photos. So decide what your passion is that is commercially viable. It could be restaurant photography, real estate, infants, pets, music, horses, cattle (yes the show cattle world has photographers) and then be the best you can be at that niche. Good luck and let me know how you are coming along.

  7. I love photography and never go anywhere without a camera. My favorite subjects are nature and my local area. I consider myself a photo historian of my city. I am constantly photographing local businesses, vineyards, events, local art, and wineries. Some of my best shots go on Zazzle, but I can’t afford more than a point and shoot digital camera with a zoom lens right now. It’s adequate for what I do. I pay attention to composition and lighting when there is enough time. I take most photos on walks, so a tripod and large camera wouldn’t work for me.

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