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Kirk Gittings
6-Dec-2006, 16:52
Intersting article on what makes a pro, that I noticed linked on the RM Stock Photographer Info site http://www.rmstockphoto.com/ see "An Old Story" or the link below.

"the difference between a pro photographer and an amateur is that the amateur just hasn't gotten paid yet."

http://stockasylum.com/text-pages/articles/a5wn122006-pro-am.htm

Frank Petronio
6-Dec-2006, 17:00
I haven't read it but IMHO the main difference is in photo editing. The higher up the food chain you get the better at editing people are.

Walter Calahan
6-Dec-2006, 17:19
I've always joked that the difference between a professional and an amateur is the professional knows when to be lucky.

My thinking goes along this line. There's a lot of luck in getting the moment. An amateur can be lucky in getting the moment, but the professional works very hard to assure that all the technical and aesthetic elements are in place so when luck strikes, it is captured as an image.

There are many people who don't make a living with photography, but have the same skill sets as a professional. I consider such people professional in every word except the paycheck.

Kirk Gittings
6-Dec-2006, 17:34
The higher up the food chain you get the better at editing people are. Frank

There is a surprising amount of truth in this statement especially if you include those images that you edit out before you take them because you know they will not work or are not interesting enough to ever be printed.

Brian K
6-Dec-2006, 18:52
The biggest difference between a pro and an amateur is that a real pro ALWAYS comes back with really good photography no matter what the circumstances. No excuses, no need for luck, a pro makes their own luck. A real pro has the necessary experience and training to always prevail. Amateurs can afford to fail, they can afford to blow a photo, a pro can not be so cavalier.

The quote "the difference between a pro photographer and an amateur is that the amateur just hasn't gotten paid yet." is really clueless. This is the illusion that many amateur photographers have. "Just give me the same gear as the pro and I can do the job just as well". Hence all the gear with the "pro" label on it. When you just commited to a full page ad in a national magazine that requires that the ad be in the magazine's hands the next day, or you end up paying $400,000 for a blank page and lose your job, I doubt if you'd hire an amateur.

Kirk Gittings
6-Dec-2006, 18:59
My assistant, Jim Hunter, (who is managing editor of RM Stock Photographer info by the way), has this bit of wisdom tagged to each of his emails:


"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur."- Red Adair

paulr
6-Dec-2006, 20:05
I haven't read it but IMHO the main difference is in photo editing. The higher up the food chain you get the better at editing people are.

There's probably truth to that in any kind of photography. And there's some good advice wrapped up in it: if you want to be better, find good editors to help you. They don't have to be professional editors, just people who are good at it, and who can bring different perspectives to your work.

Your work will appear to improve instantly, and you'll probably learn a few things every time you go through it.

paulr
6-Dec-2006, 21:28
I don't think there's anything implicit in being a pro about being an excellent photographer. Many pros are excellent, many more merely competent and reliable. Many are capable of doing a great job on a huge range of assignments, many others are specialists.

A good friend of mine who's been a succesful pro for a long time doesn't consider himself a particularly good photographer. But he says he's brilliant at customer service. He always makes sure the customers get what they want and feel good about it. In his experience this has a lot more to do with his ability to listen than with his technical skill (which is quite good) or his artistic vision (which is nothing to write home about).

As far as pure technical ability, I have no doubt that professional experience gives a ton of helpful practice. When i've photographed in the field with friends who do commercial work for their day jobs, I'm usually impressed by how fast they are at handling the nuts and bolts of it all.

Frank Petronio
6-Dec-2006, 21:43
I worked for a "pro" who drank a fifth of scotch every afternoon and all his film looked great. He was the best tabletop tog in town.

Of course if I did tabletop all day, all year, I'd need to drink like that too.

Ole Tjugen
6-Dec-2006, 23:30
"the difference between a pro photographer and an amateur is that the amateur just hasn't gotten paid yet."

I disagree. I'm an amateur, and I have been paid.

A pro needs to be paid, and needs to do the job well enough to get paid. I don't need to get paid, so I can do photography just because I want to.

I bought one of my cameras (indirectly) from a local pro, and he developed my first 4x5" chromes for me. His first comment was "what - only one exposure of each subject??"
The second comment was "wow - I wish I could go out and take a picture of something just because I feel like it".

That, to me, sums up the difference.

QT Luong
7-Dec-2006, 00:07
One has to put the remark in the context of stock photography. All of the sudden, it makes more sense.

