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Ask the Photo Business Coach: Should I Get a CPP Certification?

Posted By Beate Chelette On May 31, 2011 @ 12:29 am In Business of Photography | 21 Comments

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In this edition of Ask the Photo Business Coach [2], I answer the question, “Should I get a Certified Professional Photographer [3] (CPP) designation?” I have a strong opinion on the subject.

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21 Comments To "Ask the Photo Business Coach: Should I Get a CPP Certification?"

#1 Comment By pam On May 31, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

OMG! You totally hit the nail on the head. Been saying it for years myself. Join ASMP yes, all these other 'certifications' are nothing more than a giant click of individuals who are not individual in their thinking or art. Thank you!

#2 Comment By pam On May 31, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

clique...oops

#3 Comment By Mark Holmes On May 31, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

I was worried that you were going to say you needed to get certified and was relieved to find you thought otherwise. Nobody knows everything and it's always good to learn more, but you can do this for yourself. Again I agree - money in the bank from being successful is the only certification you need.

#4 Comment By Grand Junction CO Wedding Photographer On May 31, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

I would strongly disagree with you. I worked very hard to become Certified. It shows that I have learned and know more than the tons and tons of non-professionals calling themselves photographers. I also feel more confident in my abilities; that I have learned more about lighting, exposure, composition, etc. Many professions offer certification (accountants, personal trainers, hair stylists, auto mechanics, etc). I would trust these professionals more than a non-certified person in the same field.

#5 Comment By Mark Holmes On May 31, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

Accountants, lawyers, doctors, have to be certified. Some photographers would like this model to certify photographers as a way of creating a barrier to entry and excluding creative people. It builds a barricade of mediocrity around them and allows them to call it a "profession". Good luck with your certification, but I am glad I spent my money on a business degree. As I said, it's good to learn more and I applaud your enthusiasm to improve as a photographer. But, certification is not about quality, it's about exclusion. The thing is, certification as a photographer means nothing, since I can give you a certificate myself. Nobody recognizes it and if you have to build your business on the crutch of being certified, I don't think it's going far.

#6 Comment By Charles Carstensen On June 1, 2011 @ 1:46 am

Beate, you are so right on target. Becoming certified is one big ego trip. Please, someone tell me of a paying job received that can be positively traced to physical "certification." The entity that benefits is the one giving the feel good certification. Heck, it even make one re-up and pay more dues. Photography is art, not brain surgery. You are so right, get out and sell yourself, get involved, get creative. Business IS personal. Certification is just an artsy/craftsy piece of paper. One more thing, people work for two basic reasons: Money and/or recognition. Keep up the good work. You are the best.

#7 Comment By Lynn Michelle On June 1, 2011 @ 11:15 am

Unfortunately, there are many photographers who are getting paid to provide subpar work and who do not have the foundation to know any better. If anything, a certification program would be a way to show that you know the basics - as the CPP written & image exam does.

There's nothing in the CPP program that require you to attend conferences (you may have confused that with the PPA merits program). You do, however, need to submit a body of work that shows you understand lighting and posing as well as passing a written exam that covers knowledge of camera operation, lighting setups, and so forth. If anything, this would sharpen the skills of a seasoned photographer and would go a long way in educating a new one.

#8 Comment By Beate On June 1, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

@Thank you Charles, you make me blush!

#9 Comment By Beate On June 1, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

@Lynn, I beg to differ.. It's not a one-time thing.

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#10 Comment By bryan On June 10, 2011 @ 2:00 am

i totally agree if i tried to join every "certification" out there i would be broke

#11 Comment By Jeff Burkholder On June 10, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

Beate, love it!!! So true, but I do think that there should be a certain set of rules for someone to call themselves a 'Professional'. There are too many people 'armed-and-dangerous' with a DSLR and think that the camera makes them a photographer.

It's a tool! It's a device... does having a computer make you a professional IT person, designer (oh yet... it does to so many).

But, I do agree with you on the idea of being a Pro is from your clients, jobs, and portfolio... that's so true. But there are so many people with cameras not acting or being Professional, yet calling themselves a Pro. They don't have insurance, they do it on-the-side and don't claim taxes, they degrade the word Professional.

