At surface level, the terms “professional” and “amateur” may seem simple enough to define. But in the video production universe, the distinction is not as clear as it used to be.
One might assume that the obvious difference is one of whether a person is paid or not. In this economy, professionals are paid for their work, and amateurs are not. But wait, if the only difference between an amatuer and a pro is whether or not someone makes money making video, what does that make a YouTube creator who receives an AdSense check for a low-quality yet highly popular cell phone video? Should our definition of a pro instead be someone who makes a living by making video? Many creators earn a full-time living by uploading poorly produced videos viewed by loyal friends. Does the amount of money they make justify their work as being “professional” quality? Surely not.
I remember a day, not so very long ago, when video production equipment, and video producers themselves, were categorized into two broad categories: professional and consumer. Professional gear was characterized by a far higher quality of heavy duty construction, more and greater ability to manipulate and control manual settings, and a higher image quality. Of course, with these professional tools came a much higher price tag. The antithesis was not called amateur equipment, but hobbyist or “consumer” gear. This equipment was characterized by lower quality and lower cost. These products were flimsier and more fragile, had fewer manual controls and generated lower quality video. Many hobbyists aspired to purchase professional cameras, lights, microphones and editing hardware and software. Even hobbyists with no aspiration to make money making media desired to own and work with professional equipment. As the line between professional and hobbyist blurred, some in the industry even coined a new name for these skilled and well-equipped media makers: prosumers. The name prosumer did not last long or travel far, but it was an accurate and valid term for describing a specific type of advanced amateur.
When terminology did not serve to describe reality suitably, people chose to change the language to make it more accurate. As we observe these words, “professional” and “amateur” in the media space again today, we must once again evaluate how we use these words and re-evaluate their adequacy to accurately describe media. There is no denying the fact that YouTube has caused many conventionally trained videographers to revisit the notion of how we define “good” video, as we did in a recent Viewfinder, where we mused over whether the overall goodness of a YouTube video should be based on a standard of production quality or on the number of views the video receives.
In the end, the best, and most accurate, answer may not be yes or no, but rather, “it depends.”
In the end, the best, and most accurate, answer may not be yes or no, but rather, “it depends.” There is no longer a single standard by which professionalism can be determined. In each case, we must clarify the context within which the statement is made and ask subsequent questions to deduce what is being described and explore by what standard a label of professionalism is gauged. In this case, it is fully possible to be a successful professional YouTube creator who lacks an adeptness of production skills, and it is possible to describe the caliber of an unpaid amateur’s work as looking professional in regard to his or her expertise. So, is being a professional or amateur about whether you are paid or whether you create high-quality work? The answer may be yes, neither… or possibly both. Who knows anymore.
Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.