Jeff Brown, Photography mentor

Jun 15, 2024 | Marketing Guest

Show Notes:

Jeff Brown is a photographer and Photographer mentor. He works with
photographers in twenty five different countries, he is an ambassador for Olympus
cameras
,he is President of the BIPP and he has written four best selling
photography business books.
His fifth book is being written at the moment. He
aims to help photographers get past the procrastination and get on with their
business.

Jeff first came across the BIPP while he was in the military. The BIPP is the oldest
professional association and was formed in 1901. At the time Jeff was training in the
Royal Navy as a photographer and the BIPP certified his course. His course was 26
weeks with 26 exams, it was hard work. But Jeff passed, became certified and
became a member.

Jeff has been president for the last year. He has realised that the association needs
‘to appeal to younger and a more diverse membership. The BIPP is now open to
anyone around the world. As it is so old it has a large archive of documents
photographs and more. The head office of the BIPP is in Preston.

Jeff and Marcus then talk about what the BIPP do now. They have a monthly image
competition. Photographers can add a single image for free and add more if they
wish. It has brought members together commenting on each others work in a
positive way and spurs people on to get involved. Jeff says some people ask what
they get from the BIPP. He says the key is you get out what you put in. There is now
a BIPP podcast, an active Facebook group a legal advice team, public liability
insurance for members, a resources library (for your businesses) and more. The
membership also gives you membership to the FEP which is the Federation of
European Photographers
and a membership of over 50,000 photographers.
such a large organisation they have a strong voice.

There are two membership levels. Active membership and non-active membership
The non-active is for those who were in business, no longer work in photography or
have retired, but want to remain part of the organization.

‘Marcus asks where Jeff sees commercial photography at the moment, he says
there are more professional photographers than there ever have been. But there is
also more demand than there ever has been. Businesses no longer just get
photographers in once or twice a year, they get them in much more regularly to
feed the demand for social media images.

Most competition is at the bottom end of the market which is very price sensitive.
‘These photographers are generalists. So Jeff says the best thing you can do as a
photographer to get out of this, is to get a niche, become a specialist, build a brand
and put your prices up. There are people out there willing to pay for photography.
To get that work you need to niche, build your brand and look high end. So provide
a first class service, understand your customers need. And the bottom end of the
market isn’t going to get any easier with the likes of Al.

Jeff says there is huge amount of automation in many fields like car plants and
farms. But there are still lots of people in these areas and it is the same with
photography, it will always need people. Remember that taking the photographs is
only one part of the story. We need to ensure we explain the rest of this story to
potential clients to show the value we provide. Jeff says some images on social are
clearly Al or Al altered and aren’t as realistic as proper photos and do not get as
much engagement on social. For events like weddings a person will always be
needed to capture the event.

‘Marcus thinks that a photographer selling ideas is the future, not just an image. Jeff
says this is a great idea, providing videos and other extras with a photoshoot adds
value. Jeff is very confident about the future of photography. But he says it’s
important to remember to look at your business and remember that the image is
only one part of the service you provide.

Show Transcription:

Marcus: Well, hello there subscribers, newsletter listeners or however you are. Welcome to another version of Shoot to the Top. First of all, the bad news. Unfortunately, it’s just me and my own today. Sam, unfortunately, can’t join us, but there is some very good news. The very good news is we’ve got a fantastic guest today. Now, normally we let the guests introduce themselves, which I’m going to do here. But let me just say, I’m sure most of our listeners know exactly who this person is so well. And if you don’t know who he is, really, you must have been under a stone the last 10 years. So without any further ado, let me introduce you to Jeff Brown. Jeff, let’s say hi and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeff: Hi, Marcus. It’s great to be here. So, well, I’m a photography mentor, a photographer at heart. Originally started as a military photographer, then left the military to start my own business. I now work with photographers in 25 countries around the world. I’m an ambassador for OM System, Olympus Cameras. I’m president of the BIPP, the British Institute of Professional Photography. And I’ve written four bestselling photography business books and currently working on my fifth one. So I just try and help photographers get over the procrastination, get the mindset right, get the marketing and get the branding and get everything together. But also as president of the BIPP, I’m sort of like a bit of a figurehead for the association, get to network and meet with some really talented members. And it’s a real honour to be a member and also the president of the world’s oldest photographic association.

