So back in May I did something that I felt was way out my comfort zone as a creative but, equally felt it was something I needed to do to push myself as a professional family photographer.

I decided to put myself forward to gain an official qualification for my documentary family photography.

Not just any photography qualification but one with the British Institute of Professional Photography (The BIPP).

The BIPP qualifications are the benchmark for professional photographers.

But the scariest part is preparing a PRINTED panel of 20 photos. Your best photographs to be judged by your qualified peers.

Here’s my blog all about that journey.

Though in case you’re not a reader, I’ll start with the ‘behind the scenes’ vlog I created…

Behind The Scenes Video – BIPP Qualification

Joining The British Institute of Professional Photography

I’ve been a part of the British Institute of Professional Photography since 2019 after being encouraged to sign up at The Photography and Video Show in Birmingham.

I joined because I felt I needed proper support and guidance as I dipped my toe into the world of photography.

Coming from a film and TV background and then into running a successful wedding videography business, I had major imposter syndrome on joining a professional photography body.

Looking back it was the leap of faith I needed to take to really excel in my new found passion of documentary family photography.

BIPP Mentoring and Photographer Support

The pandemic gave a lot of us social photographers time to step back, reassess and think about our business.

For me, it also gave me the time and space I needed to seriously consider going for qualification.

One bonus to being a member of the BIPP is access to mentoring.

Not only did an incredible mentor reach out to me (fine art photographer Fiona Ingvarsson) and help me shape my panel (and become a better photographer in the process) but there were some incredibly supportive members who gave their time and knowledge over a few months.

I felt confident I was ready to submit my work to be judged.

fine art mounted prints being checked before BIPP judging

Creating my Licentiate Panel in Documentary Family Photography

Traditionally in professional photography ‘Newborn’ and ‘Family’ photography is quite posed and within studio environments.

Past submissions that qualified were a world away from my natural and honest approach.

I was nervous it was too ‘different’ and that the judges wouldn’t ‘get’ my unique documentary style.

I spent many tireless months working on my final 20 images, trying to pick the best moments that showcased my work.

From narrowing them down digitally to getting mini test prints to stick to my wall, it really helped me see how they worked together as a panel and told the story I wanted to share.

Folio fine art prints stacked ready for judging
close up of BIPP L panel being checked
close up of family photography print panel
BIPP L panel all lined up ready for packing

Breathing Life In To My BIPP Photography Panel

Here’s a section from my BIPP Panel supporting evidence.

I feel it shows what I wanted the judges to understand and ‘feel’ about my work.

The supporting evidence is all about breathing life into a panel and apparently mine did just that…


Noun: the state of being a parent and the responsibilities involved.

But it feels way more than that, right?

Parenthood can be challenging, messy, overwhelming, hard, exhausting at times, yet so rewarding.

As a first time parent I had my own challenges which affected my mental health in those early months and years. I soon realised that ‘perfectionism’ has no place in parenthood and it was time to let go, to see the beauty in the imperfection.

As I began to document my own family life I soon realised the beauty in that imperfection and how amazing it was to look back at REAL life, not the filtered version we share with the world.

Families come to me because they want that honest approach too.

They appreciate seeing the chaos as much as the calm! They want to pause family life, to look back and be reminded not only what it looked like but what it felt like too. 

I help them see that despite feeling all the emotions above, they’re doing amazing and they have created an incredible family.

I love being the one to show them how their kids make them laugh, how they look at their kids when they think no-one is looking and those little connections we take for granted in our everyday.

My panel is all about what parenthood really looks like….

The Final Prints, Paper and Photography Panel Checks…

From the small test prints I narrowed down my final 20 and it was on to finding the perfect paper.

I’d always had my own personal favourite (Photo Rag) but thought I’d double check I wasn’t missing anything special.

I wasn’t…and my personal favourite won the test!

The next stage it all began to feel real as I made my order for 20 A3 fine art photographic mounted prints.

When they arrived so expertly packed from Folio I had my white gloves ready to check them over and start laying them out of inspection.

One of the prints was niggling me with the highlights so I ordered a reprint before packaging them all up in a fancy holiday suitcase, ready for my trip to the BIPP Head Office in Preston, Lancashire.

The BIPP Photography Community and Support Along The Way

Nerves had really built up by this point but what I felt helped was being on this journey with other photographers from all over the UK.

We’d kept in touch over Zoom calls and WhatsApp’s and it genuinely made all the difference having that support.

It was even better when we finally got to meet in person over the qualifying days in Preston.

I can imagine sitting with all those nerves and worries alone would make the whole qualifying process feel more daunting.

Being surrounded by friendly faces, other creatives and others going through the same anxieties before their own judging made it feel more of a community and that everyone wanted you to do well.

