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Qualities of a Professional Photographer

We have always been curious as to what qualities separate a regular hobbyist photographer from a professional photographer as well as what traits a professional photographer must have in general. So we did our own research and reviewed some of the qualities that are essential in today's photography industry.

One might think "Well aren't the qualities of a professional photographer just the opposite of a hobbyist photographer?" We would argue no! The professional photographer just amplifies these qualities to a much higher degree and must exemplify these degrees under time constraints and stressful conditions.

Take imagination, for example, an important quality to have in general. A hobbyist photographer has all the time in the world to be imaginative and create an interesting photograph. A professional photographer on the other hand may have only a few minutes and using their imagination, must create something of an even higher quality level than the hobbyist.

Some of these qualities are based on our own experience as Knoxville photographers and are compiled from photographing weddings, headshots, portraits, and Quinceañeras over the years. Every time we photograph a new event or session is another learning experience for us and we always try to take away something valuable that will improve our craft or us as people.

To make this guide interesting, we have incorporated one or more qualities of a professional photographer for each letter of the alphabet! This did take some time to create, so enjoy!

A list of qualities present in a professional photographer

Below you can find a comprehensive list of important qualities every professional photographer should have regardless of photographic specialities.

  1. Accountable
  2. Adaptable
  3. Brave
  4. Coherent
  5. Competent
  6. Detail Oriented
  7. Efficient
  8. Ethical
  9. Facilitative
  10. Gentle
  11. Honest
  12. Imaginative
  13. Joyful
  14. Knowledgeable
  15. Leader
  16. Motivated
  17. Nifty
  18. Observant
  19. Omnipresent
  20. Optimistic
  21. Personable
  22. Positive
  23. Presentable
  24. Problem Solver
  25. Professional
  26. Quiet
  27. Reliable
  28. Resilient
  29. Respectful
  30. Sensitive
  31. Service Oriented
  32. Studious
  33. Team Player
  34. Unassuming
  35. Valuable
  36. Warmhearted
  37. Xenial
  38. Yielding
  39. Zany


A photographer should be accountable and responsible for not only the photographs they take but also the photographs they fail to take. In addition to photography, they should also remain accountable in regard to the operations of their business and marketing endeavors.


Professional Photographers should be highly adaptable and able to conform to rapidly changing scenarios and situations.


Being brave as a photographer means being comfortable stepping outside of one's comfort zone. This may mean speaking up and leading a bridal party as a wedding photographer or directing a family to a specific pose or location as a portrait photographer.


Communicating clearly and efficiently is an important quality of a professional photographer. Being coherent ensures that the client clearly understands the directions a photographer is attempting to communicate.


A professional photographer should be competent in not only their craft but also skills pertaining to the craft including basic human psychology, mental and physical fitness, communication, and more.

Detail Oriented

A great professional photographer is detail-oriented and is not only aware of the small details but also the unspoken details.


Being efficient as a professional photographer is directly related to customer service. Being efficient ensures that you, the client, get the most out of your financial investment. Some examples of being efficient as a professional photographer can include setting up equipment quickly, photographing required images efficiently, or relieving photos quickly.


Making the right and ethical decisions is a trait of a professional photographer. This can be related to customer service issues and treating others as you would want to be treated. It can also be related to choosing whether or not to capture a photograph that could be considered embarrassing or potentially portray the paying client in a bad light (No pun intended!).


A professional photographer will be facilitative, meaning helpful or assisting those around them.


Being gentle is another quality that a professional photographer will exhibit. This may refer to handling a newborn during a newborn photography session or helping an elderly grandmother get into position during a portrait photography session. In a more literal sense, it can mean being careful when handling jewelry while photographing details at a wedding or Quinceañera.


An important quality for all human beings. Being honest as a professional photographer means speaking the truth at all times and operating in an honest manner. This can mean speaking up to prevent hiccups when creating a wedding timeline or allowing more time during a headshot session as a headshot photographer.


Photography in itself is a creative and imaginative art form. This sometimes means creating something out of nothing, which requires imagination. Professional photographers do this efficiently and on a very high level, usually under time constraints. Being imaginative is certainly a requirement of any professional photographer.


A good professional photographer not only brings joy through his or her photographs but is also joyful while photographing.


Being knowledgeable is a somewhat obvious quality that should be expected of any professional photographer. The reality is that there are tons of photographers who "masquerade" as professional photographers without adequate knowledge, of course from the outside, a client or onlooker would be none the wiser, until there is an issue of course. Many photographers choose to be knowledgeable in only what they understand or enjoy, and disregard obtaining further knowledge outside of that particular comfort zone.

