What A Pro Captures versus What An Amateur Shoots

There is one sentence in the Seattle Bride Magazine’s article Pros Of Hiring A Pro that says it all.

“I now disagree more than ever with the digital-age adage that “now everyone is a photographer.”

This coming from an amateur photographer that is doing pretty well as a travel photographer – he has had a few cover images, so he knows a thing or two about photography.

The assumption right now is if you have a camera, love taking pictures, you can photograph anything any time. And I don’t just hear this from the consumers; I hear it from seasoned professionals as well. So many people have bought into the theory that if you have a camera, you can be a professional.

Isn’t that just like saying if you have a plunger, you can be a professional plumber? Or if you have a toothbrush you can be a dentist?

Having the love, desire and passion for photography is your starting point. Then it moves up from there.

You have to know your camera inside and out, be able to shoot in any condition without thinking about it – you just know how to set your camera/flash to get the best image possible.

You have to have the best equipment possible for your circumstances. Multiple professional grade bodies, multiple lenses, flash units – whatever you need to do the best job possible.

You have to know the business side of photography. You have to be good at everything – photography, production, sales, marketing, planning. It all makes you a better photographer, and presents you that way to your potential customers.

And you have to be willing to keep learning along the way. I talk to photographers all the time that swore they would retire before they ever had to use new technology (i.e. digital, social networking, website marketing, etc) and now they are some of the best in the industry. Things change. And you have to change with it. That’s just the way it is.

And finally, you have to be willing to pay for the best, and know when to call in an expert to help you get exactly what you want. Just like you would never have a friend put in a crown over a broken tooth, you should never call in a friend to photograph one of the most important days of your life.

As the amateur photographer in the Seattle Bridal Magazine said:

“My fiancé and I are on a tight budget and had planned to take a gamble and hire an amateur photographer friend. Now? We’re determined to find a way to get a pro.”

18 thoughts on “What A Pro Captures versus What An Amateur Shoots”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I am an evolving ‘intermediate’ photographer, no longer an amateur but no where near a pro. I have the passion and the desire to learn, and I have learned a TON over the last two years since I bought my first DSLR, but the one thing I’ve learned the most is that I don’t know a thing!

    Okay, that’s a big of an exaggeration – I look at how my work has evolved over the last two years, and I do see a dramatic improvement, and I know that I have the ability to learn to be just as good as anyone out there, but I still have a long way to go.

    Let’s just say that I know enough to know what I don’t know. 🙂

  2. I don’t agree that you need multiple high quality bodies, lenses and flashes to be a good photographer.
    Today’s technology makes good photography attainable for anyone, even on a tight budget.

    Technology doesn’t make you a good photographer automatically of course. You need talent, a good eye for quality, and perseverence. If you have that, it will show through regerdless of your equipment.

  3. Well….Ellin said it all!!
    I feel the exact same way….I could not have explained it better.
    I have so much more to learn but do see my photos evolving through the years….and I will never give up!

  4. I hate to break it to you but MANY consumers can’t tell the difference between pro work and many soccer moms who have a bit of an eye who are shooting on auto mode outdoors. Or maybe some of the consumers don’t want to be able to tell the difference because soccer mom is giving away all the digital files for 50 bucks. Many consumers feel that work is “good enough” because they can see how much money they can save going with the non-pro (or the amateur who does a good job but doesn’t charge as a business for profit).

    Us artistic types can spot the difference between a pro and nonpro, but not all consumers can or care to. I appreciate my clients that can see the difference. Hope the tide changes in the future and more consumers can start spotting the difference.

  5. At most weddings these days, there will be at least 3 or 4 photos taken by family or friends that are incredible – capturing the emotion and the moment perfectly. But can they shoot for 6-8 hours and get every shot they’re supposed to get? Of course not – they’re amateurs! Sure some people can’t see the difference, but they’re normally the people for whom near enough is good enough. And that’s what they get when they go with an amateur – perhaps some really great images, but on the whole….’near enough’!
    I agree with Elin – still learning myself, I never want near enough to be good enough in regards to my images and I’m realistic enough to know that some people will recognise this and others won’t. I’ve got a long way to go!

