Taking Steps to Becoming a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP)

By Marianne Drenthe

Part I

You probably already know what the current state of affairs in professional photography is today. The pioneers of the most recent “natural light” revolution are coming to realize that we’ve made it look too easy, too effortless, too fun. If I look, it takes me less than a quick two minute Google search to discover one, 10 or 20 new local pro photographers I didn’t know existed just a few months ago.

That slew of new pros is a mixed bag filled with the good, bad and ugly. On their websites there’s a range of lackluster to good photos mixed with content “borrowed” from other photographers, all presented using relatively easy-to-build and cheap-to-obtain template sites. The result is that in any local area, the bulk of photographers look interchangeable with price being the differentiating factor. A relatively low cost of entry to the profession coupled with the delusion that it’s easy to be a professional photographer has resulted in an industry-wide “it’s easy” sort of mentality. Established pros know that business of photography is in fact, not easy. Balancing the effort behind being an artist, technician, business owner and marketing strategist to make a profit and stay afloat is a tightrope walk without a net.

So what is it that sets me apart from everyone else? Is it my client testimonials? Is it my look? Is it (insert any number of things here)? I know that I am more than the sum of my location, my style, my website, my ideas for posing and clothing choices. I know it’s none of those things; what sets me apart, in many ways, are a number of things that are not quantifiable. Logo, location, shooting style—all are fairly easy for others to imitate and not the key to elevating me and my business.

So how can you take it up a notch, to take your experience, education and knowledge and translate it into something tangible? How do I take those things that make me better and more qualified than the rest and turn them into something that a potential client can understand? The answer is much easier than I thought it would be.

I had an epiphany several months ago courtesy of a fortune cookie: GOOD LUCK IS THE RESULT OF GOOD PLANNING. This was my moment of clarity. Planning, truly taking the knowledge I’ve earned and coupling that with more knowledge—that is something that will truly set me apart from the fauxtographers, the weekend warriors, the AWACs (anyone with a camera). The answer is to get certified through the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) program.

Becoming a CPP is a daunting process and only 8 percent (yes, eight percent) of practicing pro photographers take the time to complete the process. The CPP program is run by the Professional Photographic Certification Commission and regulates who can call themselves certified. They are a regulatory body similar to a state licensing board (like the one I knew well when I was licensed as a registered nurse). I find it comforting that there is a regulatory board to oversee standards of the profession, comforting that something will allow my business to be different than the rest of the pack.

The process is threefold. There are established standards that are required for everyone who decides to take the certification exam to becoming a CPP:

• Declaration: This part is easy. You just go HERE to read up on what will be required, declare your candidacy for certification and pay for it. 
• Portfolio review submission:  You need 20 unique images from paying clients, taken within the past two years. It really shouldn’t be too difficult for an established pro.
• Exam: This may be the problematic part for me, but with some reading and some review I should be prepared in no time flat.

In the coming segments I will share my journey to becoming a CPP. I welcome the challenge and look forward to adding the CPP after my name. I hope that it helps give me the edge that I look for in distinguishing my work from the AWAC population. Wish me luck!


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Comments (6)


Interesting... but hard to take seriously when they have broken links on their website :-/ (the sample questions .pdf has the wrong url or it's not been uploaded).

Joan Sherwood:

Thanks for pointing that out, Rob. I notified the web admin and he said the structure hierarchy had gotten messed up. The link is fixed now.

Harry Joseph:

If you are just starting out like myself(I graduated in 2008 with an AAS degre in photography) it would be pretty difficult to submit 20 photos from paying customers. Is there another way ?

Dave Gast:

After all these years, getting a certification only because there is much more competition, doesn't really make you all that different than the competition, does it? I think certification has a valuable meaning, but doesn't necessarily mean those without it aren't worthy professional photographers either. Despite that sticker in your window, you still have to prove yourself to your clients and really, only to yourself.

Your statement that "GOOD LUCK IS THE RESULT OF GOOD PLANNING" is actually pretty similar to Joe Buissink's philosophy on success. When people tell Joe that he's so lucky, he tells them that it's not just luck that has contributed to his success. It's the fact that he intentionally puts himself in the path of luck so frequently that eventually that "lucky" moment hits. Sounds to me like the law of probability at work.

Harry, I thought I responded to this back a few months ago, apologies that it didn't go through. There is no way to do it, to my knowledge, without having 20 images from paying clients. I am currently finalizing the 2nd part of this series and in my research that is what I have found.


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