Now you don’t even have to be a professional photographer to be a certified professional photographer

May 30, 2019

Missy Mwac

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Now you don’t even have to be a professional photographer to be a certified professional photographer

May 30, 2019

Missy Mwac

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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

Dear PPA,

A couple weeks ago, I asked to sit down with your top brass and discuss what is happening with our beloved PPA 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 days ago, I learned about the changes to the CPP 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 CPP’s 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.

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.

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, cause 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 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 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.

[photo credit:]

About the Author

Missy Mwac is a photographer/eater of bacon/drinker of vodka and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. You can follow her social media links here: FacebookTumblr. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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19 responses to “Now you don’t even have to be a professional photographer to be a certified professional photographer”

  1. Jeff Tunison Avatar
    Jeff Tunison

    ? What ? Is this for real ?

  2. Daniel Fernandez Avatar
    Daniel Fernandez

    Can’t say I’ve ever heard of that in the first place, and I know more than a few professional photographers.

  3. Peaches Avatar

    A photographers work should speak for its self, regardless of a framed sheet of paper hanging on an office wall.

    1. John Murray Avatar
      John Murray

      Well then you agree there is no standard for someone calling themself a ” professional”.
      “I am so therefore I am”.

  4. John Murray Avatar
    John Murray

    It’s a factual standard of photography today.
    I own a camera. Therefore I am a photographer. The quality of my product does not matter.
    Used to be, getting paid was the standard to be designated as a professional. Not anymore.

    1. Dave Avatar

      Camera is no longer required. A smartphone is enough.

      1. ShishkaBerry Avatar

        Sony puts sensors in Google Pixels that rival any entry level DSLR. Time to accept that a phone can take good pictures as well. Maybe look up camera2api, any phone with that has full functionality of a DSLR with third party apps. The only difference is changeable lenses and inflated egos.

        1. Dave Avatar

          And everyone of those phones with the super duper seniors is being held in portrait orientation shooting into the sun.

        2. Ayden Espinoza Avatar
          Ayden Espinoza

          FALSE, I tried to do a pro product shoot between my pixel 2 and sony a6300, and my client could Instantly tell the difference and demanded that I go back to using the Sony.

        3. Geo Marti Avatar
          Geo Marti

          So you’re saying a phone is just as capable in terms of shutter speed, ISO, fast focusing, tracking, memory, etc. ? It may have compatible image quality but there’s more ro image quality than merely pixels. Out of focus and blurry photos are hardly professional. Good luck trying to sell a wedding client or sports client a package or service saying you use your smart phone. If you’re capturing static images such as product or landscape etc. Then I can see that. But for event photography where there is constant motion good luck with that.

      2. Geo Marti Avatar
        Geo Marti


  5. Chris Avatar

    Actually, Princess Leia said that. The part that Obi-Wan said that still applies to this article: “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

    1. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar

      It was on the message Leia put on R2D2, which he delivered to Obi-Wan.

  6. David Alves Avatar
    David Alves

    If your getting paid to take photos your a professional photographer, like it or not. The free market decides how long you will be in business. I have been solely making my income from photography for over 7 years and never once has a client ever asked me if I had certification or went to school for it, no one cares, your portfolio speaks for itself.

  7. Javier Cardona Avatar
    Javier Cardona

    Well… by definition anyone can be a professional anything, but there’s good professionals and shitty ones, that’s the only thing that matters.

  8. Daniel Venter Avatar
    Daniel Venter

    They can have all the pieces of paper in the world stating they are professional but the photos will tell you the real story

  9. Ayomide Oluwaremilekun Oseni Avatar
    Ayomide Oluwaremilekun Oseni

    Since when does it ever matter to be ordained a professional photographer…

  10. A_n_S Avatar

    You do like to hear yourself talk, right?
    For starters, professional photographers come in a wide variety! Not everyone does “client” work. There are people who do fine art photography, and whereas they do sell that, they don’t specifically create it for a client. And then the are people who mostly teach, based on years of experience being a photographer. And then there are those who organize workshops and tours for others. None of these do client work! But you probably didn’t consider that, because in your mind, only wedding and product photographers count as “professional”. How about you stop talking and start thinking before posting? Radical concept, I know, but you could actually enjoy your pie more that way.

  11. CanonMinolta Avatar

    Also PPA offers a “Master’s in Photography” …. as if it’s a rea; masters degree
    Too bad the photographers think they need it
    And really to bad teir clients fall for ot
    Tjat said, PPA does make people jump thru a lot of hoops to get it
    This is no different