EVERYONE seems to a “Professional Photographer” these days. If you have some nice digital camera equipment, it has become easier to make the claim that you too are a professional. But before I tell you how to know when a so-called “professional” photographer probably isn’t a pro, let’s start with my working definition of a “professional” photographer:
- A significant amount of the total income is derived from work as a photographer.
- Has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the mechanics of photography.
- Knows how to use a camera in MANUAL MODE and rarely, if ever, uses the program modes.
- Understands HOW to use a light meter, understands WHEN to use the exposure the light meter recommends, and knows when and WHY to ignore the light meter.
But what if you don’t claim to be a professional photographer and you don’t understand all of this technical jargon? How would you spot a fake?
- The “pro” is only available in the evenings. (Translation: I have a day job)
- The “pro” is willing to do any job for around $100. (Translation: I have to pay for my expensive hobby or my spouse will kill me. The tell: No one can run a successful business model without accounting for the total amount of TIME required: prep time, session time, post-production time)
- The “pro” will give you all the images from your session immediately. (Translation: I haven’t learned how to use software to edit the images.)
- Included in your $100 fee is a disc of your images. (Translation: This isn’t a business, it’s just a way to make a little extra money so I don’t really have anything to sell you. The tell: A successful photography business model depends on sales! Professionals will often give you a CD for an extra fee or with a minimum order.)
- The “pro” takes 300+ images and gives them ALL to you on disc. (Translation: I have no idea what makes a great photograph so without a discernible eye, I think everything I do is good.)
- A 1 hour session takes hours longer than expected or a small family portrait session gets scheduled for 2-3 hours. (Translation: I have no confidence in my abilities as a photographer.)
- The “pro” shows up to your wedding/event with a pop-up on-camera flash. (Translation: I’m in way over my head! I’ve never photographed a wedding and have no idea what equipment I might need.)
- The “pro” claims they do everything: I am a food/fashion/wedding/landscape/portrait/editorial photographer. (Translation: I haven’t been doing this long enough to know what I’m good at or enjoy doing.)
- When you ask the “pro” about the aperture they’re using, they respond “Bless You!” (Translation: I don’t know anything technical about photography. I just put my camera on P mode and let the camera make all the decisions.)
- The “pro” schedules doesn’t have any recommendations or suggestions about when would be a good time to schedule. (Translation: I know nothing about light or the difference between a good time or a bad time to shoot.) The professional should be there to guide you and offer their opinion about what would be best suited for your needs, i.e. someone who does maternity portraits or newborns should offer thoughts about when is the best time to capture that special moment.
A good photographer knows their craft! Anyone can buy nice equipment and let the camera make all the decisions. But if you’re going to spend good money to hire a photographer, make sure you know what you’re paying for and that they have experience with the field you are requesting.
And if you are a budding amateur, FANTASTIC! Begin to learn how to use the technology. Geek out about it! The idea is to eventually be in the driver’s seat, and understand how to be in control of the images you capture. If you want to gain experience to increase your knowledge base, begin by offering free sessions to friends until you are comfortable and build a portfolio.
Don’t just take photographs, MAKE great photographs!
Have you ever had a bad experience with a so-called professional in an industry, only later to realize that they may have misrepresented their experience? What do you wish you had done differently? What could they have done to be more forthright?