Then there's those that give the name Photographer a bad name, like "car salesman" (sorry car sales people) where they screw up a job and then everyone's says "well, that photographer did....and I don't trust them"

I'm amazed on how the quality of images has gone down and the 'fix it in PS' attitude seems to become the norm. But then some think McDonald's is good food too.

#12 Comment By LC from GA On June 11, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

Pam-ASMP actually cost more money to be a member than becoming and maintaining a CPP designation; it just doesn't require that you know anything about photography. I am a member for the information they provide and the prestige of using it in my advertising; but I'm also in the process of acquiring the CPP designation. CPP actually requires that you understand composition, lighting, cameras, lenses, perspective, etc, that so many 'photographers' have no knowledge of. And when you have you knowledge, you can understand how and when you can break the 'rules'.

Well said Grand Junction!

Mark, you're right. Accountants, lawyers, doctors etc. must be certified. Do you want to face the IRS with an accountant who has not passed the CPA exam? And which doctor are you going to choose to perform a major surgery on you? The CPP exam is given by the same proctoring body as the CPA and BAR exams. Not just anyone could give you that certification, even Beate, without the exam meeting their stringent requirements. Sure, there are accountants out there who can claim to be CPAs, just as photographers can claim to be creative and knowledgeable about the industry. But I would choose a CPP designated photographer to shoot one of my daughter's wedding any day over one who has chosen to not pursue this certification for whatever reasons they may give.

Charles, does your accountant have an artsy/craftsy piece of paper. Good luck if he does! Just b/c you have a CPP designation does not make you any less creative. It just shows you know what you're doing and why you're doing it.

Lynn, again, as w/Grand Junction, well said. The CPP exam and print submission requires a certain amount of knowledge and experience. It's tiresome to compete w/everyone who owns a digital camera and calls themselves a photographer. These are the ones who charge $500 for a wedding and give all their images away on a DVD. That said, the price is probably justified.

Jeff, I'm confused. You told Beate you loved what she said and then made a case for the CPP.

Beate, you work for PhotoBiz, who had a booth at Imaging USA, where we are encouraged to become CPPs. Do you really want all those people to hear how you feel about the industry of photography, the disdain you feel about the CPP process. How interesting! You must not want to host many of their websites!

In order to offer your own certification process for photographers are you willing to do the research, fork out the money and commit to the follow up required to make it mean anything. The CPP people have and will. You would also have to be available when clients seek you out to find out if you are, in fact, a legitimate certification entity.

I would like to know which site you visited b/c, as Lynn pointed out, there are no 'conference attendance' requirements. To become a CPP, you must pass a 100 question test and submit 20 images with specific lighting ratios and types of lighting and posing, to be judged by individuals who, by their success and knowledge, have been proven to be outstanding photographers in the field. Here is the correct website: [5]. They also certify Evidence Photographers for the police departments and federal law enforcement organizations.

BTW...CPP=Certified Professional Photographer not Certified Photography Professional

If this is truly the PhotoBiz opinion on CPPs, my business will need to go elsewhere!

Next time try to get all your facts straight for the soapbox on which you choose to stand.

#13 Comment By Pamela On June 12, 2011 @ 11:56 am

Lc from Georgia: tell ya what. Give all those CPP folks a cheap film holga or iPhone camera and have them produce QUALITY & INTERESTING images then you can prove to me that 'certification' proves they are better skilled than those who are not 'certified'!

#14 Comment By Pamela On June 12, 2011 @ 11:59 am

Oh and NO software to fix or artsy up the Images. Just SOC. I am tired of this argument. I am tired of tons of software and fancy lighting equipment defining a great image.

#15 Comment By Ed Kahles On June 13, 2011 @ 12:17 am

In our business my wife is the photographer. I handle sales, marketing and the "business" side of things. In the 4 short years we have been doing this not one person has said, " your pictures look amazing! I but I would feel so much better if you were certified". I know a lot of photographers who can spew gallons of information about lighting, posing, and any other photographic topic you can dream up. They could pass all of your tests with a blind fold on. That being said, their work sucks and their business reflects it.
If you put an artist in a box you kill the artist. Don't be afraid to step out on a limb and try things that break the rules. You just may create something truly amazing.

#16 Comment By Mark Holmes On June 13, 2011 @ 11:20 am

We could argue whether it makes you a better photographer or stifles your creative talent forever, but that's not the point. Certification is about creating a restraint of trade with the aim of excluding anyone not in the club from being considered a professional. I reiterate that I am for education. I am against freemasonry-type trade organizations that try to corral business owners.

