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BIPP Provisional Photographer of the Year 2018… but what does that actually mean?

It’s been a pretty crazy week here. Snow, ice, constant -6c biting wind, World Book Day (twice!) plus my usual meetings, two shoots, editing and a husband working from home would be more than enough to keep any of us crazy busy. Then add in a trip up to Buckinghamshire in a blizzard to have MY photographs taken with one of the Photographers that I admire the most (more on that to come in a few weeks) and a trip into Central London for a the BIPP Professional Photographer Awards 2018 and right now my head is spinning. And I’m a little bit hungover… But I can honestly say this week has been one of the best weeks EVER.

I decided to become a Photographer in 2016 after a couple of bad experiences on the other side of the camera. That’s a whole blog post for another day. But following those, I knew that if I was looking to book a photographer myself, I would look for them to have some sort of qualification in Photography. And a lovely portfolio. And a recommendation or two from people that had used that photographer to find out exactly how they got on. After all, Professional Photographers aren’t cheap, and I want to know that my money is well spent. We’d chosen our wedding photographer Anna Rosell on that basis. We wanted to ensure professionalism on our special day (and knew we’d need to pay a little more for that) and she was absolutely brilliant, providing a fantastic client experience that actually I try and replicate with all of my clients today.

But my problem was that I didn’t have that Photography Degree. I have one in IT. I have experience managing a production and post production team in London (and hours of videography experience) but photography wise only a City and Guilds 12 week course in Digital Photography to my name. 

Now, to be brutally honest, with a nice camera, some pictures, a website, a Facebook page and an instagram account and you’re pretty much set to take on your first client. You don’t *need* any qualifications. And actually, that’s what I had when I started. But I knew I wanted to do this properly, and I worried that people wouldn’t take me seriously as a Photographer. And as someone that purposely chose my own name as my brand name, I knew that I couldn’t risk that. 

So I started looking into Professional Photography organisations that provided a qualification, abided to certain standards and had a structure that would help me learn and grow as a Photographer.

The Photography Show 2017 was fantastic. If you love photography and you’re considering turning pro it is an absolute must; everything from kit to services to seminars from inspirational photographers, all under one roof. That day I took out my insurance, chose my artwork supplier, and learnt that newborn photography was not as simple as I first thought (the seminar I saw on Newborn safety was completely eye opening!). I also came across the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP).

So fast forward a few weeks and after an email conversation with the lovely Lillie Spibey LBIPP, (a Professional Photographer that I’d done a brilliant one-to-one training session with) I decided that I’d apply to join the BIPP. They have a screening process, and you have to submit a portfolio, but if chosen, you are allowed to start studying for their Licentiate qualification. And you know I like a challenge! Luckily last July I was accepted as a Provisional Member, which I stay as until I qualify for my Licentiate. I’m not sure they quite knew what they were letting themselves in for… I’m pretty sure I scared David Wheeler FBIPP with my enthusiasm during my first portfolio review!

Anyway, I knew I needed to learn, and was up for the challenge. And I found out quite quickly that there was a lot that I didn’t know, and that as a Photographer I’ll never be satisfied! But I attended every training day I could; practical courses on portrait posing with David Wheeler, Bella West and Michael Wharley (this year’s overall awards winner, and well deserved too!) even a business course with the fabulous Julia Boggio and Anne Derbyshire. These professionals are very highly regarded in their fields, and absolutely worth learning from. All facilitated by the BIPP.

My photography was improving with every session I was shooting, and Creative Live became my evening’s entertainment for anything I felt I needed to learn. It's an immense resource… from everything from life skills to business skills and the creative arts.

In November I had an email from the BIPP about their annual Professional Photographer awards. Unlike other organisations, they require a portfolio of 5 images together as an entry, so I deliberated for hours over which (if any!) images I would enter. But then couple of days before the deadline, a quote popped up on my Instafeed - ‘Shoot for the Moon, if you miss you’ll land among the Stars’. That little nudge helped me send off my entry. What did I have to lose?

So the chaos of Christmas happened, then the whirlwind of brilliance that is Societies Convention in January helped stoke my imagination and focus my energies on building my business and my brand. Working on the shortlist for my Licentiate in Children’s Portraiture has pushed me to up my game in a way that I would never have done by myself, and meeting some amazing photographers and trainers has shown me things I’d never have considered. Including how to hold a camera the right way apparently! As Photographers we spend a lot of time on our own editing, but the community that I’ve found myself in is far more supportive than I thought it would be. I’ve realised that even photographers in the same area as me aren’t actually my competition; it’s our own inner vision and creative mind that enables us to take that exact photograph at that exact moment. We all offer something different and for some people, I’m not the right photographer for them.

And then yesterday happened. I was absolutely over the moon to even be shortlisted for an award as Provisional Professional Photographer of the Year, but when my name was read out, it became real. The people that I admire as amazing Photographers had judged my work, and had seen potential in me. And I have a lovely award for my desk.

But what does it actually mean? Does it mean that I’m a successful Professional Photographer? Perhaps. Does it mean that I run a successful business? Not necessarily. To me, it is a present for my hard work on my Licentiate so far, but also it’s motivator to keep pushing me to produce photographs that I’m proud of, on every session that I shoot. 

And what I hope is the start of an amazing journey behind a (Canon) camera lens.

With love,

Rachel xx

Ps. Here are all of the winning portfolios from the awards yesterday, enjoy!

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