British Institute of Professional Photography – Why I decided to qualify

October 20th, 2021

What does qualification for a photographer mean?

Anyone can take a photo, it's easy. You take your camera or phone, point it at something and then press a button. Photographs can be as simple or complicated, liked or disliked, beautiful or controversial, all by the press of a button. When you're an amateur or enthusiast, you take a camera, maybe take a few photos. You might get them printed or put them on social media. You may join a local camera club and make friends and enter competitions. From here you may love the process of taking photos so much you may rise to set up as a professional and be paid for commissioned work.

Professional....what does that mean? Well the bare bones is being paid to do something in exchange for being paid. Anyone can get paid right? Well you can be cheap or you can be good. Me? I'd rather be the latter, it builds longevity and a long term business. You can be cheap, but eventually you'll run out of clients who will pay and some may not even book you because their belief is "if it's cheap it's obviously rubbish". Within a year of setting up as a professional I decided to join the British Institute of Professional Photography. But why? I wanted to build a prestigious brand business. I wanted to be different to other photographers in the area. It wasn't essential as there is no necessity to use any photographer who is not qualified for any job. However, I wanted to raise my game, I wanted to improve. To qualify I sent in 20 images in digital format and waited. The news was not good, they weren't up to standard.

The Process

The process of qualification with each organisation - Royal Photographic Society (RPS), The Master Photographers Association (MPA), Society for Wedding and Portrait Professionals (SWPP) are similar but not the same. They are similar in that they assess a portfolio of images and then decide on whether you are worthy enough to gain the qualification you are putting yourself forward to get. With the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) the process is 20 images and formal assessment, I had had an initial assessment, deemed I wasn't up to standard and then recommendations for workshops and CPD were made.
To be self critical, I was making mistakes with lighting use and consistency of image production. The first workshop I attended was a basic introduction to studio lighting and techniques with the esteemed photographer and Fujifilm Ambassador, Saraya Cortaville FBIPP. The workshop was for a full day and I then went away to practice.

So the next couple of months were spent taking images and then being re-assessed via portfolio review. At this stage, I felt that I was still not understanding consistent lighting so another workshop was booked and then practice followed by another portfolio review. This process followed a similar path over the next couple of years - portfolio review -> Improvement recommendation -> practice. It was almost disheartening until something clicked (excuse the pun) and I understood lighting setups and consistent image output. At this point, I was granted a mentor and I used to send images to them and they would critique and send me back the comments.

Preparing for qualification

To submit for the qualification you have to be pretty sure you're going to get the one you're going for, I was submitting for Licenciate or 'L'. Part of the process (as well as the portfolio) is the supporting evidence - this is where you write about why your images are the ones you've taken, where the inspiration to take them was from, insurances, websites and other supporting information to show that you are indeed a professional and working as one.

I decided to submit my supporting information as a printed book instead of separate sheets. This was to keep all the information together and present it like an organized set of work. A set of 20 images were sent in digital format as well as in print format. It was then a waiting game to see if I had passed the formal assessment. Two weeks later I was invited to a hotel where they were holding the assessments to find out that I had been successful and had passed my 'L' qualification. It had taken 5 years from initial assessment, much soul searching and occasionally questioning my choice. In the end if I had the choice to repeat it I would do it all over again.

The Wrap Up

Qualifications are more to do with self development and skills development. The general public want a good photographer to take some good photos of them. There are 'qualified' photographers who haven't changed their practice in 30 years and then there are newly qualified photographers who take phenomenal photos. The choice of qualification is a personal one. However if you are a professional and are looking for a way to improve your skills and better yourself as a photographer, I would look into the British Institute of Professional Photography and go through the process.