The Curse of the Professional

Being a professional is not the finish line.
At best it’s a stepping stone.
At worst it’s a dead end.

I once had a conversation with a friend who was a photographer. He’d spent a long time studying all the technical aspects of photography and working on his skills. Gradually attempting to lift the standard of his work.

One night, we had a couple of beers, he showed me some photographs and asked me to tell him what I thought. 

My honest response was this: “They look like they were taken by a professional photographer.”

But what does that mean?

Economically, it means you can charge the going rate. It means that what’s been created is a commodity of sorts. 

It could’ve been taken by any faceless professional. That doesn’t mean they’re bad shots, that just means they meet spec.

To go beyond that, to break out of that zone and into the next eschelon a transition needs to take place. You need to become an artist.

Professionals play well within the boundaries of a brief.
An Artist plays with the boundaries of a brief.

Professionals think about what the client wants.
Artists think about what the audience wants.

A professional can charge the going rate.
An artist commands their own rate, providing they’re good enough.

It may have sounded harsh, but my intent was to motivate him to make the leap to the next level. He didn’t need to earn money from his photography,
it was a passion project on the side.

My advice was this: the only way to go from selling a photo for $50 to selling it for $5000 is if it goes from looking like it could’ve been shot by anyone, to being unmistakable that it was shot by you.

That takes perspective, a philosophy and a commitment to cultivating a style of work, a brand so to speak.

And that’s how you break the curse of the professional.

Mike Drysdale

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