13 Traits That Make a Photographer “Professional”


This appears to be a big week for Yahoo! with their $1 billion Tumblr acquisition announcement followed by a number of changes to their Flickr service. Exciting stuff in the tech world. However, amid the Yahoo! hoopla, CEO Marissa Mayer managed to insult the entire professional photography community with her comments, being widely interpreted as “there’s no such thing as professional photographers” anymore.

Oops. Now, we’ve all been in a position where an off-the-cuff comment doesn’t come out as intended, fair enough. But this one continues to sit poorly with me. Here’s the actual quote, in context:

…there’s no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there’s everything is professional photographers [sic]. Certainly there is varying levels of skills, but we didn’t want to have a Flickr Pro anymore, we wanted everyone to have professional quality photos, space, and sharing.

OK, so we are all now “photographers” thanks to the fact that a camera is always with us. Sure, I buy that. I’ve taken more than a handful of good photos with help from my inexpensive DSLR and a few good lenses. And, I’m as guilty as everyone else when it comes to Instagramming my kids and my dinner (only the stuff I cook, mind you).


We can all apply lovely filters and share our images via websites, social networks, contests, and even on any number of corporate “communities” where brands may showcase user generated photos. But let’s be very clear… NONE of these tools makes us anything close to “professional” and the role of the real professional photographer is very much alive and in demand.

I’ve had the good fortune of surrounding myself with professional photographers for several years. And from them, I’ve learned that there are more than a handful of traits that define a professional photographer. So, for Marissa Mayer and anyone else who may feel that there’s “no such thing” as a professional photographer anymore, I submit the following list.

A professional photographer…

  1. Approaches a project in a manner that shows respect for both the subject and the client’s goal.
  2. Works with a client to achieve that goal under specific budget constraints.
  3. Delivers the end result, as agreed upon, on time and in a manner that shows the client’s most critical needs are understood.
  4. Finds ways to make a client’s life easier from the beginning of a project to the end, including saving them time and making them look like a hero.
  5. Is prepared to face any problem with a creative solution, from the most dire to the off-the-wall.
  6. Takes criticism and adjusts (quickly) in order to get the job done.
  7. Can completely pivot among all kinds of changing circumstances.
  8. Presents, negotiates, agrees, executes, invoices, and follows up with consistency and personal pride.
  9. Knows how to pitch and market oneself with accuracy so the promised service is what’s delivered.
  10. Researches the subject of a story and contributes insights and vision that make the end result better.
  11. Builds rapport with a subject in a way that gains unique access, makes them more comfortable, or exposes their personality.
  12. Keeps one’s composure while dodging bombs, borders, and mobs, linebackers and foul balls, sharks, elephants, horses, and bees, roadies, divas, tornadoes, and brides and any other incoming threats or obstacles, and still gets the job done.

And to the final one (#13) I’ll add – there’s nobody I’ve met on this planet who can tell stories like a professional photographer can. Period.

Filters, “likes”, and terabytes of storage don’t make any of us any more “professional”. Being a professional is about how photographers conduct themselves while carrying out their projects and serving their clients. These are skills that are learned and honed, and those who excel at it deserve our respect.

Please don’t hesitate to add to this list, I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few.

P.S. As of this afternoon, Marissa Mayer has issued a clarification via Twitter. And, I continue to stand by items 1-13, above.

About the author: Andrew Fingerman is the CEO of PhotoShelter. This article originally appeared here.

Image credits: Header photograph by Instagram photo by Roger Kisby, Federal Building Photographers by compujeramey

  • Thanassi Karageorgiou

    Ditto. This site is going the way of Gizmodo after the iPhone 4 scandal. I went from a daily reader to checking in once every 3 months or so. Any other good photo blogs you read, and would care to share?

  • Larry Larsen

    I conclude from your article that to be “professional” photographer it is all about a.. kissing the client. I wish to remain a hobbyist forever where the image is the most important.

  • Andersen

    Hehe, exactly!

  • D.G.

    Now I’m sad, my camera can’t take a battery grip… :-(

  • D.G. Brown

    You’re bored in the hospital waiting room so you decide to talk to the random guy sitting next to you. You say “Hi, I’m Jim!” He says “Hi Jim! I’m Pete. So, what do you do?” If your answer does not include the word “photographer” anywhere in it, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not a pro.

  • Tara Robichaud

    I’m just really confused. I’ve always thought that the distinction between a professional and amateur is that a professional photographer has a long-term, full time career in photography: i.e. they make enough profit to make a full time living providing photography services- without another part time or unrelated job. If this is an accurate description, then I guess Marissa thinks that NO photographers work full time at photography alone, since ‘everyone’ is a professional photographer. It’s just baffling.

