Professional Photographers of America has recently made some pretty heavy changes in the image submission portion of its certification process for its Certified Professional Photographer credential. But many are asking, are these changes for the better?
The Professional Photographers of America (referred to here as PPA) has a 150-years-long history of educating and protecting photographers. The non-profit boasts 30,000 members in 50+ countries, and membership comes with many perks, like discount programs, educational opportunities, and insurance coverages to protect against things like data loss and equipment problems. One of the main reasons many photographers join PPA is so that they can work toward and achieve accreditation as a Certified Professional Photographer, or CPP.
A History of Professionalism
The CPP certification process was initiated in 1977 to address the needs of photographers in order to set them apart as proven, studied, credentialed professionals. There are three main steps to the process: you must announce your candidacy, pass a rigorous, technically-leaning written exam (things like color theory and advanced lighting technique are covered), and submit images for critique. In recent years, the image submission part of the test consisted of the submission of a small, complex professional portfolio demonstrating techniques like short light, broad light, selective focus, and rule-of-thirds, among others. While there have been changes to this submission process over the years, most of the images submitted were supposed to be client images taken within months of the submission date.
Big Changes and Big Reactions
A major change was made this year in the CPP image submission guidelines, and it has the photography world abuzz. Starting in 2019, a candidate must purchase and photograph a Technical Image Evaluation Kit for the image submission portion of the test. This kit consists of a small wooden mannequin, a white foam ball, a black permanent marker, sheets of gray cardstock, and some crayons.
Upon first look at these items, one has to wonder what in the world they were thinking when they went from accepting images of real life clients, to images of these seemingly unrelated, random materials. But the thinking behind it isn’t completely off-point. According to information found on the PPA website, the new Technical Image Evaluation launched January 1, 2019. To quote a recent article by Julia Boyd, PPA Certification Director, from the June issue of Professional Photographer Magazine, “The catalyst for these recent changes is the American Society of Association Executives’ definition of credentialing: 'a process whereby individuals who meet an objective standard of competency receive recognition by designation and/or certificate.’” Simply put, in order to ensure objectivity, and remove the subjectivity of the old process, everyone must submit the same three images of the same subjects. This removes all emotional and artistic interpretation that might influence a judge’s decision making on a particular image. Now, a judge with a penchant for puppies won’t be inclined to give an image of a cute little Corgi a higher score just because of the subject matter. Now, an image of a child in the streets of a battle-worn city won’t pull at the heart-strings of a judge who just lost a nephew to war. Now, all things are equal.
But are they credible, reliable, and demonstrative of a photographer’s professional abilities? “I think the new way has its merits,” says my local PPA Liaison Ralph Duke, CPP, “but the old way showed the true ability of the photographer in his or her work.” Duke says that when he received his CPP credential, he had to submit many more images that had to be technically correct in many different aspects, and he wonders if this new process will reduce the exclusivity that comes from having the CPP certification. After all, only a small percentage of today’s professional photographers are actually certified by the PPA. Will this change in submission guidelines cause a surge in photographer certifications?
Professional Aspect Called to Question
And what about “professionalism” in the Certified Professional Photographer credential. This is the question being discussed on photography forums and social media groups across the internet. The backlash that has ensued has mainly consisted of the notion that anyone can do this. In the past, your submissions, at least in part, had to be professional client work from the recent past. No longer do you have to prove that you are a professional, professionally photographing subjects that you have been hired to photograph, in order to receive the title Certified Professional Photographer. No longer are potential candidates required to submit work that they have created for actual clients. One photographer, who goes by the pseudonym Missy MWAC, argues that removing the professional photo submissions for a “professional” credential just doesn’t make sense. “It’s like calling someone a professional tennis player who never played tennis professionally,” she says in a recent editorial for PetaPixel. And many agree with her. There has been so much buzz and backlash about the changes across the internet, that the PPA has chosen to offer explanation, such as in the aforementioned article by Julia Boyd, as well this recent article by PPA President Audrey Wancket.
Some Technical Merit Challenges Remain
It is a tricky situation. Having delved into the actual details of the guidelines for creating the three images that one needs to submit, I can see that it is not as simple as just setting up a wooden doll and snapping a photo. The guidelines for photographing these items are pretty specific, and you kind of have to know what you’re doing in order to follow them. The items chosen all have specific reasons behind their selection. For example, the white foam ball is textured, so as to show your ability to not blow out the details on a white object. All submissions are made in raw format, so there won’t be any chance to fix mistakes in post processing before submission.
You’ll have to get it all correct in the camera. It seems to me the very least of the knowledge you will need in order to shoot a natural light scenario is the ability to set a custom white balance. I’d be willing to bet that there are a huge amount of professional, income-producing, natural light photographers out there who will be hitting up Fstoppers to find out how to set a custom white balance when they get to the submission portion of this certification.
My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the guidelines might have been changed to include an actual person, rather than a 12” wood mannequin. I totally get and completely appreciate the need for objectivity in evaluating the images submitted for certification. However, I think it would have been beneficial to retain the demonstration of many different techniques, rather than rely on the written, multiple choice test to demonstrate this knowledge. As for the professional component that is lost, anyone can pass off images as client images. Why not require a submission of some form of tax statement, if the concern is truly one of whether or not the photographer is a charging, income-producing professional? Or how about references from real clients, along with images from their sessions? I do understand the need to retain objectivity along with professionalism when it comes to an accreditation of this sort. I just think there are several ways to do it, and I’m not sure that a little wooden man is the best tool for demonstration of the skills that make one worthy the title Certified Professional Photographer.
Have you begun your certification and image submission with these new image evaluation guidelines? Tell us about your experience in the comments.
Images used with permission of Professional Photographers of America