Improve Photography readers come from all over the world. Chances are there is a National Professional Photographer's Association of some sort in your neck of the woods, wherever that may be. If you are serious about your photography, you should consider joining it. Some benefits, like member discounts and access to resources, are immediately obvious. Others, like critique and networking, may be secondary considerations but could turn out to be of even greater value. Here are 13 reasons to make this the year you join a Professional Photographer's Association.
Several of my fellow writers for Improve Photography have started the New Year with articles reflecting on ways we can improve and lessons we have learned. One of the recurring themes I've noticed in these articles is a tendency (common among creatives) towards insecurity about our own work. Many of us have learned photography on our own, through books and online courses and tutorials like those available through Improve Photography Plus. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it can leave us feeling as though we aren't “real” photographers because we lack formal education or training. Fulfilling the requirements of a nationally recognized certification or accreditation process can be an enormously validating step towards using the title “photographer” with confidence.
Knowing how to price your work can be difficult when first starting out in the photography business. Many of us fall into the trap of competing on price or just plain undervaluing our work. Our businesses that we put so much time and work into end up costing us money. Your Professional Photographer's Association can be a great resource for learning what to charge and how to price your work effectively. Some organizations have pricing guidelines or resources like calculators to help you figure out base rates and markups. Being able to advertise yourself as nationally accredited or certified will also help you to command a higher rate. It may even help you realize you deserve it.
If your national or regional association offers opportunities for having your work critiqued, you should leap at the chance. Having your photos critiqued by experts in the field is one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve your work. You will begin to look at your own photos differently and to see them more critically. A few tweaks are often all that is needed to take a photo from good to great. Effective critique will have you seeing what is needed on your own, in no time.
Don't be afraid of critique! Done properly, critique is about how you can improve, not about what you are doing wrong. Yes, there are plenty of photo critiquing groups on social media, for free. They can't compare because there is no way of knowing how qualified the person offering you advice is. Online, you will also find many who don't understand the difference between criticism and critique. Even among trained judges, there can be a certain amount of subjectivity. I have personally received a score of 1/10 from one judge and 9/10 from another on the SAME PHOTO. Always be prepared to take critique with a grain of salt, but be open to what you can learn from it. Another excellent resource for photo critique is the portfolio review service offered by Improve Photography.
My Professional Association (PPOC) offers a pre-accreditation review process where more experienced members offer help in preparing a portfolio for review. The photo above was one of the ones I used in my submission for the Pictorial/Scenic category. During the review process, the advisor suggested that I remove the second house in the background. Now, to me, the repetition of the houses is kind of the point, but I took her advice and the photo was accepted. I learned a TON from going through the process and she helped me to make enormous improvements in some of my photos. She helped me improve this one, for that matter, but I never agreed with the removal of that house. With the strength of my conviction and less on the table, I submitted this version of the photo, with the house intact for my Provincial Image Salon and guess what? Accepted. It can be hard to hear criticism of your “babies” but keep in mind that all judging and critique is subjective. Some will “get” your work, some will not.
Print Competitions or Image Salons are where you really get to see what you're made of. It can be incredibly difficult to objectively assess your own photos. Our feelings about our favorites are often tied up in special moments and beloved people. Of course, everyone on Facebook and Instagram gives them the thumbs up. Seeing how your photos rank among other professional photographers is super valuable feedback. Go into it with the attitude that it would be awesome to achieve recognition among such a talented group. Maybe you'll be surprised at how well your photos are received. If not, don't lose heart – learn what you can and come back stronger for next year's competition!
Access to Resources
One of the great benefits of belonging to an association is gaining access to resources. These might include everything from trade magazines to educational and training materials, to contracts and sample letters, to logos for use on your website and advertising. Once you are paying for a membership, make sure that you take advantage of all the resources available.
Your national photographer's association probably hosts continuing education opportunities like conferences and workshops. Perhaps they even have a requirement to earn CE points to keep current with your certification. (For example, the Certified Professional Photographer designation with Professional Photographers of America requires recertification every three years, with a continuing education requirement). There is usually a pretty decent discount to these events for members, which can help offset your membership fees. If you aren't able to make it to the national conference, perhaps there is a regional, state or provincial level that has events closer to home for you to attend. My organization (Professional Photographers of Canada) has an annual national conference, annual provincial conventions, and monthly functions in many regions.
Other photographers are not likely to become our clients, so why do we need to network? Because we all have different specialties, for one. I photograph pets and nature, so when a client whose pets I photographed asked me to shoot her son's wedding, I asked around in my association to find someone to refer her to. Building relationships within the field will always pay off in the long run. If you don't have local photography friends, who are you going to call when you drop your 70-200 f2.8 during an important event? Whose gear will you borrow to try out before buying it yourself? Who will shoot your profile headshot??? (Boy, do I ever need a new profile headshot, but my networking has not yet yielded a photographer with the photoshop wizardry required to make me appear thin and 30).
