Professional associations have been around since the Middle Ages, with the purpose of upholding standards, supporting members, and advocating for their rights. In our digital age, the media landscape is undergoing rapid and drastic changes, and professionals need these organizations more than ever to advocate for their rights. For example, the internet has facilitated the unauthorized use of photos, and it’s professional photographer associations that are pushing for better copyright enforcement.
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Like medieval guilds, professional associations are groups that serve their profession by maintaining high standards, supporting each other, and advocating on behalf of their profession. They are funded by membership fees and are non-profit, meaning any surplus funds must be reinvested or retained within the organization. Their sole purpose is to serve the needs of their members through products, services, or advocacy.
Being part of a photographer association means staying informed and up-to-date with the latest developments through educational materials, peer support, events, networking, and awards.
Atlanta-based social documentary photographer Ben Rollins is a member of the American Photographic Artists (APA). He says,
As photographers, we spend a lot of time alone, whether editing, preparing for shoots, or doing administrative work. My favorite aspect of APA is the in-person events where you can get one-on-one time with your peers and also network. A lot of work comes from other photographers passing down jobs if they are already booked. The APA also offers discounts with multiple vendors, including decent discounts for Apple.
Adam Glanzman, a Boston-based commercial photographer and member of the American Society of Media Photographers, agrees with Ben. He says,
The main benefit of this group is that you have a community of like-minded individuals whom you can reach out to with questions. I joined ASMP because they have so many resources to help professional photographers grow their business and understand best practices when it comes to contracts, licensing, and copyright protection. They also host portfolio reviews and have an online database of photographers where you can be found for potential work.
Photographer associations also help photographers stay competitive in their field. The more photographers that join them, the more clout these organizations have in advocating on behalf of their members. The collective bargaining power often allows these organizations to offer discounts on equipment and insurance.
Some organizations also offer a media photo ID, which is sometimes required for press accreditation or when you need to identify yourself as a professional photographer. Last but not least, the legal advice from specialist media lawyers many organizations offer is invaluable should anything go wrong.
They are also great places to meet like-minded professionals and to network. And, even though another photographer is unlikely to commission you, most of the photographers we talked to had a colleague pass work onto them when they were too busy to do a job. Others have been recommended to an agent by a photographer friend.
While being in an association that is specifically for photographers has a lot of merits, it is also important to be a part of client-facing associations or ones that will let you mingle with other creatives in your industry. There are a lot of different associations in the creative industry that are relevant and useful to photographers. Some examples are the Art Directors Club, The One Club for Creativity, The Society of Publication Designers (SPD), and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) for graphic designers. And, of course, there are countless photographer associations too.
Some photographers’ organizations have very broad criteria for membership, such as the APA, which anybody can join. Others have a more narrow scope for membership, such as the NPPA which is aimed specifically at photojournalists. There are also associations that advocate for photographers based on gender, race, or sexuality.
It is also important to note that many of these associations have been expanding in recent years. For example, The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) has combined with the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) while Professional Photographers of America (PPA) continues to expand beyond retail and wedding photography into commercial photography. You may find that many associations’ requirements for membership change over time and become more generalized.
This is a list of some of the biggest photographer associations and organizations that you should know about:
The APA is an influential organization for commercial photographers and offers staggered memberships (from $50 to $500). This allows photographers to take advantage of different services and business tools that are useful in the commercial photography industry. They have eight chapters, and a busy events calendar, advocate on issues such as better pay for photographers and copyright protection, offer a Pro Media ID card, and discounts on equipment and insurance.
It’s suitable for commercial photographers, who are keen to up their game, commercially as well as creatively.
ASMP is another big player with 4,000 members, 38 local chapters across the United States, and members in 22 countries. Membership costs $225 or $335 and they offer access to their ASMP academy (an extensive online training resource, including everything from how to create content to how to protect it). They also offer one-on-one clinics, a documents and forms library, and regular meet-ups and events. Last, but not least, they offer members a Pro Media ID and discounts.
