Does Having a Part-Time Job Stop You From Being a Pro?

Does Having a Part-Time Job Stop You From Being a Pro?

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. 

Part Timers 

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 Pretenders 

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?

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19 Comments

Tom Lew's picture

GAgree with all of this. Great read, Scott! Keep em' coming

Why do you want to blame us old school photographers for this problem?

Way back when there were many photojobs for a range of clients from $50 headshot gigs to $50k a day for Coke or Chevy. Today the bottom and the top are still there but since 2008 the vast middle ground has pretty much evaporated. It has been replaced by kind of a gig economy, shoot some stuff for magazines, ads, direct to client or consumer or social, do workshops or training, do YooToob, maybe some writing, graphic design or retouching, sell prints direct, produce or location scout.
Multi tasking is the thing to do and it can be easy or hard, depends on your personality.
For people over 45-50 it might be hard to adjust, for the younger folk it's just the way things have always been. I am over 50 and it is not easy but I am trying!

ETA: Where I grew up (Detroit) the successful photographers only did photography, and for most of them, the same type of photography (Automotive or sub categories of Automotive). They were specialists and paid in cubic dollars. Most went belly up after 2008, the giant studios now sitting vacant or used as parts warehouses.

So I guess I agree with Scott that the current thing is finding a way to monetize content creation in addition to taking photos

Mike to your point... At the risk of sounding like a jerk ( I'm sure there is going to be a lot of negative feedback) anyone who picks up a camera male, female, no gender, any color can claim they are a professional if they want to... the rules have changed drastically in the 45 years I have been shooting. One does not even have to have a portfolio ( I do not mean shots of flowers, kids, or couples) to "be" a photographer and if they do have a "Portfolio" 90% of the time the client is looking at it online. I can remember spending 2-3k on a printed portfolio to carry around to Ad agencies, retail stores or where ever a Creative director was. In addition "I" really needed to know my Sh*& in regards to 15+ film types ( including 35 mm 120mm 4x5 8x10) color and black and white, and then know how to process said film. Oh yes and then run a successful studio/business.That's what being an "Influencer" was like then... Back in the day (Wow does this guy sound ancient) when I went to parties or gatherings and people would ask what I do I would always say Finance never would I say I was a "Professional Photographer" because they would either want to be a model, or new someone who wanted to be, or had the cutest child in the world...now a days being a Professional Photographer, Youtuber, model, or being the cutest kid in the world are one in the same...Everybody is "one"... And I say good for you if you can make a buck being all of the above kudos to you, follow your dream, just don't be lulled into thinking "It matters"
ps Please understand what I just wrote is not a blanket statement on all pro shooters out there..it is a statement of where I have seen the industry evolve/dissolve......

Brook Brown's picture

I would define a “professional” as one who earns their living doing whatever vocation is being discussed. This definition excludes some of your categories.

BTW, I’m almost 30 years into a career as a professional engineer, so photography will remain a hobby for me.

Real question, do engineers need to be licensed? I am pretty sure there is a degree involved.
My dad was an engineer I don't recall any licenses but he worked 30 years at the same place and had a degree from UofM
Anyone can call themselves a photographer but not anyone can say they are an engineer.
And as a pick up line at a party, photographer might work better than engineer, depending on what kind of engineer LOL

Brook Brown's picture

An engineer can work without a license, but work products must be sealed by a licensed professional. I don’t actually use my seal, but my position requires it.

For licensing does it matter what kind of engineer? Curious cuz dad never mentioned it but maybe it was all signed off at the end, he worked for one of the Big 3. For all I know he had a license.

Brook Brown's picture

It should be required across the board, although it may be less common for some specialties. I don’t know the statistics, but I suspect that the percentage of engineers who actually acquire the license is low (it’s not easy to do). Most engineers work under the individual who is actually responsible for the quality of the end product.

Professional or not, it should not matter that much to us:) I think our identity is better placed elsewhere then how we make a living.

More problematical is the fact we are facing changes that probably will make it harder to be full time photographer. All ready it’s hard due to so many doing it in a level and they can dump prices. I actually think for most photography is a bad choice for profession. So is also traditional artist. It’s about passion and a certain level of compulsive behavior :)

But when you step up to a professional level you make images that stand out, and the clients will be people who knows the difference between someone with a camera and someone who know there craft. Then only you need the business skills also, something many creative seems to lack.

That may be true, but in many social situations here in the US among the first questions is "what do you do" and the "what do you like to do is a couple questions later.

Mike Smith's picture

I don't call myself a professional photographer and don't want to be. I do however strive to take professional looking photos (not really managed to as yet) A few of my clients have called me professional and I try to be professional in my dealings with them. Ultimately if your photos are good enough and you deal with people in a professional manner, why not allow the label to stick (if that is what you truly desire)

Nada Ivanova's picture

For me pro mean its your job , you do it for living and you pay tax on it...other are amateur...but , that you pay tax , dont mean you are good at it , neither that you still love it or do it with elite level...many amateur do it at week end and do very good job...its just they are not pro since its not their main job....

Mark Dolan's picture

As in everything, attitude is 90%.

This right here ^^^^^^
Except it's really 100% in this case.
What is a professional... add whatever you want to what that is referring too.
It's how you comport yourself in discharging the work for which you are doing.
I've seen plenty of people who are held up as professionals, or claim they are professionals that weren't.
Professionals are who people look to for the important decisions and to steady the crew or staff in difficulties of whatever sort. They don't have to have all the answers, as long as they know where to find them. They're a rock, an anchor and the person you want to have at hand when SHTF.

For example there is another recent post on FStoppers about an Influencer crashing a wedding photo shoot.
You have the perfect example of someone claiming they're a professional when they clearly aren't. And you have the Professional Photographer who kept his cool, did his work and carried himself Professionally.

Rayann Elzein's picture

It's not because being a "pretender" didn't work for you, that it doesn't work for anyone. What a pejorative word! I am, it turns out, a full time project manager in an engineering firm, and I have no shame telling my bosses and colleagues that I am also a professional photographer (i.e. selling prints, licensing shots and leading workshops and photography trips). And vice-versa, when I lead a photo trip for example, mentioning that I am also an engineer opens a lot of interesting discussions with the clients. I even share the same LinkedIn account for both my activities, so everyone knows everything about me. I take all my paid holidays + unpaid leave to work as a photographer, and I don't have a feeling of any burn-out. If that makes me a "pretender" in your book, fine by me.

Thus was a great read, it helped me to define my life as a photographer. My Grandfather was a freelance for over 40 years, he made a decent living but it seemed most of his time was spent mentoring others, myself included, without pay. He said the first time someone paid me to take their picture or someone paid me for a photograph I produced I would be from that day forward a professional photographer. He also said there are 10 types of professionals, 1 who is in a league of his or her own, 2 who are exceptional and 7 who would starve if they didn’t have a main source of income. I love my photography but have always been 1 of the 7 and I’m fine with that, it allows me to appreciate the three on the top of the film chain.