What Makes a Professional Photographer “a Professional”?

By definition, A professional photographer is a photographer who earns 50-100% of their income from photography. So to make this clear: you’re a professional at something when it’s your profession. And a career in the loosest sense of the word is “a vocation or business.” However, the word professional may have a more vague definition in the photographic world.

The statement “I am a professional photographer” is claimed by many. The problem is that 8 out of 10 people with a DSLR camera refer to themselves as professional photographers. So how do you know if the photographer you’re trying to hire is truly a professional or just another person that refers to themself as a professional photographer? 

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as, say, being a doctor or a therapist or even a farmer because photography is unique. It is a hobby or passion that can become a very lucrative business. In addition, professional photography can be part-time for some and full-time for others. So when do photographers cross the line from hobbyist to professional photographer? How do you know the difference when hiring a professional photographer for your photography needs?

By definition, a person is a professional when making money or a business out of photography. So the serious question is, “What makes a professional photographer a professional?” 

Professional Photographer vs. Self-Claimed Professional Photographer:

We live in a world where almost everybody with a camera self-identifies as a professional photographer. We are not talking about the novice or beginning photographer. We are talking about men and women who take their photography seriously. The following is a simple but vital quote I recently came across by JP Danko:

“Many so-called ‘amateur’ photographers create some pretty amazing photographs (take a look at most of the work on 500px) – and many so-called ‘professional’ photographers deliver some pretty awful photographs to their clients (see US Olympic Team Portraits).”

So, it is hard to produce a definable quality difference. After all, photography is art, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. People will like different things, and what looks great to one person will not be attractive to someone else. Unfortunately, the critical distinction of Professional Photographer vs. Amature has nothing to do with the quality of a photographer’s work or the degrees they do or do not hold. 

However, some things you can look at to help determine the differences between a professional photographer and a self-claimed professional photographer are listed below.

  1. Website: A professional photographer must have a website with organized portfolios displaying the types of photography they specialize in. If you are a headshot photographer, prospective clients should be able to view 20+ unique examples of your quality work. This way, the client can see a “body of work” and examine it for consistency and quality. A photographer showing five portraits on Facebook to a prospective client is not a professional photographer. Facebook is a valuable tool, but only in that it serves to navigate your clients to your website. 
  2. Insurance: A professional photographer must have business liability insurance. Insurance is for the photographer’s protection as well as the client. Potential clients often do not think about the risks or liabilities of having a professional photographer on-site. Knowing that the professional photographer you are hiring is protected should be critical in your decision-making process. Insurance is costly; hiring a professional photographer with insurance coverage lets you know they take their business seriously.
  3. Business License:  A professional photographer will have a business license. Some photographers do not have the appropriate business licenses, therefore not paying applicable taxes. They act as a business taking money for “professional services”; however, they are not legally allowed to do so. 
  4. Accomplishments & Experience: A professional photographer should have “some” of the following achievements and experiences:
    1. awards from local or national organizations
    2. printed work in local or national magazines
    3. noteworthy list of clients 
    4. a substantial body of work
    5. lead workshops or attend as a speaker
  5. Income:  By definition, 50% of your income should come from your profession to be considered a professional; however, it is flexible, depending on the criteria above the photographer possesses. A “beginning” professional probably should make enough money to feed the hobby. Hence, the minimum standard, “Is the photographer making enough to pay for the camera and lenses? The ultimate question is, “Is the photographer making their living from their photography business?”.
  6. Professionalism: A professional photographer should take professionalism seriously from online social media presences to the formality of their website, communication, and timely responsiveness in communications with clients. 
  7. Reviews: A professional photographer who has developed a body of work and clients will have online reviews and a reputation. Be sure to look at these reviews to ensure you hire someone with great reviews, work ethic, and reputation.

Hopefully, these tips can help you determine a professional photographer from a self-proclaimed professional photographer to ensure you hire the right photographer for your next project. If you have a project coming up and would like to chat, we encourage you to reach out at info@kpstudios.com. We would love to answer any questions you may have. 

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