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8 Ways to Spot the Pro Photographer

by Dan Bailey on September 21, 2010 · 239 comments

In the old days, it was easy to pick out the pro photographer in a crowd. They were the one with the biggest lens. These days, with photography so popular and accessible to the masses, it’s getting much more difficult to tell a pro from an enthusiast. We’re no longer the ones with the big glass; have you been to the National Parks and seen the gear that the retired doctors and laywers carry?

Have no fear, I’ve come up with a little game called “8 ways to spot the pro photographer.” I know that it’s by no means a complete list, so feel free to play along.

1. Duct tape on their expensive lens. Let’s face it, we beat our gear up. We use it in less than ideal conditions, and out in the field, a broken lens hood can easily be duct taped back on. And if it works, why change it? You’ll never see an amateur with duct tape on his thousand dollar lens.

2. Slouches from carrying heavy camera bag. Two bodies, six lenses, flashes, filters, tripod, memory card cases, maybe a laptop and hard drives as well? Tools of the trade and it goes with us everywhere. Unfortunately, carrying all that gear has a very heavy price.

3. Still has film in the freezer. Back when we shot film, we pros liked to buy it in bulk. We’re talking multiple bricks at a time so that we’d never run out. Problem was, the technology ran out before our film did. Who doesn’t still have a few rolls still sitting in the back corner of the freezer?

4. Uses the world “Stock” differently than most people. Among the common folk, the word “Stock ” has a well established meaning. Put 10 pro photographers in a room together and that word will come up multiple times, and noone will be talking about the Dow. Or soup.

5. More concerned with other peoples’ appearance than their own. We’re always on the lookout for potential models, and when we’ve got them working in a photo shoot, it’s all about their misplaced strands of hair, ruffled clothing, and those small details that most of us don’t pay attention to on ourselves. (Have you seen my bio shot below?) That is, except when we’re meeting with clients.

6. Contents of camera bag worth more than their car. Like I said above, two bodies, six lenses, flashes, filters, tripod, memory cards, laptop… Costs way more to replace all that stuff than an old Toyota or a used Subaru wagon.

7. The only guy over 25 wearing their baseball cap backwards. Have you ever tried shooting verticals with the brim facing the right way?

8. Always doing something stupid or dangerous in order to get a good angle. It’s all about getting the awesome vantage point, right? We’ll easily sacrifice a little safety if it means getting a killer shot.

Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. Follow his own blog at and see his daily updates at

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott H. / Allablur September 21, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Carrying around a decent camera these days I find that more people think I'm filthy rich than think I'm a pro photographer. I must be doing something wrong!

Daniel H. Bailey September 21, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Nah, you just need to drag it through the dirt and bang it up a bit. You know, give it that 'well used' pro look. ;)

ajw93 September 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

i once laid down on the sidewalk to get an angle on a building, my companion didn't blink. but then later, as i was getting ready to shoot another building: “What, you're not going to climb on top of that van?”

Tormod September 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Hehe… fun!

I got six out of eight – no film and no duct tape on my gear (now that I got it back from service, that is :)

Superphilman2 September 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm

How to tell a pro just by talking to them. They talk about shots, not their gear.

Clive September 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Love the photo. My hand grip isn't that good!

Nixi September 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I couldn't have summed it up better myself!!! from an x-pro!

Spike Reddington September 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

I've wobbled on top of a fire engine ladder in the middle of Trafalger Square to photograph Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards and teetered on a market stall in Mansfield before, even put a dent in my bonnet whilst standing on it to get a higher vantage point, but never dangled from the rigging…

Bfoflcommish September 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

hahaha, im no pro but fit into a couple of these categories for sure.

Gordon Boddington September 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm

A pro photographer will blend in to the background but a talent free amateur will use their photo gear to stand out and be noticed in the crowd as a way of compensating for their lack of talent.

Brooks Ayola September 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm

We didn't buy film by the brick so we wouldn't run out.. We bought it like that in matching emulsions.

Chieflorenzo September 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm

The amateurs are the ones at airshows with great kit showing off to strangers next to them the great photos theyve just taken on their cameras' screens

Daniel H. Bailey September 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Good one, Gordon! So right!

Paul September 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm

You can tell a pro, the knees and back shot, RSI from lugging the huge telephoto. Will always have gaffer tape in his bag :-)

Syd_hayden February 12, 2011 at 4:40 am

so mean, but so true

1000Words July 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

How do you spot a pro photographer? Don’t worry, he’ll be sure to tell you that he’s a “pro”.

Simon May September 20, 2011 at 4:57 am

Hi Dan, 
This is a great article that. I’d like to repost it in my blog in a new website I’ve developed for promoting photographers. Try it out, post some free ads and let me know.

Benjamin Chase September 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I forgot about the sheets of 4×5 I still have in the freezer….

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