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In most industries, professionals are required to be certified in their field. A professional certification means that they have passed a comprehensive exam (or many exams) and proven that they are experts in their field. They most likely also need to earn continuing education credits to keep their certification/registration up-to-date. As an architect, I was required to pass 7 exams, ranging from 2-5 hours long each. The exams, in addition to multiple choice and fill-ins, also included graphic portions requiring the tester to show their knowledge of design, code requirements and other areas of the field. Every 2 years I am required to submit my continuing education credits in order to maintain my license (even though I am no longer practicing).

So why does the photography seem different? Every year it seems anyone with a new dLSR can have a fire ignited and decide to launch their own photography business. They print out some business cards and market themselves as a professional photographer. Before anyone gets mad at me for this, I’m not knocking any of these people, I was one of them!! We all start with a camera and a passion. Whether or not a photographer actually knows the basic elements of exposure, composition, or color – they still can call themselves a professional photographer. I do know that there are some very talented photographers who are not certified. However, hiring a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) means there is no guessing if your photographer knows what they are doing with their camera. If you are going to invest your time and money into having professional portraits done, you want to make sure that you are going to get professional results.

Although anyone can call themselves a photographer, very few can call themselves Certified Professional Photographers. I looked on the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) website and search for Photographers specializing in portraiture 20 miles from the city’s center. 160 photographers come up in my search (and that doesn’t include photographers that are not part of PPA). When I added “Certified Professional Photographer” to my search, only 13 showed up, that’s just 8%!

The certification process consists of 2 parts: first you must pass a 2 hour written exam, then you must pass a rigorous image submission of images. The exam covers the following concepts:

  • Camera, lenses, and attachments (15%) – selecting the appropriate lens based on subject size, distance, and desired perspective.
  • Composition and design (17%) – subject placement within image, props, location, posing, color harmony, coordination of subject and background.
  • Digital post production (13%) – color space, file formats, resolution, calibration, manipulation of digital images in Photoshop.
  • Exposure and meters (20%) – how to meter for correct exposure, the relationship between shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, and how to verify proper exposure (histograms).
  • Film, digital capture and output (15%) – selection of appropriate film based on lighting conditions and final product needed, identify and correct problems in both negative printing and digital image printing.
  • Lighting (20%) – to how best light a subject, types of lighting, lighting equipment, lighting ratios, lighting usage (main vs. fill), selection of appropriate filter to color correct a light source, inverse square law.

For the image submission, you are required to submit three mandatory images showing specific lighting patterns and selective focus. Then three more images showing rule of thirds, color harmony, high/low key, use of form and texture, and other elements.Above are the mandatory images I used for my submission: Broad light, short light and selective focus; and also the elective categories of form and texture, color harmony and masculine pose.

The remaining nine images must be paid client images shot in the past 24 months. Below are the client images that I submitted. So a huge thank you to all of these wonderful clients!!

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