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.
What is a Professional Photographer?
To me a a professional photographer 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.
Often professional photographers have gone to school to learn lighting techniques, studio photography and 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 now is done in Lightroom and Photoshop to achieve the look and feel the photographer felt when viewing the scene in real life.
This above photo was taken over looking 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. 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”. 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.
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. To 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 did finally say yes to two people who asked me to photograph events. I shot 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?
If you just love taking pictures of things that are dear to your heart sharing snapshots of time, creating images of friends and family during events and gatherings? Do you take more selfies and Instagram photos with just your phone to post on social media? 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 Become 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.
2015 Photographer’s MarketDigital 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 Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal ExpressionThe Photographer’s MBA, Senior High School Portraiture: Everything You Need to Know to Run aLegal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images
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.