Being a professional photographer - What does that mean?
I haven't always been a photographer. Some would argue that I'm not a photographer even now, well a professional one at least. I'd challenge that though, what constitutes a professional? Someone who is dedicated to delivering close to perfection (knowing that they will never truly be happy), demonstrates skill and offers exceptional customer service? I think so.
In my first year of going alone, I remember being a guest at a friends wedding. I was chatting with the photographer while he was grabbing a glass of water at the bar and I mentioned that I was breaking into the wedding scene. I was really shocked when he said he hasn't got time to talk to a 'wannabe' and he then went on to say don't ask for advice!
Since then I have met some awful 'professional' photographers. If you're a professional photographer and you can't even hold a conversation with someone whilst at work then I'd say you weren't professional in the slightest.
This story is worth another digression, I met a videographer at a wedding once, a lovely, professional and very talented lady. She approached me and stuck her hand out to shake mine and said 'you must be Matt', I took her hand and said I was pleased to meet her.
We talked through each other's workflow to make sure we weren't gonna stand on each other's toes - we got on really well. Later that night she told me that only the day before she had a wedding where the photographer was really horrible to her, he would stand in front of the cameras on purpose to block her shot, he would call people away making it hard for her to capture pretty much anything. She then said that she caught him on film staring into the lens of a camera that she wasn't stood behind showing his middle finger!
WOW, what a man!
So, what does it technically mean to be a professional?
To be a pro photographer it's considered that you have to have at least mastered your trade and of course earn money from the craft.
Charles Levie, an author over at PetaPixel https://petapixel.com/2017/10/31/what-is-a-professional-photographer/ says that to be considered a pro one must earn approx 50% of their income from photography to be considered professional.
I can live with that. It's like Charles says, it's measurable and easy to see when someone is a full-time photographer. My only gripe is that there are people out there earning 100% from photography but seriously don't deserve a dime. And that's because some of them are rude and obnoxious or because they just have a pro standard camera and think they can jump on the bandwagon and earn a crust.
Before the comments start about that last comment, I understand that everyone has to start somewhere, I completely understand, I was there too. But my first 10 weddings I did for free, shadowed some great photographers and threw myself into learning everything I could.
I mentioned right at the beginning of this post that I haven't always been a photographer. I use to be a chef. An average week would be approx 65-75hours. I began to hate it, but that's another post for another time.
I got a job in an office, full-time at 35 hours per week. A WEEK! It felt like I had gone part-time. I didn't know what to do with myself... that's when I started learning. At first, it was just videos on YouTube. Then it was books, and then online courses. I spent 20 hours a week learning about photography, lighting, composition, gear, aperture, ISO, shutter speed - you name it I tried it. The only problem was that for that first 6 months of learning, I didn't have a good enough camera to practice all that on.
I then researched camera bodies, lenses, reviews, tutorials - everything about cameras. I learned all about the different sensor sizes, the cost(!), everything. I then went and bought a camera.
I felt ready to take on the world. It was easy this photography lark - I'd learned everything. I took my camera out to play. I froze, I hadn't a clue. I quickly realised that you can know everything in a book, but try putting into practice isn't that easy.
I spent hours trying to understand why I couldn't get the right exposure. I checked all my settings I couldn't fathom it. Then it dawned on me, it was my spot metering setting was set to that - spot metering! I was trying to expose for the whole scene and was only exposing for where the spot was! 2 weeks. That took me two weeks to figure out.
I wasn't a pro, I was barely dipping my toe in.
What made me a professional? Experience. Practice. Hard work. And more importantly the ability to understand that I never will know everything and being a professional means I'm constantly learning.
And I'd like to share everything I can with you guys too, as I really believe that is the craft of a true professional... sharing the knowledge and giving back.