Common word, right? Gets thrown around a lot, like "expert", "premier", and a whole host of other similar words. But at the end of the day, what does it really mean?
Merriam Webster defines it as:
pro·fes·sion·al adjprə-ˈfesh-nəl, -ən-əl
1: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession
2: engaged in one of the learned professions
3: characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession
Lets take a look at those definitions, shall we?
#1...... Seriously? That's pretty weak to be honest.
#2.... "I do it, therefore I am a professional" ---- more on this one later!
#3...."Technical or ethical standards", this I like.
Just as buying a spatula does not make you a cook, buying a camera does not make you a photographer.
Yes, I know, we've all heard these cliche's to death, but.... I see it every day.
A quote from an actual bride right after telling me how important photographs of her wedding is to her, "We have a family friend that is getting into photography, they offered to shoot our wedding for $X.XX, so we're considering going with them." Well, if the photographs are that important, perhaps a "friend" isn't the best choice. This is simply common sense.
Would you hire a carpenter to fix your broken arm, because he's "getting into that sort of thing"? I know I wouldn't, because my arm is important to me. Having an interest in something does not make for professionalism. It makes for a nice hobby.
Weddings are unique in the photography world. They are a one time event. Yeah, yeah, you've heard this before, I know. Yet.... nevermind. "One Time Event", this means, if you screw it up, its screwed up.... period, end of statement. Do a search for "bad wedding photography" or "my photographer ruined my wedding" on Google, you'll get the idea, quick.
Yet... EVERY DAY, I see or hear people choosing a dirt cheap photographer with bad references, and wondering why their photos didn't turn out well.
Well, if you had the kid down the street that just got a shiny set of tools work on your car for cheap and it didn't work out perfectly, who would you blame? Yourself? or the kid?
If a customer makes a choice, based on price and price alone, and the quality isn't in the final product, who is to blame? The Service Provider? I don't think so.
I have stood on more soapboxes than I care to admit. Sometimes people like what I have to say, sometimes they don't. I always tell it like it is though. My goal is not to be the only Wedding Photographer around, its to improve the Wedding Photography Industry. This can only happen if both the photographers and the clients are educated just a little bit.
Simply buying a tool and attempting to perform an action does not make you a professional at that activity. If it did, I'd be a Professional Computer Programmer, Video Game Designer, Carpenter, Mechanic (you don't want me touching your car's engine, trust me), Roofer, Bricklayer, Computer Technician, etc, etc, etc.
So what DOES make one a Professional? Experience, Commitment, Drive, and Skill.
1) Experience: For a Wedding Professional, there is no substitute. Taking a nice photo is really only the absolute most basic thing a Wedding Photographer needs to be able to do. People skills! If the people don't like you, or think you're an idiot, they won't listen, thus, bad photographs.
2) Commitment: Wedding Photography isn't the type of thing you "dabble" in. You're either in the business, or you aren't. Now, doing it part time isn't completely evil, just so long as the Wedding Photography always takes precedence over anything else. That bride doesn't care that you have to be flipping burgers at 5 PM, she has a signed contract..... speaking of.... if a photographer offers to shoot your wedding and doesn't offer a contract, walk away. Yep, just walk away.
3) Drive: The willingness to go out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to do better. Instead of saying "no", saying, "How can I make that work?" These things are what makes a great Wedding Photographer.
4) Skill: Put simply, if you don't know how to operate a camera, or you think that big green "P" stands for "Professional", you should not be in the business...... yet. Someday Padawan, you will have your chance. (Sorry for the Star Wars reference)
Notice, I never said PASSION. Now, some of you may be wondering why I never said PASSION. Well.... passion is between your bride and groom, not their photographer. Seriously though, passion is great, it makes you want to do something, but it doesn't make you good at it. A lot of passionate people can't take a decent photograph.
Now, if you're still reading this, firstly, thank you, it shows you care about this industry or your own Wedding Photographs. Welcome to the club. So do we.
In summary, being a Professional Wedding Photographer means more than "ooh, he's got a nice camera", or "wow, they are so passionate about photography", or "well, some photographers charge such ridiculous fees, this one is really cheap". It means CARING, it means having the ABILITY to make your wedding special, and the SKILL and EXPERIENCE to make it GREAT!