The Societies caters for those working in a wide variety of genres, with its best known component being the SWPP, which is holding its popular annual convention next month.
IF YOU’RE A WORKING photographer then it can be tough at times trying to run your business in isolation, especially if you’re just starting out and are facing all the challenges of attempting to negotiate the rigours of self-employment on your own. There are all the regular questions about how much to charge, how to find work, the demands of running a website and marketing your business to master, plus the mundane but essential day-to-day tasks, such as invoicing, VAT returns and keeping your skills up to speed.
It’s a lot to manage and you won’t have the support system that someone in an employed position will enjoy, and sometimes what you need is the chance to talk to someone else in a similar situation to yourself who can empathise and understand and maybe share some of their experience to help you through. This is where being a member of a professional body comes into its own and it’s something that every photographer should consider very carefully.
To help you see what’s out there and to get more of a feel for what each of the individual bodies can offer and what the likely costs will be, our new series is catching up with all the main players and outlining their key features. We’ll help you discover the one that’s the perfect fit for you, or it could even be that, like a lot of professionals, you find it makes sense to sign up for membership of more than one.
The Societies: SWPP
WHILE THE SWPP – The Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers – is the best-known component, The Societies itself is actually a collection of bodies that represents a number of genres, from fashion and glamour through to media and press, nature and wildlife, school and events, sport and leisure and travel and tourism. Whichever area you decide to gravitate towards – and you can choose to belong to more than one body if you sign up as a Professional member – the ethos is exactly the same, the bringing together of like-minded individuals in the spirit of self-improvement.
“The SWPP is a fantastic community of photographers to belong to,” says The Societies CEO Colin Jones, “whether you’re just starting out or are already a seasoned professional. We’re here to help photographers continue their professional development, improve their craft and build a more profitable and premium business.
“We offer lots of benefits of membership, from mentoring through to training, networking, qualifications, webinars, business listings and lots more. Our members are a really supportive group of photographers who might share their expertise through writing features for our in-house magazine or they could give time to help us provide webinars, answer questions on our online communities and just be there to support each other throughout the year.”
The SWPP has a reputation for being welcoming to those at all levels of experience, with its annual convention, now thankfully back on the agenda after having to rest last year because of Covid, one of the highlights of the year for many professionals. Touted as Europe’s largest ‘all welcome’ photographic gathering, it’s an opportunity to acquire word class training, with SWPP members receiving a 20% reduction on ticket prices.
How to Join
PART OF THE attraction of the SWPP is that it is genuinely open to all, and even those who are merely aspirational or who are perhaps working as a photographer part time alongside another career while looking to break in are fully welcome to sign up to become a member. There is also the opportunity to experience being a professional member for two months free of charge to get a feel for what the experience is like, and during this time you would enjoy a full range of benefits, including the opportunity for mentoring, attendance at webinars, networking and competitions. You simply need to head to the SWPP website to sign up, and if you’re happy with the experience then you need to do nothing and your membership will automatically be switched over to a paid subscription once the trial period comes to an end.
Who is it for?
Each of the bodies under the umbrella of The Societies has its own area of specialisation, and it’s up to the individual to decide where to head. The SWPP caters for those in the genres of wedding and portrait photography and is by some distance the biggest of the various Societies. Those working in these areas will find themselves amongst a group of like-minded individuals who are more than happy to share knowledge, advice and expertise through a photographic forum and a members-only Facebook page.
What do you get?
Members receive a wide range of benefits, ranging from over 75 hours of webinars to watch through to a monthly free-toenter image competition with valuable photographic prizes, a popular mentoring programme, a bi-monthly magazine Professional Imagemaker, a website listing that the public can browse if they’re looking to book a photographer, moneysaving offers from service providers and the chance to apply for well regarded qualifications. You’ll also have the right to display The Societies logo on your website and there’s a free 24-hour legal advice phone line for those in the UK.
“Training, qualifications, mentoring and competitions are so important to a photographer’s continual professional development,” stresses Colin. “By enhancing your skills in not only photography but in business you can offer your clients a more premium service and command a higher fee for your work.”
One of the biggest benefits of being a member is the chance to attend the annual convention, which is taking place at the Novotel in Hammersmith from March 16-19. “This is a fantastic allencompassing occasion that’s ideal for social photographers,” says Colin. “For the 2022 event we’ve arranged 200 hours of classes designed to help members improve their photography.
