Certified Professional Photographer–should you be one?

If you belong to a professional organization, local or national, odds are you have heard about becoming a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) and it’s benefits. It’s a topic which comes up in photography forums and well know professionals like Sandy Puc are encouraging you to become a CPP. I want this post to be an open discussion about being a CPP or if you should be become one. I’ve asked several well-known professionals in this industry what they thought about of becoming a CPP and I’ll post those comments a little later. At the bottom of the page, please post your comments. I believe we can all benefit if we share our ideas/thoughts on this subject.

Certified Professional Photographer… what does that mean?

The following information is pulled straight from the CPP site.

What is Certification?

The certification of specialized skill-sets affirms a knowledge and experience base for practitioners in a particular field, their employers, and the public at large.  Certification represents a declaration of a particular individual’s professional competence.  In some professions certification is a requirement for employment or practice.  Doctors, mechanics, accountants, professional secretaries, surveyors and many others are all required to go through a certification process of some kind.

Why Be A Certified Photographer?

Studies show that certification is the most widely recognized consumer credential. Consumers may not know a lot about professional photography, but they know that certification should ensure professional-quality goods and services. Clients in every industry seek out credentialed professionals, as the public recognizes certification as a sign that one is an authority in the field. A Certified Photographer designation offers potential clients an assurance, not just of quality, but of technical skill and artistic expertise.

As the leading certifying agency for imaging professionals, the Professional Photographic Certification program is recognized throughout the industry.Those who have earned the Professional Photographic Certification have passed a comprehensive written exam measuring their technical expertise, and have successfully submitted their work to a panel of judges for review and approval.

How can Certification Help You?

Advertising Edge: Before you can show a consumer your portfolio or sell them on your services, you have to get them into your studio. With hundreds, sometimes thousands of photographers advertising in a market, this is not always an easy task. Advertising as a Certified Professional Photographer is one way to distinguish yourself from the masses. Certification gives clients a concrete business reason to put you on their short list.

Pricing Justification: The digital era has made it much easier for inexperienced part-time and fly-by-night photographers to throw their hat into the ring, undercutting professionals with rock bottom prices. Certification is an easy way to help consumers understand and appreciate your level of experience and talent.

Validation: Certification is granted by the Professional Photographic Certification Commission, an objective third-party who validates your expertise, and that speaks volumes to potential clients about your skill. When potential clients become aware that Certified Photographers must re-certify every five years, they understand that education, training, and the latest industry techniques and skills are important to you – and your images.

Credibility and respect in the workplace and the industry: Nearly 71 % of certified professionals say that credentials give them more prestige among their colleagues. Salary Survey: Monitoring Your Net Worth, CertMag, 2005

The Process

There are three components to CPP certification:

Declaration of Candidacy
Certification Exam
Image Submission Review

Declaration of Candidacy is your first step towards becoming a Certified Professional Photographer. Once you’ve declared your candidacy, you will have three years to successfully complete the two additional requirements: Image Submission Review and the Certification Exam.

The Certification Exam and Image Submission Review may be completed in any order — one may submit images for review before taking the written exam. If you do not complete all requirements during the three-year period, your candidacy will end. You must re-apply, pay the appropriate fee, and re-start the process.

All Certified Professional Photographers must adhere to the Standards of Conduct for Certification, as outlined below.

Standards of Conduct for Certification

As a Certified Professional Photographer, one agrees to:
Maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct
Actively model and encourage others to integrate professionalism and ethics in the practice of business and to encourage all people qualified to pursue the goal of Certification strive to continually advance my knowledge and achieve higher levels of excellence. Maintain the confidentiality of all privileged information, except when so doing becomes an ethical or legal breach of contract.
Maintain the integrity and proprietary nature of the Certification Examination and agree not to divulge the individual questions that are used on the Examination

My thoughts!

So now you know if you didn’t…how to go about becoming a CPP and the benefits of completing your certification.  I attended local AZPPA meetings last year and there was a huge push for everyone to become certified.  Initially I thought this was a path I should pursue.  I’m all about people wanting to improve themselves.  So, if you have your certification, wonderful. Please let us know at the bottom of the page what the