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How do you know you’re pro?

This post is going to be far more blunt, I’m warning you because I want you to put your thick skin on. I want you to realize that I’m not writing this post directly to you, personally but to a mass and if in reading it, you get the feeling it’s directed toward you… Well then take courage in knowing that you recognize there is room for growth. And there is always room for growth.
Let me explain where this post comes from. I have always struggled with calling myself a PROFESSIONAL photographer. After all who says I’m “pro”? Me? And who the heck do I think I am to claim that? So because I love photography, because I operate a business, because I work at it all the time and have put great effort into learning my craft, I say I’m a photographer, and a professional one at that. And although withoutquestion those are very real and very good reasons there has always been something plaguing me about the fact that I’m the only one who says so. If you don’t see and hear the tree fall, did it really fall?
I would never let someone cut my hair who hadn’t been properly trained. I would never let someone bring a drill to my teeth who hadn’t studied thoroughly how to do so.  I would never affirmatively trust that my books were properly done and safe from penalty in the event of an audit if I didn’t pay an accountant who had the training and certification to do so. And I certainly would not send my children to be educated by someone who was not certified to educate. Never, never-ever would I take a chance at any of these things. And yet hundreds and thousands of us picked up a camera, were told by a few people that we were good and so called ourselves photographers. Now please, please do not mistake what I am saying.
There are so many incredible photographers with no paper credentials who I respect, admire and learn from. But, and this is a big but – there are thousands more who have not honed their skills, who could not go into any environment or situation and know with confidence that they will be able to deliver what a client wants or needs and furthermore have not strived to learn the diverse aspects of our industry and yet they are calling themselves professional. Is this right? Would you be okay if people who had a love for medicine but not the training started writing you prescriptions? Would you be okay if the man who you just gave hundreds and hundreds of dollars to fix your car had heard about transmissions but never been taught properly how to work with one? Why then have so many photographers decided that it’s okay to claim a professional status when they are not even confident enough to use their camera on Manuel? I want to take a minute to tell you, that if I’m keeping it real – I started as one of those photographers. I shot in AV and sometimes even Auto mode because I was not confident in Manuel. Now granted, I did make it clear I was portfolio building but should I have even claimed that much when I wasn’t even qualified to use my camera fully as it was intended? I don’t know? I chose my path, I jumped head first and I never looked back but I also see that maybe looking back could have made the path far less scary and far more gratifying.
I love photography and I also love this industry. I have deep respect for those who paved the way that I now get to skip down and a sense of gratitude toward them for what they accomplished. It’s through their accomplishments that we have had the doors opened so widely to us. It’s with this admiration that I feel so strongly about building my industry, not hindering it. I want to improve on the ground work that’s been laid not tear up the efforts of those who labored before me. When we do not properly understand our craft, when we charge far less then industry standards, when we operate in a non-professional manner, it’s not just ourselves we hurt.  The industry as a whole feels the effects.
The great news is that there is a fantastic answer and resource for all of us. We can become CERTIFIED PHOTOGRAPHERS and with that never again have to cringe that little bit when someone asks about our training, all the while wondering silently if we truly are legit. The Professional Photographic Certification Commission can make sure to properly link this! (with hard work on yours and my part) declare us certified professional photographers! While in Portland, Sam Puc asked for a show of hands to know how many people in the room were certified. I had never heard of this before and thought I would be one of the few who wasn’t. To mine and apparently Sam’s surprise as well,  only one – maybe 2 people raised their hands. It sparked the idea and so I wrote “certify!!!” in the top margin of my notes. I was excited for the prospect!
You see, my husband has been going to school for the last 7 years. I have helped and watched as we get him closer and closer to those letters that will soon be behind (and in front) of his name. I will admit that I’ve felt left out, he is working at an education that when finished proves to the world what he is, while I work just as hard, study as hard and push myself as hard but have no one to back my claim that I too am legit in my field and passion. Except of course my family and friends, but really- how comforting is that? Think of all those people who have gone onto American Idol and none of their friends and family thought it was a good idea to step in and admit that they were terrible. What if that was all it was? That fear had always plagued me. But soon I will have CPP next to my name and in my own little head it’s just as exciting as the “Dr.” that will be in front of his. I will be the real deal because the real deal said so!
So how’s it done?
First your declare your candidacy with The Professional Photographic Certification Commission. Along with that declaration there is a $100 fee and you have 3 years to complete the 2 steps to certification. The written exam, which is a 100 question test as well as the image submission portion, where you submit 20 of your very best images from 20 of your sessions.
Now it’s time to study! But oh wow is there an AWESOME opportunity to help all of us! Turns out that Sam Puc was shocked to see so few of hands as well. She is a huge advocate for constant education and maintaining high standards for our industry, it’s with this mindset that she has created a website, ‘Certify with Sam’ and dedicated it to help photographers get certified and improve our industry… And she has promised to maintain this website until 1000 photographers are certified.
With the Certify with Sam website available as a recourse I really don’t think there is a better time to take the initiative. I am so excited for it!
For me it is without question more personal then anything else. I want to know not think that I AM a professional photographer!
Look into it, explore the PPC website and the Certify with Sam website, ask questions here… Tell us what you need to learn and we’ll just try to write posts to help and share resources that we know of as well.  If you are one of the thousands who is lacking the confidence to truly feel empowered to say, ‘I am a professional’ then take this step with me!
I am so excited to study and learn, it can only make me better and that, my friends, is what it’s all about! I really hope you’ll do it with Noelle and I.
Helpful Tips & Links  if you are going to declare intent:
A suggested (mind you it’s suggested – questions are not pulled from this text) book is Photography by Barbara London (9th or 10th Editions). I ordered to help me study and use as a long term reference guide.
iPhone Peeps – there is a FREE app for flashcards to help you study. Download the app ‘Touchcards’ and enter the code: 2059436 No iPhone? Go to and enter the same code.
What if I’m not in the US? To all my international readers… Yes, you can get certified as well. It may be trickier to find a testing center but it can be done!
How hard is the test? That depends on how much you know already. You have 2 hours to answer 100 questions, you need a 70%, which means you can miss 30 questions and still pass. The questions derive from 6 categories, they are 1) Camera, Lenses & Attachments 2) Composition & Design 3) Digital Post Production 4) Exposure & Meters 5) Film, Digital Capture & Output 6) Lighting
What do I need for the image submission? You will need to submit 20 images from 20 different assignments that were shot within the last 24 months. You can not submit 2 images of the same subject. For example, if you shot baby Jane as a newborn and again at 6 months, you would choose your favorite image from all of your sessions with her. You are submitting your very images that will give a reflection of your work and the type of photographer that YOU are, may that be newborn, wedding, family, landscape or culinary. You are also showing your knowledge on composition, lighting, etc.
Thanks to Sam Puc and creating awareness about certification, study groups are going to be popping up all over the country. I just got an email to join one in Portland. Because of this, I don’t think there could be a better time to make the commitment!


  1. Hi, just wanted to say this was very good info. There is some top content on your blog posting-thanks!

  2. Marinda says:

    How often do you need to re-certify?

you said:

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