Amateur vs Pro (rant :D )

How to turn your hobby into a profession. Tips welcomed by those already in the business!

Moderators: Bob Andersson, Thomas, Bjorn van Sinttruije

Amateur vs Pro (rant :D )

Postby primitive » Wed Aug 12, 2009 1:30 pm

I've been trying, for about 2 months now, to get into the wedding photography business on a part time basis (I currently work full time as a consultant). So far, I would say my journey has been a successful one, and I've been having a lot of fun and been learning a lot, not only about photography, but about people, personalities, religions and customs.

However, I've ran into a few concerns with regards to the attitude of some "pros" to people who are trying to break into the market. I do want to say some, and make it clear that I firmly believe that only a minority of photogs behave this way. Sadly, this minority has been the most vocal (as far as I can see) and I simple want to vent, and get the opinion of others.

I think the problem rests firmly in both camps. Pros think most noobs aren't schooled in the art of photography and basically just get a camera, leave it on auto, and run around taking bad pictures, charging less than what the market is paying and basically wreaking havoc for people who make a living doing the stuff. Amateurs often make silly statements like "I can take better pictures than that guy" or "my style is more modern" or even act as if they are trying to make a quick dollar without any regards for the people who hired them and the product they are delivering.

I think these perceptions are harbored and spread by the ignorant or arrogant few. Some pros assume that because your new, you don't know anything and can't learn anything. Some noobs assume working pros are old fashioned, don't know how to use Photoshop or any other software and are basically struggling with technology they find second nature. Both arguments are deeply misguided and are manifestations of a deeper issue IMO.

Working Pros:

Some pros are very worried about competition. They don't like it at all and deeply fear it. For them, if they were the only ones taking pictures, life would be good and anything they can do to stop more people from entering the market, the better their bottom line will be. They latch on to the actions of some, make broad generalizations and sow the seeds of self-doubt. They stand up in WPPI meetings and demand tighter regulations. They demand that suppliers give them exclusive rights. These are the guys that get bent out of shape when Aunty Merle takes a picture at the wedding of a pose they constructed of the wedding party. These are the guys that tell everyone they can that photography is hard! They think their light will shine brighter if they put out the light of everyone else around them.

Emerging Amateurs:

An interesting bunch to say the least :D who are willing to work for pennies on the weekend. Some noobs have it all terribly wrong! They walk around, criticizing the work of others, make big claims without proof, deliver products that plain suck and generally have no clue what they are doing! Harsh, but true. I've met some. The problem? Insecurity, impatience, arrogance and a complete disregard for the art, the client and their needs. Bottom line, they believe their own hype.

So, how can we fix this? Well, we can't. I think the definition of a "pro" and an "amateur" needs clarification.

Whose a pro?

A pro has been defined by some as someone who makes a significant part of his income from photography and who has been doing it for a certain amount of time. I couldn't disagree more :D! Being a professional at something is much more than income and time spent. Its about quality of service, consistency, purpose and aim. Anyone with a camera can make a living with it, but not everyone who does should be considered a pro. Professionalism is the hallmark of a true pro. He/She turns up on time, does what they said they would and deliver what the promised when they promised it. Not because you charge for something doesn't mean you are a pro, that's just silly.

Some of the guys described earlier would fall flat out of my definition of a pro. They are worried about competing against noobs! Seriously? How bad is your product and reputation that you can't compete with startups and make a living? I think these people should do some self reflection, analyze their product, morals and reasons because something is seriously wrong there. Some pros are quick to point the finger, but yet they don't ask themselves what could they do differently? I know a few photogs who basically hold clients hostage by keeping the full res images. Nothing is wrong with that business model, but a lot of these guys are very sneaky about this contract clause and basically trick their clients. How can you expect to get a recommendation with that kind of behavior? They are often late with the product, they charge for everything, even mistakes they make, and generally sit on a high horse barking at people. Get your act together, and if you can't find work, SERVE YOU RIGHT! Attitude goes a long way.

Whose an Amateur?