An example of this is a wedding photographer taking on paying couples, but not "knowing" how to use off-camera flash. Many wedding photographers pride themselves on being "natural light photographers" even going as far as not owning a flash or lighting equipment. What happens if your wedding reception is at a dark venue? What will happen is the photographer in question will crank his or her ISO as high as possible, resulting in grainy images, ruining your wedding photos, of course the photographer will edit this image to be black & white giving it a film look in an attempt to "cover-up" the bad color.

When it comes to the craft of photography, there is usually a good way and a bad way to do things. We won't ruffle feathers by saying there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to do things, but the truth is certain crafts and skills have no "gray area". Photographing a larger couple from a lower angle with a wide lens will always make them appear larger, there is no way around that just as photographing a dark reception with no off-camera lighting will result in poor image quality.

In today's photography industry, the facts appear blurry, no one can agree on a standard or the best way to accomplish things and everyone disagrees about everything, including the sky being blue. Instead, sayings such as"there is no right way" and "art is subjective" are regularly and unconsciously promoted as an avoidance of gaining knowledge.

When it comes to the comparisons of levels of quality, we can all (hopefully) agree that the common standards are good, better, and best. As professional photographers, we should all strive to achieve the best, not just for our clients but also for ourselves.

In ending, as photographers, let's all push ourselves to be better!


It is said that great leaders know not only when to lead, but also when to follow. A great professional photographer should know the same. Situations will arise when a photographer needs to step forward and lead, whether that be directing a large and rowdy bridal party or gently leading a family to the best pose.


As entrepreneurs, most professional photographers are already great self-motivators. Keeping motivated throughout years in business is a different story! Motivation is typically driven by passion.

A seasoned photographer must fight to keep that passion alive, to keep the fire burning. For us, each new job is an opportunity to create something different, even if we have photographed at that location 100s of times!


The best professional photographers are very nifty and can be considered ingenuous by their ability to turn the mediocre, into works of art. A professional photographer will exemplify a high level of niftiness as putting their creativity to use time after time, year after year, has enhanced their nifty factor.


It has been said that we as humans have been given two ears, yet one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. Well, we have also been given two eyes! Great photographers are highly observant as they must also anticipate what will unfold next.

This skill is finely honed by most professional photographers, so much so, that they are usually more observant than your average passerby. Don't believe us? Just observe a seasoned photographer in public when they are not behind the camera.


One may think that being in two separate places at one time is impossible, which is true! As a professional photographer, there a ways to function in an omnipresent manner. The simplest way is to have a second photographer, although this is not always possible.

The next best way is by being observant and anticipating what exactly will happen in the timeline of time. Once you do that, you will best know where to position yourself to be able to capture not only moments before they happen but also as they happen and after they occur.

A simple example of this would be a bouquet toss. As a wedding photographer, we know that:

  1. The bride will toss the bouquet.
  2. She may or may not perform a few "fake" tosses to amp up the party.
  3. The bouquet will be in the air for a moment in time.
  4. The bouquet will land, either in someone's hands or on the floor.
  5. There will be reactions.

With this particular example, the desired final photographs would be:

  1. A wide photograph before the bouquet toss takes place to set the scene and context.
  2. A photograph of the bouquet in the air.
  3. A photograph of the bouquet landing or being caught or fought for.
  4. Photographs of the bouquet catcher's reaction and those around her.

To accomplish these desired photographers, we personally would:

  1. First, take a wide photograph. Next, we would pre-position ourselves at an angle to capture the bouquet in flight.
  2. Anticipate the bouquet toss and photograph through its entirety.
  3. Simultaneously moves towards the catcher's position at the exact moment the bouquet lands, still photographing.
  4. Photograph the catcher's reaction and those around.

From an outsider's perspective, it would be impossible to capture not only the bouquet toss but also the reaction once caught, as they take place in 2 areas. As you can see above, with some simple planning, pre-positioning, and photographing through the entirety of the moment, it is very possible with a single professional photographer, a second photographer just makes it even easier.


A quality among many great professional photographers is that they are optimistic, even when things go wrong. Early in our career, we had moments in which we were pessimistic about how a particular photograph may turn out. In the end, the photographs typically turned out great, and if not, our post-production skills saved the day.