Marcus: Wow. And Jeff, that’s a great segue because we all know you for your marketing and your business advice and all the photographers that you help, you have helped and helped over the years. But I’d like to talk to you a little bit more, if I may, about your role at the British Institute of Professional Photography, the BIPP, if that’s OK.

Jeff: Yeah, certainly. I mean, my first time I heard about the BIPP was when I was a military photographer. So the BIPP is the world’s oldest professional photography association. It was formed in 1901, I believe it was March 1901, when a group of 100 photographers got together in a Fleet Street hotel and decided to form a professional association. I think it was originally called, I could be wrong, originally called, I think it was like the Professional Photographers Association. And then they opened branches in Hull, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Birmingham. And obviously the membership started to increase. It changed its name about two or three times, but now it’s known as the BIPP. Now, I first heard about it when I was a military photographer. I was going through what was called JSOP, which was the Joint School of Photography through the military. So I was a Royal Navy photographer and the BIPP would accredit you. So you would get your licentiate qualification, your LBIPP, if you successfully passed either the Army or the Navy professional photography course, which was very intense. It was 26 weeks, 28 exams, three strikes and you were out. So if you had three failures, you were kicked out. I actually failed three and managed to blag my way in and still stay on the course. I was so lucky. But at the end of that, you got your licentiate, your LBIPP. You could use the letters after your name. You joined and got the membership of the BIPP. And that was my first experience of a professional body and a Professional Photography Association. Funny enough, you wouldn’t get the letters after your name if you’re a Royal Air Force photographer. It was only the Army and the Navy because the Air Force had a different route. So the Air Force had a joining route and then a professional qualification afterwards, where with the Navy and the Army, you could only sideways entry. So you had to join the services in some other form and then through your own hard work and creating portfolios, apply to be a photographer and go on to the photography course. But you had to get a rank first. So you had to probably be in about three years before you could go through.

Marcus: That’s incredibly thorough. And Geoff, excuse my naivety, but is that still something that they do within the Royal Air Force and the Army? Do they still have photographers working with them?

Jeff: Yes, they do. And funny enough, the BIPP is recognised also by MI6, the Metropolitan Police, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, various government departments as well. So having that accreditation does carry a lot of weight for professional photographers. And also one of the big things about the BIPP is getting that accreditation, working towards it, giving inspiration, creative inspiration, mentoring and support to photographers to get their qualifications and see them progress and have those professional letters after their name.

Marcus: And presumably, though it’s a British institute, is it open globally or is it just the UK?

Jeff: So when we had a rebrand back in, so it was first discussed back in March last year, because I came on as president, I’ve been president for just over a year now.The big thing we thought about was having a rebrand, having an image change, because admittedly, the BIPP, along with quite a few of your photography associations, were made up of older guys, older white guys. We needed to be a lot more inclusive, appealed definitely to a younger generation, also appeal to women, people of all different diversities and all different countries. So that was one of the ideas behind the changing from the British Institute of Professional Photography to the BIPP, because now we have members in 35 different countries around the world. So you don’t have to be a British national living abroad to be a member. You can join wherever you want.

Marcus: Wow, that’s very cool. Very cool. And yes, and so 1901, they started. I mean, that is right there at the beginning of photography. Those must have been such exciting times. Do the BIPP have an archive of photographers that have been involved in the body?

Jeff: It does. It has a lot of history. It has a lot of archives of images. And obviously, since it became a professional organisation when it became an organisation and a body, then it has, you know, it has directors and it has a chair and a president. So all the meetings, the minutes are taken, there’s archives of everything that’s happened in the history. So, and I mean, you must, you know, just to think about the huge changes that have passed within the photography industry. Obviously, we’ve gone through two world wars as well since then, you know. So yeah, it’s amazing. It’s 123 years old. It’s celebrated its 123rd birthday back in March.

