Thursday, June 3, 2010

What makes a photographer a professional?

This is becoming an increasingly difficult question to answer as professional level cameras are making their way into the consumer market. Professional training and vision are surely important to being a professional. The biggest difference to me can be seen in the lighting. An amateur photographer can get lucky and take a good shot with “found” light. What makes a photographer a professional is to be able to deliver spot-on photos that suit the clients needs. At a wedding almost everyone has a camera… but few know how to choose between available light and flash (or mix the two) to get a great shot. A non-pro wouldn’t think to backlight the shot and underexpose (at least according to the in-camera meter) to get an amazing silhouette of the couple. Or to bring the rings and bouquet and position them in perfect window light to shoot … in the soft light right next to the bright harsh beam coming in the window. With commercial photography the demands are even greater. I need to know how to get just enough focus to highlight the product and blur the background. I need to be able to adjust each of my lighting sources and know when and how to add a pop of hard sparkling light vs when to add a soft glow. I can’t just make a pretty photo; I need to know how to fine-tune it to meet with the vision of my art director. I need to be a problem solver to fit a shot that lends itself to a horizontal photograph into a vertical advertisement. Artists too need to be able to know their craft so as to portray their message. A beautiful photograph on it's own isn't art, there should be deliberate intentions behind the work! Only if one knows the medium (in this case photography) extremely well can use one use it as a vehicle for their message.

A professional photographer needs to know all the little tricks of the industry…like helping the bride pre-scuff her shoes so she doesn’t slip and fall - or that gravy master and water looks just like coffee. I think the hardest part of all, is that professional photographers need to remember to value all of these skills and not under bid the job to compete with the amateurs! I’m not saying I’ve never taken a cheap job or given away my work…I’ve done it too. However, the industry is in an odd place with so many photographers trying to make it as pros! I think the best that professionals can do is to educate clients on the value of working with a pro photographers, charge what they’re worth, and to continue to make quality photographs.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Katie,

Thanks for blogging this! I am a student in the UK currently studying Product Design BSc but am a keen photographer and graphic designer in my spare time.

For my final year dissertation I have chosen to ask the question:


With photography being such a subjective field how would you argue that associations such as the MPA and other alike associations can qualify photographers.

Be greatful for your views on this.

My email address is '' if you would like to send your reply there.

Many Thanks,

Patrick Gibson