This question comes about for two particular reasons. The first is that it has been influenced in part by a recent blog post called Who Am I,written by my good friend Glyn Dewis who was a guest blogger on Scott Kelby’s blog, where Glyn talks about the struggle to define who we are, or rather who he is in life and with his photography. The second is because it was brought to my attention that a recent comment on a social media site by another photographer had questioned the professionalism of other photographer/s by basically warning their clients that anyone can get a DSLR and call themselves a pro and to trust no one but them. It was concerned friends who pointed out they thought it was directed at me.
So what is professionalism, what does it mean to me, and do I use the title with ease?
Professionalism is very much a personal perception thing. What one person would consider to be professional may well differ greatly from what the next person would. For me its about knowing my job inside out, from the use of my gear, to the processing of images, to the promotion of my business, to the way I act with and treat clients, to the products I supply and the after care I give.
Some people would say the second you start to earn money from photography is the second you can give yourself the pro tag. Why? I’m not so sure that this does indeed a qualify anyone to call themselves a professional, after all there are cowboy builders, electricians, plumbers, decorators, kitchen fitters, double glazing fitters etc etc who will all charge money, yet do such a shoddy job that their unfortunate clients would call them all the names under the sun, but professional would never be one of them. So why should it apply with photography if a shoddy product is supplied.
So does the pro tag hang easily with me?
Well the short answer is no. Its has been a constant struggle of ups and downs throughout the past few years, judging my work against others, feeling that it is never good enough and being overly self critical. At points my self confidence would be so low I felt I would be no more than a fraud by trying to earn a living from photography. I have never been comfortable with the title ‘professional’ and it had always been absent from all of my business cards and advertising, right up until my last set was done a few weeks ago. It is also now present on my website and I now feel I’m a lot more comfortable with it, as if I’ve kind of earned it in a way. Not in the financial sense, but in the sense that I now have the ability to provide a high enough quality of service and product to be truly perceived as a professional by my potential and actual clients from portraits to weddings and on in to product shoots as well.
So why the sudden change of attitude towards myself?
Well it all stems from being told by friends and family “wow, that’s a cracking picture……you should be a photographer!”. It’s what got me started in the first place. My interest grew because of their opinion, and because I really enjoy it. As my interest grew, my knowledge of what a good photograph was grew to, and in some respects quicker than my actual ability to take a great photo did. Its this ratio that causes the problem. You never really see any improvement in your own work as you learn along the way, but you constantly notice other peoples work. Specifically people you look up to, those who are at the top of their game, you constantly rate yourself against them, every time you do you come up short and it knocks your confidence for six. This scenario will probably sound familiar to any creative in life, be it an artist, photographer, musician, actor. They will all no doubt suffer the same self doubt at some stage in their career.
I’ve been lucky enough that my ability to take good pictures has caught up with my knowledge of what is a good picture and its taken a lot of practice, learning, listening to advice, using that advice (which is more important than just listening to it) and then far more practice but its not this alone that has given me the total confidence to to call myself a professional. It has come from other photographers, those of whom I have looked up to, and still do. Other pro’s who know what they are doing and what they are talking about. It has come from the fact I have had praise and reassurance from them that what I am doing is professional.
The photography social circle is amazingly friendly, helpful and honest. The first two of these descriptions may seem quite odd when you think why would they be friendly and helpful to someone who could well be a local business rival? Well it’s because they are professional enough to realise that if they are good enough at what they do, then why would it affect their own businesses. Well it won’t, not if your good enough. Those who fear rivals only do so because they know they are providing an inferior product and their business will suffer if someone better turns up. That’s my thoughts on it, and that’s why from here on in I’m ignoring the fact that message may well have been aimed at me, what does it matter to me, I’ll let my pictures do the talking.
Now having said all this I’m not daft enough to think I’m the best there is out there, far from it. I have loads more to learn, and probably always will, specially as new technology arrives but I will embrace it and perfect it all with the aim of providing a first class service to the public, that’s the professional thing to do. In any case I enjoy what I do to the point I wish I had started all this 15 years ago, not 5 years ago but I can’t turn back time, it is a passion of mine and I didn’t include the word in my business name for no good reason.
What I can do though is send a massive message of thanks to some very special and very talented people who have taught me a lot, given me advice, kicked me up the rear end when needed, provided honest criticism and praise where applicable, and generally being an inspiration and they are Scot Baston, Juliette Emilie, Shelly Lovegrove, Glyn Dewis, Derek Anson, Stewart Smith, Richard Hales and Andy Wills. These fine people have all had some influence over the direction I have taken my photography, and whether they know it or not they all deserve thanks, even if its for as little as me loving their work and wanting to somehow achieve the same level brilliance that they display.
There is one other reason for my rise in self confidence, and that comes from the reaction I get from my recent clients, and my potential new clients, who have all expressed their happiness at my work and sought my services for the future. This is so important to me and always will be, its what drives me on to be better and to continue to succeed and it is essentially what gives me the confidence to continue on what I am doing, building my business in the knowledge that I provide a pleasing product for my clients.
So, Am I A Professional?
In my eyes, with my dedication, knowledge, understanding of my camera, skill with the lights, fun & friendly approach to working with my clients, understanding and use of Lightroom and Photoshop, the end product given to clients and the happy client base, which is continuing to grow, then the answer for me is most definitely Yes!…….but its really not for me to decide or judge, it’s for the customer to decide, use your own judgement, look at the pictures in front of you and work out who the true professionals are