What is the definition of a professional photographer? One who gets paid to shoot photos. That's it. The word 'professional' carries with it a lot of weight, but the reality is that the real difference between a pro and an amateur is that the pro makes (or at least tries to make) money shooting and developing pictures and the amateur just shoots for fun.
Wanna know a secret? Actually it's not a secret, but I'm surprised how many people don't know it. There are very few full-time photographers nowadays. Why aren't there more? First, because everybody has an smartphone, which means everybody is a photographer. Second, because some people, in addition to their smart phones, also have digital cameras. For less than $1,000, you can buy a camera that will shoot digital files that will make beautiful 16X10 prints. A few hundred extra and you've got a flash and all the rest of the goodies you need to get started. So, what's the point in hiring a pro when there are so many well equipped amateurs out there?
Not much, which is why there are so few full-time photographers. Now, when somebody hires a photographer, the do so because they want something special. An in-focus image, well framed and properly exposed just doesn't cut it any more. Clients today demand the kind of artistry only a person who is not only highly skilled with equipment, but knows how to deliver magical results on a consistent basis.
That idea is the key. A professional photographer is one who can deliver amazing results under just about any conditions. So, with that in mind, I present three graphs illustrating the difference in results. Each graph plots the quality of a given photograph against the photos in any given series. The first is that of a total beginner, shooting with a DSLR or advanced mirrorless camera on auto settings.
Note that most of the photos are of lower quality, because this particular beginner doesn't have a clue how to frame, focus or expose. He's letting the camera do it all. Notwithstanding that, even he manages to nail a National Geographic quality shot from time to time. The next graph is of a more experienced photographer, but someone who is not ready to turn pro, because his results are not consistent enough.
Overall, the quality of his images are much better, but even so, he only nails that National Geographic cover photo once in a while. That said, he's no beginner and some of his shots could make it into magazines or editorial publications. The next graph represents the professional.
Note that even the pro doesn't nail every shot. The proportion of National Geographic shots is much higher in his work than either of the other two, but by no means is he King Midas. If he's really a pro, he knows that not all of his shots are going to make magic, so he takes lots and lots of them, giving each one everything he's got. When it comes time to process, he doesn't bother with the mishaps (autofocus didn't get it right, his subject had a funny expression, the framing was a tad off, etc) and he devotes his time to the shots that he can show his clients. Sometimes it's a tough call, particularly in journalism, and he's got to get the most out of a mediocre shot, but - as Kenny Rogers crooned - knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep is his core skill.
So, that's the difference between an amateur and a pro. The pro delivers consistent quality and while the magic doesn't always happen, he knows when, where and how to find it. Consistency is the product of experience, so... keep shooting!
Thanks for reading.
My simple blog about the art and science of photography.