Regulation and control of Pro Photographers
Should there be controls on who can call themselves a pro photographer?
I was recently looking at a report published last year called the British Photographic Council Industry Survey. It was a survey of what a number (~1600) of UK pro photographers thought was the state of the UK photographic industry.
Shakodo has just published a guest article of mine with more thoughts about about this report. If you don’t know it, the Shakodo site is aimed at helping pro photographers answer that common question of ‘How much should I charge’ and well worth a look for professional and aspiring pro photographers.
In it, there are some quotes from some of the people (UK Pro photographers we’re told) who contributed.
Two in particular caught my eye:
“The mystique is gone with digital, the amateurs go untaxed, uninsured and unregulated. We have Fensa for double glazing, we have Corgi for gas and plumbing but an owner of a digital camera is not a wedding photographer and goes unregulated.”
“Only professionally qualified photographers should be allowed to operate and practice the medium as a profession. Although the advent of digital has been fantastic, the flood-gates have been opened for all the ‘johnny come saturdays’ who don’t undertake any training to become professional photographers overnight.”
I hear versions of this regularly, and I wholeheartedly reject the idea.
Where do you start to apply it, and where would it end? It reminds me all too much of the railing against change of a whole number of extinct crafts and jobs that have been passed by with changes in technology and business.
There is all to often an almost implicit – “we do valuable stuff, so keep the great unwashed out of our business” – do I hear calls to bring back copy typists? I might make the best hot metal type in the area, but if no-one wants it, then it’s hardly a business any more.
All to many photographers lack good business skills and an appreciation that if they are going to be ‘professional’ then they had better provide services and products that the market genuinely wants.
If the market changes, and it comes to a surprise to all to many when it does, then you can adapt and evolve your business or stick your fingers in your ears and hum loudly, which is what the cries for regulation suggest to me…
One example I’ve seen elsewhere was in respect to the (IMHO derisory) rates offered for some residential property photography in the UK. It was suggested that UK (real) estate agents were doing their own photography and there was no money in providing normal stills photography to them.
What to do? Well, I expanded the training side of our business, to teach them to take better photos. As a side benefit, when they do need to get someone in for more advanced photography, who is it they call?
Another solution I’ve seen is to offer VR photography and other value added services. However, you are up against a sustained slump in the UK property market, so any new business plan had better have a demand for its services (a novelty to some people setting out on a short lived attempt at making a living from photography ;-) )
Reduce the number of photographers!
I’ve seen it suggested that licensing for pro photographers would give me lift up in the visibility of my business activities… well actually, I prefer to put effort into establishing an effective web and (local) business networking presence.
If I’m any good at it, then my search rankings (for example) should rise above the part-time efforts. If I’m no good at making my web presence effective, then either I need to spend money and/or acquire new skills and address that aspect of my business.
If, without spending a penny on advertising, I can get this site into Alexa’s worldwide top 40 photography sites, then it’s hardly rocket science. I still feel that the ‘Business side’ of the site could benefit from a makeover for ‘look and feel’ – but this is actually one of our -business- objectives this year.
If I suppose that there was some form of official photography certificate I can display on the wall, just who is it going to impress? apart from the government photography inspector?
As a commercial photographer, I can say that in the last few years not one client has ever enquired about my professional affiliations or qualifications. They come back because we’ve provided a product that is useful and cost effective for them. Our business is aimed at addressing their needs, not what I feel they -should- want.
I cannot think of any form of certificate that truly benefits my customers or my business – it’s not about how much -we- care about any certificate/license, it’s what it’s worth to customers that counts, and I suspect that in today’s business world, it would take considerable expense and an element of compulsion to make any certificate remotely of value – neither features likely to enamour it to many.
If only those calling out for restrictions were a bit more willing to look at the usefulness of their own business offerings, I feel it would help.
In many ways, one of the most disappointing findings I saw in the report was this:
“Twice as many respondents considered amateur photographers a threat compared to other professional photographers. Many respondents elaborated on this in the comments, blaming clients who placed price above quality, and that amateur photographers could charge lower prices due to lower overhead costs or being subsidised by income from other occupations.” (21.1)
Blaming clients and others is to me a sure fire indicator of people minded to think they are owed a living, even if the demand for their services is vanishing.
Ho hum, time to get back to that update of our business plan…
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