We can only begin to define something after we have a solid definition of its contrast. For instance one may say that an object is large, but if no reference is given or implied the statement becomes meaningless. An object, for example, is large in reference to something small. One cannot have a definition of large without first having a definition of small.
What is a professional?
And so, we can start our discussion with the relative definition of what a professional is. A professional is an individual who makes their craft their profession. A profession is a full time job under which the involved parties make a living under. Therefore a professional, by definition is an individual who has an occupation full time within their profession. One cannot profess that their part time occupation is an fully engaged occupation, as a professional, when they have a different career which sustains them. A mechanic which works in a garage an average of 40 hours a week is defined as a professional mechanic. If that same individual were to not work the 40 weekly hours as a mechanic, but rather as a desk clerk while doing mechanic work on the side, they would not in turn be a professional mechanic, but rather a professional office clerk. Although they would still be given the title of mechanic, it is as an amateur and not as a professional - make sense?
Don't leave your day job - good advice, that says volumes!
So then based on this foundation lets make it clear what a professional photographer is and what an amateur is. I don't care how good you are with a camera, if you do not do it full time, as a profession you are not a professional - you're an amateur. So please, stop this nonsense of telling everyone and their dog that you're a "professional photographer" - its a lie! And Im sick of hearing Joe Blow with his little T2i saying he's a "professional photographer". Dude, you wouldn't be using a consumer grade camera with a kit lens if you were! Stop it!
I can say I am a professional photographer, because this is my profession and it is what I do full time. The title of "professional" does not make me any better than anyone else by itself, and in itself is a useless title, however it defines something very clearly - If I'm still in business, it means I'm good at what I do and people are willing to pay for my work. The amateurs out there may get paid work, and they should, but the fact that they do not commit full time to this profession tells a story as well - they're probably not good enough to survive in business if they crossed over. What does that say about the quality of their work, the confidence in their own product? Would any of their photographs be good enough for a serious publication like Time, Life or National Geographic? Most probably not! Because if they were, a profession in this field would follow quite quickly.
I have seen some mind blowing work from amateurs, which do not do photography full time. There is no shame in or dishonor in being an amateur. Heck, for the majority of my career I AVOIDED, outright becoming a "professional" and was myself an amateur because of the disgust I had for the flood of fools that profess a lie, and suck at what they can't do with a camera. I was an amateur, and I avoided becoming a professional for that main reason. Things changed when demand grew and my own work developed a voice with which I was justified in entering the field. I came into the professional title being prepared for the responsibilities a professional undertakes:
- I was a developed photographer already - somebody didn't need to pay for me to learn on their time, and their image.
- I had the equipment already - I didn't need to buy several thousands of dollars worth and pass the cost to somebody else so I can feed my addiction (read my other articles for more on that)
- I had a fan base, and a solid portfolio already - I didn't need to do "free shoots" to get portfolio work up - why? Because I had years worth of fantastic photographs to pick from already, why? Because I was a developed photographer before I became a professional one.
(By "developed" I am referring to experience, knowledge and a developed eye to create photographs and not mere pictures)
So when I lay out these definitions, I am not hypocritical in my arguments. I was an amateur. Becoming a professional hasn't magically made me superior, however over time it allows me more experience, more complex problem solving situations and higher demand to become increasingly excellent in what I do, because its how I choose live my life. I dont do mediocrity and I want to be excellent in all that I do.
With a very blunt and truthful message/rant,
Chief Creative Engineer