Marcus: Oh, it’s beautiful. That’s just fantastic. And do they have a location where they keep the archive? I know we’ve got locally, we’ve got the Royal Photographic Society down my way. They’ve got an archive of photography there, a massive building. Do they have the same at the BIPP?

Jeff:  So the head office is in Preston, in Lancashire.

Marcus: Aha, yes.

Jeff: Yeah. So working out of Artistry House. So that is the, that’s the location of the head office,

Marcus: yeah. And have you been there, Geoff? I haven’t actually been in the office.

Jeff: I’ve been next door to the office where we had our annual photography awards ceremony last year. Was it last year? No, the year before. That was in Preston in Lancashire, but I’ve never actually been down to the office. Although I have seen the office on Zoom meetings when I’ve been talking to Martin Burns.

Marcus: Yeah, and I appreciate you’re a very, very busy person with your many roles, so I can see why it would be difficult. But I would, that would be a fantastic, I’d love to go to some of the photographers that they’ve had in the past and see who they’ve worked with. There obviously must be some quite famous names in there.

Jeff:  Yeah, definitely.

Marcus: So, okay, so that’s, obviously that’s the past. Let’s talk a little bit more about the present and the role that the BIPP has in today’s community. You’ve all talked about licensionships. What other things do they do?

Jeff: So recently, there’s been quite a few changes recently. So one thing we brought on is the monthly image competition, which is a competition open to any member. They can put their first image in for free, and then I think it’s £5 per additional image after that. And this just, this has brought members more together. So make us all more sort of like inclusive, everybody commenting and congratulating and critiquing each other in a very positive way. So it’s, just within the Facebook group, it’s made a huge impact. And, you know, for members to get recognition for their work, whether that be a bronze or silver or gold, you know, it spurs people’s creativity on and it gets people to get involved. Because like any professional association, you know, people can say, oh, you know, I haven’t got anything out of the BIPP, or I haven’t got anything out of the Societies of Photographers, or I haven’t got anything out of the Guild. You know, you only get what you put in, you know. So for any professional body, association, institute, or membership organisation, you’ve got to be active and you’ve got to be creative. And otherwise you just stagnate, you just fall into the same old trap of doing the same stuff, editing your pictures, responding to emails. So it’s a real, real boost of creativity for members and for inspiration. We’ve just started a podcast, I think it’s about six or seven episodes of the BIPP unscripted podcast going out there.

Marcus:  And we’ll put a link to that in the notes, Geoff, of course.

Jeff: Oh, brilliant. And then we’ve got a very interactive Facebook group, lots of sort of professional stuff that photographers often overlook. So we’ve got a legal advice team, so you’ve got 24, 24 seven sort of legal advice if you need any, you know, if you have any legal issues. And they’ve got a public liability insurance for professional acting members. And you’ve got, what else we’ve got in there? We’ve got a resources library, which is full of resources, PDFs, brushes, stuff that helps you in the actual running of your business. So the guides and information about the running side of things. But another great thing is they’ve got a legal sort of document resources library. So terms and conditions, GDPR, model contracts, model release forms, business contracts, all that sort of stuff that a lot of photographers really do struggle with that is inclusive in your memberships. You’ve got all of that stuff there as well. And another big thing with the BIP is you’ve also got membership of the FEP, which is the Federation of European Photographers, made up of, I think, it could be wrong, 25 or 28 different countries within Europe. And it has a membership of over 50,000 photographers. So they have a voice. They have a lot of members, so they have a lot of authority. So they are there to strive for the rights of photographers when it comes to copyright and legal issues and changes within the industry. So as a member of the BIPP, you also get membership of the FEP as well.

