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?

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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.

May 1, 2007 5:37 am

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.

May 1, 2007 7:42 am

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:

May 1, 2007 8:18 am

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.

May 1, 2007 9:09 am

Sorry about that Brian.

Let’s try the Value of a Professional Photographer link this way.

May 1, 2007 11:23 am

Wow Jim, that IS a great article! It makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

May 1, 2007 11:43 am

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.

May 1, 2007 11:50 am

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.

May 1, 2007 11:52 am

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.

May 1, 2007 11:51 am

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.

May 1, 2007 12:07 pm

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.

June 5, 2007 12:45 am

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?

June 5, 2007 12:45 pm

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.

June 6, 2007 3:50 am

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.

January 17, 2008 8:30 pm

I will call myself a photography hobbyist instead of photographer. This is because my skill is lousy.

January 27, 2008 6:31 am

I think that you are either hobbiest or pro. You either get paid to do it, or you do it just because you like it.
I am no pro, I am a hobbiest trying to get better at it.

February 5, 2008 2:39 pm

Brian, this is a great article. I consider my self hobbyist too.
Those words remembered someone: “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.”… That’s our hobbyist attitude. (Sad for us, because I have some friends that make incredibly good pictures with pretty old equipment.)

Keep good work.

March 17, 2008 7:45 am

I quoted you (the hobbiest part at the end of your article) on a Photography Hobbiest group I just started on Facebook. I credited the quote totally to you with a link back to

I hope you don’t mind, but it totally said everything I wanted to but didn’t quite form in my mind. :)


Link to group for Facebook users:

April 12, 2008 6:11 pm


I discovered your article today and I can see that like others it it can be helpful in explaining to a potential client why my “professional” photography is priced as it is.

Thank you!

November 21, 2008 3:43 pm


I can’t say I totally agree with you, but what you write is food for thought. Probably a good thing to consider is the level of experience and expertise of the individual photographer. And a hobbyist could some day become a Professional :-)

November 21, 2008 3:50 pm

In this blog post you mention that a professional photographer is someone who makes over 1/2 of their income from photography. What if someone is very wealthy and has a large trust fund that provides them with most of their income but for their day-to-day job, they are a photographer. According to your metric, they aren’t a professional. So let’s say that’s an exception. But here’s another situation, let’s say that someone makes $150k a year at their day job as an engineer and $100k a year as a photographer. Would you still stand by your statement that they aren’t a professional photographer–even if they’re making more money than many full-time professional photographers? I think you’re walking a very slippery slope when you try to define a professional photographer based on someone’s income levels/proportions.

May 19, 2009 11:30 am

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”.

May 19, 2009 12:14 pm

Anyone can be a photographer. Even if someone has a M-F 9-5 job answering the phone in an office, if they get hired to shoot a wedding next saturday, they are the “photographer”.. that doesn’t mean they are a professional.

I believe the “professional” tag is acquired when one’s job is to photograph full time. Just like in sports; anyone who plays sports is an athlete (high-school football, college track)- but then you have your “professional” athletes where that’s all they do.

Of course, we could always refer to the dictionary definition of “Professional”: of, relating to, or connected with a PROFESSION… and naturally, we all know that a profession is a paid occupation.

To me the lines are not that blurry. It’s pretty easy to tell who the hobbyists/enthusiasts are and who the professionals are. But that’s not to say that there aren’t hobbyists out there that aren’t better photographers than some professionals. Because I am a photographer, I know a lot of aspiring photographers/hobbyists and I also know a lot of professional photographers. Some of those hobbyists shoot better than some of the professionals.

October 19, 2009 9:36 am

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