Join me and my good friend Dane Sanders on his inspiring show, FastTrack Photographer, here. Watch us discuss the future of the industry as technology and photography continue to blur the lines between pro and enthusiast. I asked my Google+ friends this question and many of you had brilliant, well-considered insights. Here are a few of your thoughts on pro vs. enthusiast:
The word “Pro” should not be influenced by gear and technology. A “Pro” will always have to be a master of marketing, people skills, and talent regardless of gear and technology. I think the industry is heading in the same direction, many shooters wanting to become “Pros” (which just means that you get paid to shoot), and finding out that it is mostly marketing and work. There is a huge difference between a real professional, and a very talented photographer. I would argue that a person that is talented in marketing, social skills, advertising, and people skills will be more successful, than the “talented photographer”. Spending hours with a couple while talking them through creative posing, calming their children, comforting parents while smiling and creating awesome images… that is a “Pro”. Nothing to do with technology.
Advances in technology means that the digital camera equipment amateurs have in the hands today is far more advanced than the professional gear available just a few years ago. Things you can’t buy though are talent, creativity and vision.
I don’t think that technology has much to do with the blurring of any lines. If your photography is your business, then you are a professional, good or bad… otherwise you are “enthusiast” or whatever equivalent term you would like to use. I think too often professional vs. enthusiast gets associated with quality or talent and that is often not the case. As I have been learning photography I have seen plenty of mediocre professionals and plenty of enthusiasts that are brilliant photographers. I just think technology is allowing many more people to get into the field and share their work easier. As so many people have stated, gear will only get you so far.
Catherine Hall, I think it was on one of your shows with Leo when someone said that Pro should not always mean Professional, but Proficient. A few years ago I was a member of the Silver Spring Camera Club (Md.) when one of the Pros that was judging the monthly contest made the comment, that he was a Pro but that we were GOOD. As a Pro he had to take photos of what his client wanted, we could be really creative.
Most pro’s, even the lucky/successful ones, still do what the client wants them to do (e.g. make photographs that are directed by the needs of the clients). It’s a different motivation than what an amateur (or an artist, if you like) would do when there’s nobody to tell you what needs to be done so that you can pay your bills.
I do see many new people starting out with such a low cost barrier that jump right in as a Pro but still don’t have the talent to provide great work to their clients. I personally think they jump in too soon instead of learning a little more and growing as an artist then starting to charge and become a professional. As the average consumer is more and more inundated with imagery all over the place they don’t seem to recognize quality as much and can be satisfied with sub-par work. There are some amazing new photographers and veterans that are producing great work as technology advances. As long as a community of sharing and teaching can keep going on and honest critique then we can all grow. I see part of my job to continue educating my clients about what good art is and also the entire photography community so we can all be better artists.
A lot more people will try, a lot more people will fail, the best will still make a living from it as they adapt to the changes.
I want to offer my 2cents on this. My take is the following: I think they are pro photographers out there that are very talented and get paid to do their job. I think they are pro photographers out there that are not very talented as a photographer, but still get paid to do their job. I think they are many pro photographers where photography is not their main occupation but has talent and have studied and continue to study to be better and the best they can (includes me) their job is considered very good and even as good as some pro photographers. They are some enthusiasts that have knowledge and develop great photos as good as some pro photographers but are not established and have not studied. And they are some enthusiast that know nothing and call themselves pro. I think a pro cant be defined only by the beauty of his photograps, because as we all know, amateurs can also take good photographs. Is the consistency, the ability and the other intangibles that make a professional with years of experience and a Point and Shoot, better than an enthusiast with a D3X. I think the difference between each is not abysmal as before… but the well established, seasoned and experienced professional photographer will always be ahead of the curve.
Talented amateurs are drying up the low end of the market. Because they’re not trying to make a living at it, they can undercut the pros – doing stuff for minimal compensation or even for free. Event photography in particular just isn’t going to be a viable business in the future, if it even is anymore. Everyone knows a good photographer in the family who can shoot a wedding or party or do a family portrait. Photojournalism is all but dead too – not when every corner of the globe is covered by a small army of people with cameras in their pocket. But the high end of the market will do fine. I suspect what will happen is that over time the number of pros will shrink but their average income will rise. But the ones who survive will be the truly great photographers who can make a name for themselves, who can justify their high rates and consistently deliver stuff to a client that the clients family members with the latest SLR can’t.
Where the industry is heading (in my amateur eyes) is that the small group of real pros will still remain. A rank of undiscovered shooters will join them, through broader exposure online and access to gear that makes taking that awesome shot easier. There’s going to be a larger contingent of people who call themselves “pro” but who aren’t quite there. These are the wannabes and the “pros” with a day job. Thus is the group that will complain the loudest at the opening up of gear to the “amateurs” and will actively will try to block new shooters coming up. Then there’s going to be a contingent of amateurs who could be pro, if they wanted to but they don’t want to make a job out of shooting. Their skill, in part will be bolstered by access to higher end gear and the ability to “practice” at a low cost.
I don’t think the line is blurred at all. The enthusiasts that call themselves ‘pro’ are punching above their weight, and the pros that are worried about us enthusiasts… probably should be. Anyone with a trained eye can see the difference. My photos will never grace the cover of NatGeo, but I share them anyway because I love photography. As an enthusiast, I get a ton of attitude from local pros. It’s not just me, they treat other enthusiasts the same way. “Everyone with a digital camera thinks they’re a photographer”. I hear that so much I want to tattoo it on my forehead. Get over yourself, I’m not trying to steal your jobs, I’m asking questions to become a better photographer. Key word being ‘photographer’, not ‘pro’. I’ve been shooting film most of my life and only last winter transitioned to DSLR. Big learning curve. I ask lots of questions because I want to take great photos. But I’ve since abandoned local help, and have turned 100% to the online photo community. That’s the only place I can learn without the attitude. I have a friend that is just starting out in photography. She knows almost nothing. Even if I was a pro and not her friend, I would still do my best to make sure she could take great pics, rather than be all elitist about it. Everyone with a passion for photography should be encouraged by others that share that passion.
The separation of “Pro” from their skill level is right on … an enthusiast can blow away many pros but the ability to spend your entire day on photography will frequently make a “Pro” better than an enthusiast just by racking up the hours and successes vs. failures (the 10,000 hour theory of Outliers). The great thing about enthusiasts is they are often unencumbered by the need to make money and can put love into their captures. I do photography because I enjoy it and would never, ever shoot a wedding and will only take friend’s pictures when I know they can’t afford a high-end studio (and know that most of the mid-grade studios and ‘pro’ sports photographers around here are simply assembly lines with no care in their product). So, I do see a place for enthusiasts… but as an enthusiast I would hire a pro to do my wedding ;-) But I would hire an enthusiast to shoot the divorce.