What the Heck is a Certified Professional Photographer?

I’m a member of the PPA and one of the programs they push is the Certified Professional Photographer program. Skeptical of its value as a business and marketing tool, I decided yesterday to pose the question to my followers on Twitter and Google+.

First, I Storified the results from Twitter:

Do You Know What a "Certified Professional Photographer" is?

Storified by Aaron Hockley · Mon, Jul 09 2012 14:54:02

@ahockley someone who paid some random company some $$ to say he was certifiedSean Wiese
@ahockley nope.Kailey Lampert ⚙
@ahockley That’s somebody that sets their camera to the "M" setting, right?Eric Berto
@ahockley This non-photographer has never heard of a "Certified Professional Photographer." I’ve never hired a photographer, though.Amy Farrell ☕
@ahockley Nope. It’s the kind of statement that, as a web dev, makes me raise my eyebrow, though.Dana O’Rourke
@ahockley Sounds like meaningless marketing speak.Jacob Helwig
@ahockley nope. and neither do our moms.Mortar
@ahockley Sounds like someone who took a two-hour course from Ritz and got a framed 8.5×11.Clifton
@ahockley a liar?J-P Voilleque
@ahockley someone who can take a test but has no real experience? #cynicalHolly
@ahockley somebody who passed an exam that granted that credential — whether necessary or worthwhile would have to do research on ;-)Brenda Clark
@ahockley no :(Grant Landram

And here’s a screenshot from Google+:

Google+ responses about a Certified Professional Photographer

Seems to me that (at least amongst my communities), nobody knows what a Certified Professional Photographer is… and even worse, many of those that don’t know are skeptical or have negative sentiment.

I realize that any sort of certification needs some ramp-up time, but this has been around for a while, and if potential clients don’t have any idea what it means it seems that it would be a stretch as a professional benefit.

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  1. says

    I think whether or not I value the certification depends entirely on who issues it. There’s a Professional Certified Marketer program offered by the American Marketing Association – I respect that. Most project manager certification courses are pretty standardized and respected, too. But my boss has a “Certified Corporate Executive” certificate in his office that a relative bought in a store and gave as a gag gift.

    If the credentials are backed up by actual standards and a reputable organization, they definitely add some weight to a portfolio. Assuming they’re legit, they would tell me things like “this photographer actually takes his own photos rather than stealing them from Flickr” and “this photographer knows what equipment to use and will take a handful of good shots of your event rather than snapping thousands quickly and praying that some are good enough to charge you for later.”

    I do value portfolios. But I also value professionals who are willing to jump through hoops to be backed up by an objective 3rd party.

  2. says

    I’ve often thought that second to forming your own bogus religion, creating a certification is just about one of the best rackets there is.

  3. says

    Disclaimer: I’m a non-photographer. That said, for me a photographer is one of those rare trades where your portfolio truly is your resume. I can see that someone has a PhD in photography but it doesn’t mean anything unless I like their photos. Granted, my eye may not be trained like other photographers’, but the fact remains that if I’m not a fan of the photographers style and actual work, chances are I’m going to look elsewhere.

  4. KC says

    From a CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) this is kind of biased isn’t it? Yes, I had to take an exam. A 2 hour exam that showed I could do more than turn on a camera and set it to A. I also had to submit 20 technically correct and artistic images (portraits in my case). It’s an all pass or all fail. No, “well this one is ok, but this one sucks.” If they all suck, they all fail. Which is more than just sticking someone in the sun and snapping away hoping for something worth submitting.
    But, I’m guessing you know this. For me, it’s was a goal. It doesn’t make me more money, but it does set me apart from my next door neighbor. For my higher end clients, it means my work doesn’t look like crap. My lower end clients could really care less and that is fine.
    With so many weekend warrior hobbyist out there selling 8×10’s for $5, something has to set the true business oriented photographers apart.

  5. says

    I think that being a CPP is important because it demonstrates that a photographer has the technical skills to produce professional results. It may not have any bearing on your creative skills or your level of talent but at least it sets a baseline.
    If you believe that becoming a CPP is just a matter of paying some money and buying a certificate you are a certified pessimist. The process is not easy. I know that if a photographer is certified, they take pride in being technically proficient and want to do the best for their clients.

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  7. Anna says

    I am a CPP, I learned a lot in the program I took to become certified. However, I do not tell people I have a CPP or anyother education I may have. I figure my portfolio will speak for itself if they were to ask my education then I have no problem showing them my certifications.

  8. Steven Pink says

    I just stumbled upon this article when a friend of mine mentioned the CPP certification to me… I’m a 16 year old college student and I use photography as a way to pay for school. I have no certification, but I have a great portfolio and my pricing is unbeatable. I have relatively good equipment and a relatively in depth knowledge of photography techniques, terms, etc. I looked at the flash cards and sample tests to become a CPP and it was all common information that every experienced photographer should know. I have trouble justifying spending $200 on a certification that most consumers have never heard of/don’t care about. Basically it tells me what I already know. If it were truly a certification meant to prove that you are a professional, they wouldn’t charge you $200 and let you continually pay for re-do’s on your image portfolio. I understand why some pros may want a CPP certification to justify their worth to high profile clients, but even then, who’s heard of a CPP certification?

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