Photographer, Everyone We often refer to the figure of the professional photographer. I have done it too often in the articles on this site.
We often do this to imply an intrinsic good quality of the photos. Or we use these words to indicate a good photography teacher, someone who knows the facts of him in this field. Or we simply want to indicate someone who is not an amateur.
Often, however, the characteristics that we assign to the “professional photographer” are at least inaccurate, if not downright wrong.
In this article, I have collected my reflections on it but also many opinions that I have been able to read on the net. So I would like to dispel some myths around the figure of the professional photographer but above all to stimulate a discussion.
If you have something to add or argue, put it in a comment.
Why ask yourself this question?
Those who have a few more years on their shoulders can confirm that long ago, before the spread of digital, it was easy to identify a professional photographer. It was about those who had the money to buy professional equipment, the technical knowledge to know how to use it properly, and got paid for his photographic services.
Digital has radically transformed the situation. Truly professional cameras still have high prices that only a professional is right to pay. However, the entrance threshold has definitely dropped.
Cameras that are not super cheap, but still accessible thanks to the advanced automatisms, allow you to take technically correct photos without having almost any knowledge of photography. Think, for example, of exposure: an analog, film-based SLR did not provide automatic exposure calculation, you had to know how to set it by hand.
Also, you couldn't verify the settings with a test photo because you had to wait for the roll to develop. A digital SLR, but also a compact one, not only calculates the exposure for you but also allows you to check if the photo is fine, at no cost.
Thus, from the pure point of view of being able to use the camera, nowadays a professional photographer can have few advantages over an amateur with a minimum of experience.
On the one hand, this has the positive consequence that it is more difficult to pass off as a professional just because you have a good camera. On the other hand, however, the negative consequence is that many photographers who are little more than beginners think they can make the leap to professionalism just because they have obtained some photos that are a little more beautiful than average.
It is useful to try to understand how a professional photographer defines himself to meet the changes related to the advent of digital but also to resize his figure, which is sometimes overestimated. In some cases, it is enough to define oneself as professionals, with one's own website or company, to be considered good photographers, able to always take beautiful photos.
Not so, and I will try to explain it to you.
So how do you define a professional photographer?
The most representative and concise definition that I have found has nothing to do with the economic aspects, with the equipment, or with the quality of the photos. It is a definition that I found proposed and shared by several professional photographers (for example here):
a professional photographer is a photographer able to satisfy the requests of his clients, taking the photos they want within the required time frame and within a possible set budget.
It is not a definition that I invented, but I find it very much in agreement. It can also be easily applied to a channel such as microstock, where the relationship between client and photographer is not the traditional one. In this context, the photos are not explicitly commissioned by the client, but there is still a market demand that the photographer must be able to satisfy.
Let's see how to frame a professional photographer according to the different aspects that distinguish him.
The professional photographer has the equipment
In common opinion, a photographer with an imposing SLR and a large kit, preferably composed of gigantic lenses, is always a professional. You will agree with me that this is not true.
You put a 5000 $ camera with a 2000 € lens in the hand of a photographically illiterate person and it is rather unlikely that this person will be able to do good service at a wedding or a reportage for a magazine.
The reverse is not true either. you can be a professional and still not have to always use the most up-to-date and generally more expensive cameras. In some areas, the benefits from the use of professional-grade equipment do not justify the expense based on customer requests.
The professional photographer always takes beautiful photos
The Internet is unforgiving and you will surely have read some stories of epochal failures by professional photographers, for example in the hugely popular field of weddings. If you have been unlucky, you may also have personally tested a self-styled professional photographer who charges for anything but professional photos.
To define yourself as a professional you just need a VAT number and a price list, maybe even a website. This does not imply knowing how to take beautiful photos or above all how customers want them.
You know very well that the opposite isn't true either. Even amateur, non-professional photographers are able to take excellent photos. Just pay a visit to Flickr or 500px to confirm it.
The professional photographer took the best courses
Some might believe that a professional has always followed the best courses and workshops to develop his photographic technique. Read a few interviews with high-level professionals and you will realize that this is not necessarily true.
Not only a professional may not have followed any course, but vice versa high-level training and certifications are certainly not enough to make a professional. How many people attend the same university, take the same courses, take the same exams and yet graduate with totally different skill levels (regardless of the final grade)?
You don't need the best course in the world if you don't follow it with the right concentration and participation and if you don't put the acquired knowledge into practice.
Thus, I completely agree with those who say that it makes no sense that the price of a professional photographer's services depends on the training he has followed. It's his business.
If he feels he has to pay for a course, do so. The client will pay for their photos for the intrinsic value they demonstrate, current or not.
The professional photographer must be paid a lot
There are those who link higher prices to a more professional level than the photographer. If you make low prices you are more amateur. That's not true, never fall into this trap.
A professional might keep prices low to attract new customers, or because he has optimized his work so well that he can produce quality results with less investment than his competitors. Another might raise prices simply because his business has a lot of waste or because he wants to set a tone.
The price of the service does not identify the level of professionalism.
Also, the fact that a photographer gets paid doesn't make him a pro:
- Does what you charge for is up to the demands?
- Does it offer a punctual and correct service?
- Are you up to date with your tax position?
The magical powers of a professional photographer
You can take two photographers with the same equipment, the same skill in taking pictures, the same ability to produce within the required time, the same training, yet one of the two could still be "more professional" than the other. There are other lesser-known aspects that you need to take into consideration.
This is everything related to having a company or being a freelancer. These are skills that have nothing to do with photography per se but are indispensable if you want to truly earn through your photo in a professional manner.
These are skills related to each business:
- business administration skills, from an accounting or regulatory point of view for example;
- marketing skills, to sell oneself and one's work, in an honest but effective way;
- interpersonal skills to treat their customers well, make them feel cared for, and speak well of their business;
- sales skills, for example in setting prices and in any negotiations.
When you start out, you are likely working on your own and don't have the money to pay employees. So you must practice and commit in each of these areas. As your business grows, you'll be able to assign these photographer tasks to others, but it's still helpful not to completely ignore them, to keep the situation on the pulse.
Moreover, public relations with clients should still be a priority for you, as you will be the one doing the work and interpreting their requests.
In the digital age, it is good to also be comfortable with the computer and the photographer, very comfortable. Not only will you need to manipulate the images, which is counterintuitive, but you may need to manage your website (which has to exist and has to be done well too) and you need to take care of your social media presence.
I'm not going too deep into this topic, as it deserves an article or more per se, but it's part of the whole picture.