Photography is Not a Profession
© 2006 KenRockwell.com
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Professions are occupations like law and medicine. You don't need board certification or a licence to be a photographer. You don't even need a college degree!
Too many photographers are blind-sided by this reality and never knew what hit them when competing against others or trying to get paid decent prices.
Anyone can behave in a professional manner. Everyone should.
Professionalism is doing what you promise.
Professionalism is being on time, following through and always working in the customer's long term best interests.
One's demeanor is not one's occupation. One can act professionally if not engaged in a profession. One can be professional without being a professional.
Only some occupations are professions.
I'm defining professional more precisely than getting paid to do something. Your dad paying you to mow the lawn may make you a professional lawn mowerer, but it doesn't make mowing your family's lawn a profession.
A profession is an occupation in which a person is paid for his knowledge. Professionals are paid to profess, or to talk. The word "professional" comes from the same root as "professor." A person engaged in a professional occupation is called a professional.
A professional is paid to provide information. A professional is not paid to produce tangible goods or services.
Professionals are paid for what they know, not for what they do or produce.
A professional may deliver his advice in a tangible form, for instance, paperwork or files from your accountant or rearranged internal organs from a surgeon, however these tangible items are still your own intellectual assets or body parts.
Professionals are employed to give guidance and information, not to do the job or to produce a product. Professionals may design a product but don't produce it.
Professions almost always require at least a four-year degree and some sort of accreditation by organizations staffed by other than members of that profession. Medical doctors, pilots, CPAs and lawyers are required to pass boards to become certified. Members of these professions are only hired or allowed to practice if they both have the education and certification from third parties. They go to jail if they practice with an expired license.
Landscape architects are professionals paid to design landscape. They don't do landscaping; landscapers do.
CPAs are paid to tell me how much taxes I owe. They don't pay them for me.
Perish the thought, but the world's oldest profession, salesmanship, is often a profession. Salespeople don't produce anything; they lead others to do it for them. Salespeople (as opposed to merchants) don't do anything except provide information and to attempt to change the behavior of others.
Sadly the lowest rung of salespeople, which are the ones most people meet as individuals, rarely behave professionally. These morons give the entire profession a bad name.
Real sales jobs (the ones that pay well over $100k) almost always require at least a four year degree.
Teachers are professionals. Even kindergarten teachers usually need at least Masters' degree and a teaching certificate issued by a US state. Teachers are paid for what knowledge they can impart to others, not to produce anything tangible.
Licenses meaningful to people who might employ you come from third parties looking out for the interests of the public. The State of California hands out architects' licenses to ensure that buildings are designed so they don't fall down.
Obviously photography is not a profession. This problem stunts the many bright people who attempt to pursue it as such. The people doing the hiring know this, and pay low because they can. Anyone may call themselves a professional photographer and practice photography.
Trades are occupations in which one is paid to produce something tangible.
Trades usually involve specialized knowledge, certification and training. Trades often take years to master. Because the pay comes for what one can produce, not for what you know, trades are not professions.
Most trades require a great deal of skill, but the pay is for the tangible results, not the knowledge.
Trades deliver, license or produce tangible goods, like clocks or photographs, or perform labor or physical services on your physical assets, like your car or house.
Building bridges is a trade. Designing bridges is a profession.
Tradesmen usually act professionally. Whether or not someone's occupation is a profession has little to do with whether or not that person conducts themselves in a professional manner. For instance, many gardeners are very professional and many salesmen aren't.
Professions don't require prefacing with "professional." For instance, one doesn't say a "professional banker" or "professional dentist" since people don't do banking or practice medicine as hobbies.
When people do hobbies for money then one prefaces it with "professional," for instance, "professional golfer" or "professional photographer."
Photography is a trade. Photographers are paid to create, deliver, license or sell photographs. Photography requires training and specialized knowledge like other trades, but doesn't require a licence or even a college degree as a profession does.
Photographers work in tangible goods, not knowledge. They are paid ultimately for photos. Their knowledge and imagination are important parts of their photos, but it's the tangible photos, not the ideas, for which they are paid. That's what keeps photography from being a profession.
Art direction and design are professions. These folks are paid for what they know and can imagine. They aren't paid to produce: the artists, photographers and carpenters do the production of what the art directors and designers imagined.
Anyone can call themselves a photographer. Yes, you can have a degree from Brooks or some certification from photography trade groups, but it's not required and people who might hire you don't care. They don't have to, and even if they do care, they'll keep that to themselves to hire you for bottom dollar.
There are many photography organizations that hand out certifications. These organizations consist of photographers looking out for themselves. Photographers handing out certifications amongst themselves don't count to people who might hire them. If you have to explain what CPP from PPA means to a potential client, it doesn't matter.
HOW DO YOU PROFIT FROM THIS?
There are no barriers to entry to the photography trade. All photographers are competing against an enormous sea of others at every skill level.
You profit from this by knowing that even though many photographers don't know this, all clients do. They expect to haggle you down to working for peanuts, or even for free. Know this and you can plot to work around it, primarily by learning how to differentiate yourself from the sea of others.
There is no college degree. There is no board certification. Imagine how tough it would be to be an M.D. if everyone was able to practice medicine. Everyone would use the rates of the least qualified to haggle down the others. This is what happens in photography.
The only way those with the skills of real MDs could survive would be if they figured out a way to show clients that they were qualified and the others weren't. Without boards and medical degrees this becomes very difficult. That's your problem as a photographer.
As a photographer you need to learn how to differentiate yourself from all the other turkeys out there. Maybe you went to Brooks and that's great. Clients have no idea about Brooks. It's your job to educate them.
All salespeople learn to differentiate their product or service from their competitors. Your success is critically dependant on your ability to educate others why your photographs or photography services are superior. If you can't you're going to get bottom dollar every time.
If you can differentiate yourself, you'll be the one pulling in $10,000 for a few hours shooting a wedding on Saturday. I know of one guy who was so good at this he kept raising his wedding rate trying to get out of the business. At $85,000 a shoot he kept getting calls. Only when he raised his rate for a few hours of shooting to over $100,000 did people stop asking him to shoot weddings.
If you can't differentiate yourself, you'll walk into every potential job and believe the standard baloney lines like "we only budgeted this much for the job today, but if we like your work we have another project coming soon for which we can pay you much more." If you won't take their lowball offer, the next guy will.
Professional cameras are not the same as cameras used by professional photographers. See my page on What Makes a Professional Camera.
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