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Today is the day, you are so excited that you got a new camera and you are looking for every opportunity to use it. One of your friends just had a baby and they want you to take the photos of their new bundle of joy. AWESOME!! Your first opportunity to use your camera and maybe even make a few bucks.

So the question is: Are you a professional photographer ?

  •  Full Time Career Professional

  • Full Time Photographer

  • Professional Photographer

  • Amateur Photographer

This is a common experience that we are all faced with when we get paid for our work. The problem is it sounds like so many photographers are more driven to be claiming the “professional” title compared to making some money. But in reality, are you really a professional because you made some money taking photos?
Let’s apply this to a sport: If you were an amateur golfer in a professional event, the minute you accept prize money you are considered a professional. The same concept applies to all sports but does that standard apply to photography?
The Kenrockwell website did a great job of giving some definitions about what kinds of photographers there are. Based on these definitions, see where you line up. Statements/definitions are courtesy of kenrockwell

What type of photographer are you?

  • Full-Time Career Professional

    • A Full-Time Career Professional Photographer is a person who has been a full-time photographer for their entire career.
    • They work all day, every day, ever since he graduated college.
    • These guys buy whatever gear they need, since the cost of gear is trivial compared to how much they use it. If something saves them 5 minutes a day or has a clearer viewfinder to peer through 12 hours a day, it doesn’t matter if it costs $8,000.
  • Professional Photographer

    • A professional photographer is a photographer who earns 100% of his income from photography. This is the definition required for entrance into the secret Nikon and Canon factory support organizations.
  • Full-Time Photographer

    • A full-time pro works the same as the Full-Time Career Professional Photographer, but failed at some other career and fell back on his hobby to try to make money.
    • If he hasn’t been doing it very long, he may still worry about gear costs since he’s not sure how long it will be until he’ll get another real job. These worries come from back when he had a real job, and his boss tried to get cheap with the tools. The Career Pro doesn’t worry: if a new tool saves him more time over its life than the cost of ownership, it’s a no-brainer to buy it.
  • Amateur Photographer

    • People who earn less than 50% of their income from photography are amateurs.
    • People who shoot weddings every single weekend while holding down another job aren’t professional photographers. People who sell prints at art fairs, but still have real jobs, are still amateurs.
The vast majority of photographers reading this article will usually fall in the amateur photographer or the full time photographer definition. In reality it is very hard to make 100% of your living from your photography which would make you a “professional photographer or a career full time pro”.

In reality what label you use to describe yourself is not what is important.

What is  important is base around expectation management.  What i’m referring to is the concept of intentionally or unintentionally misleading a client into believing that your abilities are more advanced then they are. After all, just because you can shoot a basketball doesn’t mean your a professional basketball player.
I would suggest that it will hurt you and the photography industry if you embellish your abilities because there is more to being a professional photographer than a label and some characteristics of income. Being a professional can assume that you know what you are doing and just because you are making some money taking photos doesn’t mean you know what you are doing. If you claim you are a professional and set the expectation that you can produce at a high level, you are hurting yourself and our industry if you fall short.

Remember, we want all photographers to have success and growth in their abilities. The problems is when using a label misleads a person or client into believing something that is not true or misleading.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, what matters is that the expectations you set need to be inline with you abilities. Think about it, if you tell a client that you are a professional but just got out of school and are just starting out, you are setting yourself up for failure. You are not setting up a failure in your ability to take photos but potentialy  in the expectation and images that you are presenting to your client.
I hope this article got you thinking and reassured your thoughts on what you will say the next time someone asks you if you are a professional photographer. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and enjoyed this food for thought.

Comment below and let me know what characteristics you think define a professional photographer. Do you agree or disagree with the Kenrockwell definitions in the article?