“Meanwhile the trade show will be showcasing 100 photographic brands, so it’s a good chance to meet key personnel behind the latest photography equipment and services. In addition, there’s also a Business School, a 20×16″ Print Competition that’s judged live in public, a presentation evening and some fantastic social and networking opportunities.”
THE CHANCE TO acquire qualifications is one of the big benefits of belonging to any trade body, and those on offer from the SWPP are widely recognised as being some of the best in the industry. Acquiring these enables photographers to stretch themselves to achieve higher standards, while it’s also a valuable demonstration to potential clients that a high level of expertise has been achieved.
There are three levels to aim for, and achieving each of them enables you to add the appropriate letters after your name. The first is a Licentiateship and, from here, you can progress to the Associate level and then a Fellowship, and at each stage the standard of photography required moves up a notch. Those looking to earn qualifications submit a total of twenty images from a minimum of four different commissions, and a panel of judges then determines whether at least sixteen have achieved the necessary standard, which ranges from good saleable imagery through to work that’s considered outstanding. It’s not easy to become a Fellow, but that’s what gives the achievement its value.
What Does it Cost?
FOR THOSE WHO ARE looking to join as a Professional Member with full benefits the cost following the two-month free trial is £12.50 a month, while there’s also an Enthusiast level membership available, which doesn’t have the free trial attached, for £10 a month, and this comes with certain restrictions, such as membership of just one of the Societies as opposed to any of them, no access to the seminars, a partial website listing, two mentoring programmes a year as opposed to unlimited and an online gallery of 15 images as opposed to 30. The third level of membership is a digital one, which is priced at £6.25 a month. This comes with most of the benefits enjoyed by Enthusiast Members, but with an online rather than a physical magazine.
More information: ❚ thesocieties.net
AS SOMEONE WHO was working to set up a photographic business while still holding down a job in another industry, in her case education, Angela Adams knows first-hand how tough that transition can be and how helpful it is to have people with experience to talk to, who are not only welcoming but also forthcoming with guidance and information. Having benefitted from mentoring when she first signed up to the SWPP fifteen years ago Angela is now a mentor herself, and she’s more than happy to have come full circle.
“One of the main things for me was the fact that those who weren’t already full-time and who, like me, were perhaps working just a couple of days a week as a photographer,
were still made very welcome,” she recalls. “The convention was a brilliant experience and there was so much going on that was valuable. There were four days of education to take advantage of, the chance to sit in on live critiques of work and so many networking opportunities, along with a trade show, where it was possible to see first-hand the kit you might be interested in. I would advise everyone to visit. It helped me transition from part-time to a full-time photographer through networking.”
“Being a photographer can also be an isolating experience, so it’s great to get out and meet others who are in the same position as you. It’s also good to dispel the feeling that everyone else who works as a photographer has to be your deadly rival. The fact is that we’re all individuals and there’s enough work out there for everyone. I believe it’s a good thing to have the confidence to talk to others in the business and to build strong relationships with photographers in your local area, without worrying they’re the competition who could steal your work.”
Earlier in her photographic career Angela felt that one of the major benefits of membership was the potential to have her work critiqued by other more netestablished professionals, a process that helped to improve her standard. “I look back at some of my pictures from that time and cringe but it’s also good to have a reference to how far you’ve progressed as well,” she says. “I often tell members that their work is not being criticised but critiqued with honesty and integrity, with the aim of helping them to improve. I’m honoured to be on the mentoring team, enabling me to help members just as I was helped in those early days.’
There is also the chance to study for qualifications and to enter competitions, something Angela enjoys immensely, but the SWPP honour she picked up that means the most was the one that saw her named a Grand Master, which is a rare accolade that’s only handed out to those who have contributed to the Societies over and over again.
“Winning competitions is great for the ego of course,” she says, “but that particular award meant so much because it was a recognition that I was giving something back to the industry; it left me with a warm glow.”
And Angela’s recommendation to anyone thinking about signing up to the SWPP? “Just give it a go,” she says, “to see if it might be for you, and try to get along to the convention, which will be a revelation if you haven’t attended before. Ultimately you get out of a professional body what you put in. If you join with that attitude, it will be a positive experience.”
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