What makes you a professional?

Photography has become a huge industry, within a very short period of time relative to the presence of the field.  Think about it – the technology to capture images has been around since the 1800’s with the first pinhole cameras, and metal plates of silver halide that were then reversed onto copper to produce an image.  Even when film became a more cost effective method of producing images, we still have not seen such an explosion of interest in photography as we have in the past 5-10 years.  With the growing interest, many have hung out shingles, offering their photography services, trying to make a living at it.

Now, while I grant you that some are more talented than others, and even have vision that others lack, there is a disctinction that exists around photographers – lines in the sand, so to speak.  And these lines pretty much have divided us into one of the following categories:

  • Professional
  • Enthusiast/Hobbyist
  • Amateur

Here, the ‘amateur” or beginner is pretty much evident by recency or lack of experience, but it’s the other two where there has been a blurring of the lines.  Traditionally, the difference between a professional and an enthusiast is the former made a living at it.  But then, enthusiasts and hobbyists decided to throw their hats in the ring and earn a buck or two.  So, the definition became more strict – a pro is someone who earns more than 50% of their income from it.  While that still exists in many cases (and I think fits for tax purposes), the quality of the results is much more blurred than before.

With the advancement in gear, things like image stabilization (vibration reduction for Nikonians), and some just astounding increases in ISO handling, shutter speeds, and everything else, including cleaning things up in post production, some not very good photographers have been able to maintain a living at it.  Meanwhile, “enthusiasts” are out there pouring their heart and soul into work but are tossed aside, simply because they don’t make money (or enough money from a percentage perspective) at it.

Clearly, enthusiasts can produce professional results, and equally, there are professionals that have produced, well…less than professional results.  So, with that in mind, I would submit that the definition of a professional (for me) really is defined by the quality of the product.  Consistency, reliability, knowledgeable, and high quality is what I look for when hiring someone to do anything.  And if someone can do that, regardless of how others classify them, to me that is the very definition of professionalism.

So, where did this come from?  Well, after the success of the article I put out for people in Shutters and Apertures Explained, I decided to start assembling all the articles I had previously written in various capacities  with the idea of putting them out as a collective bundle for people to enjoy.  Once I got everything assembled, I was astonished to find that I have produced over 20 articles on photography alone, and countless others on various computer topics, including Helpdesk documentation, Service level Agreements, Helpdesk and Desktop support documentation, along with many other types of technical content.

All told, I have over 150 publications under my belt in the writing world.  Yet prior to “Shutters and Apertures“, I had not earned a single dime.  Does that mean I am not a professional writer?   While my earnings have been a mere pittance compared to many in the field, the quality of content is something I am proud of.  Even this blog has been a huge commitment of time and energy which requires research, editing, proof-reading, and much more, way before I ever press the “Submit” button!

So, with over 150 articles and writing credits, and over 6 years of writing experience in various capacities, why do I not consider myself a professional writer?  I think the answer lies in how you perceive yourself.  Where you think your strengths are, and where your ambition and passion lie.  When does one become a professional anything?  I’ve got my own reasons for choosing IT as a career path, (and photography and writing as secondary income sources), and while most define me by my predominant income source – I would classify myself as a professional in all of them.

Quite an extensive narrative, eh?  But,  it does bring up an interesting question of “What makes anyone a professional?“!  So, with that in mind, let’s turn the question outward and see what answers we can find!  What makes you a professional?  Is it your income ratio, the quality of your work, or something else?  What defines you?  Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear what others think on this topic!

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5 comments for “What makes you a professional?

  1. April 29, 2010 at 6:03 am

    I’ve recently read Vision Mongers by David duChemin (twice) as I honestly didn’t and still don’t know what to classify myself these days. I sometimes do get paid for my work, sometimes not as it is for portfolio building etc., sometimes I do work for people I consider true clients pro-bono, sometimes I do projects I want to just because they’re cool. I feel even in my non-paid professional work, I’m still a pro. I treat and present myself like a pro, therefore my clients do as well. For my hobbyist projects, I’m a hobbyist although they may turn into paid stock images. To me the idea of pro vs hobbyist vs amateur is not really relevant for me anymore. I think I am all depending on the circumstance. David’s definition of a vocational photographer or being called to be a photographer works for me better these days and I forget about the traditional definitions. Thanks for the voice on your blog…

  2. April 29, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I don’t have anyhthing to add or offer. But another great article and I think you definitely should consider yourself a professional on all accounts!
    .-= Heather M. Smith´s last blog ..Sapphire =-.

  3. April 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Good one again Jason!

    I don’t consider myself a pro, but have been told I am because I earn my living through photography and imaging now. Personally, I view myself as an enthusiast still, and probably will for a long time to come. Professional doesn’t seem to fit for doing what I do now. Professional printer? Yup, I can go with that one, but photographer….? Yeah, working on that. 🙂

    If you talked to me about Lucent engineering, TelLabs, database design, wireless design….yup, pro, even if I hung that hat on the wall a few years ago. But I get uncomfortable with the concept of “pro” in photography. Every time I look around I see “enthusiasts” who are just amazing. I’ll be happy to make prints for those folks. 🙂

    Keep doing what you do…….you pro writer person! 🙂
    .-= Rich Charpentier´s last blog ..White Pocket Photo Workshop Update =-.

  4. Sharon M
    April 30, 2010 at 4:57 am

    Interesting. I’ve often wondered the same thing – what makes one a “professional” at anything. For me the answer has always been the amount of knowledge and skill a person has in his craft rather than the amount of money he earns.

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