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?