At one point, we are all amateurs. Nobody is born with the knowledge and while this may not come as a shock to anyone, people tend to forget it a lot. I am not a fan of labeling in any way, but the common categorization in photography is pros and amateurs. I’m not going to explain what each of them does, but I’ll just settle for, again, the common acceptance that the professional photographer is the man or woman who makes his living solely by taking pretty pictures (hopefully, anyway). I’m not really the kind of guy who is active in photography communities or forums, but it’s pretty clear that a lot of the amateurs, who take up photography as a hobby, hear a warm voice inside their heads telling them “hey, you could make money out of this.” And so they decide to become pros. Now, some make it, some do not. It’s not the first time I’ve said this, but it still surprises some people: professional photography is a business, more than it is art. Sad, but true. This text is not about the people who listen to that voice. It’s about the amateurs who buy a camera, start using it, get good, and keep going. Why would I envy them? After all, it’s being a pro that makes you cool in front of people. Maybe. Some would disagree.
Unless you knew right from the start that you wanted to make a business out of photography, in which case allow me to doubt your true passion, you were probably tormented by a common dilemma. It has many different forms, depending on the person, but in a general form it goes something like: “If I do this for money, is it prostitution, or am I sharing my talent for the right price?” I’m sure it sounds familiar to a lot of people. Amateurs, who have no interest for going pro, rarely have any headaches from philosophical questions like this. They are photographers who have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. Their performance is measured by comparing today’s photos from last year’s.
The pro’s performance is measured in the contents of his bank account and number of clients. The passion itself is in a lot more danger with a professional than it is with an amateur. Not all pros live the lives they expected, even if they do make a good living, it might not be shooting what they hoped in the early days. Passion can be easily clouded by bills, mortgages and other forms of social and economic pressure. Unfortunately, it is a very fragile thing and I guess you can compare it to a sick person: depending on how ill it is, you may get it back, or you may not.
I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic here, but trust me, a lot of folks know what I’m talking about. For the self-proclaimed amateur, passion is by no means free of danger, but it’s not going away through constant erosion either. Someday, the amateur photographer might realize he’s really not that much into photography and decide to sell his gear. Or, he might become one of the best photographers in an online or art community. He has the immense freedom of doing exactly as he pleases without jeopardizing his living, his family’s living or his passion.
What I’m trying to point out with this little article is that so many people harm themselves by going pro when it’s not actually what they want. They open shop, pretty soon they shut down for various reasons and they either lose their interest for photography completely or shoot only on Sundays with a bad taste of remorse from a failed business that shouldn’t have happened anyway. It’s cool to be a pro, but sometimes it’s so much better to have only yourself to answer to and also have the time and energy to pursue personal projects. Don’t afraid to call yourself an amateur because you are still a photographer, every bit as much as the guy who photographed your wedding. You don’t need to work in a fancy restaurant to be a world class chef. The same principle applies to photography.
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