An amateur, is not necessarily the polar opposite of the pro, as some amateurs do act in a quasi-pro capacity/state. Again, time and income are unreliable. What took you 3 years to learn might take someone else 1 week and just because I don't get X amount of my income from photography, does not mean I am not professional at it. An amateur is basically someone who enjoys photography for photography sake. They don't actively seek clients or market, they don't offer a "product" and they are always striving to be better so that they can enjoy their art more. Their work is self driven and not aimed at any commercial intentions, but they may not turn down work if offered the opportunity. They are clear about their experience and abilities and don't try to talk up their skill points :D .

The "amateurs" I described earlier, yes, these ignorant and arrogant SOBs. I feel it for everyone in the industry when another one of these guys get unleashed on the unsuspecting masses. These guys aren't amateurs, they are pirates. Out to pillage and plunder from the masses without care or regard. I really do understand why some pros get infuriated by these guys. But, like all poorly made products, they don't last and are insignificant in the scheme of things. Most people who hire these guys have a very low appreciation for photography and in most cases wouldn't have hired anyone else simple because their bottom line is price. So, I don't think these guys damage the revenues of pros who have quality, consistency and professionalism on their sides. Most of my role model photographers don't even seem to realize these guys exist since it hasn't made any impact on their bottom line.

New Category: The pretenders

The unsavory characters described earlier are neither pros or amateurs, they are pretenders of the highest degree. In fact, the grumpy "pros" of today where the arrogant "amateurs" of yesterday. So, they are fighting to keep people like themselves out of the industry. Fantastic! If only rats behaved this way, the population would be under control! Let them fight amongst each other, the industry will be better for it.

I do plead to the honest, hard working people out there, don't get caught up in this nonsense of noobs vs. pros wars. Only people without class or talent get mixed up in that stuff. If your product is true and your business is built on solid foundations, you will not be affected by uncle bob's weekend activity.

Noobs: Strive to be better, be respectful, honest and before calling yourself a pro, act like a professional.

Pros: Keep innovating, keep being honest, maintain your professional integrity, be a mentor and a guide to a noob. Rather than complain about them doing it all wrong. Show them how to do it right!

** Notice I said nothing about photographic quality. That is a subjective and unreliable measure. I think consistency is more reliable, since a consistent photographer will deliver what the client expects, based on the photographers portfolio, time and again. Most photographers can cobble together 20+ pictures for a portfolio of some sorts that would look impressive, but to be a true professional at your craft, you need to reproduce these pictures on every shoot, its that simple!

Tell me what you guys think?

Postby Citruspers » Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:49 pm

I think you quite summed it up, although it is very important to keep in mind during the read, that you are only talking about a specific part of the pro's.

I think the most important part of photography is just to enjoy it, and express something. If you do what you do with pride, and care about it, AND deliver good results, that probably makes you a pro.

For me? I'm a starting freelance photographer. I take pictures people seem to like, and people sometimes pay for them. Just keep looking around, and try to learn and get better.

Maybe I'll be a pro someday, and maybe not. But at least I'm enjoying it. :)
I take pictures so quickly, my highschool was "Continuous High".
User avatar
Posts: 6010
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 12:59 pm
Location: The Netherlands

Postby Kenneth Skou » Wed Aug 12, 2009 3:01 pm

Hi primitive,

I think you have submitted a very sober and well-argued point of view on a very difficult market and it's actors. There's certain a lot that can be discussed there.

In any marketplace where people who do not depend on the income generated, compete with those whose livelihood are derived from similar activities, there will probably always be some tension.

If you're a skilled, proven hobbyist wood-worker, you might butt heads with carpenters who are making their living - especially when you underbid them.

One can see their point of view. On the other hand: take any large city and check out the "portrait photography" shops and look at their work. you'll find that a lot of them have a very undemanding line of work - artistically speaking. "Classic" (and I'm being kind here) portraits of kids in their finery, sitting on a stool, upper body lightly turned and the face turned up a little. Some simple lighting and a "blue marble" muslin providing the background. And they churn out those every day, giving a largely unimaginative audience what they think is a good formal portrait.

A formula that has existed since the dawn of photography.

Then you have the artist-hobbyists playing with unconventional angles, colors and settings. they churn out a thousand crappy images but produce a gem every so often. They ply their trade at seriously low prices. Buying from them is more hit-and-miss, but their best results often inspired.

