The Master of Wedding Photography Degree From PPA: Do Photographers Need Another Degree?

The Master of Wedding Photography Degree From PPA: Do Photographers Need Another Degree?

Professional Photographer’s of America (PPA) has been the foremost association campaigning for photographers for over 150 years, but is still growing with its membership even today. With over half of photographers in the non-profit association capturing weddings as part or the majority of their income, PPA has moved forward with creating a new degree that specifically evaluates and promotes wedding photographers. With the Master of Photography degree and Master Artist degree already part and parcel to the education options in the association, does qualifying photographers with a new set of rules make better artists or lessen the value of the other degrees?

PPA has two main degrees based around creating photography and artwork that members can earn through teaching, service, education, and photographic competition: the Master of Photography degree (M.Photog) and the Master Artist degree (M.Artist). Each degree is based upon how the image was created whether the intent and creation is done primarily in camera, as with the Master of Photography degree, or if the intent and creation was primarily in postproduction, as with the Master Artist degree, with the creator's control of every aspect of the image being judged as much as the image itself. The new Master of Wedding Photography degree takes into account that the intention of the creator may have been impeded with the constraints of creating such an image during a wedding. This is the conundrum that many photographers find themselves in when shooting such a singular event while attempting to create work that exceeds an exemplary standard to eventually attain one of the previous degree options.

The creation of the new degree has seen a number of voices rise from within the ranks of PPA that believe with over 16,000 of the near 32,000 members of the organization capturing weddings as part of their businesses that this new degree will be a positive development for the membership to attain. Rising in opposition to this new option is a segment from the same group of photographers which have voiced a negative opinion on this new degree as it may de-value the other creative degrees already promoted by PPA. Many would agree that creating an image primarily in camera versus creating an image in postproduction are validly different disciplines, but does this new degree based on wedding photography lower the significance of either degree because the value is creating within a specific circumstance?

With Imaging USA 2019 bringing together over 10,000 photographers this past week, and allowing for discussion between the board members and councilors, this new degree was voted on and passed and is now a part of the legacy of Professional Photographers of America. I believe there is value in such a designation for wedding photographers and wedding photography, but I have reservations for such a degree as it doesn't align well with the current degrees available. Is this an opening for a Master of Landscape Photography or a Master of Architectural Photography degree? Would a Master of Photography degree be overshadowed by the fracturing of disciplines if this new degree proves valuable? How do Master Photographers who’ve earned their degrees liken this new reality after spending at the very least two years to obtain a degree with most taking three to four years on average.

Is the bar lowered or raised with adding this new degree to the options of PPA members? 

What do you think about having a degree in photography whether from an accredited university or from a group like Professional Photographers of America? What value do they serve the artist and the clients? If you’re a Master Photographer with PPA, how do you feel about this new degree and does it affect your view on the work you did attaining your degree or the future value your degree may or may not have?

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Chad D's picture

if you quit paying PPA can you still say you have a degree in that ?

imagecolorado's picture

Sorry, but I'm not a big fan of PPA. It's always felt like something akin to vanity press to me. A vanity degree.

The best way to be a master wedding photographer is to photograph a lot of weddings without any complaints from the customers. Your portfolio will speak to the issue of "Master" or not.

Mike Robinson's picture

It's not a masters or a degree so it doesn't matter one way or the other.

Michael Steinbach's picture

I have taken several classes at Winnona when the school was based near Chicago. The atmosphere was fun and high energy. Staff was great and very supportive. Not everything was perfect though, a substitute teacher that shot sports as his main stay tried teaching industrial photography. Not good.

My biggest takeaway was the elitist status of the master photographers. Disappointing and annoying, left a bad taste.

John Martin's picture

For 19 years I was never a PPA member. It never affected my ability to earn a full time income from my wedding and portrait studio in So Cal.

imagecolorado's picture

Glad to see that I'm not the only one who doesn't find PPA to be of any significance to working photographers.

Jeff McCollough's picture

I don't find it useful at all either.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

To me, the value PPA has to working photographers is that provides a place for new people entering the market to learn about pricing for profitability, as opposed to competing in the race to the bottom.

There are people in the forum every single day asking questions that seem absurd to those with experience. But I'd rather they ask in PPA forums and get educated than go out doing jobs and giving away the world for $150 or even worse, "exposure."

There's a ton of resources in PPA for people to go from having no knowledge to becoming photography professional running a profitable business.

There's also the copyright advocacy/lobbying that PPA does on Capitol Hill.

And I think PPA members get legal representation of some form when a copyright infringement takes place. If somebody steals your image, having access to legal support that understands intellectual property as it pertains to photography is a legitimate resource.

PPA does a lot to support a healthy photography industry that we all benefit from, regardless of our individual business accomplishments.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I'm a PPA member. Photography degrees don't bother me because I'm not the one putting my time and money into them. Some people need the curriculum, guidance, and validation that acquiring such a degree entails. Doesn't bother me at all. To each his own.

I've never had or heard of a client who would care at all about such a degree or any form of photography certification. I can't even envision someone caring. I just don't see a scenario where the choice between photographers A, B, and C is determined or even influenced by who has a photography degree.

All people care about is your ability to solve their problem, which is as it should be.

I have large prints hanging on my clients' walls that generate word-of-mouth that's worth way more than any photography credentials I could hang on my wall.

Kirk Darling's picture

Actually, I've been in a situation in which my prime clientele were all people with letters after their names (academics and insurance industry executives), and they DID make note of whether their patrons also had letters after their names

Michael Comeau's picture

This article asks way too many questions...

