Why I Hate Being Called a ‘Professional Photographer’

Yesterday, I was at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shooting for Flashes of Hope, a wonderful non-profit organization that gets photographers like myself to volunteer their time and create portraits of kids who are literally fighting for their lives. These portraits are given to the families for free. Flashes of Hope is a truly wonderful group.

It can take a moment to convince these families to overcome shyness and mistrust, and allow themselves to be photographed. The chapter coordinator often uses the phrase, “professional photographer” or “professional portrait” to give credence to our work. I have heard this term in many other situations.

I hate it.

For me, the term “professional photographer” is cringe-worthy. I dislike the idea that just because I am paid to do something it infers that I have talent. I know this is not true. There are many, many talented amateur photographers out there who have a wonderful way of seeing and know how to turn that vision into great photographs. There are also many “professional” photographers whose work is boring, derivative and soulless. My self-esteem does not come from being paid, but from creating work that touches others. While I acknowledge that the term “professional photographer” is a convenient shorthand is still bothers me deeply and always has.

While it takes a lot of guts, discipline and a “bit of crazy” to build a career in photography it does not mean you have the ability to touch another’s souls with your pictures. That magic is rare and comes from somewhere that is independent of a paycheck.

Do me a favor: next time you introduce a “professional photographer,” try saying “talented” instead. It will spread a bit of joy on a photographer’s day, which might just help them create a bit of magic, beauty and love.

About the author: Zave Smith is a passionate photographer who was raised and trained in the Midwest, and is now based out of Philadelphia and New York. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and Facebook.

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