What's the Deal With Professional Photographer Associations?

What's the Deal With Professional Photographer Associations?

Have you heard of ASMP before? If not, you could be missing out on a valuable resource that can have a huge impact on your career as a photographer. But, with all the fantastic resources on the Internet these days, are professional organizations worth it anymore? Yes, and here's why.

When I was in college (a long time ago), one of my professors told us that if we were serious about earning a living as a photographer that we needed to join ASMP (American Society of Media Professionals). It was how we would find an internship or our first job as an assistant. It would be through those experiences that we would really learn how to survive in this industry. At first glance, you might think you don't need to be a member of something like ASMP with all of the educational resources available online, but there is lot going on that you could be missing out on. Read on to find out more. 

Why You Should Join a Professional Photographer’s Organization

In short, the benefits far outweigh the cost of the membership. Things like educational series, portfolio critiques; online listings; discounts on travel, insurance, and gear; comradery; professional validity; and learning from other pros in your market are just some of the benefits.

State of the industry panel discussion at Midwest Photo Exchange.

Learn From Peers in Your Market

Regardless if you’re new to photography or have been in the game for decades, joining the local chapter of a professional photographer’s organization in your market can have an incredible impact on your work and business. Sure, there are plenty of online resources out there, but a lot of the content you will see online, while very useful, doesn't always translate to your local or regional market, especially when it comes to things like pricing.

Understanding what the market will bear is an incredible asset to making sure you’re being paid appropriately. Not sure how to bid on a prospective job? Just starting out and have no idea how to price your work? Being a member of ASMP, PPA, or any number of groups can point you in the right direction. The organization itself can’t give out specifics about what you should be charging (that would be price fixing and against the law in most places), but participating in your local chapter will allow you to build relationships with other experienced photographers in your area who may be willing to give you advice. That advice may mean the difference between landing a job or losing it.

State of the industry panel discussion at Midwest Photo Exchange.

Meetups, Educational Series, and Networking

For me, this is the best part of being in my local ASMP chapter. Every month, our local chapter hosts events for members and non-members alike. Our Pints and Pixels is an open event where people are encouraged to bring in recent work to share with the group after an hour or so of socializing and enjoying the cocktail of your choice. We’ve brought in photographers like Clay Cook and Nick Fancher for a State of the Industry panel discussion. A couple months ago, we had an SEO expert from Detroit walk us through some of the most useful information I’ve ever gotten on the subject. It’s also at these events where you can find your next freelance assistant, digital tech, or even intern. You can’t beat that kind of ROI, which in reality isn’t even all that expensive. ASMP’s annual membership is only about $350.

Representation on Capitol Hill

Whether you’re a member or not, there are people out there right now lobbying Congress on your behalf. Our copyright law in the U.S. is in need of reform, and groups like ASMP and PPA have been working diligently to make sure that any proposed legislation benefits the small guys too, not just the large corporations that can easily afford legal teams to defend their intellectual property. The more members our trade organizations have, the more our voice as a community is heard. It’s kind of a big deal.

State of the industry panel discussion at Midwest Photo Exchange.

Online Listings

With this one, your mileage may vary, but it’s worth noting that when you join (at least PPA and ASMP), you’ll be included in an online directory where you can provide information about your services and show examples of your work. Personally, I’ve only ever gained a few leads off of my listing on ASMP; I don’t think many creative directors are searching for a photographer through sites like this. At the same time, someone completely unfamiliar on how to search for a photographer for a specific job may find this resource incredibly useful. So, you never know. At the very least, it provides an inbound link to your website, which could help with your SEO ranking.

As with all things in life, you’ll get out of it what you put in. So, if you do join a trade organization, and I recommend that you do, be an active member. Try to get to as many meetings as you can, learn from your peers, share your advice with less experienced shooters. Help build a stronger photographic community in your market. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Lead image by Slon_dot_pics via Pexels, used under Creative Commons. Article photos by Matt Reese and used with permission.

Tommy Feisel's picture

Tommy Feisel is a Columbus, Ohio based photographer who shoots commercial, wedding, and portrait photography with over a decade of professional experience. When not doing something photography/work related, he's usually in the kitchen testing a new recipe or spending time with his family.

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This is great! I've only ever heard of PPA and ASMP before but never bothered to learn more and figure out the costs/reasons to join. Very convinced and am going to join ASMP today! Thanks for the extremely helpful article!

You're welcome Tim! Glad you found the info useful. =]

Hi Tim - Please let me know if you have any questions about ASMP and I would be happy to answer them.

When I first opened my studio I joined PPofA. It didn't help, it should have been called PWPofA as all the magazine, resources and everything else was aimed solely for weddings which I didn't nor currently do. Maybe it has changed, maybe not.

Yea agreed, PPA is definitely geared towards wedding and portraits. Way back when I was only doing weddings, I found PPA's membership quite valuable in certain ways - like their Indemnification Trust, which covers data loss and malpractice protection for its members. I used it once to save hundred's of GB of data off of a failed hard drive. I think I payed a couple hundred bucks "deductible" and PPA covered the rest. That alone was worth the membership fees for however many years I was a member. Now that I do primarily commercial and editorial work, I'm only with ASMP.

