Professional photography is a pretty exclusive club in someways. It is a dream job that many of us are protective of and online this can be seen by those defining what makes you a professional photographer.
Photographers are an odd bunch. Elitist, egotistical (we kinda need to be,) and terrified of losing this amazing career that we have somehow managed to fall into. Back when we could go out in the U.K, when meeting new people the conversation of “what do you do?” would come up. Most the time it is people asking what your profession is to try and gauge where everyone sits in the world and to get an insight into who you are as a person.
For me, there are a few types of professional photographers and I want to look into each of these and see how they feel and perhaps how they should be categorized.
9-5 Day Job
For some photographers, they have a 9-5 office job and shoot weekends and evenings; the weekend warrior if you will. Some of them chose to do this because they love their day jobs, some chose to do so because their day job pays so much money they would be mad to leave it, whilst others keep at it because it is the best way to pay their bills. Either way, most of their working life is spent working on something aside from photography. In my city their are two great wedding photographers who work a 9-5 Monday to Friday job. As far as I am concerned, they are professional photographers. Sure one of them is also a professional accountant, but the work they produce, they way they produce it, and the financial value of their work in my eyes makes them professionals.
I myself have been in this camp a few times and also for a few different reasons. A lot of photographers tend bar in the evening or work a couple of days for another company. For me I worked 10 days a week for an arts charity, which I hated, but it paid just enough that all of my overheads were met and it meant that I didn’t have the burden on my creative work. It also afforded me the option to turn down jobs that I didn’t really want to do, or that I had a bad feeling about which otherwise would have been required in order to pay my bills.
The reason I know that these people exist is because I was one of them. I had a full time job that I did away from the companies office and I use to pretend it wasn’t there and that I was a full time photographer. It was awful! I was always stressed about people finding out that I had a secret dirty second life career in project management. Thankfully, I decided to leave that job and it was the last full time job I ever had. For me, this doesn’t make you professional photographer. Hiding in the shame is pretty daft. If I had my time again I would have just been upfront about my situation. I got booked for my work, not for what I did during the week. I use to take holiday leave in order to be able to shoot the bigger mid week jobs, which obviously led to complete burn out.
Multiple Income Streams
So this is me now, and I have often been outed as not being a real professional photographer because of this on several occasions. I have a YouTube channel, a food photography background business, I give talks and workshops that I do through brands and universities, a studio that was open 7 days a week, my commercial work that I do through my agent, and then of course the writing that I do for Fstoppers and various other magazines. My income is pretty diverse.
Everything I do is photography related and if I did nothing but photography I would still be a viable business. However, even if that was not the case I would still class myself as a professional photographer. If anything, in light of recent events, I would class myself as a sensible photographer. My shooting has completely stopped right now and I have no idea when it will come back again. Being a pure photographer right now would be a nightmare. Having those extra income streams, the part time job, or what ever else brings in money right now is an absolute blessing. It will probably be the biggest factor on your photography career after the Coronavirus and subsequent economical disaster clears.
Works for a Company
This is the oddest online slander I have ever seen. In a forum some years back I saw someone stating that another photographer was not a real professional because he/she was employed by a photography company. I have no idea what the thought process behind this in (let me know in the comments if I am missing something here,) but anyone from a nightclub photographer to a person taking portraits in a shopping mall is a professional photographer. They are as much as a professional photographer as anyone else with a camera too. There is no hierarchy in how much of professional you are, this may exist in how good your images are, but certainly not when talking about how entitled you are to call yourself a professional photographer.
Doesn’t Charge to Take Photographs
You might be wondering why this is in here. A few of the best photographers I know do not charge a penny for their work. They actually spend a large proportion of their salary to create it. The benefits being that you can do exactly what you like, when you like, and in what ever fashion you see fit. For me, these lucky people are not professionals, they are hobbyists, and there is no reason to assume that a hobbyist is any less of a photographer than any professional may be. I actually look to one of these for advice for my work on a regular basis as he knows far more than I do and I have been a professional for over a decade.
So What Is the Point in This Article?
Mostly, that professional photographers come in all shapes and sizes, but also that this elitist rhetoric that comes from the old school is completely obsolete in 2020. Being a photographer is not about having 100% or event 51% of your income from taking pictures.
What are your thoughts on professional photography?