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September 2, 2010

A Professional Photographer by definition is....

of profession: relating to or belonging to a profession
"professional people"
following occupation as paid job: engaged in an occupation as a paid job rather than as a hobby
"professional tennis player"
businesslike: conforming to the standards of skill, competence, or character normally expected of a properly qualified and experienced person in a work environment
"professional attitude"
very competent: showing a high degree of skill or competence
"did a very professional job"
doing something habitually: habitually, and usually annoyingly, indulging in a particular activity
"a professional complainer"
photographer, from the Greek φωτός, "light" and γράφω, "I write", is a person who takes photographs using a camera. A professional photographer uses photography to earn money whilst amateur photographers take photographs for pleasure and to record an event, emotion, place, or person.

There seems to be a new definition for a professional photographer these days... 

Blogs and Facebook statuses are riddled with titles such as "having a camera doesn't make you a professional" "Photoshop alone does not make a good photographer" etc. It seems that a professional is defined by the prices they charge... or don't charge as the case may be... without any regard to the demographics of their business. Well established, college degree certified photographers are outraged as "photographers" are popping up on every street corner proclaiming to be professional photographers. Do they have a right to be? 

We all seem to be losing focus on what is important... creating an image that sells itself.
We're too wrapped up in how much was spent on equipment. "I'm the best photographer because I have the latest and greatest camera and the most expensive piece of glass on the market. I own the latest version of the most expensive photo editing product and all it's cousins.  Blah, blah, blah..." 

My son's second grade teacher said it best... 

"Show your work."

I have seen some teenagers take the most beautiful, compositionally perfect pictures with the 5.0 megapixel camera on their cell phone. I've seen a so-called professional photographer with a gazillion megapixel DSLR take a picture of a newborn with the on camera flash fired full strength and the compositional image lacking depth, originality, and quality. 

Who's the professional photographer by definition? 

Re-read the definitions at the top of the page... 

So do you have to be all five to fall into the category of professional? Some might argue yes. Does that rule always apply? Gee I hope not. 

A definition is not a checklist. 

All you have to do is hit one and that is it, right? 
Take for example the word finish 
1. to bring or come to a natural or proper end.
2. to use all of
3. To cause the complete ruin or wreckage of.
4. To cause the death of.
5. To take the life of (a person or persons) unlawfully.
6. To be depleted.
7. To complete a race or competition in specified position.

My kids did not have to kill someone to finish their homework tonight.... I almost killed them but that's for another blog. And when I asked them to finish their assignment, I certainly wasn't asking them to ruin it. 

So our little flash happy photographer that was paid for her harsh shadowed, flat subjected photograph... is she a professional? By definition, yes. 

Our camera phone loving teenager, by definition, is a professional... Not only is she very competent at getting an oh and ah worthy photograph... she also does it habitually. Annoyingly so. 

Does that make you mad? Write a blog about it. 
POP QUIZ: Spot the not... 1. Can you spot the photo(s) not taken with an DSLR? 
2. Can you spot the photo(s) not edited with Photoshop? 

Answer Key: Photo number three is the only photo taken with a Digital SLR. Photo one was taken with a 4.0 megapixel Kodak Easy Share Z700... Photo two was an upgrade to a 10 megapixel Kodak Easy Share ZD710. The third with a Nikon D5000 12.3 megapixel and a 18-55 "kit lens". As for the editing... Photo one was edited with Photoshop Elements 5.0 (a dinosaur), Photo two... Picnik (yep.. that cheap, online editing thing, and Photo 3 was edited in Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3.  

How did you do?? 