Brian K
7-Dec-2006, 04:48
One has to put the remark in the context of stock photography. All of the sudden, it makes more sense.

QT I have to dissagree with you. Stock photography is not really a pro realm anymore. Stock photography, with the exception of the kind of work that was first assigned and then ended up in stock after it's intended use was fulfilled such as editorial work, has become more and more the realm of amateurs. It's more being in the right place at the right time than going out and making a photo on demand which is later sold for stock.

In a day when even the most inexperienced amateur can produce an auto focused, auto exposed image, that can be further cleaned up or perfected in the computer, and stored in huge quantities digitally, it is in the best interest of stock agencies to collect as many competent images of a different subject as are available. With the vast army of amateur photographers out there shooting thousands of digital exposures each, versus the comparatively tiny percentage of professionals doing the same, a stock agency can benefit from the sheer numbers of amateurs and their huge geographical distribution. Therefore many amatuers can sell stock photos even if they only get one decent shot out of a thousand. However with assignment work, if you blow the assignment it's rare to get a second chance. Who is the true professional here?

Joe Lipka
7-Dec-2006, 04:51
Saw the advertisement that said an amateur will try to get it right one time. A Professional will practice until he can't do it wrong. The realization that one has to practice constantly to perform at the highest level all the time is the difference between an amateur and a professional.

The quote from Red Adair is wonderful. Once you understand that Red Adair's job was extinguishing oil well fires you understand the truth and wisdom in the statement.

chris jordan
7-Dec-2006, 08:12
I have a different view of it. First, not all professional photographers do assignment work. I think of myself as a professional photographer (that's my sole source of income), but I have only done one assignment in my life, which was for Smithsoniam Magazine. And I have never sold an image to a stock agency. I also have seen lots of extremely competent amateur photographers, even brilliant ones, as well as lots of pretty dull professional work, as well as vice-versa.

So my own criteria is this: a professional photographer is one who has taken the risk of making photography his/her full-time living. Some do it out of a sense of passion and calling, others do it because they are good at it and it seems an easier path, and others might do it for other reasons. But all professional photographers have taken that risk (for better or for worse), and no amateurs have. That to me is the distinguishing factor. How they end up after taking that risk--doing good or bad work, being passionate or bored, famous or not--is a separate thing.

~cj

Marko
7-Dec-2006, 08:14
My assistant, Jim Hunter, (who is managing editor of RM Stock Photographer info by the way), has this bit of wisdom tagged to each of his emails:


"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur."- Red Adair

We often use a similar saying in my business: "If you think design is expensive, just think how much bad design will cost you!"


Saw the advertisement that said an amateur will try to get it right one time. A Professional will practice until he can't do it wrong. The realization that one has to practice constantly to perform at the highest level all the time is the difference between an amateur and a professional.

And this is true with just about any activity. A professional is paid for his time and he/she can - must! - afford the resources and expenses of doing things right, something that very few amateurs can. Photography is a profession in which resources play a huge role and practice comes at a huge cost. There has to be a difference between a professional and an amateur or it would quickly cease being a profession.

Another difference is that an amateur does what an amateur wants or likes. A professional, on the other hand, produces what the client wants.

Jim Hunter
7-Dec-2006, 09:30
Since Kirk started this thread and there has been some great discussion on what makes a pro, I'll throw out another article, "Value of a Professional Photographer". This was posted on About the Image over a year ago. You can find the article here:
http://www.abouttheimage.com/2005/08/the_value_of_a_.html

QT Luong
7-Dec-2006, 10:15
QT I have to dissagree with you. Stock photography is not really a pro realm anymore

Brian, you illustrate perfectly my point (although have you heard of Tom Grill ?). Now how do you call someone who makes his living by licensing stock photography at the exclusion of any assignment ?

Brian Ellis
7-Dec-2006, 10:36
I always thought the difference was that the clients paid for the pro's equipment, amateurs have to pay for it themselves. And the pros get to write off their costs.

Norm Buchanan
7-Dec-2006, 10:56
Personally I find this an intriguing question. I am a professional in a very different field (physics). I consider myself a professional (physicist) because people come to me when they want a particular problem solved - AND - I get paid to solve it. So from a semantic point of view I guess that is what "makes a pro". That isn't to say that others couldn't do the same thing, but are they the ones doing it and getting paid for it.

