There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur.

As an alternative view to yesterday’s popular post, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur.

I’m an amateur soccer player, an amateur cook, an amateur skier, designer, racecar driver, and flyfisherman. And I’m happy to be an amateur at all of those things. Actually I LOVE being an amateur at all of those things – it allows me to dabble, make a ton of mistakes, goof around, drop the ball, not care when something else might be distracting me etc.

Being an amateur at those things means I can be comfortable. It’s safe. There is no fear of success or failure. In each case actually becoming a professional overnight at ANY of those things above SOUNDS fun to me, but I know enough that the process of going pro at my hobbies above does NOT sound fun. The workload is too great, the road too steep. The path sounds too damn hard and the rewards don’t outweigh the effort enough to dedicate my life to it.

Being an amateur is the opposite of going pro. Going pro is….…uncomfortable, challenging, and requires laser focus. That’s not to say it’s not incredibly rewarding, but you catch my drift. Going “amateur” is cush.

Now if you’re out there wondering if you have what it takes to be a pro photographer, dancer, chef, whatever and this thought of keeping it amateur sounds the least bit tempting – stick to being an amateur. Someone who has what takes to be a pro and wants to do it would likely never be tempted by such a proposal.

Which one are you? Be the judge for yourself.

52 Responses to There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur.

  1. Mike Bourgeault April 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    The worst I ever felt about photography was last year while I tried to be “pro”. This year I decided to have fun. Its going much better.

  2. James Dyas Davidson April 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    And if you’re still not sure after reading Chase’s great posts, I recommend ‘Visionmongers’ by David DuChemin. That should sort your decision.

    • mike April 7, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      That is a great book to see where you are at in a profession. Myself, i wanted or still want to be a professional photographer, but right now i’d rather be a professional husband, son, and friend! More rewarding in my life!!

  3. Mr.Falcon April 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Now see I have what it takes to be a pro photographer. I am not trying to sound like some young kid, who has no responsibilities. I just feel that if you want to be a Professional photographer, it should not feel like “work”

    If you are going to do something that you love and that you enjoy doing, it will be enjoyable and you will benefit from it, even if you are a “Pro”.

    Now I have yet to make it as a Pro photographer for National Geographic, but I will.

    Honestly one day I will but I have been thrown some set backs, a recent house fire destroyed my equipment. I am currently without any gear, but that will not stop me from my ultimate dream.

    I will in some instant achieve victory.

  4. Dave April 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    So I have a question.. To go pro, do you actually have to give up your day job? what does the word pro actually mean? .. I’m not a photographer that makes my living from the craft.. but does that mean there really is no fear of success or failure for me… I actually do have clients.
    I’m always trying to stretch myself, my work, my skills to be the best photographer I can be… and there are plenty of folks who say they are pro that I could probably out shoot…
    I got a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do, but I guess I just struggle with the idea that if I’m not making all my income from photography I am less then someone who is… …just my random thoughts..

    • Michael P. Young April 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

      In reading Dave’s post, a tidal wave of thoughts and emotion struck me…I like what Dave has to say..and to add my two cents;

      What exactly is the definition of “going Pro”? It’s subjective and also relative. Does being pro mean owning a photography business? Grossing a certain amount of money per year? per assignment?

      If your primary clientele is Senior Portraits, well then your gross per assignment could be way less than commercial work. Are you considered the “go to” photographer in your sphere of influence? But because your sphere is smaller than say Jarvis, McNally, DuChemin…does it make you a “non pro”? Does any of “pro variables” make you less or more a Pro?

      For what it’s worth, I haven’t a clue. All I know is I caught the photography bug 5 years ago and spend a considerable amount of “laser-focus” energy pursuing photography and being the best photographer I can be with what life has given me in clientele, sphere, and time. Am I a pro? Don’t know…but what I ultimately measure my success on is whether or not I made a client happy with the deliverable and I’m trying to build a business out of that matter the size or importance of the client.

      And it’s taking a hell of a lot longer than I thought it would…so guess what? I have to suck it up and work two jobs while I pursue this…but because I’m not immediately able to earn sole income from the photography pursuit yet makes me no less of a pro because of that fact.

      • Herve April 7, 2011 at 6:03 am #

        So right! I have two independant jobs – software developper and photographer -, but I do them both in a professional way. To me being a pro does not mean that you earn your money from such or such business – I make part of my living from photography and the rest of my income from software engeniering -, but rather that you do your best to make the pictures your clients expect… rather than the ones you, as a free amateur, would do.
        In today’s economy, being a pro or being an amateur does not mean a lot. Acting professionally does make sense. A lot of sense.