  6. I don’t bother getting wound up about photographers who don’t come up to others in standards, If people buy from them then well done to the photographer, especially if it gives them more inspiration to go out and take even better photos. I think there is enough room in the marketplace for everyone. In all industries you have top spec companies and those that are trying to compete and learn along the way. Why should we be so churlish towards the new blood? Life is a learning curve.

  7. Opa Bokma….
    A really good photographer can make the most amazing imagery with one lens and one body yes, BUT the reality of being a professional is that you must have the redundancy in case of failure as well as the tools to be able to create for many types of clients eg) commercial or wedding and I believe that is what the article is in part trying to state.
    What happens if you are shooting a wedding as as the bride is walking down the isle, the camera has a seizure? You panic but a professional is prepared and simply switches cameras/bodies and keeps shooting. It absolutely happens….because it’s happened to me.
    It’s not about being able to take a great photo, it’s about setting goals to making photography into a career that will not only benefit you but those you photograph but you community and your family too.

    • Thanks Gloria – I completely agree. I had a camera nosedive off a tripod right in front of the clients while photographing formals at a wedding. I picked it up, threw it in the case, grabbed another one, and acted like nothing happened. It’s all a matter of professionalism and being prepared for any situation. If you are in business long enough, you are prepared for anything, and can react professionally to everything.

  8. I totally disagree that you need the best equipment. The best photographers can still make amazing imagery out of mediocre equipment. You have to know how to use what you have to work for you. I can go out and shoot a better image with a pinhole camera than someone with $10,000 equipment if I have the eye and passion.

  9. I recently heard the perfect quote at a class at Photoshop World two weeks ago…..Shooting Nikon/Canon doesn’t make you a photographer, it makes you a Nikon/Canon owner….nuff said 🙂

  10. Ruth baley,,,, you don’t get wound up on photographers who don’t come up to others in standards???
    do you do that when you do to the dentist??? I have a toothbrush,, can I pull your tooth?,,,, I bought a calculator,,,, can I do your taxes?,,,,,,,,, I can act like a jerk,,,,,,,,, can I be your lawyer????????? nope, all of these walks of life have standards and TESTS you have to pass before you can even do what they do,,,,, and they still call it “practicing”……… Just because in your life you have no standards,,,, why do you expect everyone else to be as mediocre as you?

  11. The big difference is time. Can you shoot the CEO with only 15 minutes of their time to get the shots. As for equipment, it can always be rented if you do not have it in your kit, but you still need to know what you need and how to use it. Weddings are a lot of pressure and responsibility. Anything can go wrong, even for a seasoned Pro. Knowing how to handle situations and being prepared for whatever happens are as important as getting the shots.


  12. I did a blog post on this very thing last week actually SHOWING the difference between an amateur’s wedding photos and mine (the professional’s) at some of the most critical moments. (I was inspired by PPA’s See the Difference campaign.)


    What someone said in the comments is true–we have to educate the masses. It’s our job as professionals to SHOW the difference.

  13. I love hearing someone speaking my speak. Years ago I walked into a gallery / store in Kingston Canada to see if they would exhibit my work and the owner came out with the line “Today everyone with a camera thinks they’re a photographer.” After hearing that I shifted my head to the right and up on his wall was a photograph that someone had copied from my website. ( I no longer run a website ) Anyhow I looked at him and said “That’s true” “Even the ones who steal think their photographers too.” I then let him know about the photograph on the wall and walked out. I never went back.

  14. Photography is a product like many others, not everyone can afford a professional. There are MANY good home improvement do-it-yourselfers that show up at their local home center each weekend with very good results. Could the results be better? Many times of course! Some are highly skilled amateurs, some are just plain awful. But can everyone afford to pay for a professional? No. You get what you pay for. I drive an older car, somethings I maintain, some things I have skilled friends I trust who can help and many things above my skill level I take to a professional. True professional photographers are worth every penny, but to suggest there is no room for the part-time amateur or intermediate photographer is nonsense.

    • Bob
      I completely agree. And like you said, you get what you pay for. The point behind this post and this blog for that matter is to educate those that want to turn it into a business. Pros need to be on their game 99% of the time. Amateurs may get a good image here and there, but you can’t expect them to be on the money anywhere close to 99% of the time. A brain surgeon who operates once won’t be near as good as one that operates 100 times.



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