What makes you a professional landscape photographer? Is it the equipment you carry? Money you make? Or just the fact that you teach local photography classes? With the advent of digital photography, the line between professional and amateur photographers has blurred.
Myth #1: Pros shoot with full-frame cameras and only use the best, most expensive equipment.
Let’s face it. We’d all like to have great equipment. But the equipment doesn’t make the photographer. Although both Varina and I do carry the latest equipment such as a mirrorless camera, high-end lenses, Induro Carbon Fiber Tripods, Vu glass filters, and more… but the same equipment is also carried by most of our students. Professional photographers must learn to use the equipment they have as well as understand its shortcomings. Varina and I own crop-factor cameras as well as full-frame ones. We use the crop sensor cameras regularly because they work well for certain situations. We have several great L-series lenses, but we’re perfectly happy with a less-expensive lens if it meets our needs. Take a look at the shot above from Glacier National Park. I took this shot several years ago with a 3-megapixel crop-factor camera. That’s one gorgeous sky, isn’t it? Being a pro isn’t about your equipment. It’s about how you use it.
Myth #2: Pros make a full-time living from landscape photography.
We’ve heard many variations on this theme. Some people believe that a professional must exclusively work as a photographer. Some believe that a pro is someone who makes at least 15% of his income from photography. A few years ago, Varina worked full-time as a photographer with 100% of her income coming from our photography business. She’s clearly a pro, right? At the same time, I worked as a program manager for a company. My income from photography was less than 15% of my total income. Does that make me less of a pro than Varina? We taught together. We wrote eBooks together. We ran our business together – selling prints, teaching workshops, creating educational content, and speaking all over the world about landscape photography. We had similar skill sets. And yet, by some definitions, I wasn’t a pro. Obviously, this definition doesn’t make much sense in that situation.
Myth #3: A professional landscape photographer teaches on a regular basis.
Varina and I have been teaching workshops and at local photography events for years, but what about landscape photographers who do not teach? There are many different ways to make money from landscape photography (if that’s what it comes down to in the end). Selling prints in a gallery or at art shows, selling merchandise, working as a journalist, offering tours, selling images for stock or microstock… the list goes on and on. A lot of photographers who do teach workshops don’t make a full-time living from landscape photography, which takes us back to myth #2.
Myth #4: A pro has been published in print.
Here we are in the Internet age where the world of publication has changed dramatically. You no longer need an agent and you don’t need to go through a publishing company in order to see your work in print. Anyone can now be published. Varina and I have both been published in a variety of magazines and calendars and we also have a collection of self-published eBooks. Are they less legitimate because we published them ourselves? Do we really care? We put a lot of work into them and we do our best to make sure they are professionally presented and packed full of good information. Heck, we make good money selling them too so I guess it really doesn’t matter if they count as “real” publications or not, right? :) Also, many photographers don’t work with print media at all. If I sell my images at fairs or in a gallery, does that make me less professional?
Myth #5: A pro is sponsored by photography equipment makers.
Varina and I are both sponsored by several photography companies including Induro Tripods, Vu Filters, Smugmug, and F-Stop. We also have a working relationship with several other world-wide companies. But we were teaching workshops and being published long before we got sponsors. There are pro photographers who don’t have any sponsors yet they still make a full-time living from photography.
As you can see, there is no single, clear definition of what it means to be a professional landscape photographer. It seems that we each make our own standards and that’s entirely okay. So, when someone catches you using your smart phone to take a photo and comments about how you need a “real” camera to become a professional photographer, you can simply smile and continue to do what you do best… take great photos.