What does it mean to be a professional photographer? Photography Tip

When can I call myself a professional photographer? What makes a photographer a professional? I have been asked these two questions a lot
recently and I have learned that MY answer tends to surprise people. So I think it’s time to sit down and have
a little talk about what it means to be a professional photographer. Stay tuned until the end and I’ll explain
what it should mean to you – if you want to become a successful professional photographer. Hey gang! Be honest… most of you would define a professional photographer
as someone who makes a living as a photographer. Unfortunately when I asked Google that same
question – Google seems to agree – they quote one of the most narrow minded hypesters on
the internet – and well it’s on the internet – so it must be true – right? It is a fair assumption that in order to make
money as a photographer you need to be working at a professional level. But let’s break this down. Instead of relying on Google and a widely
un-respected gear reviewer for a definition of professional – lets turn to the dictionary. First of all – if we look up the word photographer
– the first thing that Mirriam Webster tells is that a photographer is one who practices
photography. In other words – pretty much everyone is a
photographer in today’s world. Webster’s does go on to mention that photographers
are also people who make a business or profession of taking photographs – but they don’t make
any mention of the difference between full-time or part time or how MUCH of the income is
generated from photography. More importantly – let’s look up the word
professional. Webster’s says – relating to, or characteristic
of a profession – it goes on to tell us that a professional is characterized by or conforming
to the technical or ethical standards of a profession – more importantly – a person who
exhibits a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. And then yes – Webster’s goes on to mention
the idea of making money. One more thing that we should discuss before
I give you MY definition of a professional photographer – lets first talk about the elephant
in the room. The photographers capabilities and the quality
of their work. Not all photographers are created alike. Some have years of hard earned experienced. Some have very little. Some understand the science behind photography
and apply it effectively – others think that depth of field is simply shooting wide open
to get a blurry background. Some make it a point to practice and shoot
everyday while others pick up their cameras only when they are being paid to shoot. Some continually read and watch videos and
study their craft to expand their abilities and yet others keep their heads down and do
their own thing – with little awareness or regard for what others are doing. Some of those behaviors are counter intuitive
if you believe that photographers should have some kind of a degree or certification. Photography is not the same as brain surgery. It doesn’t and shouldn’t require going
to school. It doesn’t and shouldn’t require certification. In my opinion people and organizations that
promote that concept are simply looking out for their own financial gain – or wanting
others to invest the same amount of money and effort as they did – NONE of which insures
a better photographer or more professionalism. To be clear – I am in no way saying that schooling
is bad. But let’s be honest – for photography – NO
school can make you a photographer. Assuming you are in the best program available
– all they can do is give you opportunities to learn and gain experience – what you do
with that is up to you. There are MANY successful photographers who
are self taught and who have been entrepreneurial in creating their own learning experiences. At the end of the day – our clients don’t
care if we have a degree or certificate hanging on the wall – they care about the quality
of our work and what we will do for them. Professional has nothing to do with making
money. The fact that you make money does not make
you a professional photographer Just because someone has a website that says
they are a professional photographer, just because they have a business card that says
they are professional, just because they have tons of the latest, coolest, most expensive
gear, and just because they make their living with that website and business card and gear
– doesn’t mean they are professional. I have met hundreds of photographers in my
career who met all of these qualifications and they didn’t last very long. For some it was because their work simply
wasn’t that good. For others it was because they simply sucked
at running a business. Most who failed – failed because they didn’t
understand this… Professional is an attitude. Professional is a behavior. Professional is a standard. Being a professional – It is the way in which
you approach your work. It is the amount effort that you put into
educating yourself and knowing your gear like an athlete knows theirs. It is the amount of self motivated learning
that you do – not just in the beginning of your career, but throughout your entire career. It’s the amount of practice that you do
to sure up and improve your techniques. It is the amount of research that you put
in before you take the shot. It is the the quality standards that you maintain
before during and after the shoot. Its the follow-up that you do with your clients. It is definitely the relationships that you
build. And most importantly – being a professional
is how you treat your subjects and clients. If you are a professional – people matter. That’s what professional is. So instead of asking someone else when and
if you can call yourself a professional – go take a long look in the mirror and answer
the question yourself. and until you are ready to do that… go and
pick up that camera and shoot something – because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot so keep learning
, keep thinking and keep shooting – adios.

