Professionals Vs Amateurs

(Warning – this article contains some traces of sarcasm, tread carefully.) I remember with great fondness (read, a sickening sense of familiarity and fear of internet trolls) some of the discussions that would crop up every few months on various photography forums as to the validity of the labels amateurs and professionals. These discussions would circle round and round as people argued about how much money they did or didn’t make from photography, whether they’d been published or not, whether it was just an attitude, or simply what cameras they owned. In doing so they improved the world of photography immeasurably, and have helped us all move up to the sun lit uplands of enlightenment which those of us who wield a camera on a daily basis now inhabit.

Amateurs vs Professionals

STOP!  Before replying to that post about why only amateurs use Sony cameras, think – could those bytes of data you are about to use up be employed more usefully elsewhere?  Such as in a video of a Kitten playing in a box?

Personally, I think amateur and professional are simply different ways of behaving, but more than that, I don’t believe there’s a perfect linear progression from amateur to professional with no slipping back or feedback between the two. There’s a very determinist notion that this progression is what everyone aspires to, and that professionals must by default be better than amateurs. You can probably guess by the fact I’m writing this post, that I don’t agree with this one bit!

Many amateurs look up to professionals – they’ve usually got more toys to play with, and above all it appears (superficially at least) that they’re getting paid money to do something that the amateur enjoys. Of course, many amateurs don’t see how much hard work, and how much tedious admin, marketing, and the rest makes up the actual working life of the average pro. Some pro’s I know spend about 10% of their time actually taking pictures, which is probably less than a few amateurs!

Progression - Amateurs vs ProfessionalsMy progression from amateur to professional seems to have involved getting muddy, and losing hair.


It’s not all one way though, and in recent years I’ve found it very useful to assume what you could call an “amateur” mindset. By this I simply mean coming to my subjects and jobs with as fresh a set of eyes as I can, in order to generate new ideas. Being familiar with your subject matter as a professional can be a big advantage. In my case more than 300 shoots for Men’s Fitness magazine, and more than 300 shoots for Golf Monthly has meant that I know a fair bit about those 2 areas, and as such I can produce work very easily and quickly, without needing to have everything explained to me several times. This familiarity makes it easy to slip into autopilot though, defaulting to the same lighting setups, the same sort of shots, and always working with the same people. Coming up with new ideas becomes a challenge, and one trick that can really help is to try and walk into shoots and imagine I’ve never shot anything like this before – in some ways how an amateur would. What interests me about this situation, this person, this location, or this activity? Now, try and come up with some images that express that, rather than resorting to the usual tried and tested shots.

Just as tired and jaded pro’s like me can benefit from a more open-minded, “amateur” mindset, amateurs could benefit from a few professional habits. I don’t mean they should start charging for everything they do, just that they could adopt a few working methods and reap the benefits:

  • First off, stop using “picture modes”. No professional camera has them (this should be a clue), and no professional I know ever uses them. Use manual, or if you’re really in trouble, aperture priority, and actually start to learn about the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, rather than letting the camera make the decisions.
  • Tighten up some of your kit basics – make sure you always carry spare batteries, spare memory cards, some basic tools like a blower brush and a multi-tool, and invest in decent gear that will last years – such as a proper tripod – rather than making a false economy.
  • It is never too early in your career to develop a proper workflow, as you’ll only regret it when work goes missing, or cards get corrupted. You don’t need to go to the same lengths that pro’s go to, with RAID drives, and multiple redundant backups, but since portable hard drives and cloud storage are now so cheap, there’s really no excuse not to back your stuff up properly.
  • Buy gear that’s either called “professional”, or has got the word “professional” printed on it. This makes your shots 37% better immediately, and makes people respect you more.*
Radio TriggerI am clearly a professional, as more than 56% of my equipment has “professional” written on it.  So there. 
  • Rather than always just going out on a shoot, and seeing what happens, spend a little time planning the sort of thing you want to shoot in advance. Professionals don’t go out on a job with no idea of what they’re doing – at least, not if they want to stay employed for long – and to increase your chances of getting impressive results you’ll do well to think things through up front.
  • Start using a logbook. Go on, you know you want to!

* May not be 100% true – your mileage may vary.

Right, that’s that eternal argument sorted. Coming next, Nikon vs Canon, to be followed by film vs digital and primes vs zooms, and black coffee vs the milky kind.
(Black obviously – what are you, some kind of pervert? Who in their right mind puts milk in coffee?)

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