    • Brian Powell April 7, 2011 at 8:15 am #

      Exactly… Defining ‘pro’ is a key concept. It can mean what you do for your primary income, but it should also infer a level of quality and professionalism.

      Also, the word ‘amateur’ is often misused and misunderstood. It comes from the French, ‘lover of’. Any pros that do not LOVE what they do? They are the ones saying ‘if you love what you do, don’t go pro’. We should all love it. It’s not just a marker of quality, or some stupid status label. Olympians are ‘amateurs'; think about it. How good, talented, dedicated, and passionate are they!?

      The issue I have with this whole discussion is that it is dualistic. Life is not black-and-white, no matter how much we want to put things in our neat little boxes. We are not ‘either’ “Pro” or “Amateur”. There is a wide spectrum of photographers out there, and we can’t just be classified into two completely separate boxes.

  5. Jon Read April 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    You imply that being an amateur *isn’t* “uncomfortable, challenging” and doesn’t “require laser focus” – well, that’s certainly not always the case.

    If you want to be an average amateur, sure, lay back, take it easy. If you want to be anything else, you have to go out there and experience the discomfort, do something challenging, and to do that requires focus.

  6. Grant McAllister April 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    I’m a professional web designer and Dad (yup, a professional Dad), It’s my job and I do it for a multimillion pound company but I love being an amateur photographer, amateur film maker, amateur blogger, amateur racing driver, amateur cook and soon to be an amateur snowboarder.

    Being amature is fun, but then again so is being professional and that pays.

  7. Marc April 6, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    I’m a professional amateur.

  8. Chris Plante April 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    I don’t want to give up my pension.Don’t want to be old and broke. I have seen too much of that so want to ensure I don’t end up in dire situation.

  9. Sanfter Baum April 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I appreciated reading this because for many years, becoming a “professional” was the golden carrot that I chased to no avail. I stopped enjoying just going out to shoot and my interest in photography faded for a few years. But as the song goes, “it takes separation to bring appreciation” and I found my way back to where I always belonged. I shoot because I love the process and nothing more. Besides, I hate labels and the whole idea of shooting for anything other than the love of the craft.

  10. Ben April 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Or maybe some of us can go semi-pro?!?! Which is how I would describe myself. I’m like a farm club baseball team with no aspirations to go up to the bigs.

  11. Mike April 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Being an amateur is fantastic. I can shoot what I want, whenever I want, however I want. No part of my photography is ever a chore.

  12. Cannon April 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Chase, if you’re ever in the Atlanta area and want to get into some awesome fly fishing (take your pick – big stripers on the fly, trout, bass, etc.) let me know. I wrote the book Fly Fishing Georgia and know some great spots that you’d enjoy (and that are great places to photograph).

  13. Edward De la Torre April 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I’ve contemplated not being pro for the same reasons you state here, but I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.

    I have some colleagues who shoot much more than I do, have more expensive gear, invest weekend after weekend in shoots but have zero intention on going pro. They’re very happy with not going pro.

    I do like your examples. Though I love eating food and experimenting, I leave the important dinners to my girlfriend. I’m usually forbidden from the kitchen while she works her magic.

  14. Stuart April 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Amateur comes from French, meaning a lover of. I want to be an amateur in everything I do.

  15. Anne April 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    We must have shared a thought bubble this morning. ;-)

  16. Luke April 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    Nice post, I like the opposite view from the going pro viewpoint. On forums especially, I see a lot of people trying to justify being called a professional. Sometimes it is better to just enjoy what you are doing and not get tied up in the title.

  17. cc April 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Yeah. Still pursuing going pro in my 5 year plan!

  18. ranger9 April 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I think being an amateur is HARDER than being a professional. See point 2 in:

  19. Kendall Rodriguez April 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Thanks for the post Chase. I wanted to be a pro and make a living at being a photographer. I did have to make some sacrifices but it’s well worth it. And after 9 years i’m still having fun.

  20. Callum April 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    I think being PRO is being able to live from doing something.

  21. Jason Mongue April 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Cute series of posts. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

  22. Night April 7, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    and you forgot one thing: being an amateur you can buy every lense / body you want just for fun, while being pro you end to buy things that you need to work and to get $.

  23. Rafael Hoyos April 7, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    My 2 cents,

    Being a Pro… : you KNOW what you are doing
    Amateur: You LOVE what are doing

  24. João Almeida April 7, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    Do you still have personal, amateur-ish, non commercial photo projects?

  25. Julie April 7, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    “Being an amateur at those things means I can be comfortable. It’s safe. There is no fear of success or failure.”

