What Makes a Professional (Photographer)?

I heard a remark made recently, by a colleague of mine.  I was with a group of photographers and we were discussing what makes a photographer, professional. stock-80 At a time when it seems like just about everybody is a photographer, and we are bombarded with thousands of images on a daily basis, what separates a “pro” from an amateur? My colleague stated, “A pro “makes” photographs – an amateur “takes” them”.  While that sounded like a reasonable distinction, it implied that photographers who shot “found moments” were not “professionals”.  What about photojournalists then, who are bound by ethics not to contrive an image?  So, I started thinking, “What set of criteria is used to determine what makes a photographer, a professional?”

Inspired by Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, I will paraphrase, some of the qualities that Pressfield points out that define us as professionals:

  • “We show up every day” – no matter what.
  • We are committed for the long haul and the stakes are high. We need to feed our families and survive.
  • “We accept remuneration for our labor.” (I’ll add, we expect remuneration)  We love what we do but we work for the money.
  • We master our craft. This doesn’t stop. A professional is always trying to master their technique.
  • We act in the face of fear.  This is certainly applicable to a “war photographer”, but I would go further and say that it takes courage to follow a career path of photography.  Courage and commitment.
  • “A professional self-validates.”  We don’t need others to commission us, in order for us to work.  We are passionate about what we do and we will create regardless if we are commissioned or not.
  • “A professional reinvents himself. “  If you aren’t reinventing yourself, then you probably aren’t taking enough risks.  A professional knows not to play it safe – not in a creative profession.
  • A professional doesn’t take rejection or failure personally.  I have learned first hand, that whenever I have taken a leap and challenged myself, it has always come with rejection or some may say, failure.  Personally, I don’t equate rejection with failure.  Failure implies it’s the end of the story.  Rejection needs to take place, in order to get to the next chapter of the story.

I would highly recommend reading, The War of Art. It’s a must for anyone contemplating a creative career.  As far as my thoughts about using the criteria,  “making” or “taking” a photo to determine who is a professional photographer – let’s just say that a professional photographer is always “making” a photograph, regardless if it is contrived or not.  It is a conscious decision of a professional photographer, when and which “moments” to capture.  We show up every day, to do our job, whether it’s in a studio or a war zone. We are consistent, responsible and accountable.  We are in it for the long haul.  It’s our passion.  It’s our life. It’s our craft and our gift to the world, a legacy of images that define the time we live in.

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5 Responses to “What Makes a Professional (Photographer)?”

  1. Ed Says:

    Amen Sista! Great post Gail. And I would add, no one else can validate you as a professional. It comes from within.

  2. Antonio M. Rosario Says:

    Great book, “The War of Art.” I read it at least 2-3 times a year. His follow-up book is great too, “Turning Pro.” Another good read and inspiring too.

    Nice post.

  3. Lidia Carr Says:

    Love this. Fantastic and so true.

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