What makes a pro?
So just kind of a general question, it has been interesting to read these forums and see some amazing images by people that are beyond modest about their work claiming they are no where close to going pro, and yet I see people that clearly shoot professionally posting images that I might consider sub-pro level. Obviously it is true of any occupation, hobby, or art that there are going to be many skill levels, but what do you guys consider "pro"?.

I had a good friend once that shoots proffessionally, and to be quite honest as great of a guy as he was his worked needed improvement. He made a good deal of money doing portraits and weddings though and by that definition I would consider him to be a pro..

I also see a very very wide range of equipment, and it still makes me giggle a bit to see a $1200 L series lens attached to an Xti. Obviously the rebel is by no means a bad camera, and I would be the first to agree that in order of importance skill, lenses and then body should be placed in that order. However, at the same time I see people that who are by all accounts "amateurs" shooting with Nikon D300s and Canon 5Ds..

I also see a very large amount of photographers these days that honestly owe a large amount of their success and talent level to PP via photo shop. Personally I feel like 90% of my favorite images are PP and it makes me wonder sometimes if most pro's can get that effect right out of the camera..

Then again maybe the end result is all that matters and with something as subjective as photography perhaps there can be no way of defining "Pro"..

Thoughts? Do you consider yourself pro? amateur? lucky? K20D, Pentax K100D, 18-55, 16-45, 55-200, Sigma 105, 50mm prime...

Comments (9)

My definition of a pro is one who is interested in making money from selling photographs. An artist wishes to convey an emotion..

Good artists and pro's share some qualities in common, for instance mastery of their craft. The definition a good photographer of either type involves similar traits such as good composition and skill but the motivation is different..

Thoughts? Do you consider yourself pro? amateur? lucky?.

I don't need to be categorized or validated...

Comment #1

If a person owns a business that has them successfully shooting photographs for money, then they are a professional photographer. That in no way guarantees they are a good photographer, and just because a great photographer does not choose to do it for a profession does not mean that they are less skilled...

Comment #2

If much of one's income comes from taking pictures, then one is a professional photographer..

No, the fact that you sold 2 photos to your local newspaper over the past 16 months does not make you a pro. Neither does the fact that one of your photos is hanging in your kid's pediatrician's agent's office. And there's no such thing as a "semi-pro." Either you earn most of your living as a photographer, or you're an amateur. There's nothing wrong with being an amateur. It doesn't mean you aren't talented. It just means that you're doing this for enjoyment, and not to pay your rent and put food on the table..

As for amateurs buying $1500-$8000 cameras, hey, if they can afford it (or have credit cards sufficient to permit it), I've got no problem with it. Same way that if someone's a mediocre driver, I have no problem with him buying himself a Ferrari or a Porsche, if that's what makes him happy..

Besides, if only serious photographers bought top-of-the-line cameras or high end glass, sales numbers for these items would plummet. Resulting in the cost per unit going way up. (And it's doubtful whether manufacturers would make enough money on sales of pro model cameras or glass to even bother offering them)...

Comment #3

Joergeske wrote:.

Obviously it is true of.

Any occupation, hobby, or art that there are going to be many skilllevels, but what do you guys consider "pro"?.

It's only about someone who makes money taking pictures, not about skill, about equipment used, or ability, just about commerce..

If you want an easier way to think about it, think what makes a professional driver...sure there are race car drivers, limo drivers, taxi, bus, but there's also 18 wheelers, construction workers, couriers, ambulance, police, fire, pizza delivery, anyone who drives as part of their job is a professional driver..

Some are better drivers because they require/invest in training, some have equipment supplied to them while others provide their own, some use just ordinary vehicles while others use high-end, etc..

Thoughts? Do you consider yourself pro? amateur? lucky?.

I'm proud to say I'm NOT a pro...pros tend to be very limited in what they shoot (due to limitations of the job), and in their thinking (they don't learn beyond what they need to get the job done or hang out in forums)..

Check out Ken Rockwell's "Seven Levels of Photographers" at: I'm Level 7, Artist...

Comment #4


Yup. You get paid for it and they call you a pro; although there was a time when it mean a high level of competence etc, etc..

To a lot of people it's just a meaningless label used by the PR industry to sell things; read the labels in a supermarket and you'd be surprised what trades have pro's in them and I thought only doctors and lawyers were pro's....

Regards, David..

Comment #5

Joergeske wrote:.

...I also see a very very wide range of equipment, and it still makes megiggle a bit to see a $1200 L series lens attached to an Xti....

Why? In most cases the images will be indistinguishable from those taken with a 1D..

I'd be more prone to giggle on seeing the reverse, a cheapie lens on a Canon pro-body. Many people with superb equipment carry the small light rebel (xxx) body as a backup..