Of course there has to be a clash. not "monopolized" (yet) so you don't need a license or be certified yet to wield a camera.

Anyone with a website and a few good shots can advertise for next-to-nothing and perhaps grab some of the customers.

This is forcing the established pros to differentiate themselves, which takes innovation, time, energy and money. Just to retain their business at the same level.

What's the overall effect?

Good photographers are going to become more expensive..they have to charge more. Photographic "styles" are going to be more pronounced - probably demanding more professional lighting. How else are they to differentiate themselves from the talented under priced hobbyists?

For the sake of "the art" - in terms of average level of quality of images - it's a good thing. We may end up with more images that actually capture some personality and some "edge" of a person and I applaud that.

But I think there will always be some tension when someone feels threatened by cheap/free amateurs who target some of the same market/customers that they do - and I suspect that will never change.

Cheers :-)
Kenneth Skou

Postby podgeorge » Wed Aug 12, 2009 4:00 pm

Interesting article.

What's an enthusiast then??

Postby primitive » Wed Aug 12, 2009 4:19 pm

@podgeorge: Well, I wasn't necessarily trying to put all photographers in class system, that's really difficult to do. I was also talking in the context of wedding photographers. But I suppose all branches of photography have the same dilemma.

I suppose anyone, pro or amateur can be an enthusiast. Maybe its just a fancy word for really liking something? But, I typically hear it describing amateurs/hobbyists who are slightly more "advanced". It may all just be marketing hype and an excuse for husbands/wifes to justify their habits to their often disapproving spouses :D.

Call it what you will though, but there are those who do photography for mainly pleasure, and those who may have a commercial interest as well.

** EDIT *** August 12, 2009
Love the kid with the combat helmet & bullet proof vest :lol: ! Are things that bad where your from :lol: (just kidding)!

*** END EDIT ***

@lahlahsr: Good wood working example. Was thinking about something like that, but couldn't put it to words.

@citruspers: I agree! If we spent less time complaining and fighting, we might actually start getting better. Of course, nothing is wrong with voicing your concern or debating, but people often get carried away in heated discussions which have since lost all meaning and turned into personal squabbles.

Postby podgeorge » Wed Aug 12, 2009 4:51 pm

primitive wrote:** EDIT *** August 12, 2009
Love the kid with the combat helmet & bullet proof vest :lol: ! Are things that bad where your from :lol: (just kidding)!

Haha, horses are dangerous things! :lol:

Postby Citruspers » Wed Aug 12, 2009 6:59 pm

podgeorge wrote:
primitive wrote:** EDIT *** August 12, 2009
Love the kid with the combat helmet & bullet proof vest :lol: ! Are things that bad where your from :lol: (just kidding)!

Haha, horses are dangerous things! :lol:

Combat helmet + bulletproof vest? Dang, I wore less protection when I crashed :lol:
I take pictures so quickly, my highschool was "Continuous High".
User avatar
Posts: 6010
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 12:59 pm
Location: The Netherlands

Postby Enche Zein » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:39 pm

I notice there are two kinds of audience. First is the high-end customers who does not mind to pay a premium price, let say.. successful entrepreneurs, Executives in a big company, celebrities, rich people etc. The other is general audience,who cares about value/price.

I think professionals that cater to the first group will need to have a talent and gears to do the job well, but the most important is actually they have to have a good business sense and interpersonal skill (social networking).

But pro that target the second group will have some problems because they will face competition from so called amateurs, hobbyists etc. These pros are likely to rant about their competition. Because they compete based on price.

For pro, I think innovation and to keep up with technology especially hardware is important but not absolute necessary. Acquiring and using new high-end gears actually will hurt your bottom line and make it harder for you to compete in the market.

Pros often neglect to learn new techniques or style that might help differentiate them to others. For me this is more important, if you develop a photographic style/techniques that are hard to copy, then you have huge competitive advantage without having to spend a lot on the equipments.

One thing I don't like about being pro is consistency. Because pros need and expected to deliver all the time, So pros is more hesitant to take risk to develop new style, try different perspective or so on. As a result, their image from time to time will looks all the same and boring. It will at the end, it will eliminate the fun of photography.

