Often in the course of chatting with professional photographers during the course of my day, a topic comes up where the photographer will say: “professional photographer (smirk) whatever that means?” I began to think – What is the definition of a professional photographer?
Anyone can call themselves a “professional photographer”. Buy a Canon EOS 60D, Photoshop, maybe Lightroom or Aperture, MacBook and you have the equipment needed to be a professional photographer. But, as they say, buying a Nikon doesn’t make you a photographer. It makes you a Nikon owner. In MBA speak, there are very low barriers to entry to becoming a professional photographer.
Having the equipment to be a professional photographer and being a professional photographer are very different. This is much like saying I own a table saw so I am a professional carpenter.
The other obvious way of defining a professional photographer is by looking for people that generate income from their photography. This might be a straight forward way of defining an occupation in most fields, but doesn’t seem to work for professional photographers. A Lawyer is someone who gets paid to practice law. With the advent of micro-stock anyone can get “paid” for their photography although very few will make a full time living at it.
I hear at every PPA meeting some variation of the quote saying anyone can take snapshots but it is hard to compose photographs.
Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. – Matt Hardy
I think professional photographers are like professional golfers. For me golf is one of only sports where you get a sense of how amazing professional athletes are. I might be able to fool myself into thinking that I could hit a Josh Beckett fastball with enough practice. (I couldn’t.) But with golf you see their excellence on display with every shot. A professionals relative power and accuracy to mine are easier to judge when watching golf than when watching baseball.
When I golf, I hit a good shot every 10 tries. I hit a great shot every 100 tries. What amazes me about professional golfers is that they hit a great shot 4 of our 5 times.
Anyone with a camera might be able to take a good photograph once every 100 shots but it is the professional that takes a memorable photo once every 5 shots.
In marketing this is called the “conversion rate.” Maybe the definition of a professional photographer is simply that they are able to convert their clicks at a much higher rate than the person with the camera elbowing for room near the cake cutting table.
Some of the most iconic photographs ever taken were taking by someone who happened to have a camera at the right time, in the right place with the right light. These people were not professional photographers. There is a difference between being lucky and being good. Anyone can get lucky, if you are good you create your own luck.
This reminds me of this joke I once heard. How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb, and forty-nine to say, “I could have done that!
It is easy for someone to see a great photo and think, I could do that. And the truth is, maybe they could have. But if they did, it would be like me hitting a golf ball within 3 feet of the hole from 200 yards away – it would have been extremely lucky and not the result of skill. Professional photographers put themselves in position to take memorable shots with almost every click.