    In some cases, I guess this can be a definition of amateur, but it doesn’t completely hold for my approach. I did not make money as a horseperson. Did that mean I did not invest as much energy, angst, money, time, perfectionism, love, and loyalty in it (for longer than most people stay at one job much less profession) as I did in my stated profession – if not more? That goes for anything I have devoted myself to for any length of time. If I have made a commitment to something I tend to put the same energy into it, with the same expectations (and disappointments) of effort and appropriate output to my level of learning, as I do in my profession. I just don’t get paid.

    Do I dabble? Sure. Do I move from dabbling on to more of a commitment? Yeah, that’s where I am with photography now. However I don’t even consider myself an amateur at this point. I’m only about 18 months into it. I’m still on a majorly steep learning curve. When that starts to level off a little and I’m still committed – then that’s when I consider myself involved enough to put a label on it – to be an amateur. When I start thinking, “Can I PLEASE still call myself a beginner, please???” then I know I’m in deep.

  26. Tom April 7, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    I’m really good at being an amateur …

  27. Cameron April 7, 2011 at 5:13 am #

    I’ve heard “Turn your passion into your job and you’ll never work another day in your life” but for me turning the things I really enjoy into my job means that over time they will likely become only that, my job.
    +1 to shooting what you want when you want Mike.
    Having said that I enjoy the energy that you show for your craft/passion/job Chase which is why I continue to visit your blog.

  28. fas April 7, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    But being pro gets you that needed respect in your profession.

  29. Peter West April 7, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    I’ve been a pro since the early ’70s when I taught myself photography. I shot for a photo credits and $1 (so I could say I was a pro) for local weekly newspapers all around my town.

    Over the years I have always shot pro for dailies, weeklies, national magazines (I ended up a community newspaper and national mag editor and photographer).

    You send me out with any camera and I will come back with something publishable and an invoice. :)

    Now I’m trying (Yoda says there is no try) very hard to become an amateur! Why?

    It’s in the word amateur which comes from the old French (and ultimately Latin) and means “lover of.”

    I still don’t mind if somebody pays me for my services but there’s no amount of money that will keep me shooting all day in the rain or snow and then spend all the next day sitting in front of my computer working Lightroom to get the images just right.

    There is no greater calling in my mind than that of the amateur shooting for the pure love of photography. It maybe too late for me at my age but I’m working my way to amateur status.

  30. Ian April 7, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    Thanks for writing this Chase. Without putting my finger on why, the “turning pro” post left me a little irritated. This, the flip side, needed to be written and I LOVE the discussion it’s generated. Pro’s and Cons to both.

  31. Justin T April 7, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I think the big difference between the two sides is responsibility.

    As a pro, you need to have a plan and that plan has to provide some sort of results. There has to be some sort end result for a good deal of what you are photographing. You are still allowed to love every single minute of it, but you need to make enough cash to survive.

    Being an amateur means you don’t necessarily have to see any direct results from your work other then some finished photos. A pro’s work vs. a decent amateurs work could look nearly identical but a portion of that pro’s work better of made some moula. Whereas the skilled amateur could have equal quality of work but that photo doesnt have to serve any purpose other then looking the way he/she wants it to look.

    I think a pro’s work usually ends up looking like pro work because with the requirement of some success in order to survive, that pro needs to hone his/her craft in to the absolute best it can be. Most seasoned pros I know eat sleep and breathe photo with not much distracting them. An amateur has the luxury of feeling no pressure other then their own scrutiny.

  32. Grunge April 7, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I was a professional fighter pilot and greatly enjoy being an amateur photographer. I can tell you you can’t be an amateur fighter pilot…they don’t live very long!

  33. Pete April 7, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Being an “Amateur” photographer means less than half of your earnings comes from photography. The rest comes from a minimum-wage paying job.

  34. Ivan Cabrera April 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Interesting thougths from Chase and all of you. I’m an amateur photographer and I strive to be the best amateur photographer I can, but I dream of being a Pro.

    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts.

  35. copi April 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    yeah flyfishing!
    and life in general is “uncomfortable, challenging, and requires laser focus.”
    so i’m going pro at life, fly fishing, and photography, slowly, with baby steps.

  36. Scott April 8, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    I agree with where Chase is going in general, but not totally.

    Technically, the only difference between “amateur” and “professional” is that you get paid for what you are doing if you are a “professional”. Perhaps I could go so far as to say that you make your living from photography if you are a “professional” (and not just get paid for it).

    As far as I can tell, an amateur’s work can be just as “good”, just as “challenging”, just as “rewarding”, just as “uncomfortable”, and just as “stretching” as that of a professional.

    Many photographers strive to become “professional” as if it is some form of validation, when in fact it is not. Sure, there is some validation in people paying your for your work, but it may not truly be “your” work. For example, I would hate to have to take product shots day-in and day-out just to pay the bills. I have nothing against those that do, it’s just not what I want to do and I would get no “validation” from being paid to do that.

    I am very fortunate in that I do NOT rely upon photography to pay the bills. This allows me to select clients who’s work matches my own vision of what I want to create. Do I still charge? There again I am fortunate. Because I do not rely upon photography to pay the bills, I can set up a payment arrangement where clients make a donation to a mutually agreeable charity.

    So for me, the distinction between amateur and professional is more about the choices made about money, and less about the quality of the work.

  37. robin April 8, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    amateur takes photos with their raw vision of life and for the hell of it – professionals do take photos of life with precission and makes a living out of it!!!

  38. Roy April 8, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    fwiw – – Finally realizing that I burned out on 3 of the hobbies that I so enjoyed that I turned them into an occupation has kept me from doing the same with photography. Much to the benefit of my family and myself. I shoot what I want, when I want, if I want. Post-processing is the dullest and most deadening of drudge work; I avoid it if at all possible preferring to be out with camera in hand looking for the next fun image. Still, people have asked for pictures to hang on their wall. That is applause, and that is payment enough. There are professionals whose work I admire but I do not envy them. For me freedom to be is a better reward.

  39. Dow Jones April 9, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    follow your heart and do what you love and the things u love more than the things u like you will spend the most time in and not worry about how many hours it takes you to learn and get better you just do it and then you look up and see all the things you have accomplished and realized that you have already made your decision and been on the path to being a pro by naturally just falling in love with what you do and then others will see the love you put into that work and will pay you for what you have you love to do!!

  40. Don Carter April 11, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    A grizzly old golf pro that I play with occasionally gave me the nick name “the professional amateur”… Now I think I like it.

  41. Stacie Frazier April 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    I think comparing the definitions for professional vs. amateur proves interesting:

    a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.

    following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.

    Notice how the word pleasure is nowhere to be found in the professional description? Photography takes on so many other lives when it is your only source of income. It’s not just about the photography anymore, you have to contend with business, marketing, client satisfaction and communication, accounting-bookkeeping, insurance, taxes and all kinds of other things you don’t have to worry about as much when photography is still a hobby.

    I started out as an amateur while paying my bills as a graphic designer. I loved how carefree I could be then about learning at my own pace and enjoying my personal pursuits with photography. Then the day came when I was able to make my sole living from photography alone and boy did a whole new world open up to me! Every single day I wake up so grateful to be doing what I love and getting paid for it, but there are so many responsibilities that I never expected and so much pressure because now I am not just doing it for fun, but for other people. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just something to prepare yourself for. There is so much business to take care of that as a creative it can be a bit overwhelming at times. If my clients didn’t pull me into going pro as fast as they did, I definitely would have taken my sweet time not just honing my craft, but learning about running a business as well. Just my two cents anyway.

  42. ejlsquared April 12, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    I am an amateur and dreams to be a pro in due time :)

  43. Olen April 14, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    Amateur vrs. Pro.

    It has always been my belief that to much is put on pro vrs. amateur. When I was fourteen years old I was a shy boy with little friends. Then something happened to me. A photographer let me use his nikon to shoot some photos at a friends retreat in East Texas. I never saw my pictures but did get to see his portfolio. I never new if he was a pro or not just that it was said the he spent more on photography than he did on eating. I went home and started mowing yards to raise enough money to buy my first camera. 27 years later I don’t make a living off my photography but I have come to understand that for me photography is as important as the English language. It gave a young boy his voice in life. I would like to make a living off my photography ,but I think no matter where I go with it I will always be in debt to that photographer who thought me to speak in the language of photography.
    Olen G.
    The Light Writer .

  44. Eddy April 28, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    I like being an Amateur.
    It doesn’t mean I can’t make some money if the opportunity arrives but it does mean I am not reliant on this source of income.
    Business management is the not so glamorous, almost forgotten side of the “Pro” world

  45. David July 11, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    When these kind of discussions arise, I default to the idea that an amateur does something for no other reason than because they like it. It’s not to say professionals don’t find what they do cathartic or pleasurable, but there are other factors that help them make decisions.

    As an amateur I’m under no pressure to say yes to anything, or to produce under deadlines, unless I choose to (and I do).

    As a professional I can’t afford off days – when I have them there still needs to be something on the boss’s desk. In fact, I think the best people at what I do (Graphic Design) are the ones who have mastered the art of delivering when the flash of inspiration we all wait for fails to arrive.


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