62 Replies to “What does it mean to be a professional photographer? Photography Tip

  1. I went to one of the top 3 Photography schools in the US. Daytona Beach 🙂 2 years of full-time study. Earned a living when I graduated after I finished and worked about 6 years. That was one class they didn't teach us back in the late 70's was Business of photography. Went into a totally different field for 25 yrs and now I shoot for my enjoyment, it makes me happy. If I get paid for some portraits and modeling portfolios no problem. No stress 🙂

  2. Hi Joe, I can't agree more. They are a lot of people who knows it but they don't tell the truth, because of money. In addition, I see the same value behind from your videos and I agree the value from the deep of my heart. Thank you Joe! I will support you and share your channel to more people. 🙂

  3. Joe this video is just Awesome !!! . I must appreciate the quality of content and the many hours spent in order to create the same . I like the energy and enthusiasm you bring to the show . You have just cleared the clouds in many peoples head including mine . Just glad to be knowing a true Professional like you through the many videos that you have posted . You are rocking Thank you !!!

  4. Thank you joe sir. Your videos have good content and a lot to learn from. love your body language😉.
    Sir I want to know if I am good enough to establish in market. I have been working for 2 years with canon 40d. I practice street photography to enhance my composition and exposure understanding. I am from India and 24 year old. I wish to go into fashion photography full time. I hope you would guide me a little.

    And thanks again for awesome videos

  5. Will you or could you ever do a show about selling Art on line. For the ones of us that do more abstract images not just people. Im so glad you do this show here for free. Im that photo junky that dreams of one day being a guy like you. But sadly this week I have lost my old way of income. All I really know is my camera. I don't like doing weddings and Im seldom a day person. I love doing portraits but most I do is my kids. Im a care provider for my disabeld son. I don't know how to do both at the same time. Some how I need my photo art to start paying me back some how. I don't know any thing about runnning a biz or selling. One day I hope I can donate something to you. right now looks like a time to up my game to selling my art images. Thanks so much for all the kindness you give us out here in dreamland.

  6. Great video, great speech, great photographer. You said everything, which is needed to be good photographer.

    I like to watch more of your videos and your great content.

  7. Hey Joe thank you for doing a whole video about my question. You have already explaned that in the live session but this totally cleared it up. Cheers man, see you in the next video gotta go get my next shot :p

  8. The way I classify somebody as a professional is their ability to be consistent. If you can continually create the shot somebody is looking for in a variety of conditions. I'm working on being more consistent. Until I get to that point myself, I won't ask people to pay me for my services. I'm getting better every day. Your videos help me improve my technique as well.

  9. Hey Joe ,, absolutely well put ! there's so much more than just having gear etc ….. it's the whole end to end story that matters

  10. Looks like a certain narrow minded internet hypster got all his friends together and unliked your video. Too bad, you really have good stuff here.

  11. Agree totally. I would like to add that there is a connotation that a professional photographer is the same as an " expert " photographer. This is often not the case, in fact from a personal point of view the best work I've seen has come from keen amateurs. If we denote that anybody who earns their living taking pictures is professional then I guess the automatic passport photo booths could be considered professional too! lol. Clearly that would be ridiculous but earning a living as a photographer has to be taken in context. I was at Disney World, Florida recently and the place is full of Nikon equipped photographers who will take snaps of you. Are they " professional " photographers just because they make their sole living taking these images? Well yes and no I guess, it depends on your definition of pro photog. To me at least professional should be countered with expert, you need to understand your craft through many hours behind the camera. Also whilst there is a certain requirement regards gear, the gear alone a great photographer does not make 😀

  12. LOL….."narrow minded hipster on the internet"…… "a widely unrespected gear reviewer"……….don't hold back, tell me how you really feel! LOL. Totally agree with you btw! I'm glad you took the time to create this video and break down what really makes a professional. Well said and much appreciated. As usual you have spoken the truth. Bravo!

  13. I have a saying that I use to distinguish a professional outdoor photographer from an amateur photographer. "A professional photographer goes where he or she needs to be when he or she needs to be there to get the best shot possible. An amateur tries to get the best shot he or she can wherever they happen to be whenever they happen to be there." Then I say "I'm an amateur." 🙂

  14. I like your answer Joe. I rarely sell my work and don't consider myself a professional. I think making the majority of your money from photography is narrow minded and ironic as a definition for professional. Using that definition a full time passport photographer is professional which is fine by me. But let's say they make $25000 a year and let's say I make $75000 a year at my regular job. So by that definition I would have to earn more than triple their photographic income for me to be considered a professional. Makes no sense to me, I like your definition better.