  • Gman

    “An amateur practices until he can get it right. A professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.” – anon

  • Raymond Larose

    I always stop reading when someone references Kenny-boy.

  • Ryan Brenizer

    You’re a professional photographer if you’ll eventually starve to death if you stop taking photos. That’s it.

  • Diana204

    15. Has the proper tools/equipment to do the job right the first time.
    16. Understands how to use light correctly to enhance the subject.
    17. Technically experienced to solve all types of challenges.
    18. Is properly insured.

  • Ewen Rankin

    You missed…’Gets Paid’

    Don’t confuse the status of having something as a ‘profession’ and ‘professionalism’

    Poor Professional Photographers the world over constantly strive to set themselves apart by denigrating those they believe are ‘stealing their business’ and making up BS lists like this one.

    Shut up. Take better images. Get KNOWN for taking better images. Keep your customers in awe of what you produce. Don’t rip people off. Simple

    Oh and before you tell me what you think I am…My bank manager will tell you I’m a professional photographer and the customers that keep coming back for work will attest to my ‘professionalism’…And its not a list.

  • ren

    agreed. some people are just conceited..hehe

  • Peter

    One does not define themselves as a ‘pro’ – You become a pro once others ( clients, peers, ect ) see you as a pro

  • AGuest

    I guess if I have a question about a cheeseburger I can ask the pro’s working the cash at McDonalds about it.

    I believe the words you are looking for are “professional photographer” in this case and not professionals in general.

  • Jymmi Davis

    A pro photographer also cares more about his or her work of ART rather yhan how much money it can make them.

  • Roman

    I would say that professional photographer is one that makes his major part of income from photography. Anyone can make couple hundreds but to run a successful business is another story.

  • gizman

    “lel”?,,,,,love it!

  • gizman

    now that’s what I thought but hey, I love his list.

  • Roman

    People shoot real estate for $50. They have to run from property to property to make their income. There is no time for tripod, WB, or post. And realtors don’t have a good taste anyway :D

  • MarvinB7

    EXACTLY! Except, I do all of those things. RAISE the bar. Gain the client base. Educate them on the process. A firm foundation, to be sure.

  • Roman

    1TB is good for people who don’t know how to re-size a picture. Why to upload a picture that has bigger resolution than average screen.

  • Roman

    It is good why to build experience and switch clientele from agents to architects and designers. But it is hard to compete on the real state market where almost every agent is price-shopping.

  • SEA7

    Mr. Fingerman forgot item #0 which he assumes but does not state as an item – you are a professional if you have a CLIENT. Somebody pays you to take pictures. (great name for a photographer – we don’t need film or chemicals anymore but you gotta have fingers!)
    How much you get paid is really the question and reminds me of the quote attributed to many famous men:
    Guy: “If I gave you a million dollars, would you sleep with me?”
    Girl: “A million dollars is a lot of money, and you don’t look that bad, so I guess I would consider it”
    Guy: “Ok, since I don’t have a million dollars, would you sleep with me for $100?”
    Girl: (outraged) “What kind of girl do you think I am?”
    Guy: “We’ve already established the answer to that question. Now we’re just negotiating the price”
    It’s all about the money.

  • Duke Shin


  • A.G. Photography

    You forgot something:
    A PROFESSIONAL Photographer pays their mortgage out of photography, and not some other unrelated day job, and is always Educated, Licensed, Insured, Registers Copyright & PAYS TAXES!!!!! You know why? because for “professionals” photography is a BUSINESS, and not a “hobby”!

  • Aneres

    Doesn’t have to spend a lot of time telling other people how great they are because people can actually see it for themselves.

  • Jay

    A professional takes beautiful pictures for money. An amateur does the same for the love of photography. I’d like to forever be an amateur.

  • Corey Smith

    I think thats my problem. I always think i should have done some thing different and it drives me nuts. I dont know if it makes me just a perfectionist. I think it should be

    14. ) – Never stops learning about photography

  • Corey Smith

    My D600 has a battery grip. I think that this point is moot. As every one by now has seen the Fstoppers iphone photo shoot. You can get a good photo from any camera if you know how to use it and capture the photo with good light in a creative mind set.

  • cmcphotography

    I believe that yes anyone can take a good photo. However, unless you have that creative mind to shot that unique photo, believe in what you are taking a photo of and can really tell a story from the photo you are taking you are more of a professional photographer then just an “social media” photographer

  • Kaitlin

    14.) Having a laminated badge with your name on it. ;D