What makes a professional photographer? From the early Kodak ads of “Just press the button and we do the rest” to the Flickr and selfie society of today, photographers have historically been fighting the notion that just anyone, any Joe or Jane, can take great pictures.
Yes, anyone can take a great, outstanding photo, but doing it on demand, with a short deadline, with too small a budget, with 8 people over your shoulder explaining what they want you to do... well... that’s a skill. Those folks over your shoulder are called clients, art directors, product managers, account executives, and anyone who could get out of the agency that day to hang around your shoot. You also deal with bad weather when you need a sunny day, with models that didn’t show up, airline staff that lost your seat on the flight you had to catch, assistants that can’t wean themselves off Facebook or Twitter during your shoot, rent a cops hassling you, you camera giving an error message in hieroglyphics, and all sorts of issues that no one can ever foresee.
And the only thing the client and everyone else wants to know is - “Did you get the shot?
The phone call on Tuesday (not on Monday) goes like this, "Hey Jack, I need this period shot with a real Model-T, a cop, and two couples. We're on deadline. You can do that by the end of this week, can't you. Need it rain or shine. Oh.. and the budget is a little tight on this. Remember, by Friday. Noonish."
Yup, you’re a professional photographer. So take your “button” of the Kodak ads in days of yore, and see what it looks like when all the stuff hits the fan. Casting, rounding up a crew of assistants, stylists, and hair and makeup. The prop stylist needs to find the period clothes to fit the models that haven't been chosen yet. And locate a Model T car. Then location scouting, getting a permit, certificate of insurance, the shoot, and post production. No problem. Will do.
Many people think all anyone needs to be a "good" photographer is a “good camera” and just a few lessons on how to “do that”. Yeah, right. On that note, I’m gonna buy me one of dem good typewriters, the same one Hemingway had, and I’m gonna write me one o’ dem novels, yessireebob.
It’s an age-old question on photography discussions and one that always starts a flame war on the Internet- What is a professional photographer?
To me, my definition is rather easy. It’s not someone who makes money or doesn’t make money. It’s not this accolade or that accolade. It's not the most technical photographer who knows the best aperture on a particular lens needed to get the most sharpness. Nope. Throw all those things out. A professional photographer simply someone that can produce a great image on demand, right now. And with everything going wrong, falling apart, and blowing up. They keep their cool and produce the shot needed. Like a trained monkey on a chain, just play the music and watch us dance. It’s not easy, it’s not something you learn with 3 minute YouTube lessons.
I love people asking a photographer “How was this done?” Of course all along they're thinking...."Yeah, just tell me the secret formula and I’ll knock it out. I'll do it cheaper. How hard could it be? What plug-in do I need? What camera will do that, what lens do I need? And what client did you shoot this for, so I don't waste any time finding them to ask for your assignments."
A real pro is a problem solver and knows how to pull a bigger and bigger rabbit out of an ever-shrinking hat, as the budget to make the photo gets smaller and smaller, deadlines shorter and shorter, demands higher and higher. After all, all you need to do is just press a button! Sigh. A pro produces. On time, on budget, with a look, a vision that is theirs. As one art director told me one, you still need to "bring something to the party", not just be a button pusher.
Anyway, that’s my story, my definition of a professional photographer, and I’m sticking to it.