Sometimes I have to get pounded over the head repeatedly before I catch on to a trend. For example, it was about the tenth time in a month someone used the term "Real Photographer" when referring to me that I noticed a trend in my business. "I normally shoot the pictures unless the bride wants a Real Photographer like you.", "After going on the cheap last time, we finally decided to get a Real Photographer." and "We've been saving up to get a Real Photographer for our wedding!". This was organic, client-idea sort of thing, and not a response to my non-existent campaign, "Brian G Wilson, Hot Spring's REAL PHOTOGRAPHER!"... I'd have to be a real douchebag to ever advertise myself that way, but still, it makes me wonder, "What is a REAL photographer to these clients?".
My grandfather was a dentist, or at least that's what he told people when it was convenient. Actually, he was a dental supply salesman, and not a very good one at that. How do we know he wasn't a dentist? Because he never went to medical school! But that didn't stop him from lying his way from Arkansas to California, successfully writing prescriptions for pain killers and other fun stuff until he got caught. Even when he died, the police put Doctor as his occupation on his death certificate because that's what his business cards said in his wallet. He was a dentist in name only, he had no diploma or board certification, but he convinced people he was a Real Dentist.
It's different when someone says they are a photographer. If they take pictures, then they are a photographer. There is no bar of entry to becoming a photographer, much like being a singer or scrapbooker. There are however, organizations that certify photographers as professional based on strict standards, knowledge and ability. One is the Professional Photographer's Association which administers the Certified Professional Photographer degree. I received my CPP after a year of mind numbing study and approval of my portfolio by a panel of judges with no known sense of humor. After 40 years as a shooter, it was like I had gotten my drivers license. I was provably legit! Did you know there are close to 200 people in Hot Springs that list themselves as photographers, but only 4 are Certified Professional Photographers? Last time I looked, there were only about 30 CPPs in the entire state of Arkansas.
So what can you expect from a Professional (Real) Photographer? Someone who understands lighting and posing, exposure and development. Someone who has high ethical standards and pays their business and use taxes, has a city business license and liability insurance. Some have studios (I do), some work from home, and that's okay. Expect professionalism, and ability that comes from years of experience.
If you want to pay someone $75 for pictures of your child in the park and get handed a USB at the end of the day, knock yourself out. If you don't mind someone applying greenish filters to your pictures to make them look more "artsy", someone who doesn't light your pictures properly because they're "an available light" photographer or someone who doesn't compose a picture correctly because they don't know how to move the focus point in the viewfinder, go for it.
But when you're ready for a Real Photographer, I know a few in town...