Professional Associations: Are They Right For You?: The Benefits Of Membership
Commercial photographers should investigate 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). 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 groups such as Women In Photography International (WIPI) and Stock Artists Alliance (SAA). In addition to these national and international associations, many photographers join groups in their hometown or local community.
As you’ll see in the following interviews, there are numerous benefits in joining these groups. The photographers I spoke with tell their stories of the networking and educational benefits provided by professional membership. They include Stewart Bertrand, Ed Carreón, Jenna Close, Ben Colman, Rick Dahms, Therese Gietler (studio manager and producer for Andy Batt), Ivan Martinez, Steve Whittaker, and Christopher Winton-Stahle. Their membership affiliations and website contact information are at the end of the article, as are a host of informative sites for further investigation.
Shutterbug: What skills or areas of expertise (other than photography) do you think professional associations provide that have helped you 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 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, through the contacts you make with other established members who can offer advice on everything, including pricing, estimating, gear, and negotiation tactics.
Ed Carreón: Both organizations I belong to put up panels and discussions 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 to is the amount of information these associations provide to a 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 benchmarks 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 runs a series of business presentations that range from social media marketing to pricing and copyright. They sponsor speakers who travel around the country sharing their expertise and helping small business owners 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 toward 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 look forward to some of the production classes being offered through OMPA—ones that focus on postproduction and how to fund larger projects. And again, 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.
Stewart Bertrand: You cannot get an “MBA” in photography. It’s an industry that you must learn and figure out—associations help you do that on multiple levels.
SB: What are some of the specific networking benefits you have seen from your association membership?
Rick Dahms: I have a core group of peers who 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.
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 business people who I can call anytime to bounce an idea around with, 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 who 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’s 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 Carreón: 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 who 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 Bertrand: For a period of time, I joined APA’s 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 around. It often doesn’t help us photographers to speak with people outside our industry because the lack of PIQ (Photography IQ) to properly discuss issues.
Therese Gietler: We’ve met so many influential folks over the years which has led to our being invited to contribute to articles like these, as well as being asked to be on the panel discussion for the last ASMP symposium in New York. It is so important to know and be known not just by your clients, but also by 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 nonprofit groups to support. It builds community, and in this business of the lone wolf, that community becomes a lifeline at times.
Sometimes you might find that your local chapter isn’t all you’d hoped it would be. That means it’s time to join and attend the board meetings as well! You can’t go home and complain about what you don’t like about it unless you’re willing to step up and help make it what you need it to be. These organizations are built by volunteers and working professionals. Unless you speak up and make suggestions on what types of events you’d like, the board won’t know.
SB: I have seen an increase in an association’s emphasis on education for their members. What are the educational opportunities your membership has provided—personally and/or professionally?
Christopher Winton-Stahle: The most obvious are the educational programs that are hosted by both the chapter level and the national level. Several times each year there are inspirational programs held with nationally or internationally working and well-known photographers who always offer insight into how a person on that level is working and how they got to where they are. The less obvious are the lessons and education obtained through the relationships built with fellow photographers.
Having held a position on my ASMP chapter’s Board of Directors for six years, I must say that the real education and benefit to being a member of my organization is in what I give back to the organization. By putting myself in a position where I am encouraged and lifted to “lead and direct” I have become a much stronger photographer. Having the courage to lead and direct is a big part of what contributes to success or failure in this industry. I owe a very big part of my personal success as a photographer and as a businessperson to what I’ve learned during my experience as a leader. It is an experience that has literally changed my life and has not only helped me to grow my business but has helped me to grow as a person.
Jenna Close: The Strictly Business series [by ASMP] was monumental in helping me start and grow my career in a sustainable way. It provided a road map for me to follow, and taught me ways in which I can be a part of the industry without undermining it. My business would not have grown so quickly without those seminars. That continues today with webinars, symposiums, local programming, and camaraderie with members all across the nation. I feel I can call any member anywhere and find a helpful resource. Being part of the same organization helps bridge that gap. There is also a lot of useful information on ASMP’s website regarding terms and conditions, contracts, and even real estimates.
Ed Carreón: As the industry changes at the speed of light APA has provided panels and discussions about skill sets and expertise that you will need access to if you are to remain competitive. For instance: marketing, retouching, CGI, and 3D technologies.
Stewart Bertrand: Tons; there are regular educational events being produced by APA—I’ve attended many. Regardless of subject, the speakers and educational material has been by the best in the business. I have attended educational seminars on how to put together estimates, retouching, portfolio reviews, ad agency discussions, copyright, and many more.
Ben Colman: I firmly believe ASMP, with its Strictly Business seminars along with many other educational offerings, including Professional Business Practices in Photography, Seventh Edition, is the hands-down leader in educating photographers on how to succeed.
Ivan Martinez: I feel there are three. First, new technology or business trends. For example, video is an area that is quickly gaining a great deal of interest among my clients. I have been able to gain a great deal of knowledge by attending presentations from AZPPA, PPA, and ASMP on this particular subject. Second, photography skills. Taking time to attend annual or monthly presentations hosted by the professional organizations is always a great opportunity to keep a sharp edge on the skills we need to be a leading business in our profession. AZPPA, ASMP, and PPA do a great job in putting together annual conventions or events where photographers get to share their knowledge and expertise. Third, business skills. PPA develops business benchmarks that are helpful tools when pricing and packaging your services. ASMP has done a great job with its Business Workshop series. These annual events cover many aspects of the photography business, from negotiating to pricing to marketing.
Therese Gietler: Well, everything I know about marketing is from attending the educational seminars and I also have a few typical things I say to folks in our industry.
To the new kid: go to every event you can. Each one is valuable—and you will learn something at every one. I always try to go to each event, because it is good to get a review, and new perspectives are invaluable. I’m always thrilled with the tidbits of advice I walk away with. And I love meeting new folks in the industry, and hearing how business is in their part of the world.
To established photographers who aren’t a member of a trade organization: why not? If it’s not the time to learn, then it’s the time to give back. And everyone’s business has benefited from the existence of trade organizations. I believe it’s our duty to pay into those organizations in order for them to continue the good fight on our behalf, while we manage our day-to-day businesses. We’ve given back, both big and small. Andy was on the ASMP board for six or seven years I think, and he was co-president for four of those years. We have hosted many of their events at our studio, we have mentored young photographers through the Lucie Foundation Mentorship program, and ours is an open-door policy with our assistants who need any business advice.
We joined APA because we enter their competitions and the discount on the entry fee was worth it. And I’m happy to support them as well; they are another advocacy voice, and we can’t get enough of that. We joined OMPA because we are working more in the film world, and thought it important to be a member for the support they can provide. The media sourcebook they publish every year is fantastic. And we thought it was important for OMPA members to have access to us, because for as many photographers who are out there shooting film now, there are the same amount of filmmakers entering the still world. We’d like there to be a healthy discussion between our worlds so we can support each other’s established businesses.
Stewart Bertrand (member of APA)
Ed Carreón (member of APA, ASMP)
Jenna Close (member of ASMP)
Ben Colman (member of ASMP)
Rick Dahms (member of ASMP, past member of APA and EP)
Therese Gietler (member of ASMP, APA, OMPA, and Lucie Foundation)
Ivan Martinez (member of AZPPA, ASMP, PPA, and Mesa Chamber of Commerce)
Christopher Winton-Stahle (member of ASMP)
Associations Mentioned By Contributors
American Photographic Artists (APA)
American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP)
Arizona Professional Photographers Association (AZPPA)
Editorial Photographers (EP)
Mesa Chamber of Commerce
Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA)
Professional Photographers of America (PPA)
Here are additional resources and links from the Business of Architectural Photography provided by Steve Whittaker, Whittaker Photography (www.whittpho.com):
ASMP Business Resources
Copyright Registration and Information
Civil Rights: Photographing Federal Buildings (“NY Times”)
Tutorials & Forms
Photos of Public Buildings
Business Management Software
Adult Release Forms
http://asmp.org/articles/professional-business-practices-book.html; recommended: ASMP Professional Business
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