Are Professionals Better Photographers Than Amateurs?

This is something that I've run into a few times last week. Are professionals better photographers than amateurs? 

Here's the first case.  I read something in Professional Photographer magazine that just seemed rather condescending to those who were “Moms with cameras” or anyone else who was a non-professional with a camera at the ready. She preferred to think of them as hobbyists on steroids.  Brash, annoying, pretending to be “professional.”

To be honest, the article sickened me a bit with its condescending tone and implication that anyone who isn't a professional photographer is simply relying upon technology to get their photos. Basically, she insulted every amateur as a someone who is lucky to get a good shot and omitted any possibility of talent.

The Definition of a Professional

What exactly does it mean to be a professional photographer? Does it mean that you must have clients? Does it mean that you make money from your photographer? Does it mean that the quality of your work surpasses those who enjoy photography as a hobby?

Here's what I found on Dictionary.com:

following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder.

A livelihood or for gain – that means it's cool if you can make a living, but you're still a professional if you gain something from it. Presumably, financial gain.

I'm happy and fortunate that I make money from my photography. By definition, I suppose that makes me a professional. What a magical title. I'm not sure the author of the article would agree, though. The end of her column showed the real truth of her disdain for non-professionals. Fear.

The Threat to Professional Photographers

The truth is that professional photographers are afraid of advanced amateur photographers. They're afraid that hobbyists are cutting into their market and destroying their livelihood. The author professed the solution (short of  Congress requiring a blood test to verify professional status) was to raise the bar with certification, print competition, ongoing education and advanced photographic degrees.

Hogwash.

The only thing she said that I liked was the need to show clients the how to see the difference between true professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists. Actually, I didn't even agree with all of that, but there's a nugget of truth here.

In my mind, a true professional is someone who provides value for a service. When you get right down to it, photography clients don't care about your certifications or advanced degrees. They care about the experience you provide and the results you deliver. That's the value that a professional photographer should provide. Those who are creating value are succeeding. Those who aren't are worried, so they blame hobbyists for diluting the market.

Quality is Boundless

So are professionals better photographers than amateurs? Some are, some aren't. I know some outstanding musicians who have never cut a record or performed live in concert. That doesn't mean they can't perform just as well, if not better, than professional musicians. Hell, Rihanna just won a Grammy award. That proves (to me, at least) that the bar to be a professional in the music industry isn't very high.

The boundary of quality just doesn't care if you're making money or not. There are some absolutely stunning photos created by amateurs. There are also plenty of mediocre photographers who are creating workshops just to earn a buck. Quality is independent of professionalism.

Denigrating enthusiasts and hobbyists is in itself unprofessional behavior. It doesn't add value to your clients, so it's a waste of time. Worse, showing such an attitude may actually cause you to lose some business. What if the client who approached you is an enthusiastic hobbyist who felt that a professional would create better family photos? She may identify herself as a “Mom with a camera” or an “enthusiastic hobbyist” while you're telling her how those folks are so awful. You don't raise yourself by demeaning others.

One can only hope that Professional Photographer magazine will give more though to helping its readers provide value to their clients rather than fostering fear of the enthusiastic hobbyist. You never know. Those passionate hobbyists may become the new professionals. Maybe that's what really scares the author of that demeaning article.

The Professional Photographer

The Professional Photographer

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