I've categorized them into two diverse kinds, the good news is, you can be both.
The first kind of professional photographer is the traditional, and in fact literal type of professional. We'll just call it the Literal Professional. If your main income comes from photography, then you ARE a professional photographer. The term professional is kin to business, commerce, income. Like a professional golfer or a doctor, it IS their profession. This definition is, as I've stated, the literal meaning. There are exceptions of course, the lady that takes your photo at the DMV would probably NOT be considered a professional photographer in ANY sense, lol. Liam, for example, is definately a professional photographer in the literal sense, he has a very successful business and has some of the best customer service that you will find. If you're looking for an excellent wedding photographer, I would check out his work here: http://appleheadstudio.com/
The second definition that I've discovered is primarily generated by photographers that are more artistic and less business, also a lot of the general public would label a photographer as a professional not based on his business plan but by the quality of his work. This we will call the Creative Professional. Now even though this second meaning is technically and literally incorrect, one thing that all photographers will learn in this business is that perspective becomes the truth. If you are a nice person with a great port and business plan, but people think you are a hack with terrible customer service, it doesn't matter what the truth is: perspective becomes the truth, and sadly it is very difficult to change perspective once it is set. Therefore we may understand what the true meaning of professional means, but that matters little to our potential clients. Of course, most of these people will still denote professional as you are making SOME living off of your work(and hopefully you are), otherwise you might be considered an aggressive hobbyist, which is completely fine and rewarding in it's own right.
Personally, I've always been the second type of photographer, focusing on my craft more than my business plan. It is something that I am remedying everyday by taking time to go over my advertising, my website, my blog, touching base with existing customers, etc. Sure it takes time from my craft and time from shooting, but it is CRUCIAL to my business if I want to get under the umbrella of the Literal Professional. And I do, I want to do this for the rest of my life - and only this. I don't want to keep working a 9-5 job to pay the bills and then burn out the rest of my day trying to express myself creatively. I want to do what I love to do - and get paid for it. It is the dream of any photographer.
Liam would probably agree with me that he is one of those lucky ones, lucky and smart. He has a great business AND he has a creative mind and love of this art. He applies it to every gig he shoots. They go hand in hand to become successful in this business and he has worked very hard to get to where he is.
So be both! You run a good business - literal professional. You create great images - creative professional. The first gives you the means to put all your focus and energy into the thing you love to do, the second IS the thing you love to do! If you can work towards both the traditional and socially accepted meanings then you would definately be moving in the right direction in this profession.
So what are your thoughts? Any? Hehehehe, give me your opinion of this issue, I love when the brain juices are flowing!
Everyone take care, and Liam! Don't get blown away by Earl!