The difference between an amateur photographer and a professional photographer in simple terms is money. When entering a home-town photo contest, those who've ever received money for photography are “professionals,” and those who’ve never gotten paid are “amateurs” or “advanced amateurs.”
In realistic terms, it's still simplified to money. At the end of the year, the amateur spent money on photography and the professional made money. I'd hope advanced amateur PJs want to AT LEAST break even at the end of the year (this includes college students who have high, start-up costs and overhead). Otherwise, they’re heading toward a short career or an expensive hobby.
In absolute terms, the difference is also money. When doing taxes, anyone who claims photography-related income and expenses is a professional because the expenses aren't a write-off for hobbyists. I plan to address PJ taxes, expenses and the importance of CPAs (certified public accountants) soon.
Images have value
In an ideal world, we could work and have no bills and get credits to have a fun day or eat something tasty every now and then. Everyone would get what their work is worth, nobody would need to be greedy (how many key lime pie donuts can one person eat anyway?), and life would be cool.
Unfortunately, life isn't ideal, so we must exchange currency. Money is the filthy, nasty stuff we are all required to acquire to pay other people who must acquire it to pay it to etc., etc., etc. It's important not to forget about paying for and being paid for photography. Unlike commercial photographers, PJs aren't income driven. However, we must realize we're not going to survive (much less pay for supplies and equipment) by giving photos away.
New PJs may be tempted to “shoot for ink” (do assignments for only a photo credit and maybe a film reimbursement). DON’T DO THIS! It hurts everyone in the industry.
If PJs (professionals and amateurs) don't charge appropriately for their work, they'll drive down the market price and make it impossible for anyone to make a living. Capitalism in its purest form states a product or service is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. If it's worth nothing, then it's “worthless.” Images are definitely not worthless. Those who think images are worthless, aren't worthy of the images.
I'm as guilty as others for undervaluing my own work. According to the NPPA Cost of Doing Business Calculator, I should charge a minimum of $889 per freelance assignment to cover expenses. For a three-hour shoot, my fee is about correct. However I don't really cover expenses with a two hour shoot (my minimum). I must move beyond feeling that money is the root of all evil. It's simply credit for work done – professionally.
It would be ridiculous to negotiate with mechanics to purchase parts and fix my truck for free. They won't accept “I'll give you credit” as payment. The same holds true for dentists, doctors or any other professional. Yes, there are trade-out agreements in the professional world, but they are fair trade outs and carry value for all parties involved.
Enough for now,