A wedding photographer is a person first and foremost, one that a bride and groom would be happy to have at their wedding. Their photographic ability is important for certain but not necessarily the most important aspect of their professionalism. How can you test and measure the ‘lovely person’ factor. You can’t.
I am often asked by delegates why don’t I provide certificates. My view is that attending one of my workshops is no guarantee of being able to take great pictures. Not everybody leaves the same workshop at the same level. I do my best to ensure that the workshop content is delivered in a way that everyone can understand but still some delegates fly while others are carried.
For some photographers, having milestones to achieve and to celebrate are vital steps on the path to reaching their potential. For those shooters, the qualification path of Licentiate, Associate and Fellow are the route to self fulfillment and a feeling of self worth. After all, there’s nothing wrong with feeling great about what fellow photographers think of your work. My advice is to put it all into context. Leaving university with a degree in biology is not going to make you employable, being a wonderful person is, and there is far more to being a top photographer than creating a panel of 20 pictures that judges love.
My advice on an artistic level is to look from within your own group of trusted friends. What do you and they feel about your work? Does it communicate, resonate, drive emotion or stimulate thought?
On a professional level you can question the value your clients put on your work. The hugs, the tears and the moments of sheer delight when they see the images you have captured for them all speak louder than the approving nod of a fellow.
Competition and assessment will always be a part of our industry and a very important part too. Perhaps the most valuable part of the qualification programmes offered by the institutions are the mentoring sessions with fellows. Having regular critiques can do us all good and help us advance our style and craft. Often though I’m left picking up the pieces. Only today one of my delegates prints was judged ‘U’ Ungraded, and I have other delegates whose wonderful work has been slated by so called professional mentors. The qualification process can be demoralising and accepting defeat might just be the ruin of a promising talent.
If gaining qualifications is the right thing for you then be tough and be ready to accept a few knock backs along the way. The standard of photography needed to succeed to the top level is high and it often takes several attempts to make the grade.
It will be of no surprise to some of you that I have not sought to join the ‘F’ club. The band of ‘fellows’ that form the core of the professional institutions of the BIPP, MPA and SWPP. My reasons for not seeking acceptance into this elite group by means of submitting a panel of 20 pictures that please the judges, are because a fellowship assessment is no test of professionalism and I have a fear of failure. There is surprisingly no assessment of customer experience, business acumen, or personal flair, all of which are important attributes of the top professionals in our industry today. I am however a member of the BIPP and the SWPP and Julie is a member of the MPA and the SWPP. Our memberships are for business reasons, cheaper insurance and merchant services etc. One of the obvious troubles with the ‘F’ system is that many fellows peaked on film. It’s as if achieving a fellowship is the cue to stop pursuing new goals and leading the industry from the front. Of course there are some fellows whom I respect and are happy to call friends. Photographers who keep setting new standards, winning competitions and are the ambassadors of our industry.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a classical education as a lighting director and cameraman at the BBC, and although this was a long time ago I do use snippets of knowledge and experience gained at that time in my current work. I’ve never felt the need to prove to myself or my photographic ability by seeking the nod of other ‘F’ rated professionals, instead I sought the council and approval of my clients.
Perhaps pursuit of perfection is an honorable thing that drives a continual improvement in ones ability but what happens when you reach the top – An FBIPP after your name. Does it all need to stop? Where’s the next peak? Salvador Dali once said “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” I prefer to think of a photographers true measure of professionalism and worth as that measured by his or her last client. Once that feeling ‘I’ve not yet taken my best picture’ dies is when I’ll know I’ve peaked.
This then is my own test and measure process and one I can rely on much more than what qualifications I may have attained or competitions I won 10 years ago. Professionalism and worth is all about the present and not about the past. I let my clients decide how good I am and how much they are prepared to pay for my work. In essence I let my clients be the judges.