One of the inescapable facts about the photography industry in the UK is that it is unregulated. The end result of this is that anyone, yes ANYONE, can buy a camera, read the manual and then declare themselves to be a professional photographer.
A few hundred pounds buys a flashy looking website, a couple of hours writing populates it with content and a few paid for training days gets you the images to put in it.
There is of course more, much more, to being a qualified professional photographer and one of the things you may look at to help improve your skills, is to join a professional trade organisation.
With so many around where do you start?
The first thing you need to do is understand that not all organisations are the same. Sadly there are, like any other industry, good and bad out there and this article hopefully will at least allow you to make an informed decision on who to join.
Accreditation based Photography organisations
The first type of organisation is those that only allow full time members in. These are generally geared towards those who make a full time living out of photography. Admission is generally by submission of work which is judged. Upon successful completion you are then admitted and accredited as a member. In some cases the organisation is owned by the members.
Subscription based Photography organisations
The next type of organisation is generally for aspiring photographers looking to improve their skills. There are many of these within the UK, often only requiring a subscription to join. When considering joining these types of organisations always do some thorough background checks first, for example on search engines.
Many "Organisations" are private businesses and like any business, have to earn a living. Your subscription to their service helps generate their profit margins and sometimes, they may let their own business profits take precedence over member's welfare resulting in you paying a fee for a service you simply do not receive.
Their websites may make promises of training, qualifications and mentoring but these promises may not fully materialise. Always do your homework prior to joining. Many of these types of organisations though are highly reputable and members do receive the advertised benefits.
Best Wedding Photography Picture about Professional Photographers by epSos.de on flickr (licensed CC-BY)
The last type of organisation is the bread and butter of the photographic industry, the camera clubs. Over the years these have proved to be invaluable to the development of not only individual photographers but to the photography industry itself.
Often owned by the members and run by a committee, camera clubs have been the life blood of the industry allowing both amateurs, part time and full time professional photographers to improve their photographic skills.
So, to summarise. If you are contemplating joining ANY photographic trade organisation, do your homework first. Be brutally honest with yourself in the first instance and write down your photographic strengths and weaknesses. This list will help you identify what, if any, training you need and armed with this information will allow you to make an informed choice on which organisation to join.