What it Means to be a Professional Photographer / by Kyle Sharp

Fair warning, this post is going to be a bit of a rant. I'm a member of numerous photography groups and organization, most of which post photos online for a community review. It's a good way for photographers to stay sharp (pun intended) and get extra eyes on their work. However, I've been noticing a troubling trend recently, particularly in relation to photos of young women trying to start a career in modeling. Before I delve into that anecdote, I want to discuss what it actually means to be a professional photographer.

What being a professional photographer really means

First of all, being a professional has absolutely nothing to do with how much money you make. It's a standard of quality and conduct that sets you head and shoulders above the herd. Being a professional means putting the needs of your client, your subject, above your own. It's saying, this picture is about younot my own personal agenda. Professionals will understand the proper etiquette for any situation they might find themselves in. They are kind, courteous, and most importantly, tactful.

A professional photographer will flatter his/her subject and show who they really are. You can't get expressions like this unless the subject is completely comfortable with their photographer.

A lot of people equate being a professional with making money full-time as a photographer. However, I've met quite a few full-time photographers that are anything but professional. I've also met amateur photographers that are incredibly professional. So many photographers seem to forget that the core of our business has nothing to do with cameras. It's not about fancy lights or massive, obtrusive lenses. Photography is about people! Yes, there are other areas of photography that don't involve people, but if you're a professional, then you're probably photographing a real, live person. How you treat that person, how you interact with them, will define your professionalism. This doesn't just apply to the time during which you have a camera in your hands. A true professional is professional 24/7/365. Now, on to the aforementioned anecdote.

Pervy vs. Professional

In one of the photography organizations I mentioned before, there was a photographer who posted a very inappropriate picture of a new model who clearly didn't know she was being photographed at that particular moment. It was a quick snapshot of her squatting down in a dress, and it was shot from an angle that showed everything under her dress. I reported the image to the hosting site, but what really bothered me was that the photographer thought this was ok! And he was receiving praise from other photographers for capturing a candid moment during their shoot! I thought this was supposed to go without saying, but behavior like that is the farthest thing from professional. He violated that young woman's trust and demeaned her in a public forum. Needless to say, I was furious.

Does that mean that all nudity is unprofessional? Absolutely not! There are tasteful and artistic ways of portraying a woman's sexuality that empower and celebrate women. However, even these kinds of pictures should not be posted online, unless the client/model/subject  has given the photographer permission to do so before the shoot. Notice that I said before the shoot. Risque photographs should be discussed before-hand and not shot opportunistically. Photographers and subjects both have legal rights when it comes to photographs, but the client usually has more power.

A quick message to clients: Your photographer has absolutely no right to post inappropriate pictures of you unless you gave him/her explicit permission to do so in a signed model release form. When working with a photographer, make sure you get everything in writing. Don't step in front of a camera until you've read and signed the model release and discussed in detail exactly what the shoot will entail. 

How do I know if my photographer is professional?

I know that after that rant, I may have made it sound like unprofessional photographers run rampant on the streets, trying to take advantage of you. The reality is, situations like this are (thankfully) few and far between. However, there are a few things to look for when deciding on a photographer:

  • Look at the Photographer's online portfolio

    • Check out the kind of work the photographer puts on his/her website. Even someone who isn't a photographer can discern how a photographer feels about his/her subjects just by looking at his/her pictures.
  • Search through his/her social media profiles

    • This is a great way to get a better feel of how a photographer views his/her subjects. Usually, when a photographer posts an image on social media, he/she will also provide a short story or some kind of text describing the image or person in the image. Be discerning and make sure the way the photographer is talking about his/her clients is respectful.
  • Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

    • Search everywhere for online reviews about your photographer. Bad reviews are way easier to get than good reviews, so if you see people telling stories about having an unpleasant experience with a photographer, walk away from them. Also look for responses to bad reviews from the photographer. If he/she is apologetic about their experience, that's a good sign, as long as there are other good reviews to support him/her. Every photographer will get bad reviews from time to time, but how he/she handles them is very important. 

After you've done all that, make sure you have a conversation with your photographer. In-person is best, but at a minimum you should talk over the phone with your photographer to get a better feel for him/her. Make sure the photographer seems genuinely interested in you, and not just your bank account. True, photographers need to make money, but the reason we got into this in the first place is because we love people! Make sure your photographer has that passion.


Thanks for stopping by and indulging me! Be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. If you're in the DFW area, contact me to book your session now!