Meeting and hanging out with other photographers who may be at different stages in the learning process can be intimidating and invaluable. For an introvert like me, it can be a daunting task to force myself into the presence of others. What if they all think I'm rubbish? What if I don't have anything in common with them? What if they recognize me for the giant fraud that I am? All I can tell you is that in my case: they didn't, we had photography in common (duh), and they didn't.
In fact…the photography community within my professional association has been extremely friendly, warm, supportive and welcoming. Much more so than I ever would have expected, especially in such a competitive field. Sometimes the presumed safety of sitting behind a computer tricks us into thinking the world “out there” is more dangerous than it really is. Truth is, the trolls and naysayers are the ones who are safe in their anonymity behind the computer screen. Most people aren't jerks, you have to get out there and meet them to be reminded that the balance is still in favor of decency. I can't think of a better way to find a local photography buddy or mentor.
It Shows A Commitment to Bettering Yourself And The Field Of Photography
When you go to the trouble and expense of gaining certified or accredited status and join a Professional Photographer's Association, you are showing yourself and others that you are committed to upholding the highest standards and constantly seeking to improve your craft. It also shows that you value the field of photography and wish to be an ambassador for the trade.
Any professional organization will have some sort of ethics and standards that members must strive to uphold. Let's face it, there are unscrupulous people in our beloved field of photography, just as there are in any others. Some people need ethical guidance to tell them not to engage in dishonest business practices or claim another photographer's work as their own. For the rest of us, it is a point of pride and can even be a useful tool in reassuring a wary client that we are not about to abscond with their deposit or deliver substandard photos.
A membership with Professional Photographers of America (PPA) actually includes liability and equipment insurance. That is pretty much worth the price of membership on its own. (At least, it is for U.S. residents, who get the full coverage). Other organizations, like Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) offer special group insurance rates and discount codes. Check out what your nation's photographer's association offers in terms of insurance and factor those savings into the value of your membership. Group rates may be available for medical and dental insurance as well, another big bonus.
Other discounts and benefits
Insurance probably isn't the only benefit to belonging to an organization. Look for discounts and preferred rates from printers, equipment rentals, studio spaces, car rentals, etc. Taking advantage of these can all add up to big savings in the long run.
Listing In A Directory
What's the point of going through all of this, if your clients can't find you? Your National Association is working hard to promote professional photographers who have proved their proficiency. The very point of these campaigns is to funnel potential clients to a directory of certified or accredited photographers. Being included in such a directory may be more important for some genres than others. For example, a couple seeking a wedding photographer for their (assumed) once in a lifetime big day may be more likely to seek a certified photographer. Someone looking for family portraits that can always be re-shot in a worst case scenario may be more willing to take their chances. Whatever your niche, being listed in your professional association's directory is never going to hurt you.
Beyond the national associations that I've been discussing in this article, there are many more regional or genre specific organizations. Some of these may feel like a better fit for you, or you might find yourself belonging to more than one. You absolutely do not need to belong to any organization in order to call yourself a photographer. My point is to highlight some of the benefits I have found since joining supportive groups of like-minded photographers.
Here are links to some of the associations I came across in my research:
- Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has the most benefits for members residing in the United States but appears to be quite worthwhile for Canadians as well. International memberships are available. There is a certification process beyond general membership, involving a written test and portfolio submission.
- Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) has no written test, but you must achieve accredited status in one category for full membership. Accreditation based upon submission of 10 photos in a category, all of which must be accepted.
- British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) employs a 3 tiered qualification process involving portfolio reviews in specific categories, similar to the Canadian model.
- Royal Photographic Society (RPS) has a base membership, but one can apply for distinctions based on a review of digital or printed portfolios. There is an international membership for those residing outside the UK.
- Australian Photographic Society (APS) membership open to all, but can apply for honours distinctions.
- The National Photographic Society (NPS) memberships available in US and UK. The website shows Canada and Australia as options but when you click on them, it says “coming soon in 2015”. This does not inspire my confidence in this organization, as I am writing this in 2017.
- Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) No credentials are needed for membership, but they do offer a certification program.
- Professional Wedding Photographers of Canada (PWPC) Acceptance based on approval of application form.
- National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) membership open to those who work (or aspire to work) in the field of journalism.
- News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC/APPC) members must work or be enrolled in a course in the field of journalism.
- National Association of Professional Child Photographers (NAPCP) acceptance based on approval of application form.
- HeARTsSpeak – Artists Helping Animals acceptance based on approval of application form.
At the time of writing this, I am working on submissions for my second and third accreditations with the PPOC. (Canine Portraiture and Birds, should I be successful). Having had some success at my Provincial Image Salon, I have now submitted to Nationals and have my fingers crossed! I am also a proud member of HeARTsSpeak, a group of artists who donate their work and services to animal rescues. I have plenty of plans to challenge myself and put my work to the test in 2017 and hope that I will have inspired some of you to do the same.