One of the first things I did, when restarting my business after the passing of my mother was to join The Societies of Photographers and soon after do my licentiate for the Society of Wedding and Portrait photographers (a part of The Societies).
Unfortunately, it was soon after that that I injured my arn and couldn’t hold a camera properly for a number of month, so I didn’t do as much photography as I would have liked, particularly using my Nikon D800. During this time, I met Jamie Morgan, an excellent photographer and former winner of the Kennel club dog photographers of the year. He suggested I join the Master Photographers Association, which I did and has turned out to be one of the best decision I have made.
One of, if not the main role of the MPA is to improve skills of professional photographers, doing so in a number ways. They have a number of online classes you can buy (relatively cheaply), they have a monthly critique (more of which I will go into in a while) and also there are area meet ups. My local meeting, is in association with the London & Essex Professional Photographers group.
As with The Societies, you can also do your qualifications with the MPA, though you do have to show that you are a working professional to get your certification, which then allows you to do your licentiate qualification.
Now technically, I already could claim my licentiate with the MPA, as the MPA will accept a LSWPP (Licentiate Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers) to gain the LMPA (Licentiate Master Photographer Association), all I would need to do would be to send the prints from my LSWPP panel and I would get the qualification.
I am not going down that route though. To do my LSWPP, I put in a variety of work, which I could best describe as pretty average, certainly not up to the level I aspire.
So I decided straight off the bat to create a complete new panel, of much better work, which I would be happy to putting in.
Now, I am a good photographer but I am not perfect and I know there are a number of ways in which my photography can improve.
The biggest help so far has been with the monthly critiques. Each month a member can enter, up to 3 images into a certain category, dependant on your qualification level and some specialist categories such as commercial photography.
The monthly critiques are done by the chairman of the MPA, Ray Lowe, who has over 40 years of experience in the industry. With each category, he will create a video, saying what he thinks of every-ones entries. Whilst he says put in your best work, I quite often put in work where I am experimenting, some of it will do well, some less well.
Over the months I have been a member I have leant a lot from the critiques, with the main criticism of my early work being my editing, particularly of my black and white work. This has led me to improve my editing skills and also be a bit more bold in the say that I edit.
Because I am not always putting in my best work, I don’t always get a ‘highly commended’ which the best photos during the critique will get (as well as the 2 best photos getting a silver and gold each month). Learning though is the most important thing for me though and stretching myself is my aim.
This is not to say that I don’t always put my best working in and generally I know when a photo will do well. Occasionally I will be wrong though and a photo won’t do as well as I had hoped but I take the comments made in the way they are intended. Fortunately, I have achieve a couple of highly commended this year but I still aim at trying different things more than anything at the moment.
I have bought some of the online classes and also attended a couple of the MPA organised classes, with some of the best photographers in the business and one of the realisations is that whilst they are better than me, in some ways, the level isn’t that huge and if I can improve on a couple of things a little, it would have a big effect on the quality of work I do.
Currently the area I am working to improve on is posing and setting up a pose, which can make a dramatic difference between a good and great photo, this of course takes time but I am sure I will get there.
More recently, I did my first print competition with the London & Essex Professional Photography Group. There were a few reasons for this. I wanted to make sure the the prints I had done were up to the quality needed, so when I do my LMPA, the work won’t be rejected. It also allowed other regulars to see my work and it gave my the importunity to have my work critiqued by a different photographer (different photographers will look at photos differently).
I put in 4 images to the competition 2, which I really thought, would do well and 2 which were good, though one I knew would be critiqued for missing a part of the hand. To my surprise, the 2 images I didn’t think would do well both got awarded merits, whilst the 2 I thought would do well didn’t (though they were complimented).
This has been a big boost. Getting a merit is considered very good in these competitions and I wasn’t sure how well I would do. What was good was the 4 photos went into 2 of the biggest categories, pet portraits and creative portraits, where only a few got the merit. Of course I would have liked to have been in the top 3 but that gives me something to aspire to next year.
Later this year, the MPA, will have their print competition and I whilst I won’t be able to enter the main competition because I won’t have achieved my licentiate by then. I can enter the open category and fingers crossed I will do decently well.
Being a member of a professional association has helped my photography and also my confidence. It is easy to see amazing photographers work and think that in comparison with them, you are no good and as with most photographers I know I am exceptionally critical of my work. Having others review with a more objective eye makes has given me a different perspective on my work.
Also having a photographic qualification and awards, is good for the business, it shows potential customers that you have reached a certain level and that you can be trusted.
So for anyone considering joining an association of some kind be it The Societies, MPA, British Institute of Professional Photographers, The Guild of Photographers or most other associations I would highly recommend it (with the exception of the Royal Photographic Society, which was terrible when I joined).