I was sitting in the waiting area at the barber shop the other day and couldn’t help but notice there was a certificate proclaiming the barber had passed a course and was certified to cut hair. Small decals with successive years emblazoned were also neatly attached on the framed document.
I knew the answer, but I asked the barber anyhow: What do all the annual stickers mean? With a sideways grin, clearly indicating an inference of stupidity in my direction, he explained how he had to pay an annual fee to the association that governs his profession and assures a minimum standard of barbering in the province.
Indeed, I learned, there is provincial legislation that makes it illegal to cut hair without being a member of its association—as there is also for cosmetologists, auto mechanics, real estate agents, along with many other professions. One of the very few professions not regulated with minimum standards of governance is photography; whether it should be as a level for consumer protection is open for debate. Consequently, it is left to the individual photographer to establish their own minimum standards and code of ethics.
Fortunately there are two organizations in Canada that support the photographer in both of these matters: Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators (CAPIC). Similar to the barber, these two organizations offer some level of support for the customer—membership is only upon acceptance of having met a professional status as defined by the organization. Consequently a potential client can inquire to see if the photographer they are selecting is a member or accredited by either of these organizations.
For the aspiring professional these organizations are also a great resource; their respective online galleries show the work of their membership. Not only are they a great source of inspiration, but they also provide a very good yardstick to see if your work can make the grade to compete with your peers. While it is true many of these photographers compete for business, they also quite freely share their expertise at conventions and monthly meetings with a desire to raise the bar of their profession.
Most likely, up to this point, the amateur has been receiving “Likes” on Facebook, and this usually translates to accolades from friends. In other words, these “Likes” should not be misinterpreted as an acceptance of professional image quality. You would be well-advised to compare your images against those of established professionals, and to be honest with your critique and analysis—this is your competition.
Oftentimes, these organizations will also offer peer-reviewed juries who will study your work and offer constructive criticism designed to assist, not to flatter you. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn where you work falls within the genre in which you aspire to pursue a livelihood.
A visit to the CAPIC website will indicate an entire resource section devoted to the business of photography. Established photographers often refer to the guidelines CAPIC has so generously provided; aspiring professional photographers would also be well-served to study and learn from these guides—they are an invaluable resource.
While I personally prefer not to be managed by government regulated associations, I do believe the photography industry, and all it encompasses, should subscribe to minimum levels of standard—our industry and our clients deserve no less.