The following post will mostly make sense to only those who are in the photography business, namely, the wedding photography business.
Let me first disclose that I am not a member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photograph (AIPP). As such, my opinions, no matter how objective they may be, are going to be biased one way or another.
Last night, the AIPP made the following statement on their Facebook Business Page:
To provide some context as to why this statement was issued, a Queensland photographer has allegedly taken the money of many couples and families without fulfilling his contractual duties. I cannot verify these details nor is my intention to do so. The reason why I am writing tonight is because, the AIPP, issued a public statement via their social network machine, which in my opinion, was not very well thought out.
To be quite frank, the above statement was a slap across my (chubby) face.
I have worked hard. I have worked very hard to get to where I am right now. Although I am only sixteen months into the business, I have built a reputable portfolio (often at my own expense) and have many happy clients to attest to my character and efforts. I started from scratch, from a client base of zero. I had the good fortune of having three awesome mentors (Edward Hor, Dave Reid, and Zakari Kha). I didn’t have a big friends list to offer my services to. I went into calculated debt to fund capital. I forked out money to pay for models, for album samples and prints. Up until late 2011, I had accrued a debt of $14,000 AUD. And within a year, I had managed to repay these borrowings all back. I may not have the AIPP logo, but I sure have worked hard and pushed myself to become better and better.
I would like to become an accredited member of the AIPP. But I do not meet the requirements. I don’t have a minimum of two years of professional experience, nor do I have an equivalent form of formal training. I won’t hit the 2-year requirement till the end of 2012. So for me, spending $310.00 to become an ‘emerging’ member is money wasted. A business is designed to make money. And every dollar that I spend now, must be very well thought out because, income in this industry, is never guaranteed.
The core issue of the photography industry, as a collective, is the low entry barrier. With the digital era, things changed. When the major camera manufacturers saw cash opportunities in selling low-end DSLRs to the masses, the game changed. Hell, the whole game was turned upside down, inside out.
To illustrate this fact, let me introduce you to Exhibit A. Myself.
Without the digital era and the economies of scale of mass production low-end DSLRs, Daniel K Cheung (the business), would never have been possible. Without a cheap DSLR, I would never have thought of becoming a professional photographer. That is, earning from photography alone. Without this low entry barrier, all the work on my website would not exist today.
A common argument made by colleagues in my field can be summed up like these:
“There are too many mum-photographers.”
“The market is flooded.”
“Anyone can buy a camera these days and call themselves a professional photographer.”
“Prices are rock bottom. I can’t compete with that!”
And so on and so forth.
Whilst these statements carry some degree of truth, these are misplaced attention. To me, focusing on such thoughts will have a negative impact. Being bitter and angry won’t bring in more customers. Being judgmental on others will not increase your sales. And being negative, will only breed further negativity.
As one of the many wedding photographers available in the world, I chose to distinguish myself by focusing on the reason why I do what I do. I like to tell stories. So that is exactly what I’ll do. A fellow photographer, Matt from Matt & Katie, wrote a very good blog post the other day. You should read it. Like seriously. Like Matt, I share the same view that too many photographers look and judge others, when they could be spending that time on reflecting and improving themselves. At the end of the day, it is your business, and it is your efforts and determination that will decide whether it will succeed or not.
Therefore, the above arguments are meaningless. They do more harm than good. They are excuses. They are distractions.
So back to the AIPP.
Photography is an art form. It is also a business. The business of photography can never, should never, be regulated due to its inherent subjective nature. The only thing that can be regulated (to an extent), is the professionalism of its members. This is where the AIPP comes in.
Over the past few months, I have noticed the AIPP pushing its campaign for the public to take notice of their logo. As an outsider (a non-member), I felt extremely alienated. I could not shake the feeling that the underlying tone of their message was to undermine all non-AIPP members. It came across as a fear campaign.
The primary failure of the AIPP is to recruit new members. New members are the ones who will shape the future. New members are the ones who will change the industry from the inside. New members are the ones who will steer the public and educate them on acceptable practices such as customer service, business practices, standard of work, and other things.
As I said earlier, I want to become a member of the AIPP, but I do not see the immediate benefits of doing so. I could apply to join their ranks and play by their rules, but I’ve never been one to play games. I did enough of that in my old desk job filled with red tape and office politics. Starting my own business represented freedom from all that. Hence why I feel so strongly against jumping through the hoops to obtain accreditation. The means simply did not equate to the end.
The AIPP logo does not represent a financial gain. It shouldn’t. I want to earn the logo by my own merit. The logo should be an award, instead of a marketing incentive. Perhaps I am a bit too precious to think that I deserve accreditation already, but as I said, I am quite biased on this point. Either way, I think the AIPP has gone about this the wrong way.
The only way to educate the public (aka, our clients) about ‘non-professionals’ (and the risks of using a non-professional), is by recruiting said non-professionals. Instead of alienating, embrace. Instead of pushing, pull. My honest belief is that pushing a campaign towards the public is the wrong move and wrong allocation of resources. Instead, the AIPP would benefit more by encouraging non-members to join. Educate the masses. Knowledge is power. Either way, the AIPP gets revenue, professionalism is practiced by more photographers, and the end-user (the public) gets a better experience for their money. Everybody wins.
Some things cannot be avoided. Like in the Queensland photographer’s case, there are bound to be more like it. In a capitalist social model, business, no matter big or small, will fail. There are no guarantees. Large financial institutions have crumbled. Others have required massive bail-outs. So why not a small business such as a boutique wedding photography business?
Regulation does not prevent businesses going south and into the red, and possibly into insolvency. However, it should at the very least, minimise the fallout.
I can only empathise with the pain and anguish that the couples have felt knowing that they will never receive their wedding photos. I cannot begin to understand the amount of disappointment they have experienced. But I do know one thing, that I will push myself to be better each day, so that I will never ever disappoint another human being again.
AIPP, we shall meet soon. Very soon.
PS – Feel free to leave a comment below. You may disagree or agree, or even have a neutral stance. I’d love to hear your thoughts.