Going Pro….

Over on my Flickr stream a regular commentator…. um….. commented that a pro photographer is someone who gets paid for their work. A rather simplistic viewpoint, but one that is probably a cornerstone of importance and I’m rather confident he did not intend for it to be the sole criteria by which we define “pro”.

Naturally his comment got me to thinking about what it means to really be a professional photographer. Certainly being paid for such… making a living via photography… should be a requisite for being called professional, but I have a hard time believing that it is nothing more than the exchange of cash for images that represents the sum total of professional photography.

But when I think hard upon the subject of how do we define a professional there are a number of typical responses that come to mind: education; experience; accreditation; membership in supporting organizations; and, of course, getting paid for the work. Not necessarily a comprehensive list, but I have to start somewhere.

And so it comes to be that I, yes I, have been asked to do some photography work. For money. And let me assure you that the word “pro” or “professional” would never, ever pass these lips (or fingers as I type) when it comes to describing me and photography.

Yet here I am.

I have entered into a tentative agreement to photograph some five to ten landscape projects for a local landscaping company in exchange for cash. The whole thing is rather surreal to be frank.

It came about quite by accident (as these things often do) as a neighbor and close friend was having some landscaping work done to their back garden. During the job the landscape company owner made an off-hand comment to her how he would like to start taking pictures of his work for the website he had recently put up and while he could do it himself he didn’t feel up to the task.

Now this friend and neighbor knows very well about my photography habit and has had me do some minor photography related things for her and her family, so she immediately put my name and phone number into his hands.

He eventually contacted me about photographing my friend’s back garden after he had completed the work, which I did. I snapped pics, processed and got them off to him right away. In my e-mail I discussed how the pictures could have been better were I to have availed myself to sunlight found earlier or much later in the day, but that my intent was to get something into his hand right away such that he could determine which views looked best to him. I even offered to reshoot those particular views at better times of the day if he wished.

I further explained a handful of issues regarding landscape photography that I have picked up over the past two years and was adamant that he understand I’ve never done this sort of work before, but here is how I would tackle such.

Apparently my e-mail was enough to impress him such that he has asked for me to put together a proposal on what I would charge for the work. Oddly enough I’m more worked up about the pricing than I am the actual work.

Taking the pictures will be something new and different, but I have no doubt I will be able to handle it. This is all part of the new and improved Forkboy, brimming with confidence and a can-do attitude. However, I have zero ideas about how to price such a gig. Less than zero actually. And this is proving to be frustrating.

I clearly do not want to do the work too cheaply as that simply isn’t fair to me because I do bring to the table some knowledge and skill. Neither do I wish to charge something that is unreasonable because that isn’t the way I work. But without any prior experience upon which to base a decision I find myself completely confused.

And I doubt a paid pro should be confused.

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8 thoughts on “Going Pro….

  1. Well, the definition of a professional photographer according to the press union of which I’m a member is someone who earns all or a principal part of their income from photography.

    And I think that’s the fairly standard definition.

  2. I know *exactly* how you feel about the pricing, thats the bit that continues to concern me 🙂

    and WOOHOO!!! paid work 🙂

  3. Interesting point Mike. Does the press union have any sort of requirements for membership? Does it offer any classes or mentoring?

    Yeah lensaddiction…. who would have thought that pricing was the real trouble spot?!

    • The only requirement is that you have to be able to establish that you’re a bona fide “news gatherer”… be that a reporter/journalist or photojournalist.

      And that in turn also implies that you’re already earning a living (or at least earning the principal part of your living) from such activities or something closely related.

      Mentoring? Classes? Not as far as I’m aware. Cos if you’re already earning some sort of living at it then one would assume you already have some idea of what you’re about and are reasonably competent at it. At least sufficient to be earning money on a fairly consistent basis.

      I believe press unions do have a category for students, but I don’t know much about that or how it works. And whether that means someone “learning the trade” or someone who’s a student in some other discipline and is news gathering for something like a students’ mag or whatever I don’t know… though I suspect the latter to be the case.

      That said, there’s nothing to prevent an established professional photographer from seeking to expand their repertoire independently. For example, a mate of mine who’s been doing the photojourno stuff for loads of years wanted to branch out into a different field and enrolled in a Fine Art Photography university course.

      I think the important thing to remember here is that being a “pro” in the generally accepted sense of the term (as I’d previously described) is not a statement about one’s artistry/creativity. Nor is it a statement about one’s ability other than saying “this person’s sufficiently competent to be earning a living at this”.

      If you’re earning a living at it then you’re a pro… simple as that.

      • Thanks for the information. I was curious as to how that system works (photo journalism).

        I know one can study for a degree in such at university, but I wasn’t aware if there was also a mentoring or apprenticeship-like side to the endeavor as well.

  4. I have the same worries as a newly starting photojournalist. How much per word is reasonable? Does a photo that makes the cover mean that you should make more?
    Yikes, I don’t even know how to become part of a union or what would be my union?

  5. It is a mystery, isn’t it Kym?

    I spoke to a friend of mine who makes part of his living creating interactive multi-media type stuff, much of which is based upon his photography, and he was able to provide some help to me, which was great.

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