Our industry is overwhelmingly freelance; made up of thousands of individuals whose qualifications to do the job lie largely within the covers of their portfolios. That has always been seen as a major strength both by photographers and buyers of photography. In an analogue world where “what you see is what you get” was the pervading mantra it was very easy to see whether you (the photographer) had supplied them (the client) with what they wanted and had paid for.
An end to cheats, fixes and work-arounds
Photographers being the creative individuals that we are have developed a whole gamut of cheats, fixes and work-arounds that have been passed around, copied and adapted to the point that a lot of “techniques” used in the preparation of digitised images have become industry standards despite their complete unsuitability to modern pre-press and publishing methods.
So, ladies and gentlemen, that is where many of us are now. The next step is to find a way to professionalize and standardise working practices based on models that suit us and suit our clients and that give the publishers of our work the very best possible chance to reproduce our images as they should be seen.
Continuing professional development
This is EPUK and it’s a forum dedicated to good business practices for editorial photographers and so I’m not going to spin off into long and often tedious descriptions of digital workflows. What I want to do is to put the case for CPD – continuing professional development – for editorial photographers not as a luxury add on but as an essential and regular business tool, every bit as desirable and necessary as regular software and equipment updates and upgrades.
Here we reach our first and possibly fatal problem. Where can such training be obtained? Truthfully, there is very little out there of real substance and even less that’s truly suitable. Students on full time photography courses across the UK cannot even claim much of an advantage here because very few of them are being adequately prepared for the real world whilst a large number of them are being immersed in those dodgy old practices developed by photographers (mea culpa) to overcome specific problems that existed five, ten or even fifteen years ago.
Carrot and stick
When they established the Sector Skills Councils, the Government set some wheels in motion that could provide our heavily freelance industry with exactly what it needs. Relevant training to decent standards at realistic prices. Skillset – the body overseeing the development of national occupational standards has, as part of its’ remit, plans to establish a range of courses for working photographers that directly meet our needs. That’s the carrot.
There is a stick too – The Institute of Quality Assurance, a body that is involved in Skillset, is very near to publishing a set of “Best Practice Guidelines”. These are level headed, practical and technically sound standards that simultaneously wipe away myth, legend and bad practices whilst replacing them with guidelines, which go a long way towards proper workflows that meet the industry’s needs.
The need to demonstrate quality
The business case for photographers here is made up of a number of strands.
- Sooner or later buyers of photography will adopt these standards
- Photographers who can demonstrate compliance with the standards will be in a far stronger position to get work
- The standards will establish some clear water between professional and amateur photographers
- Photographers working within the standards can use their compliance as a marketing tool
It doesn’t take too much searching amongst other trades and professions to see how much difference the adoption of standards has made. It’s not a perfect comparison, but the “self certification” of their own work by electricians has divided their profession into two parts: those who have done the course and achieved compliance and those who have not. Sixteen months after the adoption of the new standards, most working electricians now have their certificates. Those who don’t, have to have their work certified by another electrician – a significant drain on revenue.
Obviously the case for the certification of electricians is based on safety grounds but many parts of their experience bear direct relevance for us. The big lesson I believe comes in the timing of the decisions of the majority of self employed electricians to go on the right courses. Many applied just before, or actually right on, the deadline and had a nervous and expensive few months wait between the arrival of the new compliance culture and the availability of places on the courses.
This is a “heads-up”. Those of you who want to develop your businesses and ensure that your working practices are as they need to be have to make sure that you have factored in the (tax deductable) cost of training in the tax year that starts on April 5th 2006 because by the 4th of April 2007 the IQA Guidelines should have been published and the courses run by, or on behalf of, Skillset should have started.
This next twelve months should finally start to see the back of learning essential skills from your mates in return for a beer and a curry. It’s not a case of “attend one course and that’s it”. Expect to attend update courses on a regular basis and keep your technical skills current by doing so. The accompanying change of mindset amongst thinking photographers will go a long way towards setting our profession up for many years to come.
Most of you are thinking “that doesn’t apply to me, I already do things properly”. Wrong. I see image files from a lot of photographers and whilst 30% of them make serious errors, 95% of them “could do better”.
Neil Turner has been a staff photographer for TSL Education since 1994, prior to which he spent eight years working as an agency photographer shooting for a variety of magazines and newspapers. He is also a leading member of the British Press Photographers’ Association. This article also appears on his website. He has been a photographer since 1986 and an EPUK member since 1999
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