Marcus: That’s fantastic. I mean, that’s got all the nuts and bolts that you’re going to need. You’re going to be starting a business. Have you got a business? Have you got problems to deal with? It’s such a fantastic resource. Geoff, a couple of questions here. First of all, how do they define professional when you’re joining a body? And are there any particular genres of photography that maybe does well or it appeals to the BIPP?

Jeff: Well, I think it will appeal to any genre of photography. Professional is somebody who is actually making money from photography. So you are sending out invoices and receiving payment first. I suppose it’s just like any definition of professional. You know, professional is somebody who gets paid for the services that they provide. So you don’t have to, you know, you might not be a full-time practicing photographer. You just start to build a business up and you’ve got a part-time job. But you’re invoicing, you have a business, you’ve created a business, you are a professional. Now, the membership has two rules, effectively two membership sides. The acting active professional membership and the professional who’s no longer active. So you might have somebody say, for instance, who’s retired. They still want to be part of the community. They still want to put images in. They still want to, you know, actively get into the competitions and stuff like that. But they don’t need some of the other services like, you know, like the legal support and the professional, you know, the public liabilities insurance. So that’s the differentiator. You’ve got the no longer active, the professional member and then the professional member that’s accredited. So the professional member that’s accredited are those that have achieved accreditation like their LBIP, their ABIP and their FBIP, you know, their licentiate, the associate and the fellowship membership.

Marcus: OK, OK, that’s very interesting. So maybe onto a more broader picture now, Jeff, if I may. And it’s a big question. And I’m thinking more about the state of the photographic industry at the moment. You’ve obviously been involved in photography for many, many years at lots of different levels. Where do you see photography? I’m going to come into the future in a minute, Jeff. So, but where do you see photography at the moment? Commercial photography, professional, yeah.

Jeff: So commercial photography. So there is more, there are more photographers out there than there ever has been in the history of our industry. But consequently, there is more demand for imagery than there ever has been in the history of photography, because, you know, years ago, you know, yourself being a commercial photographer years ago, companies might get you in once or twice a year to do a brochure shoot or something like that. Companies now need imagery for social media. They need imagery that is authentic. It’s storytelling. It’s not just of products, it’s of the way they want to be perceived by their followers online. You know, so showing their staff engaging with customers, images that tell stories and fun and have authenticity and personality, you know. Now, I think one of the dangers is because the lower end of the market is the price driven market. So that is, that is where most competition is. You know, so you might say probably 70% of the competition within the photography industry is at the bottom end. And these photographers are generalists, they’re freelancers. I don’t even like the word freelancer because the word freelancer now has negative connotations. Years ago, it was like, yeah, I choose who I want to work for, you know. Yeah, now freelancer is associated with things like Fiverr.com, Upwork, 99designs, you know, freelancer. It’s like a bidding war for jobs and you don’t want to be in that. So what I say is, you know, for any photographer, the thing to do and you know what I’m going to say is to go and become a specialist, create a premium brand and put your prices up there because people are still paying a lot of money for photography. You know, brands, entrepreneurs, business owners, you know, like a Hilton Hotel is not going to go with a photographer for 99 quid. They’re not going to trust their brand with a budget photographer. So if you want to stand out, if you want to be seen, if you want to really create a strong, solid business, you have to niche and you have to create a premium brand. So you look high end and everything that goes with being high end, which is, you know, first class service, understanding your customers needs. When people see high end, they think first class service and quality. So have that high end brand specialize and niche. The other part of the industry, that bottom half is going to struggle and it’s going to continue to struggle. And some of the work, as you well know, will become a lot more diluted and less attracted because of progressions with, you know, likes of AI and automation and stuff.

Marcus: Yeah, I was going to come on to that. But yeah, yeah. I 100% agree with you, Jeff, and that’s the business model that I try and follow is keep premium, keep the high end. And of course, you know, those people appreciate, they appreciate photography as well. And, you know, not just the marketing, they appreciate a good photograph. And I still think, in spite of all the competition from, you know, video and so on and so forth, I still think photography has got such a strong presence in the marketing mix for businesses.

