Pro vs. Amateur / Professionnel par rapport à amateur
Mike Grandmaison, October 02, 2011 at 10:42 AM

I recently came upon a well written and well thought out article by Djanka Gajdel, a Photographic Representative as well as an  Art and Commerce Consultant, about the essential differences between professional and amateur photographers. I have always loved the definition of an 'amateur' given to us by Ernst Haas, often considered the 'father of color photography', during a photo workshop as meaning "a lover or devotee of an art or science". A number of professional photographers (myself included) enjoyed the status of amateur photographer before leaping into the world of the professional. The problem arises however when the amateur enters the world of the professional without the proper training or business knowledge.

The article, 'Pro vs. Amateur / Professionnel par rapport à amateur', was posted in a recent CAPIC Newsletter which I receive as a subscribing member. CAPIC, short for the Canadian Association of Professional Creators, was founded in 1978 as a national, not-for-profit association dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the rights and interests of photographers, illustrators and recently, digital artists, working in the communications industry. I invite you to view their web site at


First, I hope you enjoy this interesting article by Djanka Gajdel, reprinted here with permission from the author. As Djanka mentioned in her note to me, "creating a conversation is always the first seed of change'.


Pro vs. Amateur / Professionnel par rapport à amateur


By Djanka Gajdel (a short BIO follows the article)

Like many others in this industry, I repeatedly cross paths with those who are not in the photographic industry. Because of access to the latest digital photographic equipment however, they believe that they are qualified professional image creators. I'm not including those that are genuinely talented and may not have heard their calling the first time around. I'm speaking about that archetypical individual, you know the one, could be the Bay Street investor who thinks "work with me baby' is the medium mantra or the bored homemaker who thinks it would be cool to add 'professional photographer' to her list of hobbies. No mention of the minimum 10,000 hours they are sorely lacking, the fundamental technical, creative, digital and business skills that haven't crossed their radar, or their incredible lack of skills in both lighting and composition. They are holding a camera enveloped entirely by their egos and in their world they believe this will position them into a new profession with little effort.


After close to 30 years in the photographic industry, the illusion of the pro versus the novice is just that, an illusion. A paradigm shift has been created courtesy of the technology that has been developed. As was lovingly shared with me by a great professional photographer, "photography is a mistress who calls so many and chooses so few."

The talent is in capturing the information in one shot not adding and subtracting and adding again. That's a digital illustration and there is a fundamental difference. In the day, photographers had a set number of frames to capture the mandate they were assigned. Whether lots of film was shot or little, it was still a fixed equation where they had to produce a selection of final images. What has since changed is how we perceive photography and how many photographers have become parts providers and how the valuation of images has shifted so dramatically for so many. There was no button that would endlessly click hoping that it would connect with serendipity. There was also no post in the capacity that exists today so your foundation was paramount in establishing who you were as an artist and a professional one at that.

The capturing of as much information as possible on each celluloid frame allowed for the photographer to guarantee their work. From a copyright perspective no one else had a hand over the images. Today the images are touched by so many different hands, they are, scanned, colour corrected, sharpened, masked, liquified, posterized, hypnotized and bastardised, tweaked and tweaked some more so the entire issue of copyright is convoluted and complicated to say the least. Today, so much work is done in post that could be completely eliminated if it was captured in the original composition of the image and it can be. Creative fees are down and expenses are up in the area of post. A professional doesn't need that back end if they are skilled on the front end. What a concept? But how does a professional establish that he is on one side of the fence and the novices are on the other?

A camera is nothing more then a tool similar to a pencil however it depends in whose hands that pencil is held. For some, the pencil will create a grocery list or perhaps draft a mathematical equation. However, to those that possess the training, it can create a Rembrandt igniting an entire new world of vision that will be burned into the memories of many.

Photography has come to be perceived as so available for anyone to create that clients have committed in some cases to taking their own shots, or having their relatives who studied a class or two in a Learning Annex course execute a shoot. Consequently, the aggressive mediocrity passing as legitimate image creation would have never been acknowledged in the late 70's or 80's as anything but vacant outtakes flawed by the lack of composition, lighting and soul. Today they are cost effective executions, forgettable, but nonetheless, cost effective.

The photographers who have invested in this medium have not only 10,000 hours but in some cases as many as 30, 40 and even 50,000 hours and have much to teach us on how to view the world visually, digital or not. The fine art of composition and the critical art of lighting are still valid foundations to what the essence of photography is and cannot be disregarded. The wisdom that grows from a soul who has invested in that type of commitment defines for themselves a highly personal style in their images and breeds an authenticity in their art.

I'm not knocking digital as I can appreciate all the benefits that it delivers to the industry but I'm also suggesting to empower our future shooters and take the best from our past as we move forward. The success of the execution of digital when it came to this industry is identical to the pencil metaphor; it depends on who is accessing that technology and in what capacity they are driving it.

The photographers from the analogue days have a larger creative palate from which to create from by virtue of the fact that they possess hands on experience and an extremely refined eye that they had to develop because digital didn't previously exist. What they used to do in a tangible, hands on way, digital now provides for them; however,the finesse that they have had to acquire prior to the arrival of digital allows them to take digital to another stratosphere whereas amateurs cannot see beyond those borders and consequently limitations surface and are evident in the work.

To the young artists coming up the ranks, I encourage them to seek and continue to stay the course in a place of consistently educating themselves in this medium, for in undertaking that curiosity, they enhance how they interpret and experience their art and provide for others the benefit to share in their vision.

To believe you ever arrive in this medium is self-deception for in that belief you eliminate any future possibility of learning and experiencing this wonderful medium and all the constantly changing variables that exist within it. It is a slippery slope of arrogance that can't help but surface in the images and that arrogance tends to show up in many of the novices' work, vacant of skill and soul and one dimensional in its life. Forgettable, and frankly deserving to be so. As a photographic representative it is clear to me who has made that investment of time into their career and who hasn't.

The role of the professional photographer or visual image creator has never been more important during a time that most communication is visually based. The best companies will not compromise their brands nor have an inferior execution of their product or service circulating. You get one chance to capture and leave an indelible impression and that's the essence of successful branding and advertising.

The entire idea of what a pro is, is captured beautifully for me in a story that the late Mordecai Richler once shared. The celebrated Canadian Author was enjoying a drink in a bar when a gentleman sat next to him and they commenced conversing. The gentleman inquired as to what Mordecai did for a living and Mordecai replied that he was a writer. Mordecai then inquired what the other gentleman did for a living to which the gentleman replied that he was a brain surgeon. The brain surgeon then stated that when he retired he would become a writer to which Mordecai replied that when he retired he would become a brain surgeon.


Comme bien d'autres dans cette industrie, j'ai croisé à maintes reprises des gens qui ne font pas partie de l'industrie de la photographie. En raison de la facilité d'accès à l'équipement photographique numérique dernier-cri cependant, ils croient être des créateurs d'image professionnels et qualifiés. Je n'inclus pas dans ce groupe ceux dont le talent est authentique et il se peut que je n'aie pas compris leur appel la première fois. Je parle de ces individu par excellence, vous en connaissez sûrement un, qui pourraient être un investisseur de Bay Street croyant que « travaille avec moi bébé» est le mantra du médium ou de la personne au foyer désœuvrée qui pense que ça ferait branché d'ajouter le titre de « photographe professionnel » à la liste de ses passe-temps. Ces gens ne mentionnent nullement le minimum de 10 000 heures de travail qui leur fait cruellement défaut, non plus que les compétences fondamentales techniques, créatives, numériques et d'affaires qui ne leur sont jamais venues à l'esprit, ni leur manque incroyable de compétences à la fois dans l'éclairage et la composition. Ils tiennent une caméra comme si elle était enveloppée uniquement dans leur orgueil et dans leur monde, croyant que cela les placera sans effort dans une nouvelle profession

Après avoir passé près de 30 ans dans l'industrie de la photographie, j'estime que l'illusion du professionnel par rapport au novice n'est rien d'autre que cela, une illusion. Le développement technologique a entraîné un changement de paradigme.

Une caméra n'est rien d'autre qu'un outil semblable à un crayon, mais tout dépend de la main qui le tient. Pour certains, le crayon servira à créer une liste d'épicerie ou peut-être à ébaucher une équation mathématique. Mais pour ceux qui ont l'entrainement, il pourra créer un Rembrandt, allumant une nouvelle vision du monde qui restera gravée dans la mémoire d'un grand nombre.

Les photographes qui se sont investis dans ce média ont accumulé non seulement 10 000 heures d'expérience, mais dans certains cas 30, 40 et même 50 000 heures et ont beaucoup à nous apprendre sur la façon de voir le monde, numériquement ou pas. L'art délicat de la composition et l'art critique de l'éclairage seront toujours des pierres angulaires valides de l'essence de la photographie et ne peuvent pas être négligées.

Nous en sommes venus à percevoir la photographie comme tellement accessible à l'expression de la créativité de chacun, que les clients se sont aventurés dans certains cas à prendre leurs propres photos ou à les faire prendre par des parents qui ont suivi un ou deux cours en annexe à un apprentissage. C'est pourquoi la médiocrité agressive actuelle qui tient lieu de création d'image légitime n'aurait jamais été reconnue à la fin des années 1970 ou 1980 pour autre chose qu'une prise refusée pour manque de composition, d'éclairage et d'âme. Aujourd'hui, les prises sont efficaces, peu mémorables, mais néanmoins rentables.

Le rôle du photographe professionnel ou du créateur d'image visuelle n'a jamais été aussi important à une époque où la plupart des communications sont fondées sur le visuel. Les meilleures sociétés ne feront aucun compromis en ce qui concerne leur marque et elles n'accepteront pas une exécution inférieure quant à la circulation de leur produit ou service. Vous n'avez qu'une seule chance de saisir et de laisser une empreinte ineffaçable et c'est là l'essence du succès d'une stratégie de marque et de marketing.

Je ne suis pas opposé au numérique et je peux apprécier tous les avantages qu'en tire l'industrie, toutefois le succès d'une prise de photo numérique en ce qui concerne l'industrie est identique à la métaphore du crayon; elle dépend de la personne qui se sert de cette technologie et à quel titre elle s'en sert.

Djanka Gajdel
Représentante en photographie
Consultante en Art commercial


about Djanka Gajdel


Djanka began her writing career as a columnist for Toronto Life and for many years worked as a photographic representative, afficliated with CAPIC (The Canadian Association of Professional Creators) and ASMP (The American Society of Media Photographers). She is listed in the 'Who's Who of Canadian Womaen', in Art and Commerce. She has written over sixty stories for children and is the author and founder of 'Healing Books for Kids'.


Djanka has lecturered on Business Practices in the Photographic Industry, with 25 years of experience in the Advertising and Design Industry in the areas of commissioned art as well as production and budget management, and the PLUS Picture Licensing Universal System. She has been employed with Edward Gajdel Photography Inc. for 25 years in the capacity of photographic representative and visual consultant as well as being employed with Soup and Noodles Inc. on a part-time basis since 2004.