This is my opinion about a "true photographer". There are varying types of photographers who are just every day people who snap photos with their cell phones, photographers who are just hobbyist, photographers who are serious enthusiast, and photographers who are part time and full time professionals that are aspiring to create art and be compensated monetarily for their services they provide to their clients. Attaining the title of photographer is not something that is related to money in my opinion. There are plenty of photographers on Instagram and other social media platforms that are producing work that is a good or better than photographers who are working with paying clients. To be called a photographer means that you have an advanced understanding of the fundamentals of creating a properly exposed photograph. A photographer should be able to consistently produce properly exposed images within various lighting situations within a studio or outdoor environment regardless of the time of day. Possessing an intimate understanding of one's camera and equipment is vital. I utilized the word 'intimate' on purpose to describe depth of understanding a photographer should possess about their gear, because just knowing the name and model of your camera does not mean you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your camera and equipment. A photographer should be familiar with all of the features of the equipment they employ in their chosen genres of photography that they do. If a photographer is doing a photo shoot with a client, they should not have to ask the client how to setup their camera or configure their gear in order to take a properly exposed photograph. In my opinion a photographer that is receiving money for their services should have at least 1 primary camera body, and one backup camera body. I'll make a special note that wedding photographers should definitely have two camera bodies without question. For years I would turn down doing weddings because I did own a 2nd camera body. I will acknowledge that the merits of having two camera bodies can be debated. True story, I have had one photographer call me in the middle of their photo shoot to ask me if they could borrow my camera because their camera broke during the session. What do you do if you are working with a client and your camera breaks or malfunctions in the middle of the photo session? I disagree with the opinion that there is not such thing as a bad photograph, I think there is a lot of bad photography out in the world and on social media. I often use mainstream periodicals like Time, Newsweek, Vogue, V Magazine, GQ, Men's Journal, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated, to measure the content I produce. A photographer must have an in-depth comprehensions of exposure, composition, lighting, and retouching among other things. Understanding of rules like the exposure triangle, rule of thirds, light setups, and gear are required. If you cannot understand a conversation with a photographer who is discussing their light ratios in f-stops, and explains why they chose to use a specific shutter speed, aperture value, and ISO number, then I would seriously struggle with calling you a photographer. A photographer knows why he/she wants to shoot at an aperture of f/1.8 or f/8 and understands the differences each of those aperture values will produce in regards to how they impact the depth of field within an image, the amount of light that falls on the subject, and how to adjust the factors within the exposure triangle to make sure that the photograph is properly exposed at either aperture value.
This is a brief view of my opinion about what I consider to be a photographer. A photographer is not defined by their clients. A photographer is measured by views, feedback, and respect of their contemporary peers. When photographers are critiquing and giving your critical feedback about your work, you are on the right path. I'm not saying that you need another photographer to tell you that you are a photographer. I'm saying that the critical opinion of senior photographers, who have been in the craft longer than you does hold weight in the evaluation of your work. Every photographer should have a mentor or mentors who are well versed in the art of photography that they can go to critiques, feedback, and assistance in regards to photography. I have mentors and a undisclosed circle of professional photographers and artist that I speak with regularly about photography. Much of what I said may be beyond the scope of a novice, hobbyist, or enthusiast photographer, but does apply to someone who is a professional photographer. In the eyes of the court, if you are accepting a payment for photography services you are rendering, then you are consider a professional whether you actual are a professional or not a professional. There have been plenty of photographers who have been sued in court because they claimed to be a professional but was unable to produce quality photography for their clients. It lots of time, and years for some people to get to the point in the craft of photography where they consider themselves to be a professional photographer. The level of practice required to master photography is vast, it requires time, practice, failure, patience, perseverance. Henri Cartier-Bresson said "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." This quote by Bresson underscores the importance of practice in my opinion. In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he writes "the idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. 'The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - in anything, writes the neurologists Daniel Levitin." As a photographer I am constantly practicing the craft 8 days a week. If I'm not shooting with a client, I'm reading about a photography subject or article in a photography magazine, or retouching photography work, or watching training videos. I had one self proclaimed photographer tell me that they don't like to read camera manuals. I laughed to myself and told the person the camera manual is the first thing you should read. The camera manual is your very first lesson in photography. You have to know how to operate your camera if you want to effectively employ the tool to capture adequately exposed photographs. Can you claim to be a photographer and not read your camera manual? There are no shortcuts to being a photographer, everyone who is worth their weight in photography puts their time in learn, grown, and develop the ability to consistently produce good photography work. There are many other things that go into being a photographer. Most of what I said can be applied to the various degrees of photographer, but definitely are applicable to the professional photographer today.