Our new series will be looking in depth at all the professional bodies that are available to join and finding out more about what each has to offer. We start with a profile of the MPA.
WORDS TERRY HOPE

PHOTOGRAPHY IS A notoriously insular business, where so many of those who are part of this industry are self-employed and will often be running one or two-person businesses where there are limited opportunities to meet others in the same profession. This can be a particular problem for those just starting out, who would benefit greatly from the wisdom and experience that could be passed down from those who are more established.

It’s also a very lonely way to make a living at times, and the opportunity to talk to others who might be experiencing the same challenges as yourself can be very uplifting, even for those who have been working on their own for years.

The answer, of course, is to look around for a professional body to join, and if you make the right choice – and it could even be that you choose to belong to more than one – then it can be a brilliant way to become a more involved member of the photographic community. You’ll have the chance to network and to learn from others and, as you become more experienced yourself, you’ll also be in a privileged position to maybe be able to give something back to those coming  up behind you who  are now looking for guidance in the way you once were.

There’s also the opportunity to acquire honours and distinctions, that will stand you in very good stead when you’re out there offering your services. If you’ve got proof from a credible body that you’ve reached a certain standard in your work then it’s reassurance to the client and something that will give you the edge over someone else pitching for the same work who isn’t qualified in the same way.

Over the next few issues we’ll be looking in detail at some of the main professional bodies that are out there and we’ll be outlining the kind of audience that each of them is set up for, what they have to offer those at different levels, their USPs and qualification opportunities and, of course, what they might cost should you choose to sign up. Always remember, however, that cost shouldn’t be a determining factor: if you’re a professional making a living from your craft then membership of a professional body is, of course, a tax-deductible item, and the benefit you’ll achieve through being able to tap into the knowledge and support of others can be priceless!

 The Master Photographers Association – MPA

OUR FIRST BODY to be profiled is the Master Photographers Association, known to all and sundry simply as the MPA. Naturally the word “Master’ is a powerful one: once you’re qualified, you’ll have the right to refer to yourself as a Master Photographer, which is a powerful statement that is designed to install confidence in clients who might be looking to book your services.

Quite rightly, however, it’s not a walk in the park to get to this level. Those who are more experienced and have a strong body of professional work could expect to become a qualified member in perhaps a matter of a few weeks, while for those who are just starting out the road can be longer.

You’ll be asked to put together a panel of twenty images from a selection of professional jobs that will be need to be approved by a selection committee, but the good news is that new members will have the services of a mentor whose role will be to walk them through the entire process. It’s all designed to make the qualification procedure as easy as possible without dropping the standard that has to be in place for the Master Photographer title to have any genuine credibility.

Who is it for?

A large number of the MPA members are involved in social photography, namely weddings, portraits, pets and commercial photography. There are members who are involved in other genres, such as  landscape and sport, but they’re not the primary audience.

What do you get?

One of the key things you get from the MPA, and indeed most of the major associations, is the chance to network and to belong to a body that genuinely understands the needs and requirements of the professional photographer.

For the MPA a crucial USP of all this is a new central online resource known as the Hive, from which everything the MPA offers can be accessed. From here you can contribute to debates, undertake lunchtime workshops or deeper dive sessions that go into a huge amount of detail on pro techniques, access archived training sessions and set up a dialogue with fellow professionals on a group or one-to-one basis if required.

You can also enter the MPA Awards, the presentation of which is taking  place in the glamorous surroundings of The Cutty Sark in Greenwich at the end of this month, you can have your work critiqued and share the critique that other photographers have received and it’s the platform through which you can start the journey towards your qualification.

There are also Certified Hubs within the Hive, which are specialised learning resources where you can set up monthly meetings, chat to other like-minded photographers in small breakout communities and get access to special training opportunities and discounts. At present there are six hubs available: Wedding/Dogs/Newborn/Sustainability/ Posing & Lighting/Business Basics.

Only set up in 2021, the Hive is fundamental to everything the MPA is looking to do, and it’s considered so important that those considering joining are invited to undertake a free personalised 15-minute membership test drive to experience more fully what’s on offer. It’s something the MPA hopes will set it apart from rivals. You can also book up a mini ten-minute critique of ten images to receive an honest appraisal of what your standard is right now. 

