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Continued Professional Development - part 1 of 1

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Part 9 on the business aspects of being a successful photographer by Ron Pybus MA ASWPP. In the past issues I have talked about establishing good business practice. In this issue I want to turn to best practice for you, as a photographer.

Many photographers set themselves up with a camera and some lights, take a few photographs, sell them and gradually consider themselves to be a professional photographer. A percentage do not see the need to qualify and even those that do tend to stop, following the success of their first qualification.

n many occupations there is a legal requirement to top up qualifications on a regular basis, but this will be a long time coming in photography. We are not key to the well-being of our customers, unlike first aiders, caterers or gas fitters, but the time will probably come when there is such a requirement. Even now, the committee members of our village hall, who assist in preparing food for quiz nights and the like, have to hold a certificate of competence that has to be upgraded every five years.

Photographers should establish a programme of continual professional development for themselves, otherwise they will stagnate and business will gradually decline. We are not routine workers who, hour after hour, put bolts into particular holes, day after day. If you are doing a routine job there is little training needed, but we are living in a changing world, where the whole of the image market is vastly different than it was ten years ago. Looking back at photographs of my wedding in the 1960s makes me realise how much has changed. They are black and white and relate better to the stiff poses of the 1920s than they do to the casual, coloured images of the twenty first century.

Our customers are influenced by the images they see around them, yet some photographers are taking the same poses in the studio, with the same props that they shot in the 1990s - except they are now on digital. Photographers are often more interested in digital matters and Photoshop or its alternatives than they are in keeping up-to-date with image making.

Many of the suppliers run one-day courses or master classes on specific topics and, of course, the SWPP host a series of seminars with photographers from around the world making presentations on a whole variety of topics. Then, of course, there is the "Mentor Me" Programme, as well as a whole series of experienced photographers with whom you can have a 'one-to-one' day or a specialised training course.


In selecting a seminar or course you should have considered what you want from the event and how relevant to your operation the speaker and their topic really is. If you only gain one piece of knowledge from a day seminar it can be worthwhile. If you gain more, it can be extremely valuable to your development - but only if you put it into practice! The American management guru, Tom Peters, once stated that there is a 72 hour rule - if you do not put into practice what you have learned within 72 hours you will never put it into practice.

It is also good to distinguish between what is relevant and what is valuable. When American and Australian speakers talk about wall portraits of enormous sizes, you have to remember, as a British photographer, that the UK population is a lot more reserved than those living on the other side of the world and that our living rooms are also much smaller. It is also important to remember that the photographers who come over are all at the top end of their field. You need to take the target audience of your locality into consideration before you wonder why you are not having the same success as the speaker. By all means attend courses and seminars regularly, but absorb and act on detail relevant to you.

When you read this article the Convention 08 will be over and many of you will have been to seminar after seminar. My guess is that by the end you will have an information block and do little or nothing with the mass of information and ideas presented to you. The Convention will give you a 'taster' of where you need to brush up your techniques, rather than providing you with the answers.

There is a multitude of magazines in the marketplace. Again you need to be selective. I personally concentrate on Professional Photographer, plus my MPA magazine and my wife's BIPP magazine. These three give me more than enough information to digest and use. I do extract and file articles which are of specific interest to me, or may be of interest in the future. The articles I keep are the practical ones on posing people, photographing jewellery, landscape photography and the like, rather than articles on lenses, flashguns or new cameras. I will read articles on new cameras and make a decision based on my interpretation of the contents, but I do not keep the articles. I have read reports on the new Nikon D3, but then I went to see it for myself before I ordered one. The article was the pointer, not something to refer to in the future - I will have enough trouble with the manual!

Apart from magazine articles I buy a range of books. Amazon keep me up to date automatically with other books that are akin to my previous purchases - purchases at huge discounts compared with the recommended retail price. (Remember that SWPP prices match Amazon's exactly! - Ed.)

Through books, magazines and selected workshops or training days you can keep yourself abreast of the photographic world's current thinking. You can also keep abreast of your customers' thinking and influences by constantly glancing through magazines such as Marie Claire, Glamour, She, Mother and Baby, You and Your Wedding, etc.

The other source of ideas and information is exhibitions. There are many guides to exhibitions - and you don't have to go to London for some of the best. Exhibitions by other photographers will stimulate you to think more widely. Likewise, don't just glance at the monthly competition winners and entries in the Professional Imagemaker or the SWPP website - look at them in detail to extract ideas for yourself.

The final way is to select photographers and scour through their websites to look at the images they are using to portray their services.

All this will take time and you need to allow a regular amount to keep yourself up-to-date, otherwise you will fall behind in current thinking and the current image style, which will, in turn, affect your business.

Once you have ideas - try them out - experiment by adding a new approach to your images, not just all your images, but add an additional picture or two to your portrait shoot in a totally different style and see how both you and your customer like it.

Above all you need to keep changing with the times. If you make a change remember to update your website with the new style.


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