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Taking the Second Step to Becoming Certified

By Marianne Drenthe

In Part I of this series I touched upon my rationale for taking the steps towards becoming a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP). In the comments section was a statement that hit home:

“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.”

The reasons for getting certified extend far beyond being above the competition. While you really do have only yourself and your client to answer to, getting certified is simply a goal that you have to set for yourself. While I may think my work is solid, and I have a great base of repeat (as well as new) clients, I still have goals: certification is just one of them.

The added benefit of getting certified is that I will be able to market that added benefit to potential clients. With the influx of new, often technically lacking photographers coming in, becoming certified is having a stamp of approval from a professional commission. Really it’s not much different than other professions. There are board-certified heart surgeons, board-certified pediatric oncologists—though of course I’m not professing that photography is akin to performing brain surgery. Because we’re involved in an industry that doesn’t have licensing or schooling requirements, we do not have that built-in stature that schooling and licensure give.

The question boils down to: As a photographer, how do you show your clients verification of your own excellence? There are many ways, and getting CPP certified is just one of them. Good work is another. Both together? Double whammy.


A selection of Marianne Drenthe’s image submissions for CPP certification. ©Marianne Drenthe 

I mentioned a quote from my fortune cookie in part one: GOOD LUCK IS THE RESULT OF GOOD PLANNING. The second part of my CPP application is where some of that good planning comes in to play.

After declaring my candidacy, I decided to do the portfolio review submission first. For this stage, I was required to submit 20 unique images from paying clients. While finding 20 images isn’t that difficult for most working pros, culling images that define your work, define who you are as a photographer, is. It was tough.

When I chose my submissions I looked for variety—not just a variety of subjects and environments, but also a variety of lighting conditions. I avoided including too many images that looked the same in terms of lighting. The pre-requisite of having to choose 20 images of 20 different subjects made this easy. The other requirement was that the images submitted needed to reflect the specialty of photography that you most often practice. I am a maternity, baby, child and family photographer, and all images I submitted reflected this. Also these images needed to have been taken within the past two years—no problem for this working pro.

As of June 24, 2011, new standards for CPP image submissions apply. There is now a requirement for photographers to complete a compulsory section of six images showing skills that all pro photographers, no matter what specialty they are practicing, should know. The other change is that these six images do not have to be paying client images; they can be self-assignments to demonstrate the techniques required. These standards apply to both CPP candidates and re-certifying CPPs. These requirements are taken from the Professional Photographic Certification Commission’s e-mail outlining these changes:

Image 1: Short lighting 3:1 ratio
This image will demonstrate proper lens selection and perspective with short lighting and a medium 3:1 lighting ratio.

Image 2: Broad lighting 3:1 ratio

This image will demonstrate proper lens selection and perspective with a broad lighting setup and a medium 3:1 lighting ratio.

Image 3: Selective focus with minimal depth of field

This image will demonstrate how the viewer’s attention is impacted by selective focus. 

Elective Images 4, 5, and 6: (Choose 3 from the following)

High Key Image
This image will demonstrate the proper technique in lighting a subject for a high key.

Low Key Image
This image will demonstrate the proper technique in lighting a subject for a low key.

Rule of Thirds
This image will demonstrate subject placement and organization.

Use of Shape, Form and Texture

This image will demonstrate these basic elements of art.

Balance (symmetrical or asymmetrical)
This image will demonstrate the principles of balance achieved through subject size, placement, weight or color.

Color Harmony
This image will demonstrate the harmonious relationship of colors.

"S" Curve Line

This image will demonstrate an "S" curve or feminine posing.

Assertive, Angular or Masculine Line

This image will demonstrate an assertive, angular, or masculine pose.

This image will demonstrate the commercial application of architectural photography. (Cannot be chosen for the portrait category.)

These first six images are compulsory, and the remaining 14 images will come from client work in the past two years (as before). Here are some tips for choosing good submissions:

• Be your strongest critic, and don’t submit an image just because you need filler.
• Remember that just because an image is cute or fun does not make it submission-worthy.
• Be able to show that you understand the difference between a snapshot and a professional quality image.
• Be sure your subject and the essential elements of your subject are in focus.
• Unusual camera angles should be used sparingly, and only when they add to the composition and strengthen the impact an image has on the viewer
• Your depth of field (DOF) must be appropriate for the subject matter.
• Carefully consider the direction of light. Modeling (shaping the subject with light) is a vital element in professional images.
• Flat light, while not always wrong, should be used wisely and be appropriate to your subject.
• Be critical of the tones, contrast, exposure and color balance of your images.
• Don’t blow your highlights. The hallmark of a professional photographer is that they know this rule and know when to break it. Blown out white detail on a brides’ dress is not OK (especially when submitting images for certification as a pro).
• Be critical of final tonal values: high contrast may be in, but too much of a good thing is usually not a good thing.
• Posing and posed are not dirty words. Good posing is a powerful element of a strong professional image. The subject’s position and relationship to the camera is expressive, don’t leave this to chance.
• Expression, in photography, does not mean a "say cheese” smile
• Composition is important, and its history in art tradition is centuries old. Use the rules of good composition. Once again, a true professional not only understands the rules but knows when to break them.

If you plan on going forward to getting certified there are some excellent tips here at the Professional Photographic Certification Commission CPP Resources page. 

My image submissions have passed. Part III of this series will cover the testing portion of CPP certification.



A selection of Marianne Drenthe’s image submissions for CPP certification. ©Marianne Drenthe