Jeff:  Definitely. Yeah. I mean, people are really going to need it. And, you know, if you start thinking going down the road of, you know, the AI versus photography, I mean, funny enough, I live in the countryside, live up in Northumberland, middle of nowhere. And I was talking to one of the farmers in the pub the other day. And he says, you know, he says, we, a couple of farms here have now got the autonomous tractors that actually plow the fields by computer. And he says he’d, and he’d also just been down to another farm, like 15 miles down the road from me that it’s a dairy farm and the entire cattle herd is milked by robots. So when the cattle, when the cows, you know, feel like they have, they’re carrying too much milk, they go in, the robots will milk them, the robots will also test them for this particular virus. He mentioned it. I didn’t know what it meant. But yeah. And then they were, the robot will text the farmer to tell him that this particular cow has this, this virus and the farm will come out and then do what he needs to do to, you know, there’s a few simple procedures to do. But that doesn’t mean that farmers are going to finish being farmers, you know, because there’s still a lot of stuff that the robots can’t do. Yes, it might automate. And we’ve had that with, you know, production lines and stuff for years, but you don’t go to car plant and see everything run by robots. There’s still people there.

Marcus:  I mean, you know, over the 150 years that photography has been around, there’s been lots of different threats that have come into it. You know, the people who are working on glass negatives, when the, when the, you know, the cassette came out, the first film cassette came out, they were almost at the end of our work and so on and so forth. You know, digital has come along and that’s changed the environment, et cetera, et cetera. But nevertheless, though, these are techniques, aren’t they? It’s still, if you’ve got to have, if you’ve got good ideas and you present yourself well and market yourself well, that’s going to help you stand out from the competition.

Jeff: Yeah, I think the other thing is, is remembering that photography, the photography aspect of the photograph taken aspect of photography is just one part of the whole part of your business, right? So you’ve got to sell the full experience and the full experience where we can differentiate ourselves from AI, from computer generated images is understanding our client. First of all, being personal, being authentic, helping tell the client’s story. Yes, there might be a shift certain types of photography might be, might struggle. One couple I can think of is product photography, you know, as opposed to hiring a team to photograph a Ford Mustang in the desert, you could just photograph a Ford Mustang in a studio and then it can be added. But that same company, Ford will still want images for their social media. You know, if you look at any social media, you will see the products that sometimes don’t look very realistic because they’ve been enhanced by AI that, you know, they don’t look true to life. Now those images tend not to get as much engagement on social media as authentic storytelling about the brand, about the people, because people buy from people they like and people who they trust and businesses who they like, and that will always go on. Now, weddings, portraits, capturing emotion, happiness. Do you want a robot photographing your wedding? I don’t think that it’s going to go down that road. Do you want an AI generated family portrait? That’s very false. It’s not authentic. It’s not you. It doesn’t capture the characteristic and, you know, in the future, would you want a robot doing your photo shoot or would you prefer to work with a human who’s going to put your kids at ease? You know, so there will be other things. I think, you know, landscape photography. Yes, there’s a lot of AI generated landscapes out there, but there’ll be a need for people wanting something regional, something local, something that AI can’t create. Wildlife, I think will still be very successful because there’s already images going around on Facebook and Instagram where people are going fake AI, you know, because it doesn’t look authentic of a particular animal. You know, when it comes to landscapes, when it comes to wildlife and nature, you want to see the real thing, you know?

Marcus: Indeed. I mean, my mind goes back to the mid-70s, Jeff, and the punk ethos, which was all about, you know, do it yourself and anybody could do it. And it was edgy and it was not perfect, but it’s stuck in your mind. It took a hold in your consciousness. And I feel the same as what I agree with what you’re saying there, Jeff. You know, stock photography, AI photography, it all looks rather bland and people don’t – it doesn’t stick in your consciousness in the same way that something very organic and, as you say, authentic does. I mean, we have sort of drifted on to now the future of photography, you know, the photography business in a lot of ways, talking about AI. I mean, my take on it, as I see it in the future, I think we’re going to – photographers will need to be more – offer a service of ideas as opposed to techniques. You know, you might have a – you know, I mean, at this stage, I do gifs for my clients. I do small little videos if necessary. I do a lot, but it’s all about the ideas and coming up with the ideas. Jeff, what are your thoughts on that?