That was many years ago. Today, we are always optimistic when photographing, trusting not only our pre-production skills but also our post-production skills. As professional photographers, we have built so many repetitions in creating in the worst case scenarios, that in the average scenario, we simply flourish.

This is one of the reasons to always choose a professional photographer!


Photography is typically a person-to-person ordeal unless you are photographing nature, which we did as well, check out our About page to learn more! A professional photographer must be personable and people-oriented.


Similar to optimism, binge positive applies when the surrounding conditions may not be favorable to a positive attitude. Examples of this can be when it rains, but you expect sun, or when someone arrives late to a session. How a photographer chooses to react in these moments can either make or break the session.


Being presentable should be expected of any professional not just a photographer. Being presentable varies from scenario to scenario. For a portrait session, one wouldn't expect a photographer to wear a suit, just as wearing flip-flops would be a no-go for a black-tie wedding.

Being presentable not only applies to personal appearance in the form of hair and facial hair but also to the equipment on set. A neon orange light stand will work great for an industrial commercial shoot at a construction site, but will be out of place in a ballroom.

Problem Solver

The simple act of photographing is in essence problem solving. One must balance shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all at once. When one gets out of balance, they all do.

Professional photographers must do this instinctually and almost robotically, without making errors. Introducing lighting and rapidly changing scenarios takes everything to a new level, which is why many photographers are afraid of learning off-camera flash as seems intimidating.

Professional photographers also must be great problem solvers when it comes to operating a business. When something is not working well, they must quickly identify and fix the issue.


A professional photographer must remain true to the first part of their name "professional". This word can have many meaning meanings, but to us, it means the following.

  1. Operating a profitable business, not a charity.
  2. Consistently able to meet or exceed industry or self-imposed standards of quality.
  3. Carry oneself in a manner expected of a professional.
  4. Always strive to break through barriers.


Being quiet is an essential quality of a professional photographer. If you are observant, you will notice that sometimes the best moments unfold naturally in times of quietness. We utilize this approach often to capture candid photographs.


Being reliable is one of the main reasons to choose a professional photographer. Being reliable means being dependable and performing effectively when most others would fail.


You will notice a high level of resilience when observing a professional photographer at work. They will effortlessly create meaningful photographs in situations where an amateur photographer would call it quits. We as your professional photographers will venture into a rainstorm to create a photograph of you and also endure 97° weather to document your wedding.


As should be expected of any professional, being respectful as a photographer applies not only when working with people, but also minding and being respectful of others' religions, cultures, and traditions.


To truly create a meaningful photograph, a photographer must be somewhat sensitive to what is unfolding in front of them. There is however a fine balance one must master between being an observer and being emotionally connected to what is happening.

As photographers, our first job is to document, this means we have to always remain somewhat emotionally disconnected from what is happening, or else risk potentially missing the moment because we were too drawn in.

Service Oriented

As photographers, we are in the service business. This means any professional photographer should be expected to be service-oriented, and always ready to go above and beyond to help and assist within reason. This does not mean being taken advantage of, but rather providing help when needed and not asked.


This goes without saying, a photographer should be hard working and will be, because the act of photographing is difficult, mentally and physically. We will create a comprehensive article on the job description of a photographer, but that's a different day!

Team Player

It should be expected that a professional photographer will work great with others and be a team player. For commercial photography, this may mean working with a marketing or media coordinator, subjects, and staff. For weddings and Quinceañeras, this means playing well with other event planners, coordinators, and vendors. For portraits, this means working well with your subjects, no matter their age.


Professional photographers have an uncanny ability to blend in. This can be done in a variety of ways including wearing muted or dark colors, moving slowly and methodically, and being quiet. Being unassuming and blending in can be an entire article in itself!


Providing value is essential for any business, not just in the photography industry. As professional photographers, we provide tremendous value to those who book us, not only in peace of mind but in the photographs themselves.


Being warmhearted means always being welcoming of others regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, political views, or values.


Big xenial is similar to being warmhearted but in a more hospitable way. Applying it to professional photography means being accommodating before, during, and after a job. This may mean moving positions during a wedding for a guest or helping other vendors out


A professional in any field, usually can "read the room" pretty well and know when it is time to yield. In regards to professional photographers, one must know when to yield and when not to. If a client is looking tired, but a photographer wants to keep photographing, maybe it is a good idea to yield.


While one might not associate zany with being professional, we do! Putting on a show for our clients is part of the job. For commercial photography, it may mean bringing along more gear or cracking a zany joke here or there. For weddings, it may mean hopping on the dance floor for some in-the-action reception photos.