Who Qualifies As A Photographer?


The digital revolution has made photography accessible to so many new people. I won’t lie, I’m one of them — I never shot film. But just because you have a camera, does this make you a photographer?

Personally, I would consider anybody who takes pictures for the sake of taking pictures, a photographer. You may disagree with me on this, and I welcome you to share your thoughts, but I still believe this to be true. I also believe that the question is not a simple one; there’s more to it than yes or no, black or white.

There are professional photographers among us, and I consider this group of people to be those who make a living of photography. But even here, there are shades of gray. My idea of a professional photographer (or a professional anything for that matter) is somebody who makes at least half their income from photography. So what am I a professional at? I’m a professional engineer — not in the strictest sense (a professional engineer actually requires a special certification), but I mean that I am an engineer by profession. That’s how I make my money.

If you’re not a professional photographer, where does that leave you? From here, I would divide the rest of us into two major groups: the casuals and the hobbyists. You might say that there are also photography students, but I would consider them to be a hobbyist who happens to be a student.

The casuals are the group of people who like to take pictures, but that’s about where their interest peaks. They have no ambition to get bigger-better camera and spend all their savings on photography equipment. They usually don’t care to edit photos, participate in photography communities, or learn the more advanced tricks and techniques associated with photography. They just like to take pictures. Nothing wrong with this. I know, and associate with, a lot of folks in this category — in fact, I married one. My wife could care less about the how or the why, but she probably takes as many pictures as I do.

Then there are the hobbyists. We love taking photos. Notice I said “photos” rather than “pictures”. I suppose the two are really interchangeable, but I consider a photo to be a thought out picture. We think about what we’re doing with the camera and how it affects the photo. We experiment, and we learn from it. We want to know more about photography in general, and we seek out sources of information such as books, websites, blogs, communities, and other photographers. We drool over that piece of equipment we can’t afford, and we find that we’re never quite satisfied with what we already have. All right — maybe not all hobbyists are exactly like me, but you know you can’t deny some of these things.

So am I totally off my rocker here? You tell me — who qualifies as a photographer?

This entry was posted in Inspirational on by .

About Brian Auer

a photography enthusiast from North Idaho. He's also the guy behind the Epic Edits Weblog. As a hobbyist photographer since 2003, his passion has been to constantly improve his photography skill set, to share his own knowledge with others, and to become an integral part of the photographic community.

17 thoughts on “Who Qualifies As A Photographer?

  1. Thalia

    Hello Brian,

    That’s a very thought provoking post.I hadnt given names to the categories of photographers till now, but I had noticed these differences. There are a lot of casuals around, as you say.But there are many hobbyists too, who display professional-like skills and technique in the images they make. I am always confused about what decides the difference between a professional and a hobbyist.The only distinction between the two, seems to be whether they sell their photos or not.

  2. Brian Auer Post author

    You’ve brought up a good point — I think most of us are confused about what decides the difference between a professional and a hobbyist. I’ve presented my thoughts, and you’ve presented yours. I don’t think either of us are right or wrong though.

  3. Jim Hunter

    Hi Brian,

    Almost two years ago Brent Phelps posted a piece on About the Image titled Value of a Professional Photographer. While he was speaking about the “Value” of a professional, I believe that the points he makes could also be used to help “define” a professional photographer though there are also other criteria that could also be added. Value of a Professional Photographer can be found here:

  4. Brian Auer Post author

    Jim, the link must have been parsed out by WordPress or something. But you bring up a good topic on the value of a professional. Try reposting the link in plain text, I’d like to read it.

  5. Jim Goldstein

    Brian I can tell you how businesses think of photographers. They classify them in to three groups:
    1. Amateurs/Hobbyists
    2. Prosumer/Semi-Pro Photographer
    3. Professional Photographer

    Generally what Pros do, prosumers want to do… meaning professionals lead the market in buying pricier gear to keep their competitive edge. Adoption of technology such as software will generally happen at a similar rate between prosumer and professional photographers. Most hobbyist generally follow suit at a later time as they ramp up their skill or courage.

    As to who is a photographer… I think your definition is correct. Anyone that takes a photo is a photographer. The real question is what is a photo and what is an image. Someone that helped shape my interest in photography once broke down the photo vs. snapshot question as such:
    A snapshot can be taken of anything and of varying quality. A photo is a well thought, composed, exposed and executed art form. I think that is the more relevant factor to discriminate versus how much someone is willing to spend on gear or how fast they adopt technology.

  6. Jim Hunter

    Hi Brian,

    I’ve used that article quite a bit over the past couple of years. It often helps me explain to a potential client why professional photography cost what it does.

  7. Brian Auer Post author

    That’s a great definition of a photo, and I’m right on board with that — especially the “art form” part of it. To me, photography is an art. It’s a highly subjective form of art, and there’s no real definition of what constitutes a photo as being art. I’d say that if the photographer intended for it to be artistic in nature, then maybe it’s art!

    Great thoughts on this topic, Jim. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Brian Auer Post author

    I can imagine that it would help ease the pain with clients. I can also imagine that it’s not an uncommon conversation when talking with potential clients.

  9. John Leahy-Curran

    lets look at this a bit differently. There are three men’s neck ties and Picasso, a 4-year old and you in a room. you each take the same brush, dip it in the same can of blue paint, make the same “exact” mark. which is art and why? is picasso’s any different than the 4-year olds? It is the exact mark looking at it after all. how about you and the 4-year old? this brings us right to your question: “Who Qualifies As A Photographer?”… “and why?” should follow.
    well, there is an answer but maybe the question should be phrased more specifically… And now let’s think about is there a difference between say the “same identical picture/photo of anything” a 4-year old, Henri C-B, and you take?(I mean exactly, you can’t tell the difference between the three of you who took what!) well, is there? You better believe it there is!
    if you can’t figure it out or understand why let me know.

  10. Brian Auer Post author

    My first thought on this is that the difference between the three photos is the intent when the photo was taken. Visually they might look the same, but I’m pretty sure Henri got the shot he intended while the 4 year old got it by chance — and I’m probably somewhere between the two. Is that what you were thinking, or did you have something else in mind?

  11. John Leahy-Curran

    That is about right, I agree. It is intention but also additionally what is behind that shot, i.e., like the mark made on the tie. It is the life experience represented by that mark or shot; and that individuals training informing that image, etc. Maybe that is a partial answer to “who qualifies as a photographer?” Sure a 4year can take a picture but there is nothing behind that picture, no problem solving, no understanding of the history of art let alone photography, etc, etc. or as much as a 4year old can put behind such an image… and maybe a 4year old history. Take even your own self history. you have life behind you but how much photographic experience or visual training, etc. do you have? It may not make it better or worse but it does make it informed. And sure, Henri got the shot he intended while the 4 year old got it by chance. However, it is not so much Henri has a process by which he can do it consistently but that the 4year really doesn’t have one or has even at least a process which is clearly developed… like most people who just point-and-shoot, they just like doing it.

  12. Drew

    I was a pro for 18 years capturing medium to high end weddings. When you had to get it correct on film and not be trained using your digital display. Every industry will move through changes and digital photography created a huge shift.

  13. Brian Auer Post author

    I see your point, but I think both of your examples are exceptions. Even an engineer making $150K plus $100K as a photographer would be hard to pull off. Both of those income levels are higher than standard fare, and thus would require extra time and effort spent at each job. I don’t think there would be enough hours in the day.

    Regardless, my point wasn’t to lay out a flawless metric for the term “professional”.

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