This is post one of two. This one is for clients. Post two will be for any photographers in the audience as I'm aware there are some.

The pretty pictures are at the bottom! Sorry it's a little bit of a long ramble but I feel it's important.

I've won an award.

Actually I've won a few over the years.

You'll see on various photographers' websites the words "award winning". Awards are common. Enter a monthly competition and do well and you'll get an "award" - that could be a "highly commended" or something more impressive. I've got awards. Indeed I talked about the merits of awards before when I won the "LUX Wedding Photographer Of The Year 2017 - Central Dorset". Just a few weeks ago I was told I've won a similar "award". It is the "2018 UK Southern Business Award" for "Wedding Photographer Of The Year 2018 - Dorset". I've not seen the official press release yet but it has similar packages available for me to purchase.

I've also got awards that I'm actually proud of such as when I won, last year, the British Institute of Professional Photographers "Provisional Photographer Of The Year South East Region 2017". Notice the word "provisional" in there. I'll come back to that.

My point (somewhat laboured) is that "award winning" photographers are everywhere.

Why you might want to look for "qualified" rather than "award winning".

Whilst "award winning" is common far fewer photographers choose to be "qualified". You won't see the word "qualified" on every website.

What is in a qualification?

I said that I would come back to "provisional". You see I'm a member of (currently) three photographic bodies.

1) The British Institute Of Professional Photography (of BIPP for short).

2) The Society Of Wedding And Portrait Photographers (or SWPP for short).

3) The Royal Photographic Society (or RPS for short).

All three of these have a similar system of qualifications. You start as "unqualified". Now many photographers choose not to go down the path of qualifications. It could be they think their style doesn't fit with the expected. It could be they think it is lots of work (it is). They might not see the value in it. For whatever reason it's not for them. Fair enough.

When you join the RPS (the society that's really for anyone who loves photography) you don't have to qualify. When you join the SWPP you don't have to qualify. When you join the BIPP you do have to qualify. With the BIPP you are a "provisional" member until you qualify - and if you don't qualify... you're no longer a member!

So when I won my award, above, I wasn't qualified, hence the "provisional" in the award title. I was competing against other provisional members for that one.

The first rung on the ladder is to be a "Licentiate".

I've been a licentiate with the SWPP for some years.

I understand from the SWPP that 15% of the members go for and get their L.

The second rung on the ladder is to be an "Associate".

This one is a bigger jump. I was scared to even try for Associate for such a long time as I could see the work was just so much better than what I was producing. The SWPP tell me only 4% of members get their A. The BIPP don't have percentages that are available to share with me but they tell me that only about 300 members qualified at Associateship. Oh and those qualified people may not be wedding photographers - that's all types of photographer.

The third rung on the ladder is to be a "Fellow".

And, yes, this is as grand as it sounds. The BIPP tell me less than 150 members are qualified as Fellows. The SWPP told me just 3% of members are Fellows (again that's over all genres of photography).

"OK, Mark, you've made your point - these qualifications are not everywhere. But WHAT DOES IT MATTER TO ME?"

I'm so glad you asked!

The whole process of getting qualified is nerve-wracking. You send off photos. First of all you send your photos off to "someone" to get some "critique" of them. That someone might be a random stranger or it might be someone you've chosen to mentor you.

The very word "critique" might fill you with dread.

It certainly fills many of us with dread. Our beautiful photos. The ones we've grafted and crafted to produce. The ones we've selected as "our best" get... critisized! That hurts.

Eventually, with some to-ing and fro-ing you learn why your images SUCKED.

That hurts too. But you pick yourself up and step forwards and do it all again. And again. And again. Until you and your mentor think you are "ready".

Now you send off photos again - this time to the assessors. And they ponder and... maybe you're good enough. Maybe you're not.

With luck you finally get your qualification. You're finally a Licentiate. Yipeeeee.

That's when you remember that Licentiate is just the first step on the ladder. Doh!

When I passed my assessment and became a "LSWPP" I breathed a huge sigh of relief and realised that the next rung, "the A", was out there waiting for me.

My path to an A. Meet my mate Kevin.

Kevin Wilson has fellowships galore. He's one of the Rock Stars of the wedding photography industry. A few years ago I went to a workshop he ran and I asked him about being my mentor. He's now a good friend.

My first step with Kevin was that Sheila and I went to his home (not far from our own) and HE LOOKED AT EVERY WEDDING I HAD EVER SHOT!

I mean he looked at EVERY wedding. And he "critiqued" my work. He's a very good mentor and I've also got fairly thick skin now anyway. None the less I realised that I was still some way from becoming an Associate.

Long story short. (The VERY long version is in the second post.)

I recently qualified as an ASSOCIATE. I'm an Associate of the British Institute of Professional Photography. I'm also an Associate of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers. Oh and an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society.

If you've read all of the above you'll know that being an ABIPP and an ASWPP and an ARPS is very important to me.

(And if you read it very carefully you'll know that the next rung on the ladder, the "F" is dangling above me...)

Now here's the extra bit that says why it might also matter to YOU.

Not only do I get my photos assessed as an Associate. I get everything else assessed too. I had to create a book that showed my working practices, my backup strategies, my insurance, my marketing. Everything gets assessed.

And that's the point. Being "qualified" means that your business has been given an external "thumbs up" by people that know what they're talking about.

Choosing a qualified photographer tells you that you're in a safe pair of hands. That's why it matters.

I promised some images. Here we go. First of all I can now show these badges, very proudly.

Associate of the Royal Photographic Society

Here is a phone snap of my friend, mentor, and President of the BIPP, Kevin Wilson (on the left) and Chris Harper, Chief Executive of the BIPP (on the right) presenting me with my certificate to confirm I am an Associate of the British Institute of Professional Photography. Of significance (to me) the man pressing the button on my iPhone to take the photo is Peter Lowry, who was Kevin's mentor!

I suppose you want to see the photos now?

Oh, if you insist.

(If you're a photographer or you simply want to read part two here it is.)