If you happen to be a serious photographer, you may occasionally feel a bit of regret, or at least a touch of envy whenever you meet someone and discover that both of you love photography. Until you find out the the new friend that you made is actually a professional photographer. Is it right to feel jealous the he or she is a professional and you are not? If you are feeling a bit green while thinking about this, you should define what it actually means to be a professional. Then, you can think about the things you could do to find the fulfillment you are looking for as an amateur in the photography world, including learning new techniques, finding a community, specializing, devoting yourself to personal projects and giving back.
Define Professional Photographer
To start off with, you should clarify the major differences between an amateur and a professional. Looking at common definitions, professional photographers get their primary source of income from their photography business. You could argue what actually makes someone a professional photographer, but there is more.
When you are an amateur photographer, it does not mean that you are not actually serious. It will not mean that you are not excellent, either. It is best to clarify that the major difference between being an amateur or a professional is the distinction as to how you earn primary income. If you are a professional, then by definition you have to earn a living by way of your photography work. If you are an amateur, the chances are good that you also have other sources of income. It is not going to be necessary for you to sell your works to help you pay for the rent.
Find Fulfillment As An Amateur
Maybe defining work as a professional photographer in this way rather than what would be a reflection of whether your work is good and given you more of a perspective than simply being an amateur is a good thing. If you are feeling a bit floppy on the whole thing, and you think that being a professional in the photography world would be a lot better than working as an amateur, then start acting like a pro. Focus on all of the things that a pro would do that can make the rest of us respect them so very much. It is best to remember that the goal as an amateur is not to generate income, and it is to find fulfillment in photography. Here are some ideas:
Foster New Techniques
If you have a good friend that shoots macro flowers, and you are looking to shoot with them, it will be best for you to learn all of the macro photography techniques. Even if you are normally someone who simply photographs horses, it will make sense for you to learn how to understand all of the inner workings of shooting and processing shots on macro flowers and putting together a portfolio of your best images. The bottom line is that whenever an opportunity comes about for you to learn a new technique, including portrait lighting, macro photography or diving into Photoshop, take the time to learn. Professional photographers that have the ability to remain relevant are those who are always learning.
Remain Open To New Technologies And Ideas
There will always come a time when you are faced with new technology and different ways of doing things. Looking back now, can you imagine what it was like before the digital age came into play? The bottom line is that change is always happening and you need to pick and choose your battles as to what you want to learn and what you want to stay away from, as this can have a major impact on your success as a professional, or an amateur for that matter. For example, even if you are not a fan of HDR, you should remain open to learning the techniques that are involved, as they could be beneficial to you in the near future.
Most professional photographers will all know one another. All you have to do is take a look at the attendees for major conferences and you are going to see that well-known professionals will be diving into seminars and meetings with people they have been working with and around for many years. Even people who did not know each other very well at the beginning of the conference will generally feel like old friends by the time the event concludes. The best thing about this sort of professional camaraderie is that everyone comes together in the cyclone known as photography, including staff, volunteers, students, presenters and professionals.
If you visit such a conference, there will generally be plenty of opportunities where you can become a second shooter, a behind the scenes photographer or even participate in photo walks. Each of these opportunities will not magically appear after such conferences, but they are there. If you do not have a community, you will never find out about these opportunities. You are not going to be looking for your next paid gig, but if you network with the serious photographers and professionals, you will find the spark that will motivate you to pick up the camera.
When you find something incredible, you have to take advantage of it. For example, when you are in front of the Chicago Theater sign and there are rain puddles forming on the ground below, take the time to snap shots of the pools of light that are reflecting the iconic image. It is the opportunities like this that can bring you from the level of a beginner to a real photographer. You simply have to know what to look for.
There are very few professional photographers that will work in all genres today, with most picking a specialty. They are going to be known more specifically for fashion, weddings, wildlife, portraits, architecture, landscapes and more. Some photographers will specialize even more. For example, if there is a wedding photographer that specializes in documentary style, black and white photography for wedding shoots, brides are not going to be hiring him for traditional portraits of 12 bridesmaids standing in a row. Instead, they hire him for grabbing shots that other photographers will not see. When are an amateur, you can specialize and become an expert for your field in your local area.
Professional photographers will always give back. It is part of networking, but also a great opportunity to create images that are meaningful. Photographing animals that have been abandoned at a local rescue shelter, teaching the disadvantaged youth more about the world of photography, or even donating your time to charitable foundations and non-profit events to give back.
Professional photographers that shoot weddings all weekend while you were off taking pictures of flowers probably also has projects that he or she works on in their off-work hours. Personal projects are great for helping professionals to stay in touch with what made them photographers to begin with. They can sink themselves into these meaningful projects and remind them of why they are artists.
The professionals may not plan to show any personal images that they shoot, as they are simply creating them to enjoy themselves. By the same token, they could be creating a coffee table book filled with street photograph. Personal projects will also work the same way for an amateur, as they can help you to define yourself as an artist and give you meaningful creative outlets.
Redefine The Term Amateur
You can use these ideas whenever you shoot to find fulfillment. Just remember because your primary income may not be tied to photography, you will have more choices head of you where a professional may not. You do not have to compromise by taking a job just so that you can pay the rent.
You are making the images for you!
When a paid opportunity happens to come along, you can take it into consideration based upon the enjoyment that you will get out of it. You may even be able to buy a brand new lens that you have been looking for, instead of worrying about paying bills with it. If you are “just an amateur”, these are things that you do not have to stress over.
Are you an amateur or professional photographer? How do you define both of these? Do you happen to have an opinion as to whether or not it is better if you are a professional or an amateur? The more that you learn about these things, the more that you will be able to get out of your chosen path with photography.
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