A few months back, I was introduced to a new friend as a professional photographer. Inside I cringed a bit. I love being a photographer. It’s the word professional that sounded funny – maybe its the overuse of the word in the photography community. I am not sure, but the word “professional” used to mean something positive to me. Now it just sounds cheap.
In my business of photography class, we discuss that being a professional is someone who creates photographs for commerce on-demand or who carries themselves following established business practices. I often compare our work as photographers to bakers and lawn care professionals. Two professions that also have an “amateur” side. I can bake bread at home for enjoyment, which is different from the baker with a pastry shop. Interestingly, I am not sure that bakers are referred to by their friends as a professional. Or that the “professional” grass cutter down the street is asked what lawnmower they use.
Confucius is quoted as saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” they could have added, ” People will hold your passion over your head as a reason you should work for less money. “
There is a high rate of failure in “hobby-related businesses” like photography. Many people see what we do and think that if they can make a “professional-quality” photograph or own and operate a “professional-looking” camera, they can work professionally. Or even – “Semi-Pro.” A descriptive word that I will have to look up.
Professional quality photographs or cameras are descriptions of very different things, not the business itself. Doing work as a professional means to dedicate your life and career to finding clients. Building business systems to produce photographs on demand. Creating policies and protocols that govern business and then “wash, rinse, and repeat” every day.
The internet photography community is enjoying a revolution of sorts, with the ability to connect with other image-makers we can learn new techniques, see inspiring images, and create connections to people like us all over the world.
But two things annoy me. Equipment obsession is the first, and the other is the “instant expert.” There are some awesome internet-based instruction videos, and not just about photography. But many equipment reviewers and their obsession with lens bokeh and counting pixels are quite humorous to those of us practicing photography for more than a few years. These “influencers” develop a following, and I do give them credit for that, while thanking their sponsors like Squarespace for their support; just click on the link below in the comments. This leads to a lot of anxiety for new photographers and this creates a false need to buy new gear. There is even a name for this “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” which sounds like it might need a vaccine.
From my perspective, the instant expert seems to have emerged on the scene out of nowhere; they usually have overcome a great struggle in their quest to live Confucius’s promise, and they now want to enthusiastically share what they learned with everyone. I have watched many of these videos, curious to see the common themes they have. Their language seems to follow a similar script. There is often reliable information in these sessions, essential business practices. But there is something about the tone. That anyone can do this just by following their method, and don’t forget to click the link in the bio.
I am also surprised at the number of photographer websites offering education options to other photographers or a download link to their favorite Lightroom presets. There is no easy button” to a successful professional photography business, only hard work and more hard work.
It is also okay to practice photography at a “professional” level and not do it for money but for the enjoyment of making pictures. Some of my favorite photographers are creating work as enthusiasts. They love making good photographs the same as I appreciate my high-quality grass cutting.
*I love my work as a photographer; just don’t call me a professional.
NOTE: If you want reliable and trustworthy photography business information, check out the ASMP.org. I have been a member since the early 90’s and they create the industry standards. They have new content weekly. https://www.asmp.org/join/