The What and Why of Photographic Certifications from PPA

[this was taken directly from the Professional Photographers of America website]….

When you become a Professional Photographer, you become one of many other professional photographers who are all aiming for the same business goal: success. Everyone is striving to get their name out there and get more clients through the door. With all of the options people have for photographers, the question then becomes, “How do I stand apart?” One of the answers that many professional photographers give is “certification.”

What Is Certification?
Many industries have certification programs that allow professionals in that industry to show their expertise and give clients a reason to come to them—and photography is no different. The Professional Photographic Certification Commission (PPCC), the leading certifying agency for imaging professionals, is the commission through which you earn your Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) designation. By becoming a CPP, you are showing both your peers and potential clients that you are serious about your craft and have met a standard of excellence.

“Certification indicates to our clients that we have aspired to a higher level,” explains Marie Curtis, M.Photog., CPP, owner of Curtis Studio in Durham, Conn., and a CPP for 20 years. “It tells them we have learned all we can to successfully handle most of the common photographic projects put before us. It is a benchmark known all over the world, letting clients who expect a certain level of competency know that we can meet or exceed those expectations.”

Dennis Nisbet, CPP, of Nisbet Photography in Riverside, Calif., agrees. “Technological advances have resulted in a huge number of aspiring photographers entering the market and presenting their imaging skills as being professional,” he notes. Nisbet believes that certification can help to separate you from those masses. “Isn’t it time you demonstrated to the public that there is a difference in being a CPP, that you have the skills for your profession, and that you can be held to the same high standards that are expected from other professions?”

How Do I Get Certified?
The certification requirements established by the PPCC were put into place to prove your technical competency in professional photography. It may sound daunting, but John Metcalfe, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, doesn’t want that to discourage you. “The hardest part of the certification process is deciding to do it,” he says.

If you have questions about the certification process or are looking for more information, a great starting point is your state’s Certification Liaison. These individuals are selected by the PPCC and are all CPPs themselves. They have been through the Certified Professional Photographer Certification process and can answer questions about it and the three steps: declaring CPP candidacy, passing the Certification Exam and passing a successful Image Submission Review.

Written Exam—The comprehensive written exam is comprised of 100 questions covering the technical aspects of photography, including subjects such as exposure, meters, composition, lighting and digital post-production. CPP Certification Exams are held throughout the year across the U.S. and Canada at local, state and regional events for photographers…and, of course, at Imaging USA!

While it may be an exam, Curtis suggests having fun with it. “Find a study partner, join a study group or play Jeopardy to break the monotony of reading and studying.”

Image Submission—An Image Submission Review occurs every two months. It involves submitting 20 images of your client work to be reviewed and approved by a panel of CPP judges. These images should be representative of your style of photography and the work that you produce for your clients. Keep in mind that each image must have a different subject matter.

“The question most get hung up on is what to submit,” Metcalfe notes. “The judges are looking for a candidate’s images to be the practical application of the knowledge used to pass the written exam.” In other words, use the knowledge needed for the exam to create the images for the review. And keep in mind that you want to put your best foot forward. As Curtis points out, even if your photographic style is avant-garde, you want your images to demonstrate that you know the rules of portraiture and have produced an image worthy of your client’s expectations.

Why Certify?
Simply knowing what it takes to become certified is not enough to convince you to do so. You need to know why you should make the effort. You need to know what is in it for you. While the benefits may vary from photographer to photographer, certification offers you the potential to grow—both as a photographer and as a businessperson.

The steps you take to achieve this certification test your knowledge and demonstrate that you have met a standard of excellence. Once your obtain your Certified Professional Photographer designation, you have the ability to use it to prove to your clients (and potential clients) that you are a leader in the industry and have gone above and beyond to prove yourself as a professional photographer.

Gregg Martin, CPP, of Gregg Martin Photographic Design in Columbia, S.C., believes that becoming a CPP helped him stand out from the pack. “Photographers are coming out of the woodwork in every town in America, and being a CPP places you in a much different category than the average photographer,” he explains.

By having CPP after your name (and explaining it to them), you are showing your clients that you are committed not only to your job as photographer, but to the product you deliver as well. And certification can lead to and help you seal the deal with new clients! “Being a CPP has opened doors to numerous corporate jobs, magazine work, sports contracts and several other opportunities in my career,” adds Martin.

To maintain your CPP designation, you must re-certify every five years. Why? When you first achieve your certification, you have to demonstrate your technical competency and meet a standard of excellence. And in an industry where technology is constantly changing and expectations are continually growing, it is important that you keep up with the changes in order to maintain your skills and continue to expand. This is where re-certification comes into play.

“Once certification is obtained, it is not the end,” says Metcalfe. “Certified Professional Photographers have to continue to educate themselves and share their knowledge with others—continuing the growth and preserving the knowledge.”

By re-certifying, you show the industry and your clients that you are continuing to perfect your craft. Stay active and always look for ways to expand your knowledge—continuing to take classes and gain knowledge through opportunities like Imaging USA, Super Monday and Affiliate events.

One More Reason
By becoming a Certified Professional Photographer, you not only show yourself that you have the skills necessary to excel as a professional photographer, but you also show the industry and your clients that you are serious about what you do. Clients have a multitude of options when it comes to finding a photographer—give them one more reason to come to you.

The next Greater Rochester Professional Photographer study group for the CPP exam is starting soon…. please let one of us know if you would like to get on board. This is an excellent way to improve your skills and get to know your fellow GRPPsters. ~Heather

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