So you want to be a professional? Rant No.2

On August 20, 2012 by Simon Fleming

Now I am by no means a world renowned photographer with gallons of experience but I do regard myself as a professional – in both my photo lab business as well as my photography. I have been around long enough to have dealt with many people, both through my photography as well as in my shop, who either are or who claim to be professionals. Some most definitely are, many think they are, and some are just passing through.

What constitutes being a professional or calling yourself one? Actually being one and calling yourself one are two completely different things. COMPLETELY. Just because you are paid for doing something doesn’t mean you are automatically, miraculously a professional anything but many I have met seem to think this is the case. There are plenty of photographers I know who haven’t earned  a cent from their work and don’t class themselves as professionals, yet their work and just as importantly their ethics and professionalism put them firmly into eligibility to be classed as one. Professional CONDUCT and understanding and having good ETHICS – very important attributes to have if you are calling yourself a professional.

I’m sure I have been told somewhere along the lines that by earning a certain percentage of your total income through your photography will constitute you as being a ‘pro’ but that really doesn’t sit well with me either. There are plenty of people earning one hundred percent of their income by being a photographer which on one hand yes, they are technically a professional but on the other they are amongst some of the most unprofessional people I have ever encountered – in any profession. *see last line of previous paragraph.

So, you can see where I am heading. I my view dollars are just a spin-off of the total package – not the deciding prerequisite. Before you take anybody’s cash, you need to have a lot more nailed down than how much you should be charging.

There has been a fairly steady increase of self proclaimed professional photographers over the last few years. Digital cameras and digital photography are most definitely the catalyst but there are many other factors driving this I’m sure, here are the most common ones I see:

– There are so many feature rich cameras available now – many almost literally advertise that they take the brain of a professional photographer and squeeze it into the camera for you – so you don’t need to use your own? Having a good camera does not make you take better pictures – see my thoughts on this here.

– It is so easy to shoot a lot without it costing you a lot. “Surely I will be get a few keepers if I shoot LOTS”. This is commonly referred to as “spraying & praying”   …and if you don’t nail one of those 1000 images you just shot there is always…

– Photoshop – often mistaken for a first aid kit. “I’m pretty good at Photoshop” doesn’t make you a professional. Neither does relying on a galaxy of plugins/presets to make your images look really “unique & original” (just like the other gazillion photographers using the same presets). More on my thoughts about this point here.

– You can very quickly and easily setup your very own pro “website”…  by opening an account with Facebook.

– Etc etc etc…

Just to clarify, I don’t have a problem with any of the items just covered except where they are used as justifications as to being a professional photographer. And I don’t have a problem with starting small and low budget either – you gotta start somewhere for sure – just don’t forget to move on when you can, as you progress. Being a professional, and being serious about what you do means dollars will have to be spent at some point – just like the dollars you expect potential clients to pay you for your services. Insurance, business registration, tax, an independent website, gear maintenance & updates, courses & training, non pirated software…  these are all actual things involved in being a professional, things to be considered, budgeted for and factored in to your running costs. Lets not forget the non photography related things like paying your other bills, supporting your family, putting food on the table – things that a real working professional is also having to do – not just making a little extra undeclared cash on the side as a hobby…

All these legitimate things cost money which brings me to my next point. How can you realistically be running a successful (and professional) business charging next to nothing for your work? *I do know how really but I’ll leave that one alone for now. A bigger issue here is that by cutting costs to the point of ridiculous you are damaging the industry and other photographers’ livelihoods – not to mention way undervaluing yourself (in some cases). There is most certainly a place for cheaper options but the cases I’m talking about are way below cheap – they really make me wonder what is going through these peoples minds. If it’s a case of “I don’t want to charge too much because I’m just starting out” then I think you would be better off doing it for nothing and chalking it up as experience, then when you feel you can produce ‘professional’ results charge a more realistic price based on some research – not just a number pulled out of thin air.

I think the number one issue in my mind though is that many of those who I speak of haven’t realised that sometimes you need to actually put in the hard yards and earn your place. Instant overnight success, instant gratification, I want it yesterday… I’m not against a quick rise to the top but just be aware of who you may be stepping on and the damage you may do getting there (this includes your potential clients as well as other photographers and the profession in general). EXPERIENCE – show me where you can download some of that. Don’t forget about those who have gone before you either. RESPECT – make sure you have some, and that includes respecting yourself by the way. Many true ‘overnight successes’ have actually been 5, 10, 15+ years in the making…

Don’t be discouraged, just be mindful of the pool your jumping into and BE professional if you are going to apply that title to yourself.

OK…. that feels better. Believe it or not that was a heavily sanitised version of what was really in my head but it needed out. I hope this all makes sense to whomever may be reading, and at the very least that it may make a few stop and think about what they are doing.


2 Responses to “So you want to be a professional? Rant No.2”

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