After thinking about this for a few days, I've started to dislike the term "professional photographer". I think it is pretty meaningless and am not sure where the term would ever be used. On tax returns, loan application forms, business cards, websites etc, you would only ever use the term "Photographer". Nobody ever describes their occupation as "professional xxxxx". The only time I ever see the word "Professional Photographer" is on application forms such as CPS (Canon Professional Services). I suspect that they only use the word "professional" to make everyone sound important. The membership criteria for CPS is that you work as a full-time paid photographer and have bought the right quantity and type of Canon cameras. Your level of professionalism in how you conduct yourself or photographic skills isn't assessed as part of the application.
Anyway, the reason that I've come to dislike the term "professional" photographer is that photography isn't a profession in the traditional sense. There is no recognised educational or skill based pathway to become a "professional" photographer. There are no governing bodies. There is no board which looks after the admission of members. There are no reviews of people's skill levels and business conduct. There is no disciplinary tribunal that acts against those bringing the professional into disrepute or to deal with client / photographer disputes. There are no standards of conduct or recognised operating processes to ensure that clients receive obtain a satisfactory standard of work.
To become a profession, I'd suggest photographers need to: -
1. Set up a society.
2. Set the minimum educational requirements - eg diploma or bachelor degree in a photography or art related field from an accredited institution.
3. Set up a postgraduate course that prospective members have to complete to be admitted as members. The course will cover five or six keys subjects and be designed to be completed part time over two years while you are working as a paid photographer. This course will cover advanced topics and be designed to be hard and challenging. Many people will fail at least one subject. Some won't be able to pass as at all. You will have to be pretty good to become society members.
4. Set a high annual membership fee. Much of the membership fees will be directed towards advertising so that the general public knows that using a society member helps ensure high quality. This also helps society members charge/justify higher fees. Everyone knows you're not just a person who picked up a camera for the first time last week. You are a professional with significant training, skills and knowledge.
5. Mandate continual professional education. Members have to dedicate 30 hours a year toward seminars, conferences, reading and podcasts from accredited educational providers to improve and update their skills.
6. Every three to five years, the society reviews your work and your business to ensure you are continuing to meet the high standards expected.