See my galleries at:

Comment #6

THANK YOU for asking this question in this forum and not over in the pro forum where it is constantly asked and regurgitated; this is an appropriate place to ask and discuss it. I'll post below what I've posted in other discussions on the subject as my 2 cents worth (remember that some of the following response was addressing silly things like business cards and web sites asked by another):.

Pro: The use of the term pro without qualification just elicits variations and disjoint arguments; people end up arguing different aspects of the same subject because this term is frequently used in different parts of speech and as such  there exists MULTIPLE definitions. Posters then violently disagree because they mistakenly assume you meant one part of speech or another or all..

As a NOUN, its pretty simple and straightforward; the primary criteria is that a pro earns a significant portion of his or her livelihood  part or full time, from the practice of photography; the specialty doesn't matter. Paying the monthly sales tax to the state has nothing to do with the definition, but a pro that doesnt will be a pro in front of a judge or IRS agent before too long if he or she doesnt get a tax number and file each and every month. As a noun, the term "pro" has NOTHING to do with quality or competence; that is the adjective form of the definition; there are competent and incompetent pros and everything in between. Sadly, an incompetent pro can survive for quite some time if he or she has good business skills while the competent pro goes out of business due to poor business skills  again, it has nothing to do with the definition as a noun..

A competent pro uses the right tools for the job; it has nothing to do with exactly what the particular gear is or brand or cost or build; a competent pro has what he or she needs to get the job done and done properly; a smart pro plans for disaster and is resourceful. A competent pro not only has what he/she needs but also knows how to use it and, when it all goes to *&%$ in a hand basket, knows exactly how to improvise instantly without it. A smart pro buys and uses what he or she has to the maximum of return on investment. Competent pros typically invest in reliable, high quality gear but that is not always the case - especially for new pros entering the field who often need to cut corners when getting started  then they learn and typically improve that part along with success..

Member of a professional association? Not necessarily but you wont find more than a very small percentage of non pros in a respectable State professional photographers association  they do vet the members pretty well. Just last week a pro in my state association was robbed and other pros in the association came to her rescue with cameras, printers, lighting and more so she could continue to service her clients  she is a smart pro. Ive also seen associates pick up the jobs without charge when a colleague becomes ill; those are respectable and responsible pros. Also, show me an association member that consistently scores above 80 year after year in the major state association print competitions and Ill show you a competent pro - that bar is set very high and until you try it - you just don't know how high. A smart pro belongs to one if only for the face to face business benefits and more often for the formal hand-on training classes that being a member afford them and their staffs..

Liability Insurance? Nope; anyone can join the PPA and get the liability insurance. More so than anyone though, a pro would be stupid pro to not carry it  and yet there are still a lot of stupid (competent and incompetent) pros out there without it  and even fewer with healthcare insurance  especially if they are struggling..

Business cards and a Web site? Everyone and his/her dog have a website today. How about someone with a website, a shopping cart and significant and consistent sales? Now that might be a characteristic common to many pros but there are a lot of non-pros with the same..

Incorporated: Irrelevant; many are LLCs or just treat it as business income on the old personal 1040 (as well as do all of the depreciation there as well)  why get taxed twice as an Inc? Oh yeah, I forgot, some people like the title of "CEO" to go along with their title of "Pro" and I believe only Inc.s have official corporate officers .

To most people, the term pro without any other qualification or context typically means someone who does it for a living (full or part time) and has an extremely high degree of competence, quality and service AND maintains that level of quality and service virtually 100% of the time..


Polaroid Swinger; Kodak Instamatic 126 Ricoh 500G; Canon FTb; Nikon F2AS; Nikon F3HP; Hasselblad 501CM; Pentax 67II, Nikon 990; Nikon D1x; Nikon D300; PhaseOne P65+ (in my dreams ..

Comment #7

Oh, I forgot to answer your question. Seems simple..

A pro in any endeavor is someone who 1) charges for his services, and 2) works to "professional standards.".

This last can be a bit tricky, but I think of it as producing work that is of similar quality to what others in the profession produce. Of course, professional standards vary with the type of photography. For example, forensic, advertising, and wedding photography each have their own professional standards..


See my galleries at:

Comment #8

Jrgeske said: "I also see a very very wide range of equipment, and it still makes me giggle a bit to see a $1200 L series lens attached to an Xti.".

Coming from a fellow Kansan, this is a bizarre statement. You presumably know that the camera body comes in a distant third behind the skill of the photographer and the quality of the lens in producing good photos. There are amateur photographers on this forum who still shoot with XTs or 300Ds and whose photos are almost professional quality. Also, there are a lot of pro photographers who use Rebels as their backup cameras. In most instances, these two groups of photographers use L lenses or some of the more expensive EF-S lenses that are almost L quality. There is nothing wrong with hanging a 70-200 f/4L on a Rebel! In fact, that makes much more sense than a nuub buying a 40D and then inquiring about simple photographic phenomena such as depth of field..


Comment #9

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.


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