It’s recently become more and more clear to me that most people don’t know a whole lot about what professional photography is, or what a professional photographer (like me!) does. That’s why I’ve written the last couple of posts, but I wanted to provide you all with some context for this course of education before I go too much further, and y’all think I’ve lost my mind (clearly my children have stolen it and sold it on the black market).
Anyway, the term ‘professional’ can be used in any number of ways; it can define someone who has spent a great deal of time and energy to become educated about a topic or skill. It can define a type of instrument or object’s quality- that it is indeed made well and expected to last. Or, as in the performance industry, it can simply mean someone who gets paid to perform (i.e. act, sing, dance). Professionalism in photography is definitely a gray area- some define it as getting paid to take photos for others, and some define it as becoming educated about the art form. I would argue that it is both taking the time to learn about the art and developing skills before getting paid for your skills.
There are a great many photographers who claim to be professionals, but know almost nothing about actually using a camera to create art- they’ve simply invested a large amount of money in a fancy camera and use it in automatic mode, copying other artists’ work. Oftentimes, these people can be unreliable and end in those photographer horror stories that you read about in the news and online. In my opinion, they’re not actually professionals, but rather impersonators looking to make some quick cash. The real pros know what we’re doing, and not only charge what can seem like a fortune, but are easy to get hold of and have a reliable reputation.
So, if a professional photographer is someone who’s taken the time to learn how to use a camera to create a piece of art, what defines a professional photo? That becomes pretty simple: it is a photograph that uses composition, lighting, and editing to capture and image that tells a story. More often than not each photo is a mini-story in a series of photos, as you see in wedding photography and photojournalism, but each photo should be able to stand on its own as well.
What are those pics we all take with our phones and other cameras? Well, the old-fashioned term for them is ‘snapshots’. They were created by someone who took a moment to snap a shot with a camera to document that particular moment. We’ve all done it- kids’ birthday parties, an amazing dish at a restaurant, that crazy-beautiful sunset- and it’s okay! These snapshots are the photos that help document all of our lives in between the times that we can afford a professional photographer.
Why am I sharing all of this with y’all? Well, because I want you to understand the difference between a professional photographer and someone who has a fancy camera but really only uses it to take snapshots, and trust me- that really does happen!
How do you begin to tell the difference between an amateur and a professional? It’s simple: take a look at their artwork. Amateurs’ very often look like photos that you could have taken yourself. The posing/composition and lighting aren’t good, and the editing is inconsistent and trendy-looking. A professional's artwork will be consistent, have great lighting, the posing/composition will tell a story, and the editing will be consistent and timeless.
I know not everyone is a fan of every photographer’s artwork, and not everyone can afford a professional photographer all the time, but when you do invest in professional photos for your wedding or family, I want you to be able to choose a photographer with confidence.