Jeff: Yeah, I get you 100% with that. You know, outside of the, you know, outside of the sort of portraits and weddings side, as you know, there’s two aspects to photography when it comes to a sale. There’s an emotional sale, which is usually driven by sort of like, you know, boudoir, newborn, family photography. Then there’s a solution-based sale, which is for business. You know, they’re buying it as a solution to a need, sort of like product photography, headshots, branding photography, that sort of stuff. Now, when you’re thinking about the solution base, you need to think about the client’s needs. You know, it’s no longer selling by time, like half a day off, sell a day. Sell content creation packages that include multiple things that include Facebook banners and hero images and short reels and stuff like that. They love short engaging.

You can even do stuff like that on your mobile phone. You know, so many of my clients do that. They have, you know, they’ll do the images with their DSLR, mirrorless camera, but then the short videos will shoot with a mobile gimbal and a mobile phone. Obviously, it’s perfect for that because it’s only going to be used, it’s just going to be used on social media, you know. And what the client wants is that authenticity, that storytelling. But ultimately, what they want as well is likes and comments and shares, because if they can see them, then they’re like, this photography is working for us. You know, if they put out AI, sort of like created stock content, and it doesn’t get the engagement, which a lot of it doesn’t, and it gets negative comments, it can actually damage somebody’s brand, you know. And then, you know, you think about, it then becomes false, isn’t it? And I suppose.

Marcus: Well, I’m thinking of, maybe I suggest like the Royal Family brand with, I’m not making it with their names, but the one recently where they had all that news that came out about the Photoshop picture. I mean, that was a damaging to their brand, wasn’t it? The Royal Family brand, you know. So, yeah, I agree with you. So, yeah, I think… So, from what you’re saying, you feel, as we’re sort of coming to the end of the show, we’re winding it down, your feeling is, you’re confident about the future then, Jeff, as a broad photographer, a multi-photographer.

Jeff: Yeah, because we’ve got something that AI can’t offer, you know, it’s that. But I think it’s more looking into your business and looking into the personal aspect, selling the whole experience. Remember, like I said, you know, the image itself is just one part of that. And it’s understanding your customers. You know, if you were a hairdresser, would you, you know, would you want to go and get your hair cut by a robot? Or would you prefer to get it cut by somebody who, you know, you get a nice cup of tea, you get a bit of a chat. So, and also in the competition side of things, you know, I was just away at the weekend on a motorbike tour, and then we stopped at this town, and this town had loads of kebab shops, right? But then it had one kebab shop that was a Greek kebab shop. And it was probably about two or three times the price of all the other ones. And there was a queue to get in because it was different. It stood out, you know, so it’s that people don’t buy on price, they buy on that perceived value and part of the whole experience, you know? So it’s about making yourself different. Don’t fall into the pit of going, right, I just want to work with anybody who’ll pay me, you know, because that’s where you’re going to struggle. And that’s where, you know, it is good to get in with the professional association, like the bit, because you’ve got support, you’ve got direction, you’ve got people you can lean on, not from just the creative side of things, but for the business side of things as well. There’s a lot of Facebook groups out there that you know yourself can be very, very negative. And, you know, it’s and also affects a photographer’s self-belief and leads to that imposter syndrome. But if you’ve got people picking you up and supporting you, then you can overcome stuff, you know, because whatever we believe we can actually achieve. But if we leave it to the wrong sorts of groups and the wrong sorts of places, it can negatively impact us.

Marcus: Yeah, well put, Jeff, well put. I think that’s been absolutely brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed this talk with you, Jeff. And you’ve got such an insight into the way it works. Thank you very much.

Jeff:  My pleasure. Thanks again, Marcus.