This week, I was drawn into a debate on one of the wedding forums about whether or not prospective couples should choose a photographer who is qualified over and above one who is not. Now, whilst that may sound like stating the obvious, please do read on as there’s more to it than that.
To put this into context, there exists within the UK, three main bodies for photographers to register with and obtain professional qualifications – the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography), the SWPP (Society of Wedding & Portrait Photographers) and the MPA (Master Photographers Association). Now, there is a difference between being a member of one of these bodies and being a qualified member. Any professional photographer can join one of the bodies, although I would add that they are usually vetted to make sure that they are in fact professional, sometimes requiring references to back this up. So, by using a photographer who is a member, you are at the very least guaranteeing that you are using the services of a photographer whose full time occupation is a photographer.
As for the qualifications, there are three levels – the Licentiate, Associate and the Fellow (or L, A & F as they’re also referred to). These letters are used to prefix the body that the photographer belongs to, e.g. LBIPP, ABIPP, FBIPP etc. The article on the wedding forum that I read earlier this week was quite dismissive of the qualifications, with one contributor stating that she had heard from a photographer that the Licentiate qualification (the first of the three to obtain) simply stated that the photographer displayed “basic competence” in their chosen field. Personally, I thought this description was inaccurate and misleading. To quote the BIPP, to obtain the Licentiate, the photographer must show “an established professional level of skill and competence”. And, as someone who is currently working towards their “L” qualification with the BIPP at the moment, I know that this is not easy to achieve, requiring multiple weddings to be photographed and having your work checked and assessed by a mentor along the way, who will then decide if you are ready to go forward for the qualification.
So, where are we going with all of this? Well, there are two sides to every story. From the photographer’s side, it’s always a personal choice as to whether to join one of the bodies or not and then, subsequently, achieve qualifications. There are many great photographers out there who chose not to do so, and it hasn’t held them back. Likewise, you do on occasion hear of photographers who are qualified whose work has been brought into question, although in fairness these are the exception rather than the rule.
From the client’s point of view, when booking a photographer, it may or may not matter to them if their chosen photographer is qualified, or not. If it is important, it should definitely not be the only reason that’s considered, as viewing the photographer’s portfolio and having a good rapport with them are just as important to achieving great images at the end of the day. What I would say though, is that by choosing a qualified photographer, you do have the backing of the relevant body should everything not go quite to plan, as there is a formal complaints procedure that can be followed where the BIPP, for example, will intervene and attempt to reach an amicable solution.
My take on this is that by working towards qualifications, in my case with the BIPP, it’s constantly pushing me to improve my work. And as for clients, well, for those who are not looking for a qualified photographer, I’m covered; and for those that are, I’m covered as well, which is where I’d rather be.