  15. Very well said! Couldn't click the share button fast enough! Me and my band of misfits appreciate your straight forward candor. 😀

  16. At last, a definition of a professional photographer that makes sense! I've had a rough idea of what I thought it was for a while, this altered it a little and made it a lot clearer. Thank you.

  17. Wow, Rockwell doesn't have a good reputation at all eh? haha I don't disagree. But its funny to hear it from so many people and then to hear you say the same thing 🙂

  18. Joe, I very much enjoyed your comments about the attitude and demeanor of a professional, along with the work ethics.  Very well stated!  For what it is worth and applies, I do remember reading an article once about furniture making.  It contended that dedicated amateurs could make better pieces than "professionals" because the professional was limited in time and forced to turn a profit…something the dedicated amateur was not stifled by.

  19. Wholly cow!!! This was great! 1. Self evaluation
    2. Attitude
    3. Continuous learning
    I'd say this hits any job market! Thanks for the post.

  20. Joe I would like to add a few points. First, a professional should be working inside some kind of business entity, even if it's a sole proprietorship. When conducting paid business, the professional should charge sales tax, if applicable. Most importantly, A professional should have insurance. And finally, a professional should have backup gear in case of theft, malfunction or accident. These are elements of professionalism whether a shoot is paid or not. Great video and great lesson on acting with professionalism.

  21. Thank you Joe… very encouraging and what I've model my self to be everyday .. many blessings to you! 🙋🏽

  22. In this kind of videos I miss an icon to run a wave. Simply great, as usual.
    (by the way, why do you always say "adios"?

  23. Such an inspiring video! I really like your attitude, I really learn something from you. You are the right mix between fierce and understanding. Glad I found you. Your definition is spot on. It is your attitude. For me, Im always looking on how to improve myself. Im always on to go. If I don't have any paying clients for a while I will do my own creative work. I will do something challenging where I can grow from. Believing in yourself but at the same time knowing you don't know it all is the best professional attitude towards yourself!

  24. The only reason I prefer to not be referred to as a professional photographer is because many locations I enjoy using for photos state that professional or commercial photography is prohibited or there is a fee, sometimes varying based off different parts of the venue, that they charge which can be anywhere from $50-500+ per hour or the day (8-10 hours). So while I completely agree with your definition, because I'm doing things out of pocket to have fun with it I'd rather save that added money for when I want to rent studio space or for testing out a new lens or buying other gear or accessories and let those that get paid for their work to pay those fees.

  25. Just what I needed to hear
    Every time I think about charging for my work I get that nagging voice in the back of my mind saying you aren’t qualified
    You don’t have good enough equipment
    Then I watch one of your videos and you show me that it’s not about what you have it’s about what you do with it
    You sir are a legend and a role model for the little guy/girl 👍

  26. I´m living in Germany, here and in Europe as well it`s quite simple, a "professional / pro" photographer is someone, who`s doing photography as his one and only job to earn money for living and who doesn`t shoot pictures for free most of the time, no matter if he`s an idependent studio photographer or a press photographer working for a special newspaper for instance, on the other side there is the "amateur / hobby" photographer as a usual definition for someone, who`s doing this as a hobby, not as a profession/job to earn his money for living or who does regularly get paid for shootings, but it doesn`t mean he`s doing this always for free or he doesn`t publish or sell his photos sometimes. Normally both definitions say nothing about the quality of the photos or the way a photographer is taking his pictures. There are many talented amateurs, just as there can be "professional" photographers who lack talent.

  27. Before watching the video I would say a professional photographer earns a sufficient amount of income from their photography work to live on if they choose to do so. That is they might have another source of income but they could give up that other job and live on their photography.

    After watching the video I stand by my definition. Other things mentioned such as not being a good business person, or for that matter not a good photographer, will lead to a result that the person can't indeed live off of their chosen "profession". To me you must make sustained income to be called a professional.

  28. I agree! My husband thinks if you get paid, your a professional. I know someone who gets paid (she's gets about 3 clients a year because she's not very good) but is definitely not a professional to me. She doesn't practice in between those few clients, her photos look like they were taken on a crappy cell phone because I'm pretty sure she shoots on auto. Ive had more clients in the last few months of opening my business then she has in 3-4 years. I have done and continue to constantly educate and research as much as I can, every photo shoot I do looks better then the last, I know I'm not perfect and there's tons out there that are way better then me but I acknowledge that and I want to keep learning and growing. I was hired to shoot for the Chicago Fire soccer team this season, it's non paying but that makes me feel like a professional! I will have my work published weekly.

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