What makes someone a professional photographer? This is a question that is not foreign to me, I get asked all the time. From fellow photographers, friends, family, and fans of my work. Today, the question came from Courtnie. She is planning a wedding and wanted tips on what to look for in a pro, since I will not be available personally for her wedding date. Rather than respond to her directly, the way I always do when this question is asked, I decided to blog about it for future brides, grooms, or interested parties.
For me, the first thing I need to say is “we all start somewhere.” This is true. Whether you are self teaching (like me), going to college, following a mentor, etc., we all start somewhere.
And while we do all start somewhere, a wedding certainly is not the place to start out. If we value our clients, and our reputation, a wedding should be the last thing on our list of things to conquer. Your first wedding should come after this following list has been checked, and checked twice, and then some.
My personal, most important thing that I feel makes someone “professional,” is a website, branding, business plan, & contracts. Essentially, the whole package. A pro will have answers to all your questions, because they’ve planned every detail out. They will have a contract in place, not only to protect themselves, but to protect you. This contract will cover details such as: what happens in event of weather, what your expectations are of them, a detailed list of items included in your contract including the amount of time they will spend with you. You will sign, they will sign, and you will get a copy. A really great photographer will amend their contract yearly, to include the things they’ve learned throughout that previous year, because let’s face it: even if you’ve been in the industry for 20 years, we still have things to learn.
While having a solid business practice is one of my most important items that make a pro a pro, this next item is equally important in my book. Equipment & understanding how to use that equipment. A professional will have backups to their backups, extra cameras equal to their main shooting camera, extra batteries, chargers, memory cards, flashes, lenses, etc. If your photographer shows up with only one camera to their name, run as fast as you can. What happens in the event their camera fails on location? What photos will you have then? If they shoot on one 16GB memory card, same goes. Memory cards fail all.the.time. I’ve not only had lenses fail on me, but memory cards as well. We have no control over whether or not our equipment fails, but we do have control over the scope of that failure. Shooting on a smaller memory card (I shoot on 4GB) means you will only lose approximately one hour of your day. Not bad, when you consider what four times that means to your day.
Additionally, a professional will know how to operate their camera outside of Program mode. This means they will manually be able to set exposure, shutter speed, and aperture, and they will understand what all of these items are and how they work. I always describe them as a triangle of ingredients that always affect one another. A good photographer can artistically enhance an image in camera, simply by having a thorough knowledge of these 3 items. This truly sets the amateurs and the professionals apart. Same goes for flashes, and other sources of light. Light is photography.
There are so many things that go into being a professional photographer. If you ask someone else, they will say something different from what I have here, or they will add something different. However, one thing I think we can all agree on is that everything in this post today remains true for every professional on every occasion. It’s extremely easy to set up a Facebook page and call yourself a Professional photographer these days. My business started with a Facebook page as well. I had no website, I operated with only one camera. The differences are that I never called myself a professional until about 2 years ago, and I didn’t shoot a wedding other than a family member and one friend until 2 years ago. I’ve always had a contract, and I have always shot manual. From the instant I got my camera, I taught myself to shoot manual. I refused to let my camera think for me, and every day since then I have been thankful for that stubbornness. The important thing to remember that no one is saying that unless you’re a professional, you better put that camera down. What they are saying is that until you can truly be considered a professional, it’s important to only take on the work load you are truly confident you can complete successfully and satisfactorily.
As photographers, we hold our clients memories in our hands for an hour or two up to 15 hours and sometimes maybe even more. It’s important to take seriously, the fact that they have entrusted their memory making to us. We only have one opportunity to get it right the first time around.
So Courtnie, and all future & potential clients: I hope this answers your question. What makes someone a professional photographer? Well, ultimately a Pro is going to be someone who is passionate about providing you with impeccable memories that bring feelings of joy, laughter, and happiness. A professional will realize though, that there is also more to the happy memories, and they will also offer you a complete package deal that will make you feel secure and confident. Do not accept anything less.
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