Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Professateur or Amafessional

I have a terrible habit of starting blog posts and then saving them with the intention of going back to them. But, then I forget and end up posting something new. This is what happened with the post below which I started a few weeks ago and found it today when I went to edit another post. It is still timely and relevant but of course it would have been better to post it before now. Oh well...here you go, with some updates.

What is the difference between a professional and an amateur photographer? For some very strange (and annoying) reason, I can't find a definition on the IRS website but it doesn't seem that even that would be the end-all be-all definition.

Everyone online seems to have different opinions as to what a
professional photographer or an amateur photographer is or isn't. Based on all these definitions and opinions, I have no idea which definition I fall under even though I consider myself to be a professional. I participate in art fairs, have exhibits, sell my work as stock, buy a lot of equipment, spend a lot of time working on my photography, marketing, self-promotion, etc. Mostly I'm spending money right now rather than really making any but this is normal when you're just starting a business. What does this all mean? I'm not a tax professional but I am certainly keeping records of all of my expenses and all of my income so that I can make the best decision at the end of the year (which is what most of these websites seem to suggest).

Last month Microsoft had a Pro Photography Summit to discuss this issue, among others. The Pro Photography Summit is aimed at discussing some of the more pressing issues facing shooters today. Among them, this question of what makes a professional photographer.

Miss Aniela, one of my favorite flickr photographers, gave a presentation about her work, how Flickr helped her in her almost accidental pursuit of professional photography and the emergence of digital photography as a new medium. I haven't had the same following on Flickr as Miss Aniela but my experience is somewhat similar to hers. I started on Flickr at a friend's suggestion. I had been shooting photos for years and had never really shared them before until Flickr. I've become much bolder in my street photography and even in some of my self-portraits. When I decided to leave my big law job I was realistic and knew that I wouldn't be able to focus on photography solely which is why I'm working in real estate with my family. The doors that have opened to me because of Flickr though have given me tremendous opportunities and have also made me less fearful to try new things. I didn't think it would go anywhere. It was not very deep for me at all, actually. Flickr was just a place to share some fun images of my trips. Now I use Flickr, my website and this blog to promote my work. It's so much easier now to share work because of the advancement of digital photography. I have a trunk full of negatives and albums full of film prints. At some point I'll have to get a scanner and share them but Flickr and all these other sites allows me to get them out of the camera and into the world faster.


Ken Rockwell
has the following analysis on his website:

Because photography isn't a profession, different people and organizations define a "professional" photographer very differently.

Anyone can call themselves a professional photographer, and charge you for it.

Let's define who's who.

Full-Time Career Pro


A Full-Time Career Professional Photographer is a person who has been a full-time photographer for his entire career.

He works all day, every day, ever since he graduated college.

These guys buy whatever gear they need, since the cost of gear is trivial compared to how much they use it. If something saves them 5 minutes a day or has a clearer viewfinder to peer through 12 hours a day, it doesn't matter if it costs $8,000. For these guys, even very little things, like AF sensors that don't clutter the viewfinder, are very important.

Full-Time Photographer

A full-time pro works the same as the Full-Time Career Professional Photographer, but failed at some other career and fell back on his hobby to try to make money.

If he hasn't been doing it very long, he may still worry about gear costs since he's not sure how long it will be until he'll get another real job. These worries come from back when he had a real job, and his boss tried to get cheap with the tools. The Career Pro doesn't worry: if a new tool saves him more time over its life than the cost of ownership, it's a no-brainer to buy it.

Professional Photographer

A professional photographer is a photographer who earns 100% of his income from photography. This is the definition required for entrance into the secret Nikon and Canon factory support organizations.

Amateur Photographer

People who earn less than 50% of their income from photography are amateurs.

People who shoot weddings every single weekend while holding down another job aren't professional photographers. People who sell prints at art fairs, but still have real jobs, are still amateurs.

Different people and organizations will argue over what income percentage defines professional. I won't get into that here, but these numbers vary wildly.

These weekend amateurs are all about the cash, and will shoot great pictures, but use the cheapest gear they can. That's OK, and the way to run a part-time business. Rich amateurs will buy any gear they want.

On a side note, check out this blog post by Thomas Hawk, another favorite blogger and Flickr friend, regarding his recent unfortunate experience at the San Francisco MOMA. The Museum recently changed their policy regarding indoor photography - supposedly they now allow it after a strict policy against it. People are now permitted to take photos inside yet he was harassed by a director and forcibly ejected from the museum. Hawk frequently blogs about the difficulty of being a street photographer and the rules regarding what you are and are not permitted to photograph and when. While I have had issues with people, security guards, cops, etc. telling me where I can't photograph, I've never experienced anything like what Hawk encountered at the SF MOMA. Of course, I recognize that as a woman I am not likely to be man-handled like that but his treatment by the SF MOMA staff is unforgivable.

Add to your Listening List:

Maps - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

And, finally, since it's been ages since I've posted a photo of my niece, here she is. I used a new action set that I bought from another Flickr friend and professional child photographer, Sesame Ellis.

I Have Chocolate Fingers

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