Photography 101: The Myth of the Professional Photographer

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

I’m not going to get into the whole debate about: What is a professional photographer? I have my opinions on that subject and they are heavily biased relative to competence. Suffice it to say I am a firm believer that making modest amounts of money with photography is not, in and of itself, the sole criteria for labelling ones self a professional. In the days of film a commercial photographer absolutely needed a high level of technical competence, the technology of the times demanded it. Therefore, a so-called professional photographer (someone who made his livelihood taking photographs) had to be competent in his craft. Digital changed all that.

The fantasy (or dream) for many of us was to become a professional photographer. That dream still exists for many but is it what you really want? The reality can be a wakeup call. To be a professional requires that you engage in the business of photography and not just the aesthetic of photography. They are two different animals. You will quickly find yourself spending 80% of your time with business related activities and only 20% of your time creating your art. And when you shoot for a customer you have to provide the product they want and not just do what you want. You will have editors, brides, businesses and other customers dictating to you.

After a lifetime of dreaming about becoming a professional photographer I did become one. It wasn’t quite what I expected. It quickly became a job and not an artistic quest. Its been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot along the way, but I found that I wanted to be totally independent and not taking orders from others where my art was concerned. Consequently I’ve dialled it back and now take my pictures my way. I have no one to please but myself. If people like my work they buy it (and they do thankfully) and if they don’t like it then they don’t buy it. Fair enough, no harm no foul. Today’s professional needs to have many revenue streams: actual photo shoots, blogs, vlogs, editorial, stock and teaching to name a few.

Shortly after arriving in Mexico I became the staff photographer for The Yucatan Times newspaper. I was also the official photographer for the Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation. I’ve done real estate shoots, family shoots, portraits and travel photography. I’ve sold my large prints and canvases at Soho Galleries and Cafe la Boheme in Merida, Yucatan and through my online gallery and eCommerce store at Indochine Photography. I continue to sell my fine art prints through my website but have strictly limited my shooting for clients. I will occasionally take the odd commercial assignment or barter my photography for goods or services but not so much.

I’ve written a few articles for Northrup Photo about making money with photography and you are more than welcome to read those if you’re interested. Link to Articles. I am also including a link to my pricing page to give you some idea what that’s about. Link to Pricing Page. Photography is not my primary source of income, if it were my pricing philosophy (and prices) would be much different. Remember, being a professional photographer has more to do with business sense (and experience) than with talent. Many amateur photographers can and do shoot the socks of professionals. Pursue your dreams but be clear about what you really want. Watch this video for a reality check.

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6 responses to “Photography 101: The Myth of the Professional Photographer

    • Expat Journal is my blog and I’m a photographer, writer and traveller. I am also a former Marine and posted about my time at Chu Lai. That post kind of went viral and I got a lot of interest from other veterans (mostly Marines) who have used the post to connect with other vets. Primarily I write about photography, writing, travelling and lifestyle. Occasionally I throw in stuff about my past. Obviously you came to the blog from that Chu Lai post . . . sorry. If my other posts have some interest for you I hope you continue to follow, if not I totally understand.

      Steve Dennstedt
      Sgt USMC 1965-1971 (Vietnam 1967-1968)

        • I guess there are a bunch of us around the world. 🙂 They never quite know what to do with us after the war(s) are over. Thank you for your service in Iraq my friend (tough war, that . . . glad I missed it). Semper Fi.

          • It is crazy where you meet fellow veterans. Thank you for your service as well. The jungles of Vietnam were much more dangerous than an air conditioned building in Iraq in 2008. (I was a winger haha)

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