Certified Professional Photographer (CPP)

Why work so hard to be a CPP?

As of September 2012, I can now refer to myself as Erin Cole Berkey, CPP (Certified Professional Photographer)!  But why is this such a big deal, you ask?  Aside from what it took to achieve this distinction, I can now say ...

I am one of only five CPPs in the Brazos Valley, one of only 190 in all of Texas and one of less than 3,000 worldwide, out of tens of thousands of photographers!  

So let me explain what it means to be a CPP, what I had to do to achieve this rare distinction and how this can benefit my portrait and event clients.

First of all, I have wanted to achieve this professional certification for at least 16 years.  When I was a junior at Texas A&M University back in 1996, I knew I wanted to become a professional portrait and wedding photographer and wanted professional education beyond what was offered at Texas A&M.  As a journalism major, I took every photography class there was at A&M (even one in the Architecture department!) and enjoyed developing and printing my own photographs in a real darkroom for class and as a staff photographer for the Texas A&M Aggieland Yearbook.  To further my professional education, I became a member of the Professional Photographers Guild of Houston, the Texas Professional Photographers Association and the national Professional Photographers of America.  Through those organizations and their events, I began to interact with true professional photographers who were not only incredibly talented but had also worked to achieve rare industry-wide distinctions.  One of those is earning the designation as a CPP by meeting rigorous requirements measuring artistic and technical expertise.  Another is becoming a Master Photographer within the Professional Photographers of America, which is now going to be next on my list of professional achievements to strive for!

I began looking more into CPP a few years ago and learned a little about what would be required of me to earn this distinction.  Certified Professional Photographer certifications are determined by the Professional Photographic Certification Commission, which is a part of the nationally recognized  The Institute for Credentialing Excellence.

I quickly determined it was going to be no easy task, but one worth all the work required if I should pass.  One of the reasons I wanted to be professionally certified was to set myself apart from the many photographers in our oversaturated market—it seems there are new “professional photographers” popping up all the time.  It’s no surprise that the advent of the digital age of photography has spurred tremendous growth in new photographers competing with professional photographers for clients.  In fact, digital SLR cameras are so good these days that just about anyone could buy a professional SLR, put it on Auto, and get decent results some of the time.  So how could I set myself apart and show my loyal clients and potential new ones that I have not only invested heavily in professional equipment and education but most importantly, have the artistic and technical expertise required to deliver amazing products to them no matter the possible lighting and/or location challenges?  To me, achieving my CPP was the first step!

The Professional Photographers of America (PPA), of which I am a member, says, “Studies show that certification is the most widely recognized consumer credential. Consumers may not know a lot about professional photography, but they know that certification should ensure professional-quality goods and services. Clients in every industry seek out credentialed professionals, as the public recognizes certification as a sign that one is an authority in the field. A Certified Professional Photographer designation offers potential clients an assurance, not just of quality, but of technical skill and artistic expertise.”  

Much like you want a CPA and to do your accounting and a board-certified doctor to take care of you when you are sick, people who desire amazing photographs with professional results can rest assured a CPP can deliver!

There are three requirements for becoming a CPP.  The first was declaring my candidacy, the second was taking a written exam and the third was submitting an image portfolio to a national panel of CPP judges for review.  The comprehensive written exam covered the technical aspects of photography, including subjects such as exposure, meters, composition, lighting, film and digital post-production. I took my written test at the Texas School of Professional Photography in May of 2012.  I studied for it for months and it was strange to study so hard again … it’s been a while since I was in college!  It was nice to study a subject I care so much about though (I’m glad it wasn’t Organic Chemistry!), and I felt like even if I didn’t pass, all that studying of the technical side of photography would still have many benefits in making me a better photographer.  I found out a few weeks later that I passed the exam – woo hoo!  Now if you ever want to know about lighting ratios and patterns, compositional rules or how to calculate reciprocal relationships for your exposure, I’m your girl!

The second requirement was the image submission, in which I had to submit 15 images of my work to be reviewed and approved by a panel of national CPP judges. The images had to be representative of my style of photography and the work that I produce for my clients. Each image had to have a different subject matter, and six of them were compulsory images in which I had to demonstrate I can produce various technical skills such as short lighting, broad lighting, selective focus with minimal depth of field, and either a high key image, a low key image, rule of thirds composition, color harmony and more.  Some of them had to be recent client work and some I could set up to demonstrate the compulsory skills.  The hardest part of the image submission was choosing which images to submit!  I knew the judges were looking for my images to be the practical application of the knowledge used to pass the written exam and proof that I can produce images worthy of my client’s expectations when hiring a certified professional photographer.  I stressed for days about which ones to use!  There are only a few opportunities a year to submit images for judging and I was planning on submitting in June but because of a really silly error on my part, I missed the deadline.  However, I believe God is always in control, even when our minds are momentarily devoid of common sense like mine was, so I planned on trying to submit again in mid-August.  That time I successfully submitted my images and then had to wait THREE long weeks to find out if they passed, finally making me a CPP! 

And they did!  WOO HOO!  The first way candidates find out if they passed is on the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) web site.  I had joined a Facebook group for photographers trying to pass their CPP and on the morning of September 13, 2012, some others who had submitted in August began to post that they had found their name under the “Find a Photographer” section of www.ppa.com where you can do a search for Certified Photographers.  I looked and there was no nice pretty red logo saying “Certified Professional Photographer” by my name.  I was a bit discouraged and thought, “Now I’m going to have to work so hard all over again, shoot a bunch of new images and wait longer to kick off my new business marketing plan, web site, blog, print materials, etc. because I didn’t pass!”  But there was a glimmer of hope that perhaps the people over at the PPA interwebs just had not gotten to me yet.  I went to a meeting and when I came back and checked again, there it was, Erin Cole, CPP!  I wanted to shout it from the rooftops immediately!  Go ahead and do a search for me on www.ppa.com and see for yourself!  It’s really there!  Then I remembered in a few days, I would be receiving my real certificate in the mail and would wait to announce my accomplishment until then.  And here it is, in all its glory, yes, already framed for my Treasure Photography office …

Another important aspect of my professional certification is recertification.  To maintain my CPP designation, I must recertify every five years. Why? PPA says, “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 recertification comes into play.  Once certification is obtained, it is not the end.  Certified Professional Photographers have to continue to educate themselves and share their knowledge with others—continuing the growth and preserving the knowledge.”  By recertifying, I show the industry and my clients that I am continuing to perfect my craft.  I’m always looking for ways to expand my knowledge by continuing to take classes and gaining knowledge through various professional opportunities. 

Finally, certification indicates to my clients that I have aspired to a higher level.  It tells them I have learned all I can to successfully handle most of the common photographic projects put before me. 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. 

Here are the rest of the images I submitted …

Also, I must say thanks to some amazing photographers who have helped me in various ways throughout this process, either by letting me follow them around at a wedding when I was learning years ago, teaching a professional class or being a wonderful professional resource.  I couldn't have achieved this without their advice and assistance: Carol Andrews Jensen, Carl Caylor, Bob Lloyd, Alvin Gee and Darrin Hill just to name a few.

If you are still reading, thank you for sticking it out, and if you are looking for a photographer for your next portrait or event need, I hope I have successfully convinced you to let me capture your memories!