NPPA is a popular photojournalist organization that strongly advocates for their 5000 members. They also aim to uphold journalistic standards by promoting their code of ethics. Additionally, they offer safety-oriented workshops and seminars. Another benefit, that is particularly important for photojournalists, is their 24/7 legal counsel for any issues that may arise while they cover news and events, such as libel/freedom of speech issues. Membership ranges from $75 to $145 per year and includes a Photo ID card. Akili Ramsess, Director of the NPPA says,
We are the leading voice advocating for the rights of visual journalists. We offer educational initiatives that seek to equip and prepare our members and the emerging generation of visual journalists for the ever-changing media landscape.
She summarises the benefits as follows:
The RPS is a British institution and is one of the world’s oldest photography associations. They offer certification as well as exhibitions and publications to promote their members. Individual membership is £122 ($100) or £110 ($90) for overseas members.
All genres of photography with a focus on retail photography
Even though the PPA is geared towards portrait and wedding photography, we have included it here, as – with 34,000 members, the PPA is one of the biggest photographer associations in the world. Because of this they have a lot of power when representing photographers. Their membership and program are very diverse, but biased towards portraits and wedding photographers rather than commercial applications. It offers certification and a directory as well as online training courses and help with copyright infringements. Membership currently ranges from $323 to $428 in the US and includes equipment insurance and data loss protection. They also have their own magazine, as well as business resources and a member discount program.
We still have some way to go for equality, which is why many decide to join an association that not only advocates on behalf of your demographic but may also have tailored advice to get ahead. Traci Terrick, founder and CEO of Focus on Women, says,
We are here to advocate and help out one of the overlooked creatives in this white male-dominated industry. It’s crucial to give them a seat at the table because they are extremely talented and notoriously paid less and left out.
This is a directory as well as a meeting place for photographers of color with the aim of creating more diverse storytelling. It offers a grant, and resources as well as help with the pricing of jobs. You need to apply for acceptance into their database.
A directory of 1400 women and nonbinary visual journalists in over 100 countries. The organization offers grants, a mentorship program, and skills-building workshops for its members. It also gathers data on hiring and publishing in the visual media industry to amplify the voices of women and nonbinary photographers.
This organization also offers mentorship, portfolio reviews as well as showcasing opportunities, such as Instagram Spotlight and their monthly newsletter. They have extensive experience in how to get ahead in what is still a male-dominated industry. Traci says,
The biggest benefit of joining FOW is the community and network. Giving photographers and stylists connections to talent, crew, agents, producers, and education through our clubhouse and slack channels too. We have a board of top agents, entrepreneurs, and creatives who have decades of expertise and networks to share their experiences with the community.
Many photographers find it very useful to not only join photography organizations, but to also think more laterally and join organizations that line up with their specialty, such as food, fashion, industrial, or education. They find it gives them valuable insights and contacts. For example, if you’re an education photographer, you might want to join CASE (Council For Advancement And Support Of Education) because many of its members are in a position to hire photographers to create marketing materials for their schools. In fact, there’s an actual list of photographers that CASE maintains for their members. Other organizations to be aware of are the Art Directors Club, which hosts a photography competition, which is a great opportunity to network, as well as the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) because of its close connection to the field of photography.
For some photographers, it will be obvious, but for others, there may be similar competing associations. For example, the APA and ASMP are large national bodies, both supporting commercial photographers. It’s worth being clear about what the main thing is you would like to get out of the membership before joining. But, it could also be as simple as joining the association which has the closest chapter to where you live.
A photographer’s life can be very busy. However, it’s worth taking time to take full advantage of your membership, whether through training material or networking for photographers. Most organizations offer various channels to network and engage – in person and virtual. Akili advises,
Volunteer and participate in local/regional chapters and attend workshops and conferences, in-person or virtual.
Joining a professional association can help you to really be the best photographer you can be. But it’s not just about getting ahead in your career – it’s also about feeling pride in your profession. It can be incredibly rewarding to be part of something bigger and help to improve the standing of this wonderful profession while connecting with like-minded people. Akili says,
“I have been a member since my college days and has not only been an invaluable resource for developing a network of connections instrumental for my career trajectory but also created a community of friendships that have enriched my life.”
Wonderful Machine: Resources: Associations
Corporette: Finding and Joining Professional Organizations
Youtube: Networking In The Photography Community With ASMP Member, Darrel Ellis
Career Professionals of Canada: The Benefits of Partnering with a Professional Association