Ten years ago - maybe even as few as five - being a professional photographer meant you worked nine to five at a newspaper, or owning your own studio where you shot people, or being signed by a large magazine who payed your trips to weird tribes in the middle of deadly rainforests. Most importantly, a professional artist was defined by him or her earning most of his upkeep from creating art.
Being an amateur photographer on the other hand, meant that you did it because you loved it. You did not have to do it if you did not feel like it. Whenever you felt the urge, you could sit down and spend a few hours on your hobby, not having to worry about selling enough photos to be able to pay the rent.
Today, both of these definitions have changed.
The old professional
Let me wind it back a little before, to explain my point. First (starting about fifteen years ago) the digital camera business started to bloom. Or explode. New models have been pumped out quicker than you can say ‘could you spare a few cents for the new Nikon camera, please sir?’. The manufacturers managed to convince us that all we needed was a new and very expensive camera - first then we would become a real photographer.
But then, it plateaued. The cameras became as good as we needed them to be, and even though the manufacturers tried - they had already invented everything we could use. The last few years - maybe five or so - the number of ways that you could use photography for, and above all live on, increased. Social media, micro stock photos, blogs, youtube, print quality quality from camera phones and more made it possible to maybe not live on, but live because of your photographs.
Today, we can’t define a professional photographer by whether or not they are making most of their salary from photography. We need to find a new definition.
In The War of Art that I am currently reading (read my first post inspired by the book here), Steven Pressfield says
“The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money.
Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.”
Every photographer gets asked “isn’t it hard to be a professional photographer nowadays, when everybody owns a good camera?” at least once a year. No, it’s not! Because just after everyone started to own a good camera, everyone that was any good at photography started to invent new ways to make use of images - in the same speed as "everyone" bought their new, good cameras.
What is happening in the business?
Yes, magazines and newspapers are cutting staff. Photographers with full time jobs are sacked to save money. But we are not bound any longer to work for only newspapers and magazines if we want to live a life being able to travel and have someone pay for it. Do a good enough job with your camera phone and travel agencies will pay the trip for you, just because you reach enough people through your Instagram. Write your blog posts in such a manner that hotels will contact you and ask you to write a review.
Why do you need to earn most of your money through photography, if you don’t need to pay for whatever you want to do for those dollars?
“You don’t hear him [the amateur] bitching, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.”
- Steven Pressfield
The future of photography is for the photographers who does not blame the business - or the fact that everybody is a photographer nowadays - for not having a job. The future is for the photographers that accept the fact that the world - and everything in it - is constantly changing and evolving, and use that for something good or interesting, instead of locking themselves in their studio, whining about not having a job.
The new professional photographer
I think it is time to scrap the old definition of a “professional photographer.” Today, a professional photographer is not the one earning all his money from it. Today, a professional photographer is the one that keeps on producing new material; that has a goal to spend as much time as possible taking photos and are actually pursuing that goal. Today, a professional photographer does not need a 3000€ camera but only a camera phone. Today, the professionalism is moved from what you hold in your hands, to what you hold in your head.
If you want more posts about being a professional, these are a few posts that you should try: