If there’s perhaps one difference between pro-ams and professionals, then it is that professionals get paid. It is as simple as that. While pro-ams may offer results of the same quality, they may not be keen on earning one penny out of this hobby of theirs. Becoming a professional is one step towards making your hobby closer to a necessity. The following are things that you need to take care of in order to become a professional:-
- DSLR – Depending on the type of photography you’ll be focusing on, you’ll need the right type of DSLR. There’s a whole gamut of high end medium format DSLRs out there created by companies like Hasselblad but for someone who’s a pro-am or an intermediate level photographer you’re basically looking at two types of DSLRs – ‘Full Frame’ and ‘Crop Sensor’ manufactured by the two most popular juggernauts of digital photography equipment – Nikon and Canon. There are other companies such as Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Fujifilm etc. and you’ll have to figure out which one to invest in because once you make a commitment to a DSLR it becomes a commitment of more than just the body of the camera. You’ll have to invest in lenses that fit the body you’ve purchased. So it is a long-term commitment. A full-frame sensor is one that is 24mm x 36mm in dimensions and the crop sensor has a smaller sensor compared to the full-frame. While full-frame DSLRs are what are preferred by hardcore professionals for their superior image quality, low-light capabilities, wide-angle options and such, the advantages of a crop sensor are that they’re more inexpensive, more mobile since they’re smaller and since they offer a crop factor and that they actually take the image a bit more magnified than does a camera with a full-frame sensor. Crop sensor can be useful to nature, wildlife and sports enthusiasts who want to capture more detail at the cost of sacrificing low-light performance. For a real comparison on the difference between the end products of full-frame and crop-sensor DSLRs, check out this video – http://www.petapixel.com/2010/10/02/full-frame-vs-crop-sensor-comparison/ As you can see from the video, the magnification factor offered by a crop-sensor is quite dramatic though it comes at the cost of missing out a wider angled view of the subject. This might especially cost you when you’re using prime lenses. What are prime lenses? We’ll get to that in just a moment. In the meantime, there’s one caveat in using a full-frame. Since full-frame DSLRs offer greater image quality, they require better (read more expensive) lens set up to take full advantage of their capabilities. This is generally the reason why dedicated full-frame lenses are more expensive than crop-sensor lenses.
- Lenses – There are several different types of lenses such as fisheye, wide-angle, stereoscopic etc. but the most common types of lenses used in most types of photography are zoom and macro. In those two, zoom is even more common. And even zoom comes with different subcategories such as kit lenses, prime lenses etc. Kit lenses are lenses that are usually bundled along with camera bodies (usually crop-sensors) to make a particular camera kit. Prime lenses, the lenses with lesser number of movable internal parts and thereby the lenses that offer images with lesser distortion and higher quality at higher speeds are often more expensive even though they offer only a fixed focal length. To a newbie, the fact that a lens has a fixed focal length i.e. no adjustable zoom might not be so appealing but to hardcore professionals prime lenses are more attractive since they offer the best image quality, are faster, perform better in low-light circumstances and most importantly they prefer it because hardcore professionals usually hold on to multiple lenses with different focal lengths and they can quickly swap the lenses mid-shoot even though this means you need to hit the gym and gain stamina enough to lug around a heavy backpack worth multiple thousand dollars. An important point to note when purchasing lenses for your DSLR is that the zoom is neither the only nor the most important factor (well for some at least) to consider. There are other more important factors such as the size of the aperture, speed of autofocus, the presence of an internal motor in the lens, image stabilization (which is a must when considering telephoto or lenses with greater focal lengths), build quality etc. If you’re considering purchasing a first lens for your DSLR body and you don’t have much experience shooting with a DSLR, then it is advisable to get hold of something like a 50mm prime lens. This is advisable because a prime lens with shorter focal length, while it may not offer the most adaptability, will make you work more while you’re trying to fit the subject into the frame just the right way and therefore present you with great learning opportunities regarding the composition of the image and framing. The knowledge you gain this way will come to use later in your professional career.
- Post-production Gear – Gone are the days when photographers relied on CRT monitors with slow processors to do their editing work. In the current market, the best displays to edit your photography are IPS panels. If you have an old laptop, you probably have what is called a TN panel. If you’re in doubt just tilt your screen a few degrees north or south and you’ll see a significant decrease in the fidelity of image production on the screen. You can imagine how this might affect your final product when you’re working on this kind of a screen and focusing on adjusting the contrasts and levels of the image. If you’re going to print it, which you would be doing if you were into professional photography, the end product in your hands might just not be what you fathomed it would be while you were looking at it in the screen. IPS panels offer a significant leap in the dynamic range of display, blackness of blacks and fidelity of on-screen image production and they’re the best in the commercial market right now as of this writing. While the panel you use might seem important the more important factor in digital post-production is the software you use. Right now, the industry standards and benchmarks are provided by Adobe products such as Photoshop, Lightroom etc. These might be expensive and you need to get the feel for the software before you purchase a license. So try out the different products out there and come to a conclusion about what fits your needs best.