What makes you a professional photographer?

Here at Mak Rabbitt Photography we hear this question a lot; what makes someone a professional photographer? Nowadays just about anyone with a Facebook page and a cell phone can set up shop as a "photographer".   Don't get me wrong there are a lot of talented people out there taking and selling images and I am not trying to take anything away from what they are doing, but as a wedding photographer our clients deserve more.
I first was asked this by my father at fourteen years old when I told him I wanted to become a professional photographer. My dad always wanted me to go to college and become a doctor or a lawyer, but I wanted nothing to do with college and I loved taking photos. He insisted I would never make money at this profession and there was no way to justify myself as a pro. Well dad was half right.
I photographed my first solo wedding professionally at 16 years old using a Hasselblad 501C, 2 film backs, a waist level finder, 80mm lens, hand-held Minolta light meter, and a single Metz Flash (HUGE Investment for a 16 year old!). My set-up looked something like this (image from Pintrest)

 

photo of hassselblab 501c camera

I'll never forget how nervous I was, I checked the film backs 10 times the night before, packed enough film and batteries to photograph 10 weddings and did not sleep a wink the night before.  To this day I still am restless the night beforehand as it's like Christmas Eve to me; the anticipation, excitement, planning the shots and moments in my head.
My mentor at the studio I was working for at the time reviewed my images following the wedding and said I did a great job for my first time out alone but I had a lot to learn.  He was not joking!  There was so much about weddings, photography, and running a business I was about to learn in the next twenty plus years, I wish I would of recorded it.
Back to the question, what makes you a professional photographer?  I do not think that there is one simple answer to this and it may be different for each and every person to qualify themselves as a professional.  If we look at the definition of professional:

1

a :  of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession

b :  engaged in one of the learned professions

c (1) :  characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) :  exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

2

a :  participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs professional golfer>

b :  having a particular profession as a permanent career professional soldier>

c :  engaged in by persons receiving financial return <professional football>

So as we can see by the definition, it is easy to conclude that basically anyone that charges for a images or their services can start referring to themselves as a professional photographer.  There really is no technical or ethical standards set in the industry that everyone with a camera must abide by in order to sell an image, it is art after all!

I always remembered those words from my father most of all, "How do you prove you are a professional photographer"?  It was later I stumbled upon the Professional Photographers of America in 2002 and immediately became a member.  It was through this organization that I found a way and a means to at least in my heart and mind legitimize myself as a professional photographer.
In 2005, I submitted for and achieved the classification as a Certified Professional Photographer. I was also proud to have my mother and father with me there in New Orleans when I took and passed the exam.  I did not find out till weeks later after my image judging was complete, but it was an honor to have them there with me.  Completing this has enabled me to not only abide by a set of standards required to maintain my certification status, but it also puts some meaning behind the words when I tell people I am a professional photographer.  Does this make me better than everyone, not at all, do you need to be certified to be a good photographer, I don't think so, but I don't think you need to be board certified to be a good doctor or good lawyer either, but if I am going on trial or going under the knife, guess which one I would choose.  I am not going to search the internet and look for Columbus Ohio Cheap Surgeon, or Columbus Ohio Cheap Lawyer.
The other thing that sets a professional apart is experience.  as I stated, I have been photographing weddings since I was 16, I'd like to say I have seen it all, but that is not true, I still get surprises now and then, however, for the most part, I am predictive, I know what is going to happen next, I know what to do if it rains on your wedding day, if the lights go out in the middle of the ceremony, if things are off time-line how to make up time, how to control a crowd, get quick organized family shots, make mom and grandma happy, keep the groom calm, keep the bride calm (Sara is really good at this!), work with your vendors to be collaborative to make your day what you wanted it to be.
The next thing that sets the professional apart is licensing and being a legitimate business to begin with.  This is where you should probably look first whenever interacting with a business is to see if they are legit, do they collect sales tax, are they registered with the state?  Check with your secretary of state's website and do a business name search for them.  If you do not see them, do not be afraid to ask if they are registered, or how they are registered with the state.  If you are not paying sales tax with your photographer, there is a good chance they are not legit.
Last I will go back to gear, my favorite subject, (one Sara hates).  If you recall what I carried with me to my first wedding, no I will shed some light on what Mak Rabbitt Photography is currently packing for our wedding tomorrow in Cleveland, Ohio.  Gear and back-up gear is essential to any photographer today.  As technology has improved, technical issues have arisen.  My Hasselblad 501c was a mechanical masterpiece that did not need batteries!  The Nikon D4s that I will be shouldering tomorrow probably has more technology in it than the first computer.  This is why we carry back up gear and back up for our back up.  Below are some photos of what we will be slinging around with us this weekend and every weekend. This does not include the copious amount of AA NiMH batteries needed to power the flashes!
      I bought Sara that Pink Pocket Wizard Plus III because she loves pink, they charge $49 extra for pink......Totally worth it!
I will admit, my gear bag is a little overboard, but, I like to be prepared and a wedding is a one time event, so we need to have what we need to cover every situation.  It's a good thing the Marines prepared me for packing loads of heavy gear long miles through tortuous terrain!  I used to complain about the weight of the Blad, and Metz, but now I long for the days of only having one lens to worry about!
In conclusion, these are just some of the things we suggest you review when looking at a wedding photographer, this is not all inclusive, ultimately you need to feel comfortable with who you are choosing to cover the most important day of your lives together.  When selecting your wedding photographer you should really look beyond pretty images, a facebook page and a website and really see what is it that makes them a professional photographer.  After all there is abundance of Fauxtographers out there stealing images from hard working professionals and making beautiful websites to claim the images as their own work.  Its a good thing these people are being exposed by a colleague of mine and her organization Photo Stealers.  Your Columbus Ohio Wedding Photographers love what we do and we are LEGIT, 2-LEGIT to QUIT!  Contact us today to make your wedding or event more memorable makrabbitt@gmail.com.
Tony, CPP