In a recent blog, I wrote about my experience presenting my work to a group of photographers in New Delhi (India.) I was particularly interested in figuring out which concerns are unique to Indian photographers and which are universal among photographers. This week, I am thinking about a universal question I get no matter where in the world speak, which is “how do I become a professional photographer.” Pondering that question among Indians made me wonder if something about their experience, their culture and their economy might spur a uniquely Indian answer.
I think it is smart to define what a professional photographer is. According to Wikipedia:
A professional photographer uses photography to earn money; amateur photographers take photographs for pleasure. A professional photographer may be an employee, for example of a newspaper, or may contract to cover a particular event such as a wedding or graduation, or to illustrate an advertisement. Others, including paparazzi and fine art photographers, are freelancers, first making a picture and then offering it for sale or display.
In scouring the web I found other equally interesting ways to define what a professional photographer is.
You’re a professional at something when it’s your profession and a profession in the loosest sense of the word is a vocation or business. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as, say, being a doctor or a therapist or a lawyer all of which involve formal training and licensing. Elizabeth Halford on digital-photography-school.com
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professional as someone, “a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs b : having a particular profession as a permanent career. www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/professional
The first question to consider when answering the question, “how do I become a professional photographer”is to first ask why is becoming a “pro” the only way to be serious about photography?
Becoming a professional, by definition, means that you are taking that thing we all love and consider very personal (photography) and doing it for money for strangers. Prostitution is a similar act of taking something intensely personal and doing it on command, for money for strangers. While I am okay as something of a photographic prostitute, not everyone is.
The great thing about the recent explosive growth in photography, largely fueled by digital imaging, is how it has expanded the ways to pursue photography as a living, beyond just doing assignment work. While other work for photographers has long been available in teaching, writing about photography, in photo-art centers, at foundations, running competitions and the like, there has been an explosion in the number and types of businesses around photography in the last decade. This explosion has created jobs where one can be deeply involved in photography, beyond just doing “paying assignments.” My own career path is a perfect example, in that I started doing assignment work but now work in many different parts of the photography world to make my living.
When I was meeting many young photographers in India and sharing my work, I thought about how it was important they think about how they could be a photographer without limiting themselves to trying to shoot paying assignments. For example:
1. Working in some of these other photo related businesses that I mentioned above. These improve the general photography community as they expand the opportunities and market for ALL photographers. These can actually be more lucrative than assignment work. In the stock photo world for example, the real money makers are the agencies not the photographers.
2. Work in some other business where you make your income, ideally controlling how much time you put into that “day” job and then use the “other time” to do your photography.
The genius of these two approaches is that in both cases the photography work being created would be in response to what you