Photography occupies a peculiar position. Photography is many things all at once; craft, art, profession, and hobby. Due to the intersection of photography at profession and hobby, the question of what constitutes professional photography rears its head with regularity. There are many arguments and not a lot of agreement. However, just because there isn’t agreement does not mean it isn’t helpful to consider what are professional standards in photography. There is a strong argument, the one that says it can only make a photographer better at what they do regardless of skill level, for everyone to have an idea of the professional standards in photography.
Though brief, this article is going to cover a fair bit of ground. To aid in that cause it is best to divide the question of what makes up professional standards in photography into two categories; gear, and practices.
Many people coming into photography will ask, “What’s the most professional camera?”. Often what they mean is what camera will let them take “professional” looking photographs. The answer, especially today with modern sensor technology is “Most of them.” Now that is not to say that all cameras are equal, whether DSLR or mirrorless. But when it comes to interchangeable lens cameras, the consumer model can capture the same image as the professional model, with the same lens, for a photographer of a certain skill level. (Click here to see one of our Favorite Cameras as of this article)
The major difference between consumer cameras and professional grade gear comes down to build quality, features, and efficiency. A camera that meets a professional standard will be built to put up with regular, heavy use; several thousands of shutter actuations a month, a rugged body meant to put up with abuse, dual card slots for redundancy, and controls that are meant to be efficient. A professional camera will produce images with high enough resolution to fulfill most professional needs such as print work.
Many cameras on the market today can meet these demands technically. It is the professional gear however that will allow the photographer to consistently leverage their experience to meet their goals. Even the most expensive camera available will produce inferior images without the skill to use its full potential.
As important as the gear used to meet a professional standard in photography, the practices a photography represents will factor into being “professional”. Professional photographers are knowledgeable in their craft, consistent in their results, have the ability to communicate with clients, realize the client’s needs in the images they produce and are reliable in their dealings.
There do exist several professional associations for photographers. Each of these associations and organizations has a set of professional standards for their members, but they do not all agree on a single universal set of standards. So let’s consider what a professional photographer, one being paid for their work, should have as a baseline standard.
- Knowledge of the craft of photography. Basics such as exposure, shutter speed, and aperture. An understanding of lens operations and limitations (distortion, etc.)
- The right tool for the right job. This relates to knowledge, but a professional photographer will bring to bear proper equipment for their style of photography
- Clear aesthetic vision. A client should know from a photographer’s body of work what sort of end result to expect.
- Communication skills. Not just visually, but in all dealings.
- Dedication to providing value to clients. Understanding that your photography is a service and the client’s needs should be put first (when reasonable).
- Consistency. The ability to deliver high-quality work time and again, under pressure and constraint.
While there is no single, universal answer to what is a professional standard in photography, the points mentioned in this article are an excellent guide to behaving to a professional standard at any skill level. Professionalism is about presenting valuable, consistent work to a high degree of excellence. Working to such a standard benefits each and every one of us who has taken to a life behind the lens.
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