Jun 24

Positive Associations – a new qualification with BIPP

Taking a look at how (and why) I went through the demanding process of earning my Associateship in Advertising Photography, with the British Institute of Professional Photography.


Michael Wharley with BIPP CEO Chris Harper and judge Kevin Wilson

Me looking smug/delighted with BIPP CEO Chris Harper and judge

Last week, I took another small step along the (hopefully lifelong) road of getting better as a photographer, by qualifying as an Associate in Advertising Photography with the British Institute of Professional Photography, otherwise known as BIPP.

I’ve been a member since I turned professional in May 2010, and BIPP does an ace job of broadly recognising, supporting and protecting the work and interests of UK photographers, running awards and lobbying for the sector, but also provides these qualifications.

Recognised as sort of kitemark of quality for clients, going for qualification means following strict criteria and providing a substantial portfolio of commissioned work, together with supporting information about yourself as a professional.

That’s everything from workflow and the photos themselves, to the quality of your print output, your insurance certificates and H&S policy…

Having every aspect of your work and business assessed, critiqued and judged by a panel of photography experts to exacting standards focuses the mind, and sets the nerves going. I reached Licentiate status back in February 2011, and have definitely benefited from wearing the LBIPP badge, but the assessment day itself certainly had a few deep-breathing moments.

Developing as a Pro

Beyond being pro-badges, the tiered qualification structure also means that – in what’s a fairly solitary, self-employed profession – you can also engage in structured professional development.

So, as my skills and work have developed over the last few years, and my business has evolved, I wanted to push myself to the Associate Qualification in the field of Advertising, both to assess where my portfolio was lacking, to get guidance on where to improve, and – hopefully – to have those improvements recognised. 

That meant  a lot of sifting through photos, and building a portfolio of over 50, which were filtered down to around 30 through a series of reviews with my mentor, BIPP CEO Chris Harper.

An accomplished photographer, and FBIPP himself, Chris’ advice was invaluable, covering thoughts on things like cropping, tonal range, and printing for individual shots, but also on the overall composition, tone and ‘story’ of the portfolio as a whole.

Prepping the evidence

Prints & supporting evidence ready to go on assessment day

Prints & supporting evidence ready to go on assessment day

Armed with all those thoughts, my job ahead of the assessment was, firstly, to create a physical portfolio, with printing handled by Gavin and Richard in Photofusion‘s digital print lab in Brixton.

After some experimentation, we chose the lovely Canson Rag Platine paper with a lustrous finish and a fine tooth to give unity to the set of prints on an art-quality paper.

But I also had to prepare that portfolio of supporting information, displaying how and where my advertising photography work is used, and how it fulfils clients’ briefs.

For this, I turned to Blurb and the linked Lightroom module, which allows easy control of layout, text and output quality, while smoothly handling all the photos.

This really did take a long time to perfect, but it was worth it for the lovely large-format, smooth-looking volume that arrived. Check out the magnum opus in e-format  below:

Assessment day…

The formal assessment at BIPP headquarters near Aylesbury, involved a nerve-jangling wait while assessors Kevin Wilson  and Bryn Griffiths, together with Chris Harper, considered and discussed the work, before calling me in to learn my fate.

Thankfully, they put me out of my misery straight away – it was the pass.

But that done, importantly,  there was the chance to hear detailed feedback on the work and presentation, together with thoughts on how to progress to the FBIPP.

Getting the advice and thoughts of highly experienced photographers like Kevin, Bryn and Chris, was such a bonus, a world away from the more binary good/bad approach that clients tend to take to feedback.

The takeaways

So, I got to take away a new ABIPP certificate and lovely, weighty, perspex ABIPP block for my client area, and a metaphorical badge to reassure clients that my work meets high professional standards.

But, just as importantly, despite being time, money and effort-intensive, the process was hugely important, taking me out of the day to day grind of business, and helping me focus on what’s good about my work, and how I’ve developed since the LBIPP, but also what I want to focus on in the future and how to improve.

Fingers crossed, the jump to FBIPP won’t be too long coming…

MW 24/06/2014

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