A professional photographer is commonly defined as one with the highly developed skills, technique and style and professional-grade equipment that attract paying customers. This definition, however, is limited to the photography portion of what makes a professional. Of equal and often greater importance to a pro’s customers are the qualities, the attributes, the characteristics that any professional person is expected to have.
The following 8 professional qualities are not just reminders for practicing pros, but also are goals for amateurs and students that aspire to be pros or simply want to be better, well-rounded photographers and individuals. Neither is the list inclusive, meaning there may be other important professional qualities that should become part of who you are and how you conduct your photography business.
1. It’s difficult to declare any one quality as the most important, but integrity is certainly a candidate. Integrity is often the measure of one’s honesty and how fairly he or she deals with others, especially in a business setting. When you make an agreement, you honor it thoroughly and seriously. You simply do what you say you will do. Integrity also relates to knowing what is right and wrong, as a professional and human being, and acting accordingly. You must also have integrity with yourself, meaning you are steadfast in your thinking and convictions and have a personal philosophy that is the basis of who you are and how you interact with others and the world.
2. For others to recognize your integrity and benefit from it requires discipline on your part. You must have the self-control and stick-to-itiveness to do what must be done and on schedule, even in lieu of your personal life. Discipline also relates to setting, pursuing and accomplishing your professional, personal and financial goals.
3. Discipline is closely aligned with the quality of perseverance. You may receive a great amount of pleasure and satisfaction from operating a photography business; it’s not a job, but your passion. It’s also a daily battle of competition that does have its victims, so you must develop a warrior’s mentality inside, but a gentle, professional nature on the outside. Despite your skills, experience and reputation, you must have a grim determination to maintain them and protect them, and take your rightful place among the professional photographers who are successful.
4. Confidence is a professional quality that drives success. Your professional/personal philosophy should leave no doubt as to your ability, both as a photographer and small business owner, to reach your goals as you also help your clients reach theirs. For some, the difficulty with confidence is not to become over-confident and especially to display it to the rest of the world. Your confidence should appear as natural as your smile; it’s there for all to see, but it doesn’t intrude on your interactions with others. Professional confidence should be recognized subconsciously, for, as soon as it is forced, customers and others in your life will avoid it, and you.
5. A professional photographer is an entrepreneur. He or she doesn’t just want to shoot pictures for a lifetime. He or she should also use this unique opportunity to build a business that operates effectively and efficiently and funds the needs of his or her family and the lifestyle he or she wants, today and during retirement.
6. To that end, a professional photographer must also be a student. The obvious subject matter is learning new photography techniques and equipment. An equally important area of study is business: sales and marketing, management, finances, staff training, etc. It’s the combination of both that has made so many millions of small business owners successful enough to live the life they want, and independently.
7. To be a professional photographer and a successful small business owners also requires audaciousness. Not recklessness, but the willingness to make bold and daring, but calculated decisions, about how you compose a photo and how you operate your business and use the revenues it produces.
8. Finally, a photographer is worthy of being considered a full-fledged professional when he or she is giving. It’s not just a matter of donating a percentage of your income to your favorite charity or cause, although that is an element of giving. It’s also being willing to serve as a mentor to a student photographer or a local photography club. It also means offering your photography services to specific needs in your community at no charge, such as press release photos for that favorite charity or shooting high school portraits of students from impoverished situations or homeless families.
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Photo by PhotographyTalk Member Mark Mcculloch