I found that to be one of the best things that came from going in person! So much so I stayed for 2 nights, despite being judged at lunchtime on the first day!

close up of black and white breastfeeding print
black and white family documentary photography prints ready for judging
social documentary photography panel on display

Nerves and The BIPP Judging Process

Laying out my prints, with the help of Martin the CEO, felt incredible (despite the nerves).

Seeing all my best work printed out like that was quite breath-taking. And I mean that without any ego intended!

I was in the room ready when the judges were called in and I was asked if I’d like to say any words.

At this point you have up to 5 minutes to talk about your panel, if you wish.

Me being the bag of nerves, I opted for a bit of chat followed by a film I’d created showing off my documentary ‘hybrid’ (both photo and video) style of capturing family life.

The exact family photography and videography film I’ve shared above!

BIPP judges give feedback on documentary panel
BIPP qualification certificate in frame

The BIPP Judges Feedback

I’m an emotional sort. I’d put my heart and soul into creating a really moving and emotive panel of family photography.

I’d built up such pressure on whether they’d ‘get’ it that I was trying so hard to get across all that I felt was amazing about this more honest style of family photography.

My fear of crying in front of everyone…well, it happened!

But they were so very lovely about it!

In fact, it may’ve helped my cause as it set one of the judges off too when they allowed me back in the room for feedback!

Martin Baynes CEO kindly recorded the audio from the feedback so I’ve been able to relive every comment and supportive word from the panel judges (perfect when the doubt sets in!).

Saraya Cortaville and Richard Bradbury stayed back to chat through things in more detail which has been massively helpful as I know myself I have lots to learn and thanks to this opportunity I’m learning from the best!

BIPP judge feedback on documentary photographer

Gaining Qualification and Peer Support

The days following I sat and supported other members as they went for their qualification.

Some were sadly unsuccessful but the judges were great and ensuring they left with feedback to lift them back up again.

My favourite success story has to be Aneesa.

I feel I went though the emotional rollercoaster with her to get to that day and to see her gain a Fellowship…well, all I recall is me crying yet again as I made my way up the stairs at Artistry House to congratulate her!

Her panel was so moving and again something very different to the traditional work we’ve seen within the BIPP.

I think it’s a testament to her passion and incredible skills as a photographer but also as a storyteller!

documentary photographer unpacks her photography prints to display
documentary photographers pose at Artistry House Preston
BIPP photographers take portraits in Preston

Getting Social and Making Photographer Friends

Whilst on cloud 9 about qualifying as a Social Documentary photographer with the BIPP and, going along the emotional rollercoaster with the fellow photographers going for qualifications, we also got some much needed social time!

As photographers we spend a LOT of time alone and finding time to chat with fellow creatives has been one of the BEST takeaways from this experience.

From lunch dates, drinks in the Lancashire sunshine to eating most of the potato salad on offer during the official ‘social’ evening put on by the BIPP…I really embraced it!


documentary photo of BIPP members and judges chat live on Facebook
BIPP judges chat on social media

What’s Next For This Qualified Social Documentary Photographer?

Well…there are plans.

I was a teeny bit disappointed my panel didn’t get nudged up to an Associate (the next level up) and wasn’t sure what I’d need to do to get that next qualification.

However, thanks to all the judges and fellow photographers pulling me to one side along the way I think I’ve got the right support to keep moving forward on this epic journey.

I do realise my over achieving desires can be harnessed to push for my next qualification (once I’ve saved up again, the process is quite the investment!). 

I also know this is the reason I need to make my personal documentary project happen!

I’m definitely in the right company with the members of the British Institute of Professional Photography to push myself further.

Thank You’s and Encouragement 

If it wasn’t for the support along the way, I wouldn’t of qualified. Nor would I have the desite to excel even  more with my documentary work!

To that one member who encouraged me to sign up in the first place, thanks Ioan!

From the members who encouraged me to go for the Licentiate qualification (you know who you are).

The ones who WhatsApp’d and Zoom called me along the way, with advice and encouragement.

The incredible Mentor I had in Fiona who believed in my work.

To the members who replied after I reached out to them, despite having no clue who I was!

To Martin Baynes, if it wasn’t for you being so understanding when I bravely stood up in that North West BIPP meeting talking about the concern there lacked female representation in the Institute..thanks! And for those email replies, the phone calls and for just being all round supportive…I wouldn’t have got here!

Sharron, your well timed brew’s and smiling face was much needed that day so thank you!

And the judges. Not only for your incredible feedback and sharing of knowledge after seeing my panel. You went above and beyond sharing your wisdom with me outside of the official panel process. So thank you to you all too!

Gosh, have I forgotten anyone?? I hope not!

Ready To Qualify With The BIPP?

As you can see, a lot goes in to gaining qualification within the British Institute of Professional Photography.

Not only by yourself, with the time and energy AND investment but also by all the team and members who gladly get involved in the community.

It was the best thing I did for myself and my photography and I encourage you to reach out to Martin and the team to see if you’re ready for this journey too…

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