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Professionalism in Wedding Photography
by Bob Decker

Professional.  If you're shopping for a wedding photographer it's a word you'll see a lot.  Virtually every photographer you consider will claim to be a professional photographer.  By the simplest definition,  "someone that charges for their services," they are.  But generally there's more to being a professional than just charging a fee.  Lets examine some of the special attributes that can separate a true professional from everyone else.

A true professional might belong to a professional organization.  For a wedding photographer these organizations might include: Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI), Professional Photographers of America (PPA) among others.  There are also online forums that require fairly stringent proof of professionalism in order to join.  A good example would be the Digital Wedding Forum (DWF),  which is the sponsor of this web site.  Associations such of these provide members with excellent opportunities to stay informed about new and emerging technologies and trends.  These organizations will also sponsor seminars and workshops, hold conventions and provide networking opportunities to their membership.  Membership in these kinds of organizations is a clear sign that a photographer is serious about their career.

A professional makes an honest effort to stay current with new technologies, trends and techniques within the profession.  While membership in a professional organization is one way of making that effort, it certainly isn't the only way.  Professionals tend to stay current by subscribing to magazines, participating in online forums and attending trade shows.

When one hears or sees the term "professional" they assume such an individual has a higher level of expertise and knowledge than that of an amateur practitioner.  The acquisition of such knowledge may come from formal education, apprenticeship, or years of practice and experimentation as a non-professional.  While a certificate or degree alone will not make one a professional, it can be an indicator that they are serious about photography as a career.

People who are serious about the business of photography work hard to constantly become better photographers. Most professions that have  licensing requirements require yearly continuing education in order to maintain the license. A true professional understands that learning never ends and they actively participate in continuing education opportunities.  They may attend seminars and workshops or take advantage of various online courses.  They might also teach a program at the local community college, through their studio or via some community based program.  Teaching often provides as much an education to the instructor as it does to the students.

Then there's the matter of legal requirements.  A true professional will be registered with state, regional and local governments as required by law.  They will collect sales tax as required, have the  necessary business licenses and permits and operate in a legal manner.  A professional simply isn't going to operate in an "under the table" manner.  In addition to legal requirements most professionals will be covered by some form of business insurance.  Many wedding venues will require a certificate of insurance from a photographer before allowing them to shoot on the premises.  Professional liability insurance not only covers the photographer should an accident occur due to their actions or equipment, it helps reduce both your and the venue's liability as well!

A professional conducts business in a professional manner.  They use well written contracts that cover the concerns for both parties.  They provide their clients with invoices, statements and receipts as required. Company policies are in writing and available to the client. These policies are often presented in the form of "Frequently Asked Questions" on the photographers web site or within their information materials. Professional photographers don't operate on a handshake and a wink basis.

Using up to date, state of the art tools is another indication of professionalism regardless of the profession.  For professional photographers this means using quality camera bodies and lenses, dependable lighting equipment and current photo processing software. Generally a professional will have back-up equipment in case of a failure.  Even a new camera can fail so a professional certainly wouldn't show-up to your wedding with only one camera, lens and flash!

Honesty and integrity are a big part of professionalism. A professional photographer will be able to provide you with samples of real weddings as well as references from past clients.  They will not represent another photographers work as their own (stock photos) nor try to pass off photos taken at workshops or during model shoots as images from an actual wedding.  While there is no licensing or certification requirements for professional wedding photographers, there are some generally accepted standards within the industry.  A 
professional follows those standards.

There really is a lot more to being a professional photographer than buying a nice digital camera, putting up a pretty web site and charging a fee to take pictures.  When shopping for a wedding photographer it's a good idea to consider what demonstrates professionalism and looking for those attributes in the photographers you consider.  You may pay a little more for a true professional photographer but, in the end, it will be more than worth it.

Bob Decker is a wedding and portrait photographer making his home along North Carolina's Crystal Coast.  He specializes in beach weddings and location portraiture along the Southeastern U.S. coast.

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