Being amateurs (especially unpaid), you will be likely to try new things and as a result, you will get more creative pictures. I believe that you might get many stunning pictures compared to regular pros.
Enche Zein

Postby keystrokesuk » Thu Aug 13, 2009 8:24 am

It is not just about photography where you can have these discussions. Since the popularity of the TV talent shows you have so called professional singers discussing the merits of those who have been made overnight stars.

Just because someone with a great talent has never been discovered or had the chance to make money from their talent is does not make them any more or less talented than a top earning professional.

With the expansion of the internet there are now many more ways for "amateurs" or those with hitherto undiscovered talent to get themselves noticed, but as with the TV talent shows it does mean that there are many more people with not quite as much talent that have to be sifted through to find them.

I agree that being professional is about how you treat your clients and not how much you charge them, same is true for any service provider from photographers to car mechanics.
Nikon D90
Nikkor AF-S DX; 18-105 f/3.5-5.6G VR, 55-300 f/4.5-5.6G VR, 35mm f/1.8G
Speedlight SB-700
User avatar
Posts: 579
Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:52 pm
Location: Scotland

Postby santhosh » Wed Dec 02, 2009 12:27 am

While I understand that it is not possible to take any clear side here, I do sympathize with the 'pros' who are worried about their bread at the end of the day.

Although it is true that a true professional shouldn't be threatened by just an amateur in the trades, what people are gonna end up looking at is 'COST'. Everyone is after value nowadays, and who can blame them? Everyone cannot and does not go the extra mile to pay for quality- the photogs and enthusiasts do that in terms of their gear- but think of the customers buying the photos. On a scale of ten, if the quality of a pro's photos are 9 and that of an amateurs varies between 5-7, will people be really willing to pay extra $$$ for the pro images?? They will eventually want to go with the ok-good photo and save a few bucks. Thats the problem here!!

If it was only appreciation and recognition- then the pros would/should not have any trouble getting that (since he is supposed to be a pro); but praises do not fill the guy's stomach- he needs people to buy his photos and he has to make up for his studio, lighting, equipment costs and what not.

I can sing praises for the higher end cameras like the D3 and the 5D, or the Mercedes or Ferrari, but eventually I bought an entry level camera and can only afford a used Toyota or Honda, because I, like any other customer am looking for value and to save a few bucks wherever they can.
So it is very understandable that the people who make their living out of taking photos are upset with part-timers and just-for-fun photo takers for robbing them of potential customers by offering to work for next to nothing. If I started offering to fix my neighborhoods computer problems out of good will and because I like computers, what would the local computer shop owner do??

And like LahLahSr said, it is very difficult for pros to keep raising the bar on their quality and service quick enough to keep up with amateur enthusiasts while still remaining in business. Its not the same when you are beginning to learn photography and when you have been in it for a loong time. When you just picking up, you learn so many things and at a very fast rate. But after a certain point, there are only so many techniques you can learn and settings you can learn to change. While it is also true that there are always new things to learn and innovate, all that takes a lot of time and energy to do.

These may not apply to higher end photographers deal with modelling agencies and do professional portfolios and such-- because their customers will almost always be willing to pay the extra bucks for the improved quality. This is for the regular photographer who may be covering local events and regular weddings and such.

So as long as money and cost are involved in the equation, this problem will always remain, and you really cant blame the 'pros' for feeling insecure about it, though it does not warrant them being unjust or rude or whatever.

Also remember that it is easy for hobbyists to display wild passion for photography without a care in the world because they have nothing riding on it. but when they turn pros and base their livelihood on it, sadly to cope with life's realities, people have to make compromises to either 'stay in the game' or meet deadlines and workloads and such. It IS ideal to "love what you do and do what you love", but how many people do you see actually following that? Sadly, not too many.

Also, if you are starting to do weddings and other events and charging for your service, you are already direct competition to the others doing the same- whether you are amateur or not. So, its just job competition- no different in any other line of work.

PS: I am only an amateur/hobbyist/whatever you want to call someone who loves photography.

:D -- This is just to wipe off any traces of heatedness that might have come across to the readers. Just making a point on reality :P

Postby 4xxxx » Wed Dec 02, 2009 6:45 am

Hi primitive,

I think we are taking about “Times are a changing” here, and some pros have not yet realised it yet. My advice is to “handle it”, you say after two months you are doing ok, just keep up what you are doing.

