What Makes a Photographer Professional?

professional photographers
Having a big lens does not make you a professional photographer - by sgsprzem

Nikon really irked me with their Facebook post suggesting a photographer is only as good as his equipment. That was an arrogant statement of the type one would expect from a brand name company and it’s wrong.

I remember taking golf lessons one time, certain the reason I was golfing so poorly was my clubs. Without a word the golf pro asked to borrow my clubs and then proceeded to hit one perfect shot after another. He then repeated that performance with clubs from every other bag, including the kids and left handed players. He was making a point that being a pro doesn’t depend on your equipment.

That’s also true to a certain extent in photography. The real professionals are the people who can pick up any camera, spend a few minutes familiarizing themselves with the controls, and get fantastic shots that keep getting better the longer they use the camera.

You can argue that your equipment should reach a certain standard of quality and you’d be correct. But that standard has come down in price so far lately that it’s within reach of most people with an average income. So what then separates the “Uncle Bobs” from the true pros?


Being able to capture fantastic portraits means getting people to relax and express real emotion. You don’t have all day to establish that trust and connection. One of the marks of a pro is having a knack for putting people at ease.

Establishing immediate rapport one skill you won’t get out of a book. You have to genuinely like people and be able to see anyone in a positive light. My pledge to people is that I’ll never take a shot that makes anyone look bad. Sometimes there’s a fine line between an unguarded moment and a goofy look. As tempting as it is sometimes, I’ll pass on the goofy look.

You Pay Your Dues

Not in terms of money to a professional organization, although there are good reasons to do so. I mean you put in the time. The professional photographers I know are shooting pictures all the time, whether they’re getting paid for it or not. They are driven to shoot, constantly striving to get a better shot, a better look, and honing their distinctive style.

The true professional photographers I know are both student and teacher, sometimes on the same job. In my experience the photographers who have all the answers are shooting work that looks like yesterday’s news. Perhaps technically correct, but lacking passion.

Driven To Perfection

The drive to perfection will also yield consistency. Your pictures will not only be good, but they’ll get a little better every time you go out. In any weather conditions, any location, any subject, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, you’ll be able to bring back the shot.

At a certain point your clients will have more faith in your abilities than you have in your own. That’s kind of the tipping point in professional photography. The moment you know you’ve arrived as a professional. The point your clients know they can send you anywhere and not worry they’ll get fantastic work back.

Mainly, being a professional is staying focused on your work and honing your craft over a lifetime. That’s the difference between the pros and Uncle Bob.