It has been a beautiful wedding! The bride and groom are absolutely glowing because they are happy and in love as they walk hand in hand out of the church. There, the crowd of their close friends and family has been patiently waiting to greet the newlyweds with bubbles and cheers. This is the first day of the eternity that they have vowed together in the ceremony that we have just completed. There is always a calm at this point in the wedding day. The main event is now over, nerves are more settled and it is time to begin family pictures. As usual we are going to begin with the grandparents because they are ready to bounce and would much rather be visiting with the relatives that drove all the way down from Wisconsin than to have to sit through 30 minutes of photos.
As I set up some nice shots of the bride with her 80 year old Nana I hear the voice of Aunt Ellen behind me politely asking me if she may take a picture of this as well. “Well, of course” I say. I’m always happy to share my bride and groom and let other people get some shots in at weddings. I even step aside so that my fat head isn’t featured in this beautiful inter-generational moment. As Aunt Ellen steps in with her 4 year old IPhone 4s she gives me a smile of assurance and says “thank you, it’s not like I’m a professional or anything”.
A few years ago I ran into a guy that I hadn’t seen since high school. It was one of those close to Christmas time encounters that everyone has in bars around the holidays. I am going to use fake names to protect the innocent in this mostly true story. Immediately, he introduced me to his fiancé. As I shook her hand I said “dang Bill, you must have upped your game since high school this beautiful lady is way out of your league!” We all got a good laugh out of that (jokes are always more funny when there is a hint of truth in them). “So, when’s the big day?” I asked. “June, we’re going to have it back in New Mexico where we’ve been living for the last four years. All of her family still lives out there”. Bill explained as he took a swig from his Coors Light. Well, my mind automatically goes to wedding photography whenever anyone discusses weddings with me. It’s my thing. They were very excited about their wedding plans. They were dropping some big money on a venue and they told me all about the band that they hired with a brass section. I remembered reading about a few amazing wedding photographers in their area in one of my photographer magazines. For conversational purposes alone I asked if they had ever heard of “So n’ So” because they do some pretty nice work from what I understand. “No”, he tells me. “I know this guy at my work who has a really nice camera. It’s like a professional camera. So, he’s going to take pictures at the wedding.”
Being in the photography business, I hear different understandings of a professional photography all of the time. What defines a “professional photographer”? Is it the camera? I’ve got a really nice, expensive tool set at home that I got from my dad as a birthday present one year. Not fully accepting my total lack of handiness, he thought that I could use some nice tools. I’ve still got them and I use them from time to time around the house and the studio. Does that make me a carpenter? They are a top of the line brand. I’ve got an old friend that I hadn’t seen or talked to in many years. He was my Platoon Sargent in the Marines. I recently got in contact with him through Facebook. He has just taken up photography and has posted some of his work on Facebook. I have been admiring the beautiful nature pictures that he has been taking for the last couple of months. He even went up to a bunch of strange skater kids in a park one day and did an impromptu shoot with them that totally inspired me. I am in awe of this man’s natural ability as a photographer. He just gets it. As far as I know, he has never made any money from his work but dang, he’s good. Is he a professional?
If you have actually read this far in this blog, first of all thank you. Wow, you have really stuck with me. Secondly, I am sorry but I don’t exactly have the answer to my question. All that I have to offer here is MY UNDERSTANDING of what a professional is: to me, it’s a person who instills confidence in the people that he/she works with. This confidence comes from the understanding that the job is being done by someone who takes the time to master their trade. It’s also a person who takes the time to understand what it is that their customers want and need.
What is it that gives you confidence in a professional photographer? Is it a degree in photography? Is it the pictures that are posted on social media? Is it a nice expensive camera? Is it just anyone who charges for pictures?
Now it’s time for my opinion…. If I were not me (hypothetical of course), and I needed a professional photographer for any situation, I would simply go with someone that I liked and trusted. Yes, of course I would have to like them. I can’t stand a waitress with a lousy personality; there is no way that a boring photographer could make me smile. Well, except at the DMV. The total lack of happiness at the DMV always makes me smile a little. I picture myself in one of those prison movies going through processing and getting my mug shot taken. Can you say Shawshank (LOL) “we’re all innocent in here”. I am getting way off track! Anyway, Trust is paramount in any relationship. Trust that I’m getting what I’m paying for. Trust that the photographer won’t make me look or feel stupid. Trust that if there were any problems, then said problems would be taken care of.
Now it’s time for what you think…. What do you think a “professional photographer” is? If you have read this far and have any energy left to respond to this blog, tell me what you think.