Ask me if I'm a professional photographer and I'll say yes. Disagree with me if you like. But I know my camera backwards and forwards... My first camera (13 years ago) was a Minolta Maxxum HTsi PLUS with a 75-300 macro zoom, as well as a 35-70mm zoom. I knew exactly how to set that thing to get the perfect shot that first time, every time... Film was far too expensive to buy and develop. It's a skill I carry through to my DSLR... only it's so much easier now... these cameras are amazing! My husband bought me a point and shoot digital  five years ago because I took a zillion pictures and he was tired of paying for film and developing. That is when I really developed in digital photo editing. I used Photoshop for EVERYTHING. Scrapbooking... slideshows, thank you cards, birth announcements... This was long before actions and plug-ins... so I know how to do it Old-school... Therefore, I am both competent and habitual.  People pay me to take their picture... they pay me for what I can create using Photoshop... I don't charge a lot... but price wasn't part of the definition now was it. I'd like to think of myself as business-like.... I should ask for testimonials... Hint, hint ;)  I love it when I get referrals... That's the best compliment in the world.
So if the definition were a checklist... I'd hit them all. So why does it feel like I have to defend myself to the world? I've even had my work published and yet I feel threatened by all the "amateur vs professional vs hobbyist" blogs and post floating around. 

So all you photographers out there... Chin up. Print the definition of a professional and Photographer and post it on your fridge... or the wall next to your computer... in your camera bag or wherever you need it to remind yourself of what you are and "who you is" (to quote wedding photographer Jasmine Star) Do what you love. Improve everyday. Call yourself what you are, promote yourself as what you are. Don't shy away from the word "professional" just because so-and-so in their blog says you're not for reason A, B, or C. Own it. Show your work and let the customer decide for themselves. 

Think of Di Vinci vs Picasso. Both artists... very different styles, but artist just the same. What if Picasso quit because DiVinci didn't think he was an artist? 
So go out there and prove yourself. We ALL start somewhere. Let us not forget that. Encourage each other in our profession. Mentor budding photographers. I love how available photography is to the up and coming generation! There are non-breakable digital cameras designed for two year olds. That is incredible! I'll be the first to admit that my children take some of the most interesting photographs. They have a whole different perspective. Don't shun what they have. Embrace it. Think outside of the box... instead of trying to shut down the "competition" in a flooded market... think of new ways to offer services to all these photographers. Join forces... teach classes... give back to your community, be different and above all... 
Show your work.


  1. You said it all so perfectly!! Thank you!

    Stacy from Stacy Lynn Photography from San Antonio, TX

  2. Thank you Stacy! I really appreciate the response.

  3. Great post! And thanks for "liking" my page...I appreciate it!

  4. I love your post! I've just recently been thinking a lot about that. Your "work" is beautiful...

  5. Wow, what an encouraging well written post. I believe God sent me here today just for this post. Thanks so much!!

  6. I can definately see your point, and being a photographer I agree that everyone needs to be given that opportunity. We were all there at one point. I do believe that the people the "professionals" may be referring to are the folks who may never have handled a camera before, and when DSLR's became affordable suddenly claimed to be a professional photographer because they were able to shoot thousands of shots on a senior session without understanding anything about photography, charging 35.00, giving them a disk without going through the images at all, etc... Well, you get the point. And there are a lot of those out there. But there are a lot of people who do know what they are doing.

    It may sound a little off, but I would compare it to something along the lines of if I had a state of the art electric piano, pushed a bunch of keys and then at the end pushed a single button and it played something really nice, would that make me a professional piano player? Here in the state of Colorado, anyone can take the Written Dental boards. You don't have to have gone through dental school. (there are good reasons for it), but you or I could take the boards. If we pass, are we qualified to be dentist? So my only point is just because someone has a camera and charges a rate doesn't mean that they are a professional photographer. There is more to being a photographer than just pointing the camera and pressing the button.

    It has cheapened what people expect from our profession. For those of us who produce a good product, we have kept our customers. There was a time where people continued to look at our prices and pretty much said "so and so only charges 45.00 and I get the disk". Well, I let them go there and they saw the quality.

    But overall, there are some really good photographers out there. When you are shooting for your own pleasure, never let someone tell you that you aren't good enough. Shooting for family and friends, same thing. But as soon as you start shooting for money, there is a lot to consider more than if you took a pretty picture.


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