Now, I would ask what does it mean to be a pro. While I am in a different field than photography (actually I just capture "images" of things that are a thousand-billion times smaller than a traditional photographer would capture), I love photography more than anything else I do. I have even considered giving up my current career and trying to make a go of photography - to become a pro photographer. If I ignore the fact that I question my own talent, or lack thereof, I am afraid of losing a very good income, and all other cowardly concerns you can think of, I realize that photography _may_ lose something. In my current amateur situation I have the luxury of photographing what I want. I dream up little projects and places I'd like to photograph and there is no-one telling me that isn't what they want or isn't how they would do it. So in summing up I would say amateur=freedom while pro=working to specification.

Hmmm, the sad thing is that working to spec in photography doesn't sound so bad to me. Damn! I was trying to convince myself I am happy not being a pro photographer. Sorry, I don't think I contributed to the answer here...

Kirk Gittings
7-Dec-2006, 11:16
I know many so called amatuers who do professional level work, many on this very forum who have other "paying" careers. There are some advantages to not having to make a living off of your photography, like not burning yourself out doing crappy images for clueless clients. To people like Norm above I would say to think twice before you turn something you love doing into something you have to do to pay the bills.

Personally I look more at the level of someones images in defining who is at a "pro level" rather than who is making a living at it.

Brian K
7-Dec-2006, 11:28
Brian, you illustrate perfectly my point (although have you heard of Tom Grill ?). Now how do you call someone who makes his living by licensing stock photography at the exclusion of any assignment ?

QT, I don't determine whether someone is a professional by how much money they make with photography. I know a few amateurs who can produce professional quality work on demand whenever they want, and I have known professional photographers who were unprofessional and were only as good as their assistants that day. Believe me I've met many of those. And even some of the very well known are incapable of producing even the most rudimentary image without nearly all of the photographic work being done by others.

As for Tom Grill, I looked up his work and he seems to mostly do stock people work. The very generic kind, that does have a fairly large market. I know that many of the stock agencies have lists of images that have been recently asked for and they send those lists to photographers who may choose to shoot them on spec. I don't know how Tom Grill works, but he may very well work that way. Working purely on assignment with a deadline, high end clients with vast experience at assigning photography milling around and large amounts of money at stake tends to separate the men from the boys. Believe me when the client you are working with that day spent the previous week working with someone like Irving Penn you know the bar is set high.

Brian Ellis, you know of clients who buy their photographers equipment?!!! About equipment. An amateur only has to have the gear that they want. A pro has to have the gear that his client's images require. A pro with any sense has redundancy with all his gear, what if the deadline is tomorrow, it's midnight and your camera or lens or strobe pack breaks?. I had to have enough gear to be able to set up 4 complex LF sets simultaneously. Four Sinars all with auto ap or expolux shutters, redundant lenses, 4 camera stands, and enough lighting, light stands, clamps, reflectors, fill cards, etc. I would have much preferred to have that money in my pocket. An amateur has that choice, I didn't.

Robert Oliver
7-Dec-2006, 11:54
The difference is marketing. Jobs usually happen because a photographer labors to get his/her name out there and the right person at the right time notices. Once the name is established it is much easier to get more work. It's just like all great photographs are made when skill and preparation meet luck.

Some very mediocre photographers make a great living because they market themselves very well.

Some very talented photographers don't get work becuase they don't.

(I spent the last 15 years as a "professional" before retiring to go after a teaching credential/degree)

Oren Grad
7-Dec-2006, 12:08
Pro = someone who uses his cameras too much.

Yesterday I got back a Pentax LX that I'd sent to Pentax for an overhaul. The fine print on the invoice says that the warranty on the repairs is only six months, instead of Pentax's usual one year, because the LX is considered a "pro" product. :(

roteague
7-Dec-2006, 12:14
Some very mediocre photographers make a great living because they market themselves very well.

Some very talented photographers don't get work becuase they don't.

Like: http://www.douglaspeebles.com/

Some would consider his work excellent, some mediocre. Different opinions of the same persons work. The point is that there is room for all types.

QT Luong
7-Dec-2006, 14:32
Why so many people want to equate professional photography and assignment photography while there exists two different words in the English language ?

Jim Hunter
7-Dec-2006, 14:36
Why so so many people want to equate professional photography and assignment photography while there exists two different words in the English language ?

And what about technical and scientific photography or service photography like portraits and weddings. There are many "professionals" in those fields as well. Professional photography as a whole has many sub-specialties just like many other professions.

