The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional gets paid. A professional writer has sold some writing, a professional actor has been paid for a performance, and a professional photographer has sold an image.
Back in March of 2005 I posted a bunch of pictures I took when I went to visit some friends in Indiana, including this one I took as I came back through the Chicago Skyway toll plaza late at night:
Last month, I got an email from a Senior Graphics Designer at an international construction-management company headquartered in London. He was putting together an edition of his company’s internal journal and wanted to buy the right to use this picture in a run of about 2500 copies. I didn’t ask why, but I assume the company had a contract to maintain some part of the Skyway.
We agreed on a price of $300, and I sent him the full-size original image. Yesterday my corporate account received a SWIFT international money transfer for $280. (There were exchange and transaction fees.)
That was my first photo sale. Just like that I am, technically (very technically), a professional photographer.
Real professional photographers are fond of telling amateurs—who are usually all hung up on what to buy—that your camera doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you decide to take a picture of.
As I approached the toll plaza that night, I just thought the lights might look nice. The bright car taillights, the neon “Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge” sign, the lights of the plaza. Even the light glittering off the raindrops on the window. So I held my little plastic camera up in front of me, aimed it out the window, and snapped a picture.