It Is Time to Redefine the Professional Photographer

It Is Time to Redefine the Professional Photographer

Photography has changed beyond all recognition from the profession of the 2000s, so it is time that we re defined what it is to be a professional photographer.

Photography has changed, like it or not, it is a different profession to what it was in the early 00s, which was different to what it was in the 1960s and so on. Writing for Fstoppers affords me a really interesting perceptive into how other photographers who read the site and comment view the changes. I think it is safe to say that many don’t like the fact that a kid with a phone makes more money than most of us. I actually have a friend whose phone photos pay him almost 4 times my annual salary, but I certainly class him as a photographer, and a far more successful one than myself.

What Made A Professional Photographer?

For some, this means photography being your sole income. Paying your rent with a camera. For others it is having the majority of your income coming from photography. Personally, my breakdown is about 50% income from photography and 50% from six separate photography related streams (this being one of them). I personally don't think that this makes me any less deserving of the title "professional photographer" than someone who solely makes their income from photography. If I wanted to, I could change my lifestyle and live solely from photography, but I prefer to have some passive income streams and I also really enjoy teaching, so for me it makes sense.

I suppose the idea that we conjure up in our head when we think of professional photographer is of a person working in a studio 5 days a week shooting advertisement campaigns or portrait sittings. And this is certainly an avenue that is still available to all of us, but it isn't the only way. The internet has bought around lots of new possibilities from e-books, online tutorials, YouTube channels, through to writing for websites like Fstoppers. If someone had asked me what my career would be like when I started out, I would have stated the traditional career path, but the way I work now offers me a much more varied working week and a lot less financial stress. If one of my income streams goes south, I will be fine. But if I only did shooting when the Brexit vote in the UK happened and most of us didn't work for 6 months commercially, I would have been rather homeless.

Who Can Be Classed as a Professional Photographer?

I don’t believe (correct me if I am wrong) that we really have a relevant definition that everyone accepts right now. And I think this is dangerous as it alienates one another to fit our own small narratives on the profession. The days of investing thousands on equipment and calling yourself a photographer are long gone. I also think people work in very different ways. Most of my friends are self employed and almost all of them have passive income streams alongside their main work.

A lot of the online photography world is built around camera reviews and lighting tutorials. But out there in the big bad world, clients want creativity and most do not care what you use to get the job done. Sure there are certain criteria for some prints, but it you have the eye, you can get an assistant to set you up with the kit so that you can focus on doing our job. I certainly don't try to retouch my own photographs for ad campaigns as it is a separate art form. In the same vein, I don't believe that you have to set your own camera to create the image. The vision is the most important aspect of modern photography.

Where is the Profession Heading?

The good news is that the profession is headed in a very positive direction. Creativity is far more important than it ever has been in photography. Simply setting up a complex lighting scenario isn't enough to impress an art director these days, there needs to be style, substance and a message delivered in a way that no one has seen it before. This means that you don't need half a million dollars of Broncolor lights and medium format cameras, the entry to the profession is as accessible as a smart phone. With a tool that I think most of us own, we can make a living from photography, if we have the creative vision to produce work of merit. This certainly wasn't the case in the 1990s. And I think photography is better for it. Yes, anyone can be a photographer in 2019, but in order to make money, you don't need a bank loan or rich parents, you need a creative vision.

Who Do I Think a Professional Photographer is?

For me, a professional photographer is anyone who makes any form of money from taking photographs using any equipment. There are awful photographers with thousands of pounds of equipment who are professionals and their are also great photographers who make their money from taking phone photographs for instagram.

What do you think makes a professional photographer?

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Previous comments

1) it's just a definition, who cares? 2) I define it as someone who makes their living from taking photos for clients. Don't overcomplicate things.

Daniel Medley's picture

It's not a difficult question. What is a professional anything? Definition of "professional" = "engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime."

I wonder if people may conflate "expert" with "professional"? For example, I know plenty of expert photographers who are not professional photographers. Conversely, I know plenty of professional photographers who are not expert photographers.

