I’ve just responded to yer another person who decried that people who had not done X were not “professionals,” they were just guys with cameras “GWCs.” Strictly speaking to be a professional you need to make your living doing photography, which is harder and harder in times where camera equipment gets cheaper, virtually every cell cell phone has a camera that is better than professional models were a few decades ago, software is able to automate more skills that were once required, there is virtually no cost tot trying to take the same shot multiple times, and people seldom keep albums of physical prints. Since the cost of entry and the skills required are so low there are a lot of people who try to become professionals, some with minimal skills, a camera set on “auto” and a good eye for composition have great business skill and are actually successful.
I know very skilled photographers who choose either to do something more lucrative or who lack the business skills to make a living from photography. I know others that have the skills but don’t want to shoot weddings and senior portraits, which would be what would insure them a steady income. Lack of income from photography does not define you as a GWC.
Let’s leave aside the question of whether you are financially able to make a living with a camera and focus instead on what makes a photographer a “pro” instead of a GWC. I’ve been told by one successful West Michigan photographer that it is consistency. “Every shot I take is a good shot.” I resisted the urge to shoot back that by that measure the best photographers all worked at JC Penny portrait studios, where the camera settings, lighting, subject placement, and camera position were all fixed. I’ve seen others write that the difference is how many good shots you can get in a shoot. I’ve been told that it is whether you are published. Others have agreed with publication as a benchmark but stipulated that print on demand magazines don’t count. I’ve had one person tell me to make it I need to have my work hanging in European museums. Finally, I've seen several people make comments about how the guy shooting with a kit lens or a camera with a retractable lens are just GWCs. I haven't yet pointed out that Mapplethorpe shot with an SX-70 (f8 fixed lens) until 1975 and what he produced is pretty amazing. Surprisingly, all of these people measure professionalism against something that they have achieved.
I am proud of my photographic accomplishments, which I won’t list here because I don’t want to turn this into self promotion, but many of the things enumerated above are things that I hope I’ll never do. I often have a shoot where I am only trying for one great image, not 100 good ones. If I ever get to the point where every shoot is successful it will, in my mind at least, mean that I am not pushing the envelope of what I can do. I’ve published books with co-authors who both self-published and published with commercial publishing houses and I can assure you that sometimes self publishing is the better approach.
Nobody was born with photography skills. We all started as GWCs. Instead of belittling those with less skills or accomplishments than you, measure them by how they treat those around them: other photographers, models, makeup artists, and fans. The true difference between a GWC and a pro is attitude. The rest is time, practice, study, and a bit of luck.