Matthew

About Matthew

Matthew is the driving force behind the content here at FLT and visionary for all of our products. He is a full-time professional photographer and educator at (Eagleye Photography Inc.) and has a driving passion for quality education and helping the lightroom community. That is why you see so much content for FREE. Paying It Forward. :)

2 Comments

  • Ryan says:

    Hi Matthew – yes I disagree with the Kenrockwell definitions – they aren’t consistent with other vocations and I think they just cause confusion. I believe they are outdated.
    I don’t know about other people, but I suspect there are a large number of people like me – people who have changed careers several times due to economics and opportunities (or more likely the lack thereof) – who are no less dedicated to their current career.
    There are a lot of vocations where you aren’t expected to make 100% of your income from your main career (farming, trades, customer service, writing, – any job that is typically contracted out).
    There are a lot of people that weren’t lucky enough or had the money to attend college, but by skill, experience, and dedication are no less dedicated to photography than someone who took it at college and stuck with it. Would anyone argue that someone a year out of college (Career professional according to the definition) is more of a professional or dedicated than someone who chose to leave a different career, pursue photography, learn the equivalent skills, and has 10 years of practical experience?
    So…I’m open to suggestions but here are my revisions (in the eyes of a hobbyist with career professional friends) – open to comments and revisions of course.
    Full-Time Career Professional
    • A person who makes the majority of their income (75%+) from practicing photography at least 40 hrs per week and has at least 10 years of practical experience.
    • Photography is their passion and life and they will take every opportunity to get better, learn more, and expand their craft.
    • Tools are cheaper than lost time, if they have to spend serious money to save time, they will likely spend it.
    Full-Time Photographer
    • “A full-time pro works the same as the Full-Time Career Professional Photographer, but failed at some other career and fell back on his hobby to try to make money.” – I hate this line – I know many successful people that simply changed their minds – they didn’t “fail”, they took the lessons from the old career and applied it to the new one.
    Instead – a Full-Time Photographer should be someone who spends at least 40 hours per week and earns the majority of their income from photography (at least 51%)
    • Acts professionally, fully insured, guarantees results
    • Will take opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill
    • May be more conservative with spending on tools but will still spend serious money to get a good return.

    Professional Photographer
    • A photographer who follows professional conduct (insured, guarantees results, etc) but may work less than 40 hours or makes less than 51% of their income from photography
    • Will take opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill
    • May be more conservative with spending on tools but will still spend serious money to get a good return.
    Amateur Photographer
    • A photographer that doesn’t follow professional standards (insured, guarantees results, etc) no matter how many hours they work or how much income they make.
    • They will likely market themselves as discount photographers, though many may be skilled hobbyists looking for new experiences.
    • Hate this line too – “People who sell prints at art fairs, but still have real jobs, are still amateurs.” – Kenrockwell doesn’t think photography is a real job…

    I realize there are exceptions to many of these rules – I don’t think you can cover everything

  • Craig says:

    I disagree with pretty much everything he says. He obviously has no clue what he is talking about and perhaps should change his career to a full time McDonalds employee.

    First off a Full Time Career Pro and a Full Time Photographer are exactly the same. There is no difference. Anyone working full time in any job is doing their career. It may not have ben their first choice, or their second or even their third, but it is their choice. And they don’t work full time meaning every day of the week all day. No one does that. You would collapse from exhaustion on about day 5.

    Also no one spends money stupidly who runs their own business. If they need a piece of equipment to assist them they first must weigh the advantages and the payback of that piece of equipment. They don’t just buy it regardless of the cost. That is a stupid comment.

    A Pro Photographer IS NOT someone who earns 100% of their income from photography. In fact, it does not even have to be their main income. It just means that it is someone who can, each and every time they are working in their job, can successfully complete that job and make their employer (client) happy. In addition the so called “secret” Canon or Nikon groups DO not require you to be a Pro Photographer. All you need is to own specified equipment and pay a yearly fee. Period.

    And people who shoot weddings every weekend and still hold a full time job are Pro’s. Provided they take the pictures that keep their clients happy they are pros.

    Ken Rockwell is a complete twit. He needs to rethink his life. Maybe get a new one.

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