QT Luong
7-Dec-2006, 14:42
BTW, Brian, since you didn't do so, I'll answer my question myself. Roger Ressmeyer (a "man" by your criteria) calls them "professional amateurs". Enlightening, isn't it ?

Steve J Murray
7-Dec-2006, 14:50
To me a professional photographer is simply one who gets paid for photographing something, whether its a wedding, machine parts for a catalog, portraits, architecture, etc. It often has little to do with artistic ability or creativity, and more to do with having the skill and knowlege to do what it required by the hiring party, and to do it in a timely fashion, and within certain cost paramaters.

Kirk Gittings
7-Dec-2006, 15:14
By that definition, which is the most common of course, I know a few "professional" photographers who do not do professional level work.

squiress
7-Dec-2006, 17:01
... I know a few "professional" photographers who do not do professional level work.

I would venture to say they probably won't be pros for a very long time. Even the IRS says you have to make money three out of five years in order to claim deductions. Without satisfying customers, it's unlikely they will survive. ;)

Eric Biggerstaff
7-Dec-2006, 20:05
To me this is pretty simple, a professional photographer is anyone whose primary source of income comes from the act(s) of photography. It has nothing to do with talent, or ambition, or ability or quality of work. It is based on how one decides to make a living.

Bobby Jones was probably the greatest golfer of all time, and he remained an amateur his entire career. Now, he did make a great deal of income from the golf industry for sure, but his competitive days were spent as a good old amateur.

There are many dedicated amateur photographers whose work is the equal of, or better than, many of the pro's, but they remain "amateurs" for various reasons. For me, a professional is a person whose living is made from the act of creating, selling and/or teaching photography in all of it's various forms.

paulr
7-Dec-2006, 20:11
The question was what makes a professional photographer, not what makes a great one.

Having wiled away more than a few afternoons at design studios looking at photo portfolios, I can say with some confidence that not all pros are great. This should be good news to the pros on the list, not something to get defensive about! how nice is it that all your competitors aren't geniuses?

Jim Jones
7-Dec-2006, 21:13
The word amateur implies doing something for the love of it. I'm an amateur who has had to produce professional quality photos, but I'm still an amateur. There's much that a full-time pro must achieve that I don't worry about. There are things that I can do better because I can do it to my own standards, rather than make it pay. There isn't a sharp distinction between competant amateurs and professionals. Many photos for which Atget is justly admired were made because he had a passion for photography, not because he had a sure client. One could likewise call Schubert an amateur composer. He composed because he was driven to, not because he made a living at it. Yet, he was one of the greatest of his time.

Tony Flora
8-Dec-2006, 07:56
The difference between a professional and amateur photographer in my mind is professionalism. There are unprofessional photographers getting paid and photographers who are paid but unprofessional. There are also unprofessional photographers who show professionalism in their work and business dealings but don't make a living in photography

Norm Buchanan
8-Dec-2006, 08:50
One other thought/question I had related to this topic is that of being taken seriously. While I am sure everyone would agree that there are many talented amateur photographers, are they taken as seriously as those labeled pro when it comes to, for example, submitting to magazines like VC or Lenswork? I would like to think it is purely a question of quality but I can imagine that someone with professional credentials (whatever these may be) would have an advantage.

While being an amateur is fulfilling in that you have freedom and love what you are doing, your work may be limited to hanging on your living room wall - which isn't a bad thing. I am sure there are exceptions but in general I wonder if this is the case. I should have prefaced this by stating that I am only considering fine art photography and not commercial or whatever you would call anything else.

Michael Alpert
8-Dec-2006, 09:43
One definition of "professional" is: "Engaged in a specific activity as a source of livelihood." Okay, there are many studio and wedding photographers who are professionals in that sense. The quality of their work is often exactly the quality that their clients expect. In other words, their work could be at any level of quality. But there are other ways to consider certain photographers. For instance, discussions on this forum often mention photographers who are successful artists. Those photographers have produced images which have importance within the world of photography and, sometimes, the world in general. The East 100th Street photographs of Bruce Davidson, for instance, had an impact on how New Yorkers saw the poverty that was staring them in the face. The photographs also have formal qualities that are wonderful. I am sure my point is clear. I don't care if a photographer happens to be making a livelihood directly from photography or through some other activity. What matters, as far as I am concerned, is how meaningful the photographs are.

