This is part 7 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business – dream vs reality. So it all makes sense I recommend you start at part 1.
I thought I had finished at part 6 but I did mention that, if anyone had an issue they wanted my opinion on, to just drop me an email. It’s nice to know someone is finding these blogs useful.
So in this blog I will talk about my experiences with gaining qualifications and entering competitions.
As always, a disclaimer. I don’t know everything. I’m not an “expert”, just someone who has been earning their living from wedding photography and I feel I have learned a lot along the way.
When it comes to judging for qualifications and for competitions I do have some relevant knowledge as I have successfully completed a judge’s training course, but I do not “work” as a judge and have no intention of ever doing so.
Why do the course then? I wanted to learn the process and learn what differentiates an excellent image from a “run-of-the-mill” image. I think you need to have some special qualities to be a good judge and I don’t think I have them all.
Qualifications. I believe this industry needs an official regulator. I believe that, in order to offer your services as a “Professional Photographer” where you are paid for your services, you should have to be “licensed” by that regulator.
I also believe that, in order to qualify for that licence, you should have to be able to evidence the following:
1. That you are “competent” as a photographer and able to produce photographs that are of a “merchantable quality”.
2. That you have had a CRB check and are safe to work with children and vulnerable adults.
3. That you do not have a criminal history for repeated dishonesty, particularly fraud.
4. That you hold Public Liability Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance.
The majority of wedding photographers I have met over the years are positive, honest, generous and kind but, sad as it is, I believe that the requirement to be “licensed” is necessary. Why? To put a stop to the small number of dishonest individuals who get a camera for Christmas then claim to be “professional photographers” so they can earn some “easy money” and who, by their conduct, give our industry a bad reputation.
Now I’ve got that off my chest,
Are qualifications worth having?
Without any hesitation, YES, most definitely .
When starting out, you will learn such a lot from the process. Some organisations offer a “mentor me” program for those thinking about submitting a panel for a qualification, and this can be free. I cannot see how anyone can fail to improve as a photographer by taking part in this process. I know it has been of great benefit to me personally.
I think most of us suffer from a certain amount of self doubt, especially when starting out. Gaining a qualification can give you a real confidence boost and some clients will also feel more confident about booking your services if they know you are “qualified”.
It can be a double edged sword though. I did tell a friend about the “letters after my name” and he replied “The more letters I see after a name, the more expensive they’re going to be so I don’t want to see too many”. It made me laugh at the time but it dawned on me, how many others think like that? Just something to keep in mind when you are thinking about more qualifications and advertising your services.
How far you go up the “qualification ladder” is up to you. I don’t think your client is likely to know the difference between a “Licentiate”, an “Associate” and a “Fellow”. To be honest, I really don’t think they care. They just like to know you are “qualified”.
Besides, whilst in the SWPP an Associate is a higher level of qualification than a Licentiate, I was talking to a client recently who told me that, in her line of work, the Licentiate is the higher qualification!
I firmly believe that getting “a qualification” is good for your business, but climbing up the ladder is something you do for your own personal satisfaction.
Now competitions. There are two completely different types of competition that I have experience of.
There are those where the entrants submit individual images to be assessed by a panel of judges made up of highly qualified photographers and who award each image a score. The highest scores make up the “winners” who get prizes for their work. I have 6 years experience in this type of competition.
The second type of competition is where businesses are assessed and awarded titles like The National Wedding Industry Awards “Wedding Photographer of the Year”. The judging panel are made up of people from different professions within the wedding industry. I have never entered this type of competition, but my wife has.
Now this is a blog about starting a photography business so let’s forget about our ego’s for the moment. The real question is, will winning competitions benefit my business ?
I think the purpose of a “competition” should be to reward and give recognition to the best in any particular field. So, in my view, photographic competitions should reward and recognise the best photographers in the industry.
So, as an industry, where are we at currently with this issue? Now imagine I’m a potential client. I’ve been searching the internet looking for a wedding photographer and what do I see? I see that virtually all photographers offer “award winning photography”.
What does this tell me? Simply that being an “award winning photographer” means very little. All photographers are claiming to be “award winners”. I mean, how can every photographer be “the best in the industry”?
If you win a small competition at your local camera club, you can say you offer “award winning photography”. If you gain a qualification ( you are awarded the qualification ) you can say you offer “award winning photography”.
Now with regards to the first type of competition where an individual image is judged and points given to establish the “winner”.
There are some very high profile competitions that are really worth winning and I have no doubt, will benefit your business, but there are just so many out there I think the significance of being an “award winning photographer” has been diminished.
It’s no exaggeration when I say I receive an invitation to enter a competition somewhere in the world at least once a week. Last Sunday I received four such invitations in a single day. I could spend my entire career entering competitions!
On the same day I saw an entry on my FaceBook feed from a fellow photographer timed at 4am which read “Up at this unearthly hour again. Must be competition time!”. Don’t over commit yourself and don’t underestimate the amount of time involved.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cost involved. I have seen individuals submit as many as 25 entries in a single competition. At £15 to £25 (depending on the competition) per entry that adds up. Then there is the substantial cost of having the prints prepared to competition standard.
Now if you enjoy entering competitions and get a real thrill from the occasional good outcome, then go for it, have fun and I wish you luck.
Where it is allowed, make the effort to be in the room when your prints are being judged. You can learn a lot just by listening to the judge’s deliberations when they are looking at the prints. It really is very educational.
From a business point of view, I think winning a high profile competition can be a double edged sword. To show you what I mean I will tell you a true story.
A very experienced and talented photographer I know entered an image into a competition being held by an internationally renowned high end wedding magazine. He won the competition with a truly stunning “reportage” style of image.
When he was announced as their “Wedding Photographer of the Year” the phone didn’t stop ringing. He found he was able to charge whatever he liked because the customer base for that high end magazine had the disposable income to pay it. They were the type of clients who simply wanted “the best” regardless of cost.
A very successful year passed and he entered the competition again. This time he was unsuccessful. The phone rang much less and he found himself reducing his prices to their “pre win” level in order to get work.
By not winning the following year, does that mean he is “less skilled” than he was 12 months earlier. No, of course it doesn’t. He’s just as talented, just as devoted and just as enthusiastic as he was, but he can’t charge anywhere near the same fees if he wants to stay in work and that is part of the problem with awards.
So the “plus” here is he had a very successful “bonus” year as a direct result of his win. He was sensible and experienced enough to realise it was simply that, a “bonus” year. The danger is most of us tend to “live up” to our level of income. Over-commit yourself financially based on that year’s profit and, unless you continue winning, you could find yourself in serious financial difficulty.
Another problem I have is I can’t help but think that, with there being so many competitions out there, some of them are organised just to make money for the organisers rather than reward and recognise the best photographers in the industry. If you know different, I’d love to hear your experiences.
This blog is once more proving much longer than I had anticipated so my thoughts and experiences on the second type of competition, together with my “summary”, will have to form the next blog.
If anyone is interested in my views on anything else wedding photography related, just drop me an email.