In every field of work life we have the same discussion about Pro’s, semi and Amateurs/Hobbyist or whatever. In this case, if you messed up on a commercial photo job you will probably get sued and this will keep away the wanabe’s. It’s unfortunate everyday people are the target for portraits and wedding etc. by inexperienced phototog’s.

To be realistic, there is not much difference from one set of wedding photos from a thousand others unless you’re underwater or hanging on a parachute, same as children’s portraits, they all look the same. If the kid is ugly, get them to wear red, all kids look good in red.

Let us talk about being professional, how about the guys up on Wall St and other places, how professional were they with every ones money. We had a surgeon who killed a few people here because he was not qualified for some of the surgery, how professional was he or the professionals that gave him the job.

It does not matter if you have more degrees than a thermometer, the question is “can you do the job” this applies to all facets of work life. Ask yourself, how do you measure if you are doing a good job and what do you do to improve it?

Dismiss others and continue to have fun at the same time.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 80 - 400G, Nikkor 18- 200 VR II, f3.5-5.6.
Posts: 1496
Joined: Sat Sep 12, 2009 2:03 am
Location: Gold Coast Australia

Postby WestCoast » Sat Apr 24, 2010 5:08 am

With today’s very capable cameras and post processing software, anyone with basic knowledge can produce excellent photography.
Any so called Pro that is upset about loosing market share needs to look at his personal “marketing strategy” and not get hanged up on his years of experience which is probably film based and redundant.

Having a photographic business is no different from being an “independent contractor” or having a small business that is trying to get a piece of the pie.
I believe the “new” business failure rate is at about 75%, be it a restaurant, hair salon or photo studio.

Selling one’s services based on “experience” will only get you so far if you don’t know how to promote yourself. So called Pros that feel squeezed by amateurs, obviously need to step aside and look for a new career.

That being said, I’ve been playing with a DSLR for only about 4 years, and a couple of months ago got a job with a national, commercial real estate leasing company, I travel all over the greater Vancouver area photographing commercial buildings and all type of lease properties. And no, job placement wasn’t based on a low bid, the contractual terms were already spelled out, but you had to qualify for the position.
Posts: 1015
Joined: Wed May 14, 2008 4:07 am

Postby Citruspers » Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:02 am

Having just re-read the whole topic, I still agree. However, in the time passed, I think I've changed a bit, to the pro side I think.


I know what I do, and why I do it. Right now, I'm photographing a festival for free. Not because I'm such a nice guy (nice guys heavily undercut the market), but because I need it. I need the pictures for my portfolio, I need the reference for my CV, and you can bet your sweet derriëre that I will deliver the pictures with a nice big watermark advertising my business.

You know what, I'm not doing it for free at all, I'm just not doing it for money. ;)

I also noticed that I understand my gear and photography more. I can see in advance what will work and what will not. I know what to change to prevent my meter from being fooled. I've learned what I can and can't do.

But most of all: I can produce consistently adequate images in most situations

I think that's the real mark of a pro, someone who does not blame the weather/lighting/models for bad pictures. A pro is hired to take good pictures, and he will take good pictures, no matter what.

So, how to classify myself? I have no idea. Emerging pro? Wannabe, maybe? :lol:
I take pictures so quickly, my highschool was "Continuous High".
User avatar
Posts: 6010
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 12:59 pm
Location: The Netherlands

Postby Razvan » Sat Apr 24, 2010 5:48 pm

A pro is hired to take good pictures, and he will take good pictures, no matter what.

Correct! It's hard to find a real pro nowadays,as there's so many amateurs rising like grass. I am aware that for example,I cannot do weddings with my equipment. I lack a good lens,a better flash & a full frame camera.
Once you get good equipment,even studio stuff & you have an eye(I know pros that don't have one drop of creativity),you are ready for anything.

Postby Lee Brandon » Sun Jan 02, 2011 9:38 pm

Well Guys there sure as heck wont ever be any competion from my neck of the woods in the wedding field, I cant think of anything more utterly mind numbingly boring than taking wedding album snaps
Lee Brandon

Return to Going Pro? Business, libraries, exhibitions / website, portfolio and card critique

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest