Rewarding as it may be to do what you love for a living, or even as a side-gig, those of us who have chosen to pursue our photographic passions as a career have not picked an easy route. There are plenty of challenges to an entrepreneurial lifestyle, but at least we have this: we don’t have to go it alone; we have our community for support. Though competition can be stiff and not all will play nice, there are many places a fledgling or established photographer can turn.
First, we have our online communities like our SLR Lounge Photography Community, which can be great for camaraderie and inspiration, but the low bar for entry created by modern camera technologies has created a field of ‘experts’ that may not always be the best sources of information. If you’ve been around the block a time or two, you can usually separate the wheat from the chaff among would-be advisers, but for a fresh mind, there is, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation floating around, disguised as something useful. There is certainly wisdom to be gained, but it must be sifted.
This is where photographer’s guilds and organizations come into play. These organizations provide a source of reliable information for aspiring and working professionals to help them along in their careers and provide support and community without having to put on your B.S. waders.
They can provide all kinds of assistance to their members, from tax help to insurance assistance, to legal recourse. They advocate for our industry and fight on our behalf, raise awareness of issues we face, foster professionalism, and provide networking opportunities. The downside is that membership isn’t free, but they put your dollars to good use and provide value for that hard-earned cash.
A note: This writer is in the United States and as such has more knowledge regarding American organizations, but for our international readers, there is likely something similar in your area and seeking them out is advisable.
That said, let’s meet three of the major photographer’s organizations in the United States and briefly touch on their individual character.
The American Society Of Media Photographers was founded in 1944 and is geared toward commercial photographers. They provide a ton of really valuable professional information for free on their site for everyone, and have some information reserved for members. They provide a national network of professionals and keep a list of members who are assistants accessible to traveling photographers around the country. In their own words,
“the American Society of Media Photographers is the premier trade association for the world’s most respected photographers. ASMP is the leader in promoting photographers’ rights, providing education in better business practices, producing business publications for photographers, and helping to connect clients with professional photographers.”
Professional Photographers of America is an organization with a retail photography slant. The oldest of the three, they came into existence all the way back in 1869. They provide an indemnification trust for their members who specialize in any kind of portrait photography and membership includes $15,000 in equipment insurance. Members receive a subscription to Professional Photographer magazine and video tutorials by Photovision, and they offer their own degrees and certifications. About themselves, they say:
“Created and led by professional photographers, PPA is a non-profit international photography association that helps those serious about photography live their dreams profitably.”
APA now stands for ‘American Photographic Artists,’ but from its inception in 1981 until 2010, they were known as Advertising Photographers Of America. Its focus is on commercial and editorial photography, but is run by and for said members. It is a highly engaged group based out of LA but with many local chapters that frequently host meetings and events. In their own words:
“APA offers education, community, inspiration, and opportunities for networking and social engagement through local chapter activities. In addition, membership in APA helps keep our profession strong. APA amplifies each of our voices on the national stage and advocates on behalf of all members, keeping the industry dynamic, influential and robust.”
All three are non-profits aiming to help photographers navigate the waters of professional photography as a career, and all offer a list of discounts for members with much overlap. They all offer different tiers of pricing with corresponding differences in member benefits.
When choosing an organization to join, consider your photographic focus for the best fit, and have a look to see which groups are the most active in your area.
For those who are truly serious about the pursuit of a career as a professional photographer, the minor costs of membership dues will be dwarfed by benefits received as guesswork is removed and your path to your dream career can go from bushwhacking with a machete alone in the woods to strolling a path cleared and paved by professionals before you who are willing to share their life lessons. Granted, that path is still steep and a tough to climb, but why not make it easier on yourself and lend a helping hand to other individuals and the industry on a whole if you can?