Qualifications

THERE ARE THREE levels of qualifications: Licentiateship, Associateship and Fellowship. A panel of twenty images is required to apply and mentorship is provided to ensure members know the standard that’s required. One of the things that makes the MPA qualifications highly valued is the fact that a ‘Creative Profile’ document, which is an assessment of your working practices, is also included, and it becomes a reference guide for how you might run your business.

The primary categories for qualification are: Wedding, Portrait, Social, Commercial, General Practice, Fashion, Illustrative & Pictorial, Press and PR, Landscape, Architectural, Industrial, Fine Art, Events, Scientific, Medical, Forensic and Specialist.

How to Join

THOUGH IT IS SET UP exclusively to cater for professional photographers as opposed to hobbyists, the MPA is now far more relaxed about who is admitted for membership than once was the case. The criteria is that a would-be member has to have public liability and professional indemnity insurance in place – considered to be what every genuine professional should be taking out in any case – and they need to be earning at least some of their income from professional photography, although that aspect is looked at leniently for those that might just be starting out, who potentially might be working in a different profession at the outset.

“It could be that someone is at the beginning of their career and has just made a few sales,” says Paul Inskip FMPA, the MPA’s COO. “We know we can’t ask for too much and we don’t. We’ve also dropped the requirement for members to be proposed by another working photographer.”
 

 What Does it Cost?

ESSENTIAL MEMBERSHIP costs £169 a year or £16 a month. For this you receive the option to pursue premium qualifications and certifications, inclusive mentoring, monthly critiques, four magazines a year and access to The Hive. You also get a qualified photographer listing, regional meetings and competitions and online and in-person training.

Premium Membership is £399 a year or £39 a month, and the extras over Essential Membership include two mini one-to-one sessions, access to one certified hub and deep dive webinars, 20% off training and five entries into the international awards, plus the ability to share benefits with two team members.

Premium+ Membership is £599 a year or £59 a month, and on top of standard Premium benefits the member receives four mini one-to-ones, access to two certified hubs, fifteen entries into the international awards, 30% off training, and the right to share benefits with up to four team members. 

Meet the Member: Grahame Smith FMPA

ONE OF THE MOST reassuring things about joining a professional body is the realisation that there are many seasoned professionals out there who are more than willing to put something back into their profession, having once themselves just been starting out. This networking aspect is crucial for those who might struggle with particular aspects of setting up their small business from scratch, and the chance to hear first hand from others how they’ve tackled the same problems can prove invaluable.

One of those who is very involved in welcoming newcomers into the profession is Grahame Smith FMPA who, with his wife Allison, runs GWS Photography, which markets itself as ‘East Lothian’s number one choice for family and pet portrait photography.’

A member of the MPA since 2015, Grahame achieved his Fellowship virtually, since The Photo Show last year, where his work was due to be assessed, ended up being cancelled due to Covid. With a wealth of experience behind him, and the benefit of having been mentored himself to achieve his distinctions, Grahame is refreshingly open to helping others and doesn’t consider even those photographers in his locality to be his rivals.

“From my perspective I think everyone benefits if we raise the standards of professional photography,” he says, “and I’m more than happy to put something back in, having been helped myself when I first joined. Those who are just starting out will often struggle with such things as pricing, how to find clients and marketing, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with them. I’m very open with what I’ll pass on and I’ll even invite those who are local to come over to my studio for a morning to see first-hand what we do.

“I think that the more that professionals come across as being trained and up to speed on what they’re doing, the more it will give us the edge over the £49 cash in hand brigade. People will have a choice of who to go for, and those who respect photography and are prepared to pay a reasonable fee to get a guaranteed level of quality will be the ones who come to us and who won’t want to risk getting a bad job from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.”

To Grahame the importance of his MPA membership is that it demonstrates to his clients that he’s reached a recognised level of skill, and that he’s put considerable effort in to ensure that he’s going to be able to ultimately deliver a high-quality job.

“I don’t think people necessarily understand what the letters after your name stand for,” he says, “and nor are they going to be especially impressed perhaps by the fact that you’ve had pictures placed in a competition. But the MPA logo on the website definitely does carry some authority and it helps to set you above someone perhaps who can’t offer that. It gives you a level of credibility that you can find very useful.”

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