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The Difference Between an Amateur, Freelance, and Professional Photographer

The Difference Between an Amateur, Freelance, and Professional Photographer

I’m a professional photographer, with the equipment, studio, and taxes to prove it. I wasn’t always a professional photographer, however. Once upon a time I was an amateur/hobbyist photographer. Making the transition from an amateur photographer to that of a professional photographer is probably the most illusive aspect of being a photographer, and is idolized by a simple term. That term being: “Freelancer”.

Now this can be confusing to many who seem to have the impression that professional photographers are freelance photographers, especially when many professionals claim to be such. So to put it as simply as possible, the main aspects that define the difference between these three are: The type of equipment used, comprehension of photographic technique, style of work, and profitability. The difference between the three types of photographers is what truly sets the status and state of your self and your work.

Amateur Photographers
This is probably the broadest category of photographer, simply because it’s all inclusive of whoever doesn’t fall within the realm of the other two categories. Amateurs include anybody with a point-and-shoot camera and those with excessively low grade SLR cameras, who typically take “party pics”, shoot on a “for fun” basis, or only ever shoot their friends. Many of those who fall under this category are either still learning and/or mastering basic photographic technique or simply don’t care about technique. Probably the absolute most defining aspect of this group is simply that those under its realm do not (and usually cannot) make a living based from photographic endeavors.

If you are using a Point and Shoot Camera like this, You will always be an Amateur. Image by

Professional Photographers
Professional Photographers are the smallest type of photographers, but the most commonly misrepresented. These people have worked hard and show it in not only their mastery of basic photographic techniques, but also in there own independent styles and techniques. Usually people on this level have their own high-end equipment, studios, and private high profile clientele, and maintain their standard of living (and usually well-exceed it) based only on their photographic endeavors.

Professional photographers tend to specialize in a certain aspect of photography such as studio photography. Image by

Freelance Photographers
The in-between class of photographer, those in this group typically suit a large range of clientele, both personal and commercial, and maintain a high quality of equipment to pursue such. This status is typically reached after mastering all basic photographic techniques, and characterized by the in progress development of personal styles and techniques of their own. Freelance photographers usually cannot live well off their income, but can easily supplement it through there photographic endeavors.

Working as a Freelancer can feel like a competition of abilities and wills. Image by

Now you might be wondering why I felt it was necessary to classify and define these three groups, and the answer is simple. There is no mention of artistic ability within any of these classifications. How amazing your photographs are does not define what level your on. I have personally seen a 10 year old pick up a camera and within 10 minutes shoot professional-grade photos. Your ability is your ability, but identifying your standing as a photographer will help teach you what you need to learn and work on to become the professional photographer that you want to be. I only recently transitioned into that of professional photographer after many years of hard work as a freelancer, but most photographers have yet to move on from that of amateur status.

3 Comments

  1. Not sure why you posted this article. Seemed condescending to me. I do photography for a hobby. (fun). I dont aspire to be a professional. My experience has been similar to this with most professionals. Maybe you could write an article on why that is?

  2. Thanks for the article. I’d like to suggest that there is also another category of photographer, because I don’t fit into any of the other three you have suggested. I call it the ‘enthusiast’ category. I’ve never had a point and shoot digital camera, I don’t make a living out of photography, and I’m not a freelancer. In fact, I haven’t even tried to sell a photo/print. However, I know considerably more than an amateur, but still have a long way to go if I were to become a professional. I have worked my way up to a Canon 60D (mid-range), after having a prosumer Olympus model for about 7 years (which some would say is a p&s, but I think is a step above that), then borrowing a DSLR for 12 months, and believe I’ve learnt enough so far to use my 60D very capably. I have read a lot of photography info in the last 12 months, and have practised every moment I have available. I still have lots to learn, and I’m not in a hurry to sell my photos. I just want to take really good photos, in both easy and difficult circumstances.
    I guess you could say there are even more categories, but I think the one I fit into describes quite a lot of photographers.

  3. Very well said Jannette! I have done all the above and would still consider myself a ‘enthusiast’ because it’s much more relaxed so to speak :)

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