• Facebook

    500 K / likes

  • Twitter

    1 M / followers

I Am Certifiably Confused About PPA’s ‘Certified Professional Photographer’


I don’t mean to step on any toes, but… deep breath… here we go…

Dear PPA,

A couple of weeks ago, I asked to sit down with your top brass and discuss what is happening with our beloved PPA (Professional Photographers of America) over some pie. Who doesn’t like pie, right? It was going to be a long conversation and, well, difficult discussions just seem to go better with pie. Granted, the request was made via a Facebook post, so you probably didn’t really take me seriously.

That’s okay — I assure you, you aren’t the first.

And then, a couple of days ago, I learned about the changes to the CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) program, brand new this year, and PPA, holy smokes…we are going to need more than a few slices to get through this. We are going to need vodka. At least, I’M going to need it.

See, I talked recently about your Certified Professional Photographer certification and how I supported it. I kind of went on and on about it and now I feel stupid. Well, stupider than I usually feel, that is. See, when I said those words, I was thinking of the certification process of years past but I had NO idea that the process had radically changed as of this year. I guess I could have checked, sure, but never in my wildest dreams (and I have some wild dreams, like being chased by dinosaurs and my teeth falling out) did I think that one could achieve “Certified Professional Photographer” without being a professional photographer.

It almost sounds like a joke, right? It’s like calling someone a professional tennis player who never played tennis professionally. How is that even possible? Is that even a thing?

But, according to your new CPP requirements, that’s exactly what’s happening.

(If we were actually having a sit-down, this is the point in the discussion we’d be ordering another round of pie for fortification.)

See, I recall how the certification used to work and how it used to work made sense: one became a photographer, putting out work for clients, and then, as part of the CPP process, one would take an exam and submit actual client work. You know, as examples of what you were putting into the world as a professional photographer.

These images would be critiqued and evaluated and, if meeting the technical requirements and receiving a passing grade on the exam, one would be awarded the designation of “Certified Professional Photographer.” To maintain the certification, one would need to accrue education hours by attending PPA events. In addition, every five years, one had to re-submit images of actual client work to assure standards were continually being met.

And of course, pay money. That’s always part of the deal, and that’s okay. I get that.

Sounds logical, right? Sure it does.

And then, things started changing. Remember? Sure you do. No longer did you all need to see the client work of your CPPs when they renewed their certification. Just attend events and send in your money.

Now, this was startling. How does one continue to prove one’s photographic chops if not by submitting actual client work upon renewal? At the end of the day, isn’t that at the core of what is being certified? Your portfolio? Your body of work? What you are giving to your clients? Why would you NOT submit that?

As my dad would say, “That don’t make a lick of sense.”

I comforted myself with the fact that at least you still had to show the work to get the certification in the first place. I’m sure I also comforted myself with doughnuts. I can’t verify this; it was a while ago, but it sounds like something I would do.

But as of this year, all that has changed. Sure, you still need to test, but you don’t submit client work, which means, technically, you don’t need to be working as a professional photographer. Hello? McFly?

That’s right. You do NOT need to be a professional photographer to be a “Certified Professional Photographer” through Professional Photographers of America.

Cue the Twilight Zone music.

But wait… there’s more!

Instead of submitting client work for evaluation — real images of whatever it is you do as a professional — you instead photograph, wait for it… a tiny wooden figurine, a styrofoam ball, a box of crayons, and a Sharpie under different lighting conditions and submit the images to PPA. The kit can be purchased for $35.

Example photo by PPA.

And while this is awesome for those photographers who actually make their living photographing small wooden figures, styrofoam balls, boxes of crayons and Sharpies, for the rest of the industry, with real people in front of their cameras, not so much.

A slide from the PPA’s Technical Image Evaluation Webinar.
A slide from the PPA’s Technical Image Evaluation Webinar.
A slide from the PPA’s Technical Image Evaluation Webinar.

And I know what people will say. This will be defended as a means to broaden the membership field and encourage education; the powers that be will certainly defend this move, stating if you can light these goofy objects correctly then surely you can do the same with a family of 10, or a wedding, or a moving toddler, or an outdoor session where the light is changing every 5 minutes.

You know, because photographing a tiny wooden doll and a styrofoam ball over and over again until your images match the sample images you provide is exactly the same as photographing real people in a session.


Now, lest you get snippy, PPA, you’ve got to realize that I have always shouted from the mountain top that you are our last best hope to preserve standards and excellence in the professional photography industry — an industry that has been devalued by leaps and bounds, often by the very people claiming to protect it.

We look to you, PPA, to be better. We don’t need you to be a club, nor a Facebook group, nor a clique, nor the equivalent of a middle school girls bathroom …but serious professional photographers advocating and supporting and lifting the bar high for other serious photographers.

I mean, PPA can trace its roots back to 1868, the product of an organization designed at the time “to bring together photographers from around the world for the purpose of elevating and advancing the art of photography, and to protect and further the interests of those who make their living by it.”

Now… well, I have to wonder what happened, PPA? Why did you stop? Why did it change? Show me on this doll where someone hurt you.

And while any organization goes through changes as they adapt to the fluctuations in the industry and society at large, those changes should focus on the betterment of the industry rather than the betterment of the said organization. And you, PPA, YOU have the power to make a real difference in the professional photographer community. It’s not about membership numbers or promoting those with no real business, or the guy or gal with the most purchased Facebook likes (don’t even get me started)

No, it’s about hardworking professional photographers with real businesses who feel like they just rode a banana boat into crazy town with all of this nonsense and are looking to you as that shining light on a hill to guide them the right way. To thoroughly vet and promote the right people. “To elevate and advance the art of photography; to protect and further the interests of those who make their living by it.”

Oh, dear PPA, we can do better.

In the words of Obi-Wan: HELP US, PPA. You’re our only hope.

Now excuse me, I need to show off my photography skills by photographing some Barbies and a crayon.

About the author: Missy Mwac is a photography satirist, a lover of bacon, a drinker of vodka, a lover of sparkle, and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can connect with her on her website, Tumblr, and Facebook. This article was also published here.