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Saturday, 1 October 2011

Why the industry needs certified public photographers

Amateur photographers will want to break into the professional market - that is just a reality. We can continue to debate how this is making life more difficult for established pro's and how they now have access to the same relatively affordable technology. Or we can think of a way how to make that path more acceptable and recognised by the industry.

Most of the arguments I hear about the issue never looks at it from the customer's point of view. And that should be the only point of view that matters. Potential customers just don't understand the difference between "photographer", "professional photographer", "semi-professional photographer", etc - nor do they care. Instead when they're looking for a photographer, they usually search for a "wedding photographer", an "event photographer", etc. and what they want is a safeguard when they make their final decision. Prices are hardly every transparent nor consistent and nor is it clear what will happen if some mishap resulted in the loss of photos or even injury on a special day. To argue that a professional photographer won't get it wrong on the day, just does not hold any water any longer. I know of many examples where professional photographers with photography degrees and professional memberships have messed up repeatedly and then continued to advertise as professional photographers without anyone in the industry blinking an eyelid! How is that in the interest of our customers?

Instead what we need is a commonly and officially recognised qualification that certifies you as an accredited public photographer. In the same way accountants, project managers or plumbers need to obtain and then maintain accreditation throughout their careers. Whether you acquire it through formal training or through own experience then becomes irrelevant.

I agree, there are existing qualification out there, but the way it it is recognised and endorsed is what is lacking. They aren't going far enough yet. Public awareness should be raised to enable people to make an informed decision and choose a certified public photographer. It should be transparent what they get with a certified public photographer and why it costs more. For example, certified public photographers would be the only photographers that should be allowed to obtain third party liability insurance, professional camera insurance, and advertise themselves as a certified professional photographer. If anyone advertise themselves as a certified professional photographer without the appropriate accreditation, it can be then be reported to a regulating body for investigation.

If the public knows that these basic assurances comes with a certified public photographer, they can then decide for themselves whether they want to take the risk with a non-certified / non-insured photographer, or whether they're willing to pay more for a certified photographer with all the assurances and securities that comes with it. In the same way people choose between a certified or a non-certified plumber.

In addition, to obtain such a certification and also to ensure it holds industry respect, one would need to sit an exam that tests basic photography theory, lighting theory, and business acumen. Secondly the theory tests should be followed by practical exam or work placement conducted by established pro's (a mentor program that pro's can choose to sign up to for example). And finally the candidate should submit a portfolio to a final judging panel which results in full accreditation.
This then provides a clear and consistent path for photographers to obtain accreditation and acceptance into the professional photography fraternity. Professional photographers will also then not feel so threatened by newcomers and might even be more encouraging and welcoming to them. But maybe more importantly, photographers making the almost impossible leap into professional photography will feel supported and reassured that they are not damaging the industry that they too love beyond anything else.

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