PPA is primarily about doing business in retail (consumer) photography. The most common and most valuable information has to do with "how to make more money."

The lessons are pretty much the same whether dealing with the women making purchase decisions as brides for weddings or dealing with women making purchasing decisions as mothers for portraits.

The economics of retail photography doesn't differ much between doing weddings and doing portraits or both.

If it seems like they're talking more about wedding photography, it's because retail photographers are shooting weddings or weddings plus portraits than there are photographers shooting only portraits.

But PPA's focus is on running a retail photography business, and there isn't much difference in that between weddings and portraits.

Hi John - You are correct in your assessment that PPofA is primarily focused on consumer aspects of photographic business. ASMP is more geared towards commercial and editorial photography, and NPPA is primarily geared towards journalism, I would recommend joining the association with the most relevance to your business.

As the current chair of ASMP's National Board pease let me know if you have any questions about ASMP and I would be happy to chat further.

Great overview that can apply to photographer associations around the world. Tommy I especially liked, "As with all things in life, you’ll get out of it what you put in", so true!

I was introduced to the PPofA back in the '70s, not long after I began my 44 year career as a licensed, working professional photographer. My mentor took me to several meetings of the PPM in Baltimore, Maryland and he joked about how this week Photo Joe would get a Gold Corner, next week Photo Bob would get his Gold Corner, the following week Photo Bill would get his Gold Corner and the Circle would repeat itself. He was being sarcastic, but after a few weeks, I began to recognize the pattern and I lost interest.

There was no Internet back then of course but I did enjoy Rangefinder, PPof A Magazine and the seminars they listed, which were the backbone of non-online supplemental education in those days.

In the 80's I was given an ASMP GUIDE which I kept close to me, because it showed me what was expected of commercial level photography.

But, I guess I developed a bad attitude early on, when ASMP required a sponsor to induct new members into the Boyz Club/Perse'... No sexism intended.

I looked over the application and decided, I would not beg another photographer to vouch for me so that I could join a club I had to pay to belong to.

I guess the echo of Groucho Marx saying he would never belong to a club that would have him as a member rang in my head, in some sarcastic, annoying way.

But seriously, I never understood, nor did I appreciate, nor did I feel compelled to tolerate that concept of having to beg, okay... ask a fellow photographer, often decades of less experienced to VOUCH for me to be ALLOWED TO PAY to join a club.

It just never rang reasonable to me. So, like the dozen or so Nikon Professional Services membership forms I have received and of late, downloaded, once I get to the line that DEMANDS that I BEG, yeah, yeah, I mean ASK that another photographer VOUCH for me or SPONSOR ME so that I can PAY, though I think the NPS Membership is FREE... each and every time I get to that line that says, WE DEMAND YOU BEG, errrr... ask another PHOTOGRAPHER to VOUCH/SPONSOR/SAY YOU ONE OKAY DUDER... then I just slip the application in the shredder and go about my life.

At 64 years-old, having been a licensed professional for my entire adult life, having purchased over $164,000 worth of Nikon Camera Gear, ever since my first Nikon F2 back when I had hair and a 29 inch waist... I have come to actually resent the fact that I would have to BEG, yeah, that's right... that is how I have always felt about it... SOLICIT, another photographer to INVITE ME, SPONSOR ME, HAVE ME KISS THEIR ASS for allowing me to join THE CLUB. Just can't do it!

At this point... It no longer matters, but for decades it did. Probably shouldn't have, but did.

It's always been to me, like... being a Nikon shooter for 44 years, yeah, I had 3 Hassy systems, 4 RB67 systems and half a dozen other medium format and 4x5 systems, but for 35mm and later DSLR, I was always a Nikon guy... then to never in 44 years be allowed to join on MY OWN MERIT, just seemed like a slap in the face to me.

I have always had business licenses to provide, stacks of them over the years, examples of my works published in dozens of mags and rags, though that should not be required, since many photographers shooting portraits, weddings never deal with publishing and seldom have tear sheets to provide, but if I remember, NPS requires recent tear sheets as well.

Had all the proof required that I was a working professional, but... Just was not going to ASK, yeah... that's is... ASK another shooter to PROFESS ME TO BE LEGIT.

So, are the BOYZ CLUBS of value? Yeah! Every resource is of value and they are often great resources. Will they make you a successful photographer? NOPE!

But the more you learn, regardless of the source, the more you know, the more you grow, so yes, membership has it's privileges as the saying goes.

I know! I know! I am perhaps the only shooter who has refused to ASK, BEG, REQUEST that someone sponsor me in order to join a photographer's club.

I know nobody understands the resentment and bad taste that leaves, perhaps when you have put in 30 years in business, 35, 40, 44, then maybe having to have someone VOUCH for your LEGITIMACY might not be as appreciated as it is when one is new to the game.

Again, that is my two cents... I know there will be a Penny or two tossed my way.

One man's perspective... little more than that.

i agree with you. i jumped thru the NPS hoops for awhile until i decided i did not NEED to be with them. my D3's works fine for me and now they are not enough "points" to keep me in the club. if i find a lens i want i buy it even if it isn't a nikon brand. my sigma 120-300 2.8 is awesome buy get's me no love with NPS. it should matter who you are and how long you have been doing it, not what new gear you own.