What Does it Mean to be a “Professional” Photographer?

This morning I was listening to my local NPR station here in the Bay Area (KQED) and was caught off guard by a Perspective from Peggy Hansen, a Bay Area “Professional” Photographer (quotes mine).  Perspectives is a short audio commentary on a topic by one of the KQED listeners.  What caught me off guard with Peggy’s perspective wasn’t the fact that she’s a photographer, it was initially the topic of her perspective.  The bane of most photographers, the dreaded question “what camera do you use?”.

Peggy’s comments on this are right in line with my own feelings and why I sometimes answer that question in less than a courteous manner.  I was really grateful to hear such a photography centric (the act of photography) topic on Perspectives.  But what most caught me off guard was the way that the on air announcer introduces and wrapped up the segment.  He started off by introducing Peggy as a “Professional Photographer”.  Then, as is the norm for Perspectives, he wrapped up reiterating who the commentator was, what they did for a living, and what city they lived in.  Here is was “Peggy Hansen is a XYZ and a Professional Photographer…”.   I can’t recall her other occupation, but it was obvious the key source of her income and what allows her to be a photographer…just like myself and many others I know.  (Sadly these comments were part of the live broadcast and not part of the recording available on line.)

This is what caught me off guard.  I’m not sure if it was Peggy who chose what the wrap sentence was, or if that was done by KQED.  But it got me to thinking (again) on what does it mean to be a “Professional” Photographer.  I get asked this question a lot when people see my work, “Are you a Professional Photographer?”.  Historically this meant, this is how I make my living…it pays the bills and feeds the family.

Not so any more in the world of multiple streams of income and interests.  Today, I think this refers more to one’s skill set as a photographer. It may not fully pay the bills, but one can create professional quality photographic work thanks to their skill with the camera (and increasingly with the computer).

So, is the professionalism of both one’s works and how they are presented what defines a Professional Photographer today?

[This Perspective was from Greg Lato, a Professional Photographer who makes his living in Technology Sales and lives in San Ramon, CA.]

3 Replies to “What Does it Mean to be a “Professional” Photographer?”

  1. Both the ‘intro’ and the ‘back announce’ (that’s the radio lingo for those segments) were re-written after I recorded the piece on Monday. I agree with the comments about what ‘professional’ means and would not have chosen to use that term to refer to myself, since photography (though it does generate some income) does not ‘pay my bills’ in a meaningful way. That said, I feel I have as much cred as any other photographer at my level, regardless of my financial situation; my work has been shown at museums and galleries across the US, and won numerous awards. In my dealings with the art world, I do not mention my ‘day job’ because it isn’t pertinent.


  2. @peggy hansen, Thanks for posting the details Peggy! (and forgive my lack of radio parlance…) While I agree that one’s ‘day job’ isn’t pertinent to one’s art/photography, the online social media world we live in today makes it harder and harder to keep them separate. And I’ve often debated if it’s better to (try) and keep them compartmentalized and isolated from each other or just not. And does one way or the other impact the “professionalism” that others internally or externally assign to you and your work?


  3. to be a professional simply means that you get paid. a amiture does not get paid . like a professional boxer gets paid to box,and a boxer that does not is a amiture. so all the attempt by some to make people buy into a class distinction is silly and devisive.


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