Chris Silvis's picture

"Masters in photography" likened to a masters in underwater basket weaving. Both are worthless. Unless youre in PPA and want an arbitrary seat of authority.

Deleted Account's picture

Not one single time in all of my working life have I been asked what qualifications I have.
I haven'r been asked if I was 'award winning' either.
We have all these courses and certification over here too, and a professional association populated by old school professional photo shop owners who frown upon anything in the modern world, including the internet.

I guess it's the circles you work in that determines what people expect. I rather think that it's what you can do, rather than what you have done. After all, a degree course in photography and media studies that was followed 20 years ago has no creative bearing on the work you produce today.

Denni Russel's picture

As a photog prof, I hear what the other commentators are saying about clients' lack of interest in a shooter's degree status.

That said, I often tell students that the degree isn't really the point. The point is all the experience you get in a good program. Shooting with working pros who have useful insights... Time with equipment no starting photographer can afford... Working on a huge variety of genres... To say nothing about the comraderie and close connections with the other students, and the satisfaction of following through with a demanding program... These things all have value beyond the paper.

As for professional associations being peopled by older, less "adaptable" pros, there is a lot of truth to that perspective as well. Photography has its fare share of self important asshats.

But that's not the full story, either. There are many members who are willing to help young pros. There are often fantastic benefits, like insurance, and access to loaner gear, etc.

Some people don't need the structure of school, or degree programs like those mentioned in this article. Some get a heck of a lot out of them. You get what you put in, I suppose.

Unless you're trying to impress other shooters, a degree in itself isn't going to further your career or your status with clients. But it might help you become a better all around shooter. A Masters of Wedding Photography course might just help some people elevate their game. And since when is more intense experience a bad thing?

Dana Goldstein's picture

Any additional effort that a photographer makes to educate and stretch themselves as a professional is laudable. The “degree” is completely irrelevant. No one hires anyone on that basis.

Darren Loveland's picture

The "degree" concept seems like a big cash grab. With that being said, I have commercial insurance through PPA and I'm quite happy with the coverage and rates. The magazine they send out can be interesting, but I ignore all of the sales pitches and "degrees."

Chris Smith's picture

As a PPA Member, and a Degree holder with the Master of Photography degree (M.Photog.) and a Master Artist degree (M.Artist), as well as the unmentioned Craftsman Photographer (Cr. Photog.) degree awarded for service and teaching, I can speak to the topic and weigh in in some of the comments. The degree process is about the education. Obtaining the degree involves hours and hours of education, practice, technical, and creative ability, and more over, patience. I also have a traditional Masters Degree in Biology, and just like so many degrees, it isn't the letters behind your name that benefits you. I am not a master of biology in actual practice. But I learned how to learn, how to apply my skills, and how to teach others along the way. For any degree, It all boils down to what you put into the process and what you retain and grow from along the way. I don't disagree that photographing wedding after wedding after wedding is a great way to build a portfolio. But if along the way, you decide to risk entry into a print competition, just to see what your peers think, and moreover, to see what your peers are entering, you might learn something that benefits you and your clients in the end. I lean on my process and what I've learned 100% of the time when it comes to my photography degrees. I never lean on the letters that resulted from the process. That's not what its about. I was not in favor of the degree at first. But after thinking about what I could learn and how I could grow from earning it, I'm all in. I want to be in the first class of PPA Master Wedding Photographers. I don't need it. My clients don't care. But I know I'll be a better photographer having earned it. Not to mention the fact that you have to be a damn good shooter to earn the merits needed to land the degree. It isn't just pay to play and you're done. If you don't have the chops for it, you'll be humbled very quickly. I invite anyone who hasn't entered a PPA Print competition to do so. You'll learn so much about your craft and yourself when you do. As for the "old guard" at the PPA, there is some of that. But there are tons of 25-45 somethings like me who love photography and love the interaction among photographers who are all like minded in their strive to be better.

jared polin's picture

don''t waste your money on a subjective thing like a degree from PPA. That's a JOKE, it's like me saying, give me money and you can have a FroKnowsPhoto Masters Degree. I'm sure people would love that......

Jason Siebels's picture

So is WPPI no longer a thing? Because it seems to me wedding photographers would be better served there then at PPA. PPA has a very different....understanding....of what a good wedding photo looks like (Just look at the past years winners of the world photographic cup

The photos are all heavily photoshopped, stylized wedding shoots, not something that you'd realistically expect most photographers to capture during a wedding.

I can certainly understand wedding photographers being underappriciated in that judging enviroment. PPA has been promoting heavily photoshopped images for the last decade, even if they create a "Wedding" program that starts off more along the lines of what WPPI promotes, it's only going to be a matter of time until they once again gravitate towards the heavily produced, unrealistic wedding photography that's not representative of what most professional wedding photographers are going to put out.

Lewis Atkins's picture

It all depends on how you want to use this diploma. But it seems to me that this option is very narrow. I study at the university and understand that my diploma may not be useful to me, so I don’t spend so much time at school and use the service to do my tasks. I devote more time to work, as it is work experience that gives more opportunities for the future.

dejaol sone's picture

You'd be like Heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last, love has arrived

Deleted Account's picture

I think for photography there is no need for any degree it depends on his skills and creativity, but it sure helps to learn from professionals.

Especially when you expect to get paid as a professional, rather than an amateur. Photography has been democratized, nobody cares about endless tourist snaps. Read more here: