Professional Photographer Myths

Some interesting coffee discussions with associates have occurred lately. In no particular order here are 10 professional photographer myths that surfaced over a few cups of java.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to act as visual breaks.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 23 mm, efov 62.1 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-3200

Myth #1: Professional photographers own the latest, high-end camera gear.
While some pros may have recently made investments in new, high end gear, the majority use equipment that is far from being current. For example, the professional wedding photographer that my daughter hired for her wedding did a superb job. She brought three camera bodies with her. Two Canon full-frame cameras… one about 3 years old. The other one about 5. Her third camera was a Nikon D300 that was likely 10 years old or more at that time. Professional photographers view their camera equipment as depreciating business assets. The purpose of owning it is to generate revenue and profit. They use what makes them profitable. They don’t waste money by changing gear frequently… or buying gear that they don’t really need.

Castle Hill, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 22 mm, efov 59.4 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-160

Myth #2: Professional photography is a growing career choice.
No doubt there are exponentially more people trying to make money with photography. When I did a search on Google for ‘photography services’ I got 7,060,000,000 results in 0.56 seconds. Yeah… that’s right… 7.06 BILLION results. Then I narrowed my search to just wedding photography services and found 464 MILLION results were generated in 0.35 seconds. Pure logic tells us that with so many people chasing the ‘professional photography rainbow’ very few of them are actually making any decent money with photography. On a purely anecdotal basis, I’m aware of a lot more professional photographers leaving the business than new people joining it. After most ‘pro wannabees’ do a few inexpensive projects for friends and associates their pipeline dries up. That’s when the hard reality of being a professional photographer stares them in the face. If you can’t sell, you won’t eat. That’s not a myth.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400

Myth #3: All you need is a great website to display your work to market yourself as a professional photographer.
Look at the Google search stats in Myth #2. It is doubtful that anyone will even find your website, let alone hire you because of it. That’s not to say that a good website isn’t helpful. It can be… but usually as a place to showcase your work to a prospective client after the initial marketing contact has been made. Although it is a subset of Myth #3, I could have added the belief many folks have that it is easy to get business, to our list of professional photographer myths.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 53 mm, efov 143.1 mm, f/5, 1/1600, ISO-1600, extension tube used

Myth #4: Professional photographers set their own schedule.
They do if they don’t want to make much money. Otherwise, they most often work to the schedule required by their clients. That could mean lots of evenings and weekends, especially for wedding photographers. Doing the on-site work is only the start of the process. After that there are many hours in the office/studio working to finish a project to meet a client deadline. The reality can be long 16 to 20 hour days to meet deadlines, not the perceived time freedom contained in this professional photographer myth.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-4500

Myth #5: Professional photographers are generalists and can handle any assignment.
Most successful professional photographers have a primary focus that took years for them to learn. It forms their bread and butter business. They may take some assignments outside of that expertise from time to time, but only if their gear is suitable and they are totally confident that they can handle the work. A professional photographer is only as good as their last assignment. Many pros would not risk their reputation taking work that they are not confident that they can handle to a high professional standard.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 35.3 mm, efov 95.3 mm, f/5.6, 1.6 sec, ISO-160

Myth #6: Clients expect professional photographers to have big, expensive camera gear.
To some degree that was the case 15 or 20 years ago… not so much now. Clients are more focused on the end result that is produced. As long as the images or video meets their needs, most clients couldn’t care less what gear was used to create it. If you are planning to buy some ‘big expensive gear’ so you can look the part… it’s best to save your money.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @208 mm, efov 562 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-4500

Myth #7: Being a professional photographer is glamorous.
Tell that to the folks who toil behind cameras taking Little League team photographs. Or school pictures. Or an endless stream of product shots for a catalogue. Or the professional wedding photographers who have to deal with ‘bridezillas’ day in and day out. Sure, professional photographers do have to travel from time to time when on assignment. This certainly is no holiday. They face the added pressure of delivering the work the client wants… with no chance of a ‘do over’ if the shoot doesn’t go well. If the photographer screws up… any ‘do over’ costs are often at their expense. Lawsuits are not uncommon when a special event like a wedding is messed up.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

Myth #8: If you love photography, you’ll make a great professional photographer.
Being a professional photographer has little to do with following your own creative passions with photography. It is all about creating images for your client that meets their specific needs. In some ways creating images for clients is the easiest part of being a professional photographer. The hard part is continually finding new clients and project opportunities, and looking after the nuts and bolts of the business. Keeping project time logs. Sending out invoices. Collecting money owed. Making sure government tax filings are current. Keeping your equipment properly maintained and serviceable. Professional photography is often more about running the business than doing the assignments.

Purakaunui Falls, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm, f/3.5-5.6 mm @ 8 mm, efov 21 mm, f/8, 1/4, ISO-160

Myth #9: People love my social media postings, so I have the talent to be a professional photographer.
The number of ‘likes’ your photographs generate are meaningless. They may make you feel good, but that doesn’t pay the bills or indicate you could be a successful professional photographer. Your talent is only of commercial value when someone is willing to pay you for your work. What you enjoy photographing on a personal basis may have nothing to do with what clients may be willing to purchase. Unless you can demonstrate your skill with specific subject matter that is of interest to a prospective client, it will be a challenge to sell yourself and get some paid work.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 30 mm, efov 81 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-800

Myth #10: Professional photographers make a lot of money.
Some do, many don’t. The market is glutted with people trying to make a buck with their cameras. Far too often it results in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of the rates that are charged. Much of the photography market has been commoditized. The professional photographers who make very good money are the ones that have an incredible level of expertise in their specific niche… and have some business acumen. Their clients are willing to pay for that expertise because they are confident that they will get the quality images/videos they need. Every time, and on time, from that pro. And, the pro is knowledgeable enough to understand the value of their work. That combination can create sufficient income for a comfortable lifestyle. Stratospheric incomes are enjoyed by a very select few.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 29 mm, efov 78.3 mm, f/5.3, 1/1600, ISO-800

So, there you have it… 10 professional photographer myths. At least the ones that coffee chats recently helped identify. If you have any additional ones to share, feel free to comment!

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12 thoughts on “Professional Photographer Myths”

  1. Hi Tom,

    I can relate to most, if not all, of what you enumerated. I make special mention of several that I can relate to the most based on personal experience:

    >Myth #2: Professional photography is a growing career choice.

    This could’ve been true… about a decade or so ago. Nowadays, it seems everybody armed with a camera would call themselves a pro when working for paying gig. Hard to compete too with people who would offer their services for free (or dive down with their fees) just to break into the business.

    >Myth #4: Professional photographers set their own schedule.

    I wish LOL. Truth is your sked is subject to either: the client’s availability, the model or subject matter’s availability, the imminence of project deadline, et al.

    > Myth #7: Being a professional photographer is glamorous.
    > Myth #10: Professional photographers make a lot of money.

    Tell this to a photographer with barely enough fee left to pay for cab fare since the client budget is so tightly squeezed. Some clients even have the temerity to offer barter (ex. hotel accommodations) instead of cash as if that could pay for your bills. Go figure.

    Myth #8: If you love photography, you’ll make a great professional photographer.

    Working to shoot can be as different from shooting for pleasure as night is to day. Being a pro means shooting things that are far from your personal preferences or liking; also shooting when one is far from inspired or the creative juices are not flowing especially with an imminent deadline.

    With the proliferation of AI/deep learning algorithms, it is interesting to find out where the photography business is going. I’ve actually encountered quite a few photographers who will shoot machine-gun style then fix the images in post later. Social media and its “fakeries” is helping shape the acceptance of images that are surreal, far removed from reality. Interesting times to be a photographer indeed.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for your comment and sharing your experiences!

      I also wonder where the photography business is going. Some companies have recently introduced ‘studio lights for smartphones’… that fact alone is quite instructive. A few photography-related websites, including DxOMark, seem to be focusing on smartphone photography with their testing and editorials. No doubt the camera market and the role of professional photographers are in states of transformation.

      When I purchased my first interchangeable lens camera back in 1974 the camera market was very different than it was in 2012. In 1974 the only people who owned interchangeable lens cameras were working professional photographers, other folks who needed that kind of gear for their job, or hobbyists with the finances to support their interests. When the camera market peaked in 2012 the popularity of photography had spread significantly, driven largely by social media. For many people today their lives revolve around their smartphones and instant communications… which also includes their photographs.

      I think we will see the camera market continue to contract and eventually return to 1974 levels… perhaps even smaller. A few specialized areas where cameras are used will remain. Other than that, smartphones will continue to eat into the camera market. In the years ahead we can expect to see some companies exit the camera business as the market volumes continue to erode and squeeze out some competitors.

      Camera manufacturers seem to view moving to full frame gear, and even larger sensors, as a magic bullet to counter the impact of smartphones. For much of the photography market, convenience will always win out over image quality… even larger sensor quality. My view is that full frame equipment will not stem the tide… it will only shift some of the current market into more expensive gear. As the average age of camera buyers continues to increase, so too will the pressure on camera manufacturers. When I do presentations to camera clubs, I see very few younger people in the audience.

      In my mind, the camera manufacturers that will survive will be the ones that embrace AI/deep learning algorithms, and innovate with their products to enable their owners to create images in new and different ways. They will also focus the capability of their camera gear on subject matter that is challenging for smartphones.


      1. Hi Tom,

        It’s interesting indeed to find out where the photography business is going. As you’ve noted and I concur, fewer younger people are joining photography clubs. Just today, this interesting and revealing interview with Sony manager, Hideki Yoshida, shows how on the part of Sony AI will play a part in its integration onto sensors.

        In summary, what he’s saying is that:
        – Where today, sensors create clean images based on what human eyes see…
        going forward, sensors with AI aim to create clean image data based on HOW AI SEES THE WORLD (my emphasis)

        Curious also to note the barrage of AI into all sorts of software and apps (Photoshop just launched its latest iteration with AI; Apple calls its Deep Fusion; Luminar continues to parade apps for creating fake skies and Barbie doll facial cleanups LOL).

        PS. I wholeheartedly agree that the full frame and larger (medium format/smaller than MF but bigger than 35mm) efforts of Lumix, Sigma, Fuji, et al are efforts to stem the tide but with the direction as to how images are consumed, this may be efforts in vain. Already, companies like Canon and Nikon are reporting sharper declines. My guess is that companies who are dedicated in optics/photography may have to reinvent itself or we know what will happen.


        1. Hi Oggie,

          Strategically companies that are overly dependent on their camera business are likely to be at the biggest risk. Organizations that have other primary businesses, but where their camera/optics group contributes to the other enterprises may make it through… perhaps as a ‘skunk works’ for innovation.


  2. BTW: in the second-to-last shot, how did you avoid the classic eBay faux pas of getting yourself in the subject’s reflective surfaces?

    Was it re-touched? Or did you carefully (or inadvertently) put your reflection in the top corner of the chrome air cleaner?

    1. Hi Jan,

      When photographing subject’s with reflective surfaces I try to do my best to be out of view if possible. My reflection is actually in that particular image twice… and seen as two small red highlights on the chrome edges. For more critical images I may take some time to remove my reflection… in this case I just let the two reflections stand as captured.


  3. Myth #5: Professional photographers are generalists and can handle any assignment.

    It is so right on that you need a niche if you want to earn a living in this field! Mine was doing fine art photography on backlit material, putting it in hand-made frames designed to look nice on both sides, and hanging it in windows.

    But in five years, I only sold a handful of those, because I had to charge hundreds of dollars for them.

    My “bread and butter” was the same material, with a black mat on either side with a couple holes drilled in the corners, a length of nylon fishing line, and a suction-cup hook, starting at $16.

    Myth #7: Being a professional photographer is glamorous.

    While I was actually making a living at it, the amount of time I spent actually doing photography declined precipitously. Most of my time was consumed with production, marketing, bookkeeping, etc., and very little with photography. I had to get out of the business to enjoy it again!

    It’s been said about photographers, “Amateurs worry about equipment. Professionals worry about money. Masters worry about light.” I got out because I didn’t enjoy worrying about money.

      1. Hey, I just did my first professional gig in nearly ten years!

        This was for our local apple festival. I had to photograph 422 different varieties of apples for documentation purposes. Most would never be seen at greater than screen resolution, although some might end up being used in posters or other promotional material. It is highly unlikely that any of them would ever be printed larger than 8″x10″.

        • The client did not know or care what equipment I used.
        • The client did not know or care what size my sensor was.
        ° The client did not want any sort of “bokeh balls.”
        • The client did not know or care how many stops of dynamic range I had, or what the noise floor was, or how many pixels there were.
        • The client did not know or care what sort of post-processing I would do — if any.
        But, the client’s perception (probably correct) was that a smart phone was not up to the job.
        • I could start no earlier than 9PM, and had to be finished when the doors opened to the public at 8AM the next morning. So much for “setting my own hours.”

        As repetitive documentary work, I shot for “size invariance” and set up a shooting distance based on the largest apples I had to portray, chose an ƒ-stop that would get most of the apple sharp at screen resolution, along with the sign noting it’s variety, and then never touched the focus or aperture again. It was under high-pressure sodium lights. I used aperture priority and automatic colour balance, and no flash.

        I got $150. It took me under three hours. I felt guilty about taking $50/hr, and spent another hour keying the apple variety into the EXIF “UserComment” field. I then batch-exported all the RAWs as full-size, high-quality JPEGs, then used exiftool to automatically rename the files after their apples — which was not requested by the client at all, but which will be appreciated, I’m sure. I probably would have done just dandy with full-size, in-camera JPEGs.

        This was with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Zuiko Digital 50mm ƒ/2 macro lens, via adapter. The modern 60 macro would have been too long — I was already on tippy-toes on some of the apples to get the whole subject in.

        The E-M1.2 hit the “sweet spot” for this gig. A Fool Frame camera would have been too unwieldy, and would have had too little depth-of-field! An auto-everything smart phone probably would have been slower. Anything without really good IBIS would have required unwieldy flash that would have slowed me down. (I was shooting as low as 1/10th.)

        I got this gig after entering an international competition based on replying to a formal request-for-quote, and submitting a portfolio for judgement — NOT!

        I got this gig because I had volunteered to take photos of the apple festival in prior years, and was the only one willing (and capable) to do the “glamorous” work of shooting 422 apples for formal documentation work! All the other volunteer photographers wanted to take cute, emotional photos of children eating apples, with puppies looking on quizzically, with glowing bokeh balls in the background. And one of them will probably get the front page of the local paper, or maybe win $100 in some photo competition, with way more than the four hours I put in.

        The client loved the work, and told me this is my permanent gig in the future, if I want it. Oh, the glamour of it all. 🙂

        I guess the only myth this dispels a bit is the “generalist” one. I got the gig because I had a sound background in technical photography, and could quickly set up a routine shooting sequence as a human Xerox™ machine, if you will.

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