Kirk Gittings
8-Dec-2006, 09:48
The difference between a professional and amateur photographer in my mind is professionalism. There are unprofessional photographers getting paid and photographers who are paid but unprofessional. There are also unprofessional photographers who show professionalism in their work and business dealings but don't make a living in photography
I like that thought.


The East 100th Street photographs of Bruce Davidson
One of my favorite books of all time.

Kirk Gittings
8-Dec-2006, 17:18
from an email I received today:

"Five great reasons to go pro today!


Make money every time you pull out your camera. Sell stock to buyers from around the world and drastically increase profits from your events.

Create professional galleries and set markups to prints and other memorabilia showcasing your photos

Earn 85% commission on everything while we handle all printing, processing, shipping, handling and customer service needs

Expand your business using our powerful marketing tools.

Receive personalized service. Our representatives will help you get the most out of your account."

David_Senesac
8-Dec-2006, 17:24
The subject doesn't work well unless it is more focused. A better question that reflects what a lot of professional level amateurs do is, "What is a professional nature/outdoor/landscape photographer?" Does it matter that someone making $25k a year working in some drugstore photo portrait is correctly called a professional photographer because they make a living doing that while others with real professional careers only dabble in photography with highest skills and levels most of their lives so even if they occasionally sell significant amounts of prints are from a rigid definition referred to as amateurs?

Of course a lot of those including this guy have never come close to making enough money in print sales alone so hold down more certain jobs and careers while treading the business end of things in a less than serious way. I've gotten into the business end three times in the last seventeen years only to escape when the water got chest deep the first two times. Others jump totally into areas like the traveling art and craft show circuit only to end up struggling to make a reasonable living regardless of their body of work. Many others they are competing against have the marketing down despite mediocre material and manage making a living for years. And of course getting into all the best shows is rarely about having the best material. The same thing applies to getting one's work hung in the best galleries where one has a chance of making good money. There has always been enormous pressure from all manner of photographers for such and that has resulted in the system today. Those who hang their work often have excellent material but more often there have been several others with just as worthy material that never get the chance. Who you know, reputation, and social politics. Much of the same can be said about other areas of art like paintings. Many great painters were ignored much of their lives. ...David

Capocheny
8-Dec-2006, 22:47
Kirk,

Interesting posting! :)

IMHO, the use of the word "professional" is highly over-rated these days. I've seen pros shoot absolute garbage and amateurs shoot absolutely fabulous images.

Therefore, IMHO, the definition of "professional" has less to do with the quality of their images and more to do with the fact that they're earning a living from their activities. That said, though, the "expectations of" the professional is generally higher than that of the amateur.


I recall working at a newspaper back years and years ago. When it took 20+ rolls of 135-36 exposure film to produce a single portraiture shot, I had to wonder... :>O

And, I remembered thinking, "Gads, I'm sure glad I'm an amateur!" :)

[BTW, I've made money from my photography but have never relied on it as the sole source of my income. Therefore, technically, I'm not a professional.]

The above is just my own personal viewpoint... :)

Cheers

Eric James
8-Dec-2006, 23:10
My friend Wayne Johnson said to me once that he believes: "A pro is someone who can get the shot when the opportunity is fleeting." Re: Moon Over Hernandez e.g., or Wayne's Buddha Bear: http://www.alaska.net/~akshots/wild/buddha.jpg, or Travelers: http://www.alaska.net/~akshots/scene/travel.jpg

Ralph Barker
9-Dec-2006, 09:04
These "professional" discussions are always interesting. Some look solely to the financial aspect (from whence a person derives income), while others lean toward the skill-set or work-ethic sides of the issue. Personally, I like being a professional amateur. :cool:

From a semantics perspective, though, I've always wondered about how one can be a "professional" at something that is probably an avocation, "profession" being reserved for things like doctoring or lawyering. ;)

paulr
9-Dec-2006, 11:49
Chris makes an intersting point. When we hear "professional photographer" we tend to immediately think of commercial photographers (and other assignment photographers). Which makes sense, because that probably describes most pros.

But if a pro is anyone earning their living (or most of it) from photography, then the definition expands to include professional artists, scientific photographers, archive photographers at museums and libraries, portrait photographers at Sears, etc. etc.

