Professional Fetish

, None

by · Posted in: musings · photography business

Next time you hire a plumber, ask when she turned pro. When she gives you the inevitable cockeyed look say, “professional—when did you make the leap to becoming a professional plumber?” Try it at the grocery store with the checker, or at the bank, or when you’re getting your oil changed. What you’ll find is that very few people self-identify with the modifier ‘professional.’ They’re carpenters not professional carpenters; mechanics, not pro mechanics.

But spend some time in the photography community and you'll begin to wonder if everyone has developed some bizarre verbal tic. It’s every other word from these pro photographers with their pro cameras and pro lenses. It’s not enough that you can put all this pro gear in a lowepro bag, you can even put it in a lowepro pro bag. What is it that has made photographers fall so deeply in love with their professional status, especially when it is one of the least verifiable, most-easily claimed statuses in the world?

The photography community is noteworthy, and in a category with only a handful of others, not because of its professionals, but because of its amateurs. Very few fields have as strong and passionate an amateur base as photography. This is a blessing, but for some reason we use the word amateur as a slight, something to escape and aspire against, forgetting the word’s Latin pedigree: amare—to love.

This professional fetish combined with the large number of non-professionals yearning to cast aside their amateur status have created an enormous trade of people willing to take your money to help you ‘go pro.’ At times it seems like the industry for advice on becoming a professional photographer is larger than professional photography itself. Many of the photographers who are most outspoken about their professional status are those who market primarily to other photographers. Pros in the ‘golf pro’ sense. Consultants, websites, books, blogs, magazines: they’re all ready to sell you the secret to success before you’ve even landed your first assignment. By the time you’re done, your elevator speech will be honed to a perfect edge, you’ll have the most SEO-ized website in the world, you’ll be a superstar of social media (if only by the numbers), and you will have a storehouse of bromides and platitudes about this mysterious business of photography. But you will still likely be where you started. That’s because if you learned anything from the process, it’s that there is no secret. A photography business is just a business. It works like every other business: identify a market, create a product to serve that market, sell the product to that market. Work hard, keep decent records, learn a few finer points about intellectual property, and develop meaningful relationships within your industry. You don’t need to pay a lot of money to a stable of gurus.

The most difficult thing is to run this ordinary, sometimes grinding, business without forgetting why you are doing it in the first place. What we really need as photographers is advice on how to embrace our inner amateur, not more tired tips on turning “pro.”