What differentiates a professional photographer from a photographer? Before I start angering people, let me first say this is just my opinion, and the ideas I present are not written in any journal and are certainly open for debate. If you ask google, the simple answer is someone that earns a living as a photographer, or 50% of their income is derived from photography. That is a pretty simplistic method of differentiating between someone who has mastered his tool and craft versus someone who has no idea of the exposure triangle but makes 50% of their fifty thousand dollars a year income from photography. This blog will clarify the difference without giving any weight to income.
First of all, A professional photographer is a person who takes on photography to provide a sustainable income. For this reason, it is effortless to differentiate between the amateur and the professional. Not because of the amount of money that changes hands but rather the attention paid to customer service instead of cash. The professional photographer is very customer service oriented. They understand that a significant portion of their overall income is derived from referrals and repeat customers. Because of this, their primary concern is customer experience. There is a considerable difference in how the professional sees you, the client, also. The casual photographer doesn't see photography as a means of support and only sees it as supplemental income and thus sees the client as a one-time thing. They lack focus on overall experience because there is little need to look farther down the road to be concerned with your overall satisfaction. After all, they have no plans on seeing you again.
On the other hand, professional photographers understand that along with their work, overall satisfaction will lead you back for future sessions and eventually lead to more income.
The photographer is also a professional because of their ability to adjust to any situation within reason and still get the client's desired shot. Consider this for a moment. You've decided to hire a family friend to shoot your wedding that happens to have a professional-looking camera and takes good photos. He's a family friend and not a professional, so you get an unbelievable rate and can't be happier with your purchase.
The day of your wedding arrives, and you couldn't ask for a more beautiful day. However, a beautiful day for most people is not necessarily a beautiful day for photographers. It's a bright sunny day, and your 4 pm wedding has the straight sun overhead casting horrible shadows on faces. I mean some horror-movie-type shadows. Now your family friend with a professional-looking camera is well over his head. That professional-looking camera is, in reality, a consumer-grade camera, and that lens that takes excellent pictures does so in ideal conditions, which this is not. And the professional-grade lights needed to overpower the sun's harshness and get professional-grade wedding pictures are too expensive to be in his camera bag.
Now the day of reckoning has arrived. The pictures have been delivered and, for lack of a better term, look like "a hot mess." You are now upset with your photographer, asking professionals about fixing the pictures and wondering why everyone looks like zombies. You find yourself looking for answers, and the answer is directly in front of you. You got precisely what you paid for.
I know what you are thinking. I didn't pay for subpar photos! No, You didn't. Guess What? You didn't get inferior images. You got the best achievable pictures under the circumstances with the equipment available. Understand something the price professionals charge isn't necessarily because of the images they produce. Under ideal circumstances, many photographers can produce beautiful images. Professionals command the rates they get because of the ability to produce great photos in virtually any condition. That ability takes a significant investment in equipment and time that the amateur photographer usually doesn't feel necessary because the pressure to produce great images in any conditions does not generally exist.
I've intentionally saved my biggest pet peeve for last. Professional decorum. This point I want to make clear. Professional photographers should carry themselves like professionals of any other occupation involving people in various states of undress. Imagine if you will finishing your doctor's appointment and the doctor asks you out on a date. Aside from being unethical, it is downright creepy. Professional photographers do not view the art they produce as a personal playground. We should be expected to hold ourselves to a much higher standard. The fact that we are working close to society's standards of beauty on a daily basis should give us the self-control to understand and respect the responsibility that our clients trust us to have. Once a photographer violates this trust, they have forfeited the right to call themselves a professional, regardless of their work quality.
Whether or not you choose to go with a professional photographer is a matter of choice. Only you can decide what is suitable for your project. However, your choice can affect the final product you send out. I have been on the other side of things. I have been the person that people come to when it's time to attempt the fix on the photos that didn't quite come out right. As a matter of practice, I won't edit another photographer's work, and sometimes the fix is more expensive than getting the job done right the first time. Trust me when I say. If you want to slap a ten-dollar wig on your head, some half-ass done makeup, and do a shoot. Knock yourself out. You have no skin in the game, anyhow. However, if you've taken steps to ensure your shoot is the best it can be. Getting your hair, nails, and makeup done all binds you to try and put out a quality shoot. If that's the case, get the insurance you can only get from working with a professional.