Lorin Duckman's picture

One doesn't need to make money to be Professional Photographer. People disdain photography, until they need a photographer. I call myself a photographer when people ask what I do. Then they want to know if I shoot weddings or bar mitzvahs. I don't.

Nice composition, Mr Duckman.

Dan Howell's picture

Nope. You can be a Master Photographer, a Photographic Artist, Grand PooBah Photographer without making money, but you can't be a Professional Photographer without making money. Being a professional photographer is not a stamp of quality. It is a mark of meeting the demands of a market. Often times that means quality makes a photographer more competitive in the marketplace. I would ask, why do you want to identify yourself as a professional when you aren't meeting the demands of the market?

Jeff Thatcher's picture

I personally feel if you make a living off of your photography then you're a professional. But as others have mentioned, it's not just making money. It's experience, it's overall professionalism and being able to deliver. Among other things of course.

But this is all subjective and really doesn't matter

Kind of like a cake decorator, a gardener, a hit man .... right?

Jeff Thatcher's picture

especially like a hit man. though a sjull cap and little round glasses are a prerequisite. im pretty sure of it.

Deleted Account's picture

Does it really matter?
My job is photography. My main job, that is. It's my main income, I'm a business owner, a self employed commercial photographer who only works B2B.

So I'm a professional photographer or not, it doesn't matter to me really, however, the word 'professional' isn't something I would use, I'd rather describe to people I'm a full-time photographer.

I guess it's important to others, otherwise there wouldn't have been the article, or all the comments. I'm just not a title driver person. I just get on with it.

I've run across guys who called themselves "master carpenters". It is really just their own opinion.

Deleted Account's picture

Yeah, like 'Award winning Fine art photographers' who give "masterclasses'. All gives me the willies. But hey, each to their own.

Blake Aghili's picture

That's a 645 body it crashes all the time, get the XF lol #trolling

Kevin Whitcomb's picture

What "I" think defines a professional photographer is not the right question, it's what does a prospective CLIENT think defines a professional photographer.

Based on what I read here on F-Stoppers, you’re not a professional unless you use Sony mirrorless. 🤠 /jk

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I'm not giving you a thumb up for the comment it self. I think Sony out do any other manufacturer when it comes to reaching new photographers. They are very clever about it. Just does not work for me.

Here it is in a nutshell:

A "professional" photographer is someone who shoots/edits/creates to satisfy his CLIENT.

A "hobbyist" photographer is someone who shoots/edits/creates to satisfy HIM/HER SELF.

Professional means that your main income comes from the job you do.

Nothing about skills, equipment or such... Just that you bill the clients/customers.

David Hynes's picture

In my opinion, being a professional photographer has absolutely nothing to do with money, gear, or followers and everything to do with skillset, quality, and consistency.

art meripol's picture

I'm a long career'd full-time freelancer. Professional photographer is not so much what I do as who I am at this point. I know so many incredibly talented photographers who are not making a living at it but do it out of love while paying the bills in other lines of work. I don't think any of them ever call themselves "professionals" but many have the skills to be one. They all can point to who is and who isn't a pro. Whatever the difference is they know it.

I meet tons of new people yearly. And when I ask them what they do for a living the response is never I'm a professional accountant, a professional software developer, a professional engineer, a professional doctor. You get the point. This seems to be the only profession I'm aware of that seeks that sort of distinction and redemption. Has our field changed the past 25 years? Oh yeah! But look at every other field. They've changed too. We've always been infiltrated by amateurs working their way up the ranks and making money at creating images. It's much more rampant now given the wild proliferation of social media and its ever growing ferocious appetite for content. It's my personal opinion that everyone working as a professional anything should reassess their careers every 5 to 10 years regardless. It's time we change the lexicon associated with professional photographers. We've always been creators. Let's fully embrace the term content creators now.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Well...if you do photography on the side of your main job (which is a full-time job) and are getting paid for it...then that can be considered as a part-time professional. If all or the majority of you money comes from photography, then you can consider yourself a full-time professional photographer. Are there any other options to this? Open question. The title if this article is..."Is it time to redefine the professional photographer" Question then becomes....What does professional mean?