#17 Comment By Mark Levesque On July 2, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

Beate-

For someone with such strong opinions, you are woefully uninformed on the subject of certification. The CPP is not someone deciding to create a certification program and charge money to prey on the insecurities of photographers- far from it. The Professional Photographic Certification Commission is not some random group of people; they are a group of professionals dedicated to ensuring that CPP actually means something, that it is indicative of a level of professionalism and ability in professional photography. This group conforms to the Institute for Credentialing Excellence rules in administering the CPP program; as such it stands shoulder to shoulder with the groups that supply credentials to CPAs, health professionals, etc.

The purpose of the CPP program is provide an assurance to the consumer that a photographer actually possesses the skills to create professional level images, as well as to provide photographers with a yardstick by which to measure whether they are indeed all they think they are. After all, anyone can go out and buy a DSLR and declare themselves to be a professional; that does not make it so.

The process of becoming certified, which you did not mention in your video pontification, does make you a better photographer. It is rare to meet the photographer that does not learn anything during the process of becoming certified (I haven't met one yet.) Certification is a two part process: a written examination in which a passing grade is 70%, and an image submission, which requires 20 images, 6 compulsories and 14 client images from different clients. So not only do you have to know the material, you must also demonstrate that you are able to apply it.

You may say that "it's not that hard" to pass the written test and the image submission, and that is true enough for a real professional, but there are a LOT of people calling themselves professional who really do need to learn the skills to justify the moniker. It's not really a cakewalk, and for some people it's quite a hill to climb. It depends on your technical competence. Let me just tell you that MANY of the people you are addressing in this column could benefit greatly by becoming certified. Not because of the letters after their names. But because of the learning required to get them there. It's most certainly NOT about impressing your peers, although if you've never seen someone's work, at least you know there is SOME level of skill involved. It is about BEING a professional. Having the skills, and using them.

You are doing a disservice to the community by discouraging them from becoming certified. With DSLRs, it is easy for people to take thousands of photographs to find a few good ones. But to really be a professional, you need to be able to create "good ones" on demand, in all sorts of circumstances, many of which are not conducive to the "spray and pray" method of image capture. Certification teaches you just that.

I have been certified since 2007, and I help other photographers get certified. For people who have already established themselves as professionals, and who actually bring professional level skills to the table, it is not strictly necessary to become certified. If you have only been in the business for a few years and are still working on establishing a reputation and building your skill set, it is an excellent method to ensure you have the skills you need to provide pro-level service to your clients. And OBTW, the improvement in your work that typically results from the certification process really does make a difference to your bottom line. And professional reputation.

I really think you should be better informed before spouting off that it's a "waste of time." You don't know what you are talking about. The number of people for which certification is a waste of time is very small, and includes only top industry professionals. You should go through the process. It's not that much money, especially for a multimillionaire such as yourself. Then you could speak with authority on the subject.

#18 Comment By Cliff On July 13, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

Thanx...I think you've answered the question very well. It is one that I have wrestled with in the passed. However, belonging to groups or "clubs" (for lack of a better word) of like minded individuals in my opinion is a good idea. Certification for the sake of certification...Bad idea!!!!
Your portfolio is your certification.

#19 Comment By Mark Holmes On August 23, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

Having read the arguments in favor of being certified, and being a photography educator myself, I decided to keep an open mind and do the certification exam. It certainly tested subjects that I would expect every professional to know. I'd recommend it to aspiring pros who have not had the opportunity to get a formal photography education.

#20 Comment By Jorge Malo On October 24, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

I went to college to get an Engineering Degree and then I fell in love with photography, which I studied on my own, went to workshops, seminars, etc. got my gear and practice, practice, practice.Got my first assignments, which in turn brought more jobs. 30+ years have passed and I still look for new stuff to learn. But I have always said that customers come to you because they like your work and for new customers, there is my portfolio to look at. Certifications show which club you just have joined.

#21 Comment By Ashton Boni On February 5, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

I've been listening to all your posts and I love it. Maybe you can talk about joining organizations like WeddingWire.com, or the Knot, and paying to advertise. Your welcome to pick my brain. I've paid feature ads for both and gotten 0 returns.

Ashton Boni


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