CPD for Photographers – Why it’s important

October 19th, 2021

Continuous Professional Development for Photographers - Is it something important?

When we talk about Continuous Professional Development or CPD we think of it sometimes being something in more of a corporate setting. People in high-rise buildings sit in a conference room listening to sales techniques and how to apply them in order to be more proficient in the job they are doing. Photographers sometimes do not consider CPD as being something important. I once attended a course by a well-known trainer John Denton who said that "every sports person from rugby to football players, track and field athletes to American football stars all train and practice drills in order to improve their game and skillset, photographers do not". This struck a cord and I thought to myself.... wow the man is right. As a professional photographer, I try and stay on top of CPD since that workshop, mainly because of the work I do and I like finding innovative ways to take photos.

I find attending workshops on basic skills - lighting, posing, how to work with models transfers over into other aspects of social photography. In the same way, attending workshops on how to photograph buildings and architecture give a different understanding of how to work with light. As regards CPD we as photographers tend to limit our horizons. There is an almost animosity between those that photograph social subjects - weddings, portraits, newborns and those that photograph commercial ones - products, buildings, interiors. I would attend workshops in both if they were presented well with highly skilled practitioners discussing their craft and how to improve. I do not really try to differentiate between those that shoot social subjects and commercial ones as we are all photographers and we can dip in and out of one area to another. The important thing is to have the ability and understanding to control and work with lighting and light conditions - both ambient and artificial (in the case of studio strobes if used).

Taking inspiration from movies and theatre can be deemed a part of CPD. If you watch something, I mean really watch a film and try to look at the techniques used within it and then try and apply them to your own photographic practice to come up with some interesting imagery, that is part and parcel of improving ones craft. If you prefer attending workshops and courses for your learning then this takes a little more patience and a desire to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is a myriad of people pedalling their 'quick fix' courses, many of whom do not actually have a foundation in photography themselves but have set themselves up as a photographic trainer, mainly to separate you from your hard earned. If you are considering formal training, make sure to check out the person or organisation offering that training and see if they have any pedigree to do so. If you cannot find imagery produced that astounds you and all they do is 'train' people then I would walk away. If on the other hand the trainer is also a working photographer and has a reasonable standard to their body of work then I would consider their workshop, if it fits in with your personal development goals.

With personal budget constraints, sometimes CPD of the paid variety is not possible - particularly if you are starting out. In this case YouTube has many trainers who have their own channels - I have used Phlearn myself to look at Photoshop editing techniques, digitalrev TV and Kai put out some interesting content and discuss camera settings and how to achieve innovative images, Joe McNally posts videos on how to use off camera flash. There are different options available to people wanting CPD both paid and free. I am a member of the British Institute of Professional Photography and since being qualified, I have found my CPD to be invaluable through them. The reason I can vouch for them isn't because I am a paid member, it is because each trainer who is teaching on a workshop is a working photographer who has needed to reach a quality standard to qualify and then maintain that quality in order to work and be paid for their craft. I am not saying you too must qualify to benefit from CPD, but you must have a plan and be very self critical about your work and how you are producing images. If you think you have mastered everything and do not need to improve, then you can put your camera equipment away and retire as you know everything. If, however you have the desire to find out new techniques, applications to your own work and to get generally better, picking and choosing CPD providers and building your own route map and skillset are very important.

Your photography, especially if you are a professional is your occupation. You can spend days, months and even years shooting exactly the same way. Customers might be happy but would you be inspired by your own work? If the answer is no then you must try and develop yourself as a photographer so your imagery stands up against intense competition.

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times - Bruce Lee

Business Development - the other side of photography CPD

CPD doesn't only have to be limited to photography skills development. It also ventures into business skills development too - advertising, marketing, sales, customer service, website building, SEO. All of these things are a holisitic approach to becoming a better business person as well as a photographer. If we do not improve the way we do business, we will not be reaching customers who will buy items and pay our bills.

Photographers often forget that the nature of business is also to continuously evolve, investigate new markets, engage new customers and continuously try to bring in revenue. If we aren't developing business skills side by side to our professional photography then the business will be like trying to ice skate up a hill.

Each and every photographer should ideally have a business plan which they revisit once in a while. There should be review of where the business has been and where it is going and how it is going to get there. Are you reaching sales targets? Are you upselling enough? Are your prices correct and do they reflect what you need to cover overheads? Without answering these questions everything is random guesswork when really it needs almost a scientific approach and dismantling and reassembly of the business from the ground up. As an experienced business owner and photographer, I see many photographers undercharging for their work and I assume they run the business at a loss. People have an assumption that photographers are millionaires, meanwhile photographers themselves feel that they often do not earn enough to support themselves. I feel that with a little reflection, they should evaluate their overall business model and put together a plan. Without a plan, you are floating along aimlessly. Customers will turn up, won't they? Not necessarily. The adage of "if you build it they will come" doesn't apply in this case. Customers need to be pursued and convinced (unless you are very established ) to buy your services. Some feel uneasy in pursuing customers, asking for payment, suggesting higher value items. All of this is part and parcel of being in business. If you don't feel confident in doing something, get someone to teach you an effective way to do it.

To conclude - development wholly both in photography and business will lead to improvements in both. Moving forwards like Rocky Balboa once talked about is important, that's how winning is done.