Here is an interesting question to ponder… should photographers be required to be licensed to do their work professionally?

Let us examine the reasoning behind this question and some of the facets that can be discussed.

I understand that one of the first objections would be that photography is a part of our protected Constitutional rights and this discussion is not a contest to that – but to being able to do it professionally, in exchange for money.

Depending on what state you live in, there are a lot of highly-skilled professions which require licensure – architects, engineers, teachers, medical staff, lawyers, surveyors, talent agents, CPAs, contractors and more.

In many cases, licensing is used as a way to vet out and exclude the unqualified. The result is a collective of professionals that advocates would claim protect the consumer. Part of being licensed includes confirming to a certain degree of professional standards. Having such qualifiers would restrict access from those who prove unable to meet those standards.

This could lead to higher expectations in results for the profession and would eliminate those who are unqualified or are unable to provide the services required.

Therein rests the impetus behind this discussion. I am seeing an atrocious decay in the professional fabric of the industry I am a part of. Self-proclaimed professional photographers taking money and not delivering results or unethically damaging the industry for their own personal gain.

Any photographer who does what I do for a living knows how hard it is to start, build and grow a successful photography business. When there is this infestation of thieves, cheaters and manipulators – it impacts us all.

When you receive bad medical care, there is a board you can turn to for results. If a licensed contractor messes up a job, there is an organization that can right the wrong. The consumer is protected.

But what are clients to do with the bad service of photographers? You don’t receive the images you paid for and the photographer is ignoring your e-mails and phone calls – who do you tell? The photographer made you feel extremely uncomfortable on set – who can you report it to? Perhaps the photographer is blatantly lying about their experiences and what they do – who holds them accountable? What ends up happening are most clients say and do nothing for fear they will blacklist themselves for speaking up. This is particularly true with modeling talents who believe the photographer holds sway over their future career.

The result is that nothing happens. The bad service provider continues to provide bad services as there is no accountability to their actions. This is an unacceptable situation for my profession.

To those who would say that I am acting as a pariah and not supporting my fellow partners in this industry; my response is that I completely support those who have worked to build a great business. I am proud to stand next to other photographers who strive to maintain both professional and ethical standards in their work. We are all in this together and can learn from each other and grow together.

For those who do not – I believe you have two options. The first would be to revitalize your approach to your work and set higher standards for yourself and what you do. The second is that you continue with what you are doing and the industry will most likely weed you out in due time – especially once others ban together to support the protection of the consumer.

So is licensing the solution? As a consumer would you trust working with a licensed photographer as opposed to someone who did not meet the professional or ethical standards to be accepted? There are photographer certification courses – but would you as a consumer check that prior to hiring someone to work with?

Although I personally have split decisions on this topic – what I do feel is important is that consumers need to start standing up for their rights. They should be open about their experiences and help protect others from bad service providers.

We can help make this industry better. That said – if any clients of mine have feedback on how I or my team can provide better services, I am listening and would love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you.

James Patrick
IG @jpatrickphoto