People seem to think that me calling them a fauxtog means that I think they are bad photographers or bad people. Some of them are quite good photographers in fact and if they were not charging people, I would be complementing their work.
I apply the word fauxtog to refer to them as imitation pros, not imitation photographers. I think it is rather presumptuous to ask people to pay them for the privileged of helping them learn, but I at least have respect for those who will do that and state categorically that they are still students. You are correct, my concern is for the clients when you start charging, but that is because everyone has a responsibility for the client.
I think that is probably the best answer to your question. A “real” photographer comes down to my definition of a photograph: “The snapshot allows you to gaze dimly on a memory, the photograph allows anyone to experience it anew.” There is no real bar for that, if you can perform that single function, you are a photographer. On this site, however, it’s the question of faux vs pro, and that is a completely different discussion. To be a pro, there is a bar, and it is very high, but not because I’m setting it there. When you go pro, the bar is set by reality. There is a level you have to be at to make it in business, and getting to that level only comes through study and experience.
I’ve worked with a lot of photographers who jumped into business too soon, and their reactions are almost always the same, “I had no idea that business was gonna be so hard.” In every single case, there was the same problem, they didn’t have a high enough skill level to support the business and they were having to make up the difference with hard work and sheer force of will and that was crushing them. I encourage them to stop charging not to crush them, or stifle them, but to save them from being destroyed. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a huge amount of humility to admit that their business was a bad idea, and their pride will take a huge hit to do it.
I will never quite understand why everyone always seems to think that they are immune to the forces of life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame them for it, but to the person, they always think that they can beat the odds and make it by learning while charging. I’m not kidding or exaggerating when I say this, but when a photographer chooses to ignore my advice and continues in their chosen path, I write their name down in my calendar in the month that I predict life will catch up to them based on their skill level and tenacity. To stress how consistently this happens, I pick the right month better than half the time and have only been off by more than 3 months twice. I’m not screaming “hit the breaks!!” because I want to stifle them, I do it because I can see the cliff.
This is the area where experience comes into play. The thing about experience is how much time you’ve had to make mistakes and learn from them. You will understand this better as you progress in the industry, but photography is like a trail to the summit. Every time there is a break in the treeline you can look down and see how far you’ve come and how high you are and it is tempting to believe that you’ve reached the peak. Around the corner, though, there is more trail. Going pro is like reaching the summit, looking around, and finally having a clear view of much bigger mountains to climb.
Does this better answer your question?