29 October, 2021
I frequent a facebook group called “Canadian Amateur Photographers”. It’s been an excellent group where I can enjoy conversations and share images with other hobby photographers similar to myself. I am able to avoid incessant conversations about wedding photography, growing a business, getting clients and other similar chatter common to most other photography groups. 

This week something unusual happened. I posted an image and received a very harsh response. “This group is for amateurs and you are clearly a professional, please leave!”. A couple additional people also chimed in venting the same message. Explaining that I have been a photographer for 47 years but my background is health care and I’m strictly a hobbyist / amateur, only yielded the reply “I can tell by looking at your photo’s that you are obviously a professional”. 

That brings me to the point of this post. What is a professional vs an amateur. The difference is completely unrelated to the individuals skill or talent. It is entirely related to money. If you receive a significant portion of your income from the activity, you are a professional. If you don’t, you’re an amateur. It’s as simple as that! In the dialogue mentioned previously, they equated professionalism to quality of work, but this is incorrect. The dividing factor is simply dollars!

Does being an amateur mean you are just learning or are bad at what you do? As a case in point, look at the olympics. The original concept of the Olympics has been amateur sport. To compete in the Olympics you had to be an amateur .. meaning you do not receive a wage for participating in your chosen sport. Now having said that it’s obvious that the athletes are neither inexperienced, nor do they perform poorly in their sport. Quite the contrary, they are some of the best in the world .. yet they are amateurs! I do know that the Olympics today has departed from this intent so I'm speaking historically.

Does being a professional mean you are good at what you do. Oh my goodness, no! In fact I recently saw the work of a professional wedding photographer that was unbelievably bad! Most of the images were out of focus. Exposure was all wrong, a bright background put everyones faces in shadow. Composition was terrible with many subjects poorly positioned so that heads were cut off. Yet, this individual was a “professional photographer” .. she charged for her services.

I love the Cambridge English Dictionary definition of the word amateur: “Taking part in an activity for pleasure, not as a job.” 

As amateur photographers, we engage in the activity out of passion, not out of obligation to generate an income. Some of the best photographers in the world are amateurs. Going back to the group I mentioned at the beginning, one thing my antagonists seem to miss is the fact that experienced and passionate amateurs are often the first to step forward to volunteer to mentor those who are picking up a camera for the first time. Amateurs can range from newbies who are picking up a camera for the first day, to those with decades of experience. What we all have in common is that we engage in photography because we love doing it!
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