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What Constitutes a Professional Photographer?

with 10 comments

By Scott Bourne

According to the dictionary, a professional is:

“A person who belongs to one of the professions, esp. one of the learned professions.”

“A person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs: a golf professional.”

“A person who is expert at his or her work: You can tell by her comments that this editor is a real professional. “

It’s the last definition that most closely fits for me. Being an “expert” or at least an ASPIRING expert, makes you professional.

Most of this conversation won’t center around the financial aspect of being a professional photographer. While making money is certainly evidence of professionalism, financial success alone isn’t enough to be “professional.”

Tony Corbell often says that being a professional is about being “proficient.” I really like that saying. Clay Blackmore says being a professional is about being able to deliver consistently good results, and knowing how you did it. I like that saying too.

They all point to one thing – caring about your craft enough to know WHY that shot worked. We’ve all had a lucky shot or two. But some people are “luckier” than others and that usually translates to preparing, studying, practicing and working hard – in order to be “lucky.”

If you aren’t sure how you got from A-Z, then you might want to consider boning up on the craft of photography before you call yourself a professional. If you can consistently deliver great results…if you are proficient, you’re already there.

But if you’re not, there’s no reason to despair. Relax. It will come, as long as you work hard. The very fact that you’re here, reading shows that you care. If you’re not quite there, then there’s no shame in identifying yourself as an “aspiring professional.”


Written by scottbourne

May 6, 2010 at 1:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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10 Responses

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  1. Well written piece! While I’ve made a bit of money from my photography, I’ll never stop studying and learning and trying to duplicate proficiency all the time. Aspiring professional works for me.


    May 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

  2. For me I felt like a Pro (or semiPro) when I was more concerned about my client’s experience and joy than my own. The realization that I just captured a memory and presented it to them in a way that few can changed my entire outlook.

    Scott Shoemaker

    May 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm

  3. I don’t think I’ll ever earn a full living at my photography, in other words, I’ll keep my day job. Professionalism is also an attitude, that I try to project when I market my prints or services. I hope I earn some extra cash in the long run, to pay for more toys.


    May 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

  4. Thank you for writing this! I feel a little less intimidated with all these talented photographers around me. I’m still learning as much as I can everyday and would hope to turn my hobby into something more one day. “Aspiring” professional…I like that a lot!


    May 7, 2010 at 1:15 am

  5. Hi Scott,

    I, respectfully, have to somewhat disagree. If we are talking about portraits and weddings, maybe I could get behind what you are saying. However, for me the concern and the real issue of professionalism (both in how you conduct yourself as a professional photographer and your skills as a professional photographer) becomes rather poignant in specific areas of photography, especially when the client is trusting you to deliver within strict parameters which you may or may not even be aware of or prepared to handle.

    I am a working professional photographer who earns my living from creating and teaching photography. Increasingly, I see the bar is being lowered in commercial photography and clients are hiring amateur photographers to reduce costs. I am not talking about the two-page advertising spread for vanity fair or even the executive portrait. I am working in the corporate and industrial arena, where I have specialized training and knowledge on how to operate safely and how to rig shots at a factory or work site — without bringing work to a stand still and costing my clients money.

    Nonetheless, some of these clients see fit to hire amateurs who are claiming to be professionals and you can only imagine some of the problems that can occur. Clients do not remember that it was all fine and good when I was shooting in their locations, what they remember is that they hired a professional photographer who caused them problems in their own job, and they become ‘gun-shy’.

    I have nothing against competition, even from amateurs, some of the best image-makers I know are amateurs. However, the world of the professional photographer is growing daily with everyone who has a camera claiming to offer professional photography services. While it is the client’s responsibility to review the qualifications of the photographers they hire, many clients are not educated themselves about the risks and requirements involved. They only see the bottom-line, due to increased pressures from the finance department.

    I am not saying that photographers should have to pass a test or otherwise be ‘qualified’ but the more that we (professional photographers and photographer educators) support the notion that anyone can call themselves a pro, the more damage we do to our own industry.

    There is a large difference between acting professionally and conducting yourself in a professional manner and actually being a professional, with all the experience and know-how that that normally implies. As a professional, I am not simply making images for my clients, I am standing behind my many years in the field and on the job, offering solutions that will help my clients look good and deliver fantastic images of their products, places and people without causing them headaches or even worse problems.

    By the way, I love the podcast and look forward to more. Just here checking the site for the first time.

    Kind regards,

    Bryon Paul McCartney
    Chief Image Engineer, Photography Instructor and Fine Art Photographer

    Bryon Paul McCartney

    May 7, 2010 at 4:57 am

  6. You know, it’s good to hear things like this. When people come up to me and ask me if I’m a photographer, I usually have to make a conscious effort not to say “well, yes, but…” and qualify it somehow. Knowing why I was lucky means I can just say “yes”.


    May 7, 2010 at 5:20 am

  7. @Bryon no matter what I write or what day it is someone will disagree with me 🙂 But in this case, you’re also disagreeing with the dictionary and my 37 years of experience. Frankly after reading your comment (twice) I am not really sure which of my points you disagree with or what point you’re trying to make. But feel free to try again. Perhaps you could shorten your comment and specifically address what it is you disagree with and why. Thanks.


    May 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

  8. Okay, maybe the train jumped the tracks a bit, sorry for that…

    You imply in your post that being a pro is a matter of knowing your craft. But i have to believe that you are aware that being an ‘expert’ photographer is more than knowing how to take great pictures, it’s also being able to anticipate, understand and solve your clients problems and exceeding their expectations. In my line of work, it is also about working safely, being able to get shots without disrupting the workplace, creative direction, working to a brief, etc…

    Your comments seem to support the notion (and it is something that i see happening a lot these days) that anybody who learns how to take consistently good photos can call themselves as a pro. But it’s more than that.

    Another way to put it, I could be an expert woodworker, able to make all manner of things from wood, but that does not make me a professional carpenter who can show up on a home building site and solve all the problems of installing custom made cabinetry, working with clients and other contractors, etc.

    I suppose the part that I took exception to most is when you say ‘you might want to bone up on the craft before calling yourself a pro’. That’s a very simplified view of what it takes to be a pro.

    Bryon Paul McCartney

    May 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

  9. @Bryon thanks that makes it clearer. Of course, this is a blog post and not a white paper. So I didn’t include every single thing (without exception) that you need to be a professional photographer. I think you’re being a bit pedantic here. But I’ll take that as a clue that I need to write more on this subject and will indeed adress some of the other issues you bring up.

    And just for the record, you may interpret my comments as supporting the notion that anybody who learns how to take consistently good photos can be a pro, but I never said that anywhere in the post, nor did I intend to imply that.

    GoingPro is here to help everyone learn all they can about making a successful living as a professional photographer. That is why we’ve already in our young life covered things like insurance, hiring, Copyright, salesmanship, branding, etc.

    In closing, I’ll just direct you to the following sentence in my post: “A person who is expert at his or her work.” Note it doesn’t say “WHO IS EXPERT AT PHOTOGRAPHY.”

    Thanks for reading.


    May 8, 2010 at 11:19 am

  10. Awesome article! It does get difficult when asked if I’m a pro, I do earn good income doing photography but even if it wasn’t for the income I still would shoot just for the enjoyment. And being able to see the smiles from the result of my work just make me want to learn more, experiment more and keep shooting.


    May 13, 2010 at 5:10 am

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