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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