I never thought of myself as much of a “joiner” until I attended my first professional association meeting. By the end of the evening I signed up on the spot to join. I was informed, energized, interacting with my peers – and the brand new recording secretary on the chapter’s board! I never looked back and have always been a big supporter of joining and participating in professional groups since that memorable evening. My business as a photo rep, teacher, consultant and author all came from joining and participating.
Photographers have many choices today for professional association membership depending on your area of interest. For example, commercial photographers gravitate towards groups such as American Photographic Artists (APA), Editorial Photographers (EP-now merged with APA), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) as they are advocates for business practices in commercial photography. Wedding and portrait photographers find career and business support with groups such as Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI). There are associations serving the business needs for specific populations such as Women In Photography International (WIPI) and Stock Artists Alliance (SAA). As you will see in the interviews, in addition to these national and international associations, many photographers join groups with interests only in their hometown or local communities.
So what are the business benefits for photographers? Maybe joining or renewing your membership gives you pause but I believe it is essential; you will be re-paid tenfold in benefits! Happily, there are many photographers with similar feelings and some are interviewed here to tell their stories of the networking and educational benefits provided by professional membership. I want to thank: Ed Carreon, Ben Colman, Jenna Close, Rick Dahms, Therese Gietler, Stewart Marcano, Ivan Martinez and Christopher Winton-Stahle for their contributions.
What skills or areas of expertise (other than photography) do you think professional associations provide to develop a successful photography business?
Ben Colman: From ASMP it is best business practices, licensing and rights management, negotiating, networking. Full disclosure; regarding ASMP and its educational efforts, everything I have learned about the business of photography, I have learned one way or another through ASMP. I have served two three-year terms on the National Board of Directors and was President of the ASMP Foundation for several years and as such, had a ground level view of ASMP’s educational programs and development.
Rick Dahms: The greatest value of the associations is access to the members as a group. Everything from tax issues to location recommendations are regular topics of discussion. The group can also serve as a great “reality check” and a moderately safe place to ask dumb questions.
Jenna Close: So much of running your own business is about just that…the business. This is difficult, ongoing and not always intuitive. Associations provide a place to learn this side of the industry through their programming and, perhaps even more importantly, though the contacts you make with other established members who can offer advice on everything from pricing, estimating, gear and negotiation tactics.
Ed Carreon: Both organizations I belong to put up panels and discussion with industry leaders and given that the industry is changing so fast it is important to know where to go for information when you are asked to do something you don’t know how to do.
Ivan Martinez: One common theme among the professional organizations I belong is the amount of information these association provide to small business. Many of these organizations are able to invest in marketing research that a small business such as mine will never be able to afford.
PPA for example runs a biannual survey which results in a series of bench marks that provide an incredible value to my business. I am able to see how I measure against the national average and see what adjustments I need to make to my pricing and marketing.
ASMP for example runs a series of business presentations that range from social media marketing, to pricing and copyright. They sponsor speakers that travel around the country sharing their expertise and helping small business owner gain valuable information.
Therese Gietler: It’s all in the classes that are offered, the education at a fraction of the price of college tuition. And this is education specifically geared towards us and our needs. I’ve learned everything I know about marketing in these classes and the books that I’ve purchased as a result. I can’t emphasize enough the opportunity to learn when you give back through these organizations. Volunteering for the greater good is a powerful force to make our world a better place.
What are some of the specific networking benefits you have seen from your association membership?
Rick Dahms: I have a core group of peers that I use to discuss more sensitive matters and to share and seek information about specific clients or business aspects that I wouldn’t want to broadcast. All of these people I’ve met through and are members.
Christopher Winton-Stahle: Having the opportunity to build strong relationships with colleagues within the community and to develop healthy friendships that sometimes last throughout your career. Within certain circles, knowledge, resources and occasionally even jobs are passed around from one member to the next.
Ben Colman: I have met some of the best professional photographers and businesspeople that I can call any time to bounce an idea around, or just catch up.
Jenna Close: I now have a group of people whose opinion I trust. Many of them have been in business longer than I have or have business models that differ from mine. Because of my association membership, I have people around me who will answer my questions. I also have a group of people whose reputation I am familiar with that I can hire for assistants and second shooters. I don’t hesitate to recommend another member for a job I cannot do, and others have also done the same for me. I use ASMP Find A Photographer listings to search based on location or category. I have made contacts and booked a few jobs through this service as well.
Ed Carreon: Networking has been important to me because I have often found that when I get or I am up for an assignment and I don’t have the knowledge to pull it off or need to find a good casting agent or an assistant that can light a set in a certain way, or a payroll service, that being able to call up another photographer directly and ask for information has proven an invaluable resource to me.
Stewart Marcano: For a period of time, I joined APA Success Teams and found it to be an incredible experience both professionally and personally. I’m looking forward to being part of another one in the future when time allows. The reason I found it so valuable is the fact that we need to collaborate with our colleagues. Very few people have the image knowledge, photography business knowledge and the experience other than fellow photographers to help you and advise you and bounce ideas off. Therese Gietler: It is so important to know and be known not just by your clients, but also your peers. ASMP has had some incredible programs as of late – a shoot-off event, which culminated in a book of everyone’s images, and choosing non-profit groups to support. It builds community, and in this business of the lone wolf, that community becomes a lifeline at times.
Ed Carreon www.carreonphotography.com
Jenna Close http://www.p2photography.net
Rick Dahms: www.rickdahms.com
Stewart Marcano (member of APA): www.stewartmarcano.com
Ivan Martinez: www.ivanmartinezphotography.com
Associations Mentioned By Contributors:
American Photographic Artists (APA): www.apanational.com
American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP): www.asmp.org
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) www.ppa.com