Requirement to be a photographer:
Own a camera.
Training? No. Education? No. Knowledge? No. Scary? Yes.
When I entered the world of professional photography it was because I was angry. I’d had a horrible experience, realized that I knew more and had better equipment than the person with a camera I’d paid, and wanted to save others from the same bad feelings. I thought I knew everything, but the longer I was in the profession the more I realized that I didn’t know, and I quickly began to see the professional photography industry as more than just me. In awe of truly great photography, I was at a crossroads. Either I had to set a higher bar for myself and my studio, or I had to quit. I decided to give it all I had.
I restructured my business and the way I interacted with clients. I threw myself into learning everything I could. Workshops, books, blogs, conventions, classes; I did them all. Finally, I was ready for the finale – certification. Naturally, because my knowledge had so vastly increased, I thought certification would be a piece of cake. I was so WRONG! Certification proved to be a new learning experience for me. I had to take everything I practice daily and learn the theory and the “why” and the science behind it. When I first opened the book, I knew it was going to be a long haul. I’m a great test taker, and I could have just crammed a bunch of facts into my head, but I truly wanted to learn. It is fascinating to me that I can look at a real world scene and make it appear in a completely different light with a “light box”. It took me over a year to think myself ready to sit for the 100 question exam.
During this time, I also had to submit 15 images representing my work, to be reviewed by a panel of judges. Culling through all of my images from the past 24 months, I chose the ones which had made parents laugh or cry. Images which had been ordered as large wall portraits for the home; images capturing emotions or moments that showed personalities. I submitted them. I failed. Devastated, tears streamed from my eyes. My very encouraging husband comforted, “You don’t need someone else to tell you what is good and what is not.” My 10-year old son incredulously exclaimed, “They just don’t know what good photography is!” Again, I was at a crossroads. My family was right – my clients loved my work and that’s what mattered. Maybe I didn’t really need to be certified. Potential clients could see that I knew what I was doing, so why did the opinion of some old dudes matter? Did I really need a stamp to tell me I was a professional?
That’s when it hit me. I didn’t need them to tell me I was a professional, but neither did the other 300 photographers operating in a 2 mile radius of my home and charging a fraction of my price list. What reassurance did my clients have that I was worth the extra money? I homeshool my kids and that’s no secret. I know that when I tell people I’m a professional photographer and that I homeschool, they struggle to believe it’s possible to do it all. Many (not you, of course) see me as just another mom with a fancy camera. I needed certification to set myself apart, to tell potential clients that not only am I worth my prices, but that I am also dedicated to my industry, my craft, and my education. So, I set back to work, culling through images. This time however, after a feedback session from a CPP judge, I looked for images that displayed technical excellence; perfect lighting, correct posing, color harmony, artistic composition – rules older than the invention of photography. I remember pulling the envelope with the Certification return address out of the mailbox. My heart started thumping, and I had to regulate my breathing as I slowly removed the one page letter. “The Profession Photographic Commission would like to extend our congratulations…”. Again, tears fell from my eyes. Only one more step.
I scheduled myself for the exam at ImagingUSA, the Professional Photographers of America’s annual conference. As insurance, I also enrolled in the CPP Prep class before the convention. Although I did learn a few new photographic terms in the class, it was very reassuring as I sat there to know that most of what the instructor was teaching was review for me. Before the class, I was pretty sure I’d pass the exam. After the class, and the OUTSTANDING study group I was blessed with, I was confident.
The big day arrived. I sat down with sweaty palms and waited for the proctor to read her instructions and say, “Go!”. The exam was more challenging than I’d expected, but after repackaging my test booklet and scan tron form and leaving the exam room, I felt that I’d passed. I smiled for probably the first time in days. Just about a week later, I received an email (I was in Disney World) that I’d passed the exam. Two days after that, my profile on the PPA website was updated, and my name now had a CPP after it. Years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance had paid off. I allowed myself to rejoice out loud for a few moments, and yes, I cried again. It’s what I do.