A friend of mine is a doctor doing a fellowship in gastroenterology, where she's sending tiny cameras on articulated tubes up people's asses. She recently asked me if I could teach her photography (she's a big landscape photo fan), and I teased her about it, because technically I'm an amateur photographer and she's a pro.

chris jordan
9-Dec-2006, 14:36
Paul, we should hook up your doctor friend with some professional photographers who pull their work out of their asses-- maybe they could collaborate in some interesting way!

Frank Petronio
9-Dec-2006, 14:39
I think a real pro doesn't have time to hang out on www.largeformatphotography.info posting on threads like this.

paulr
9-Dec-2006, 15:05
Paul, we should hook up your doctor friend with some professional photographers who pull their work out of their asses-- maybe they could collaborate in some interesting way!

You have no idea how much I've been hounding her about this.

I had an epiphany ... my final revenge against the art world for years of neglect would be to get famous by sticking a camera up my ass ... with my friend's professional help, of course.

Sadly, she refused to collaborate! she refused about thirty times in a row. Even when she was good and drunk. Just kept throwing all this nonsense at me about "serious medical risks" and "how are you going to tell me what to photograph when you're under full anesthesia ..."

Like Van Gogh was ever preocupied with such trivia. Do you think he got a note from his doctor before cutting off his ear?

JW Dewdney
9-Dec-2006, 16:06
So - I'm curious... there seems to be this belief implicit in the word 'pro' - that suggests that a 'pro' makes better photographs. I've always thought it was the non-paid photographer that made the better photographs, because they had their own choice of subject matter and how they shoot it...

Am I alone in the assumption that 'professional' work is, by nature, compromised?

Kirk Gittings
9-Dec-2006, 16:44
JW, While there might be some truth in the assumption that "commercial photography" is oftentimes compromised by the client relationship (not always), rather than money, but I don't think one can claim that "professional work" is inherently compromised. For instance Ansel did a ton of commercial work in addition to his personal work. It was all "professional" work and he was paid in one form or another ultimately for all of it.

Eric Biggerstaff
9-Dec-2006, 17:05
I don't think "professional" work in the commercial world is compromised by the client relationship, the person getting paid should be able to produce work that not only meets the clients needs / expectations but even exceeds the expectations. That can be a very difficult thing to achieve day in day out, but it can also be a good way to drive the creative energy and make the photographer "see" things in different ways. Irving Penn has created beautiful works of art as pat of commerical assignments, as has other "commercial" photographers.

I am not sure I could do that every day, so an amateur I will stay!

Kirk Gittings
9-Dec-2006, 17:29
Eric,

Probably 96% of the commercial photographs that I take are only taken because the client requests them. I always have a personal interest in making the best possible image that I can in a given situation, but that does not make commercial images "personal" photographs. Great personal images do come out of commercial assignments (see my last book) but rarely. And equally rarely do clients appreciate and use those personal images that do come out of client assignments. I think that everyone remembers the great classic images that Irving Penn did for Vogue, but no one remembers the thousands of bread and butter images he made getting to the point where clients asked him just to do his thing.

roteague
9-Dec-2006, 19:19
Probably 96% of the commercial photographs that I take are only taken because the client requests them. I always have a personal interest in making the best possible image that I can in a given situation, but that does not make commercial images "personal" photographs. Great personal images do come out of commercial assignments (see my last book) but rarely.

Yes, but I suspect that the reason they hire you in the first place, is because your personality comes through in the images you take.

paulr
9-Dec-2006, 22:15
So - I'm curious... there seems to be this belief implicit in the word 'pro' - that suggests that a 'pro' makes better photographs. I've always thought it was the non-paid photographer that made the better photographs, because they had their own choice of subject matter and how they shoot it...

Am I alone in the assumption that 'professional' work is, by nature, compromised?

I think that has to do with the standards being used to judge the photographs. Most professional photographers are doing commercial work, and commercial work is typically judged by technical standards and by its effectiveness in the world of commerce--nothing of great interest to anyone besides the client or others in the profession.

When we look at the history of the medium to find the best work, we're looking for photographs that take on a greater significance ... ones that reach beyond the circumstances of their making. So we're looking for art. It follows that people pursuing photography to make art are going to make better art than those pursuing phtography to sell real estate and disposable diapers. Art-making just isn't what the commercial guys are up to. It's not what they get paid for.

This is why almost all of the great art in the history of photography was made either by amateurs or by pros who were doing amateur work on their days off. It's not that amateurs are better photographers, it's simply that personal work is more likely to achieve far-reaching greatness than commercial work. Most professional work is commercial by nature, and most artwork is done by amateurs. Remember that "amateur" is the French word for lover.

Eric Biggerstaff
10-Dec-2006, 09:19
Kirk,

I see where you are coming from, but I bet, like Robert said, many clients hire you because of the way you see and the style you bring to the table. It is like Paul Caponigro says "No matter what you do, you always leave your thumb print on it". No matter what you do, your personal style will come through in your work.

I guess the point I was trying to make is that, while the client is paying for your services and they may have a particular idea in mind for the photograph, your style will always come through and you will create an image that both meets the client expectations while at the same time shows your own creative style ( at least that is what I think I was trying to say).

Like I said, I don't think I could produce like that day in and day out! Man, it would be a challenge to say the least.

JW Dewdney
11-Dec-2006, 15:36
JW, While there might be some truth in the assumption that "commercial photography" is oftentimes compromised by the client relationship (not always), rather than money, but I don't think one can claim that "professional work" is inherently compromised. For instance Ansel did a ton of commercial work in addition to his personal work. It was all "professional" work and he was paid in one form or another ultimately for all of it.

Yes, but Ansel's commercial work sucked. Compared to his 'amateur' work. From his client's perspective - not. Because of their perception of the use-value of the work. But when it comes down to 'creativity' (whatever that actually MEANS) and unique VISION (someone's individual contribution to furthering the field of visual art) - it's the personal work that gets MY pick. Sure - Avedon and Penn, let's say, did some great images within the context of the 'commercial' but I think if you were to do a survey of all photography ever done by 'split practitioners' I think you'd find the art historians siding with the 'personal work'. And this is pure conjecture on my part, but I'm sticking to it, damn it.

Frank Petronio
11-Dec-2006, 16:21
I just did a job today that was bland and generic. But I didn't pout about it, I still tried to put some craftsmanship into it if nothing else.

Kirk Gittings
11-Dec-2006, 16:28
JW, None of Ansel's work was amatuer from any perspective or definition.

Frank Petronio
11-Dec-2006, 16:38
Yeah, good point, his photos for the Univ of Roch are art. The examples in his books are first rate. You have to remember how primative commercial photography used to be as well -- looking at an industrial location photo from 1939 compared to today's wide range of styles and genres...

tim atherton
11-Dec-2006, 17:14
JW, None of Ansel's work was amatuer from any perspective or definition.


I dunno - these aren't too far off... :-)


http://www.flickr.com/photos/1000photosofnewyorkcity/sets/72057594083888984/show/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/1000photosofnewyorkcity/sets/72057594083888984/

Eric Biggerstaff
11-Dec-2006, 17:24
Well, this is a tough one.

I think Ansel's commercial work was at a very high technical standard, and perhaps was in line with the commercial work being done at the time. Maybe the difference is that Ansel didn't put a lot of emotion in the work, which I bet is hard to do from a commercial standpoint at any time, even today. But this is just a pure shot in the dark on my part.

Kirk Gittings
11-Dec-2006, 17:36
When I said
None of Ansel's work was amatuer from any perspective or definition. I guess I meant none of Ansel's mature work was amatuer.

Tim, it says those were done on assignment for Forbes. They may suck but by most peoples definition here they are professional images. That is a good example of why I think a definition that solely rests on the fact that someone was paid for the work is too narrow of a definition.

JW Dewdney
11-Dec-2006, 19:28
Well - I think there's this sort of myth floating about regarding the word 'professional' equating with excellence. From what I've seen in the world, it seems that 'barely adequate' or 'mediocre' would be more suitable. But I'm not sure if making money has much to do with talent either... I know people who I consider to be absolute GENII - who couldn't make a dime with their work (mostly because they have no business/marketing sense). The people who get the most work, are those who are driven to get the most work... it seems. Kind of like the old adage about IQ tests... that it's a measure of your ability to score well on an IQ test. Nothing more.

JW Dewdney
11-Dec-2006, 19:34
When I said I guess I meant none of Ansel's mature work was amatuer.

ohhhh... semantics semantics semantics... you could also say that it was ALL amateur by definition. It depends on what aspect of 'amateur' you're concentrating. And your associations with the word.

paulr
11-Dec-2006, 20:54
Well - I think there's this sort of myth floating about regarding the word 'professional' equating with excellence. From what I've seen in the world, it seems that 'barely adequate' or 'mediocre' would be more suitable.

I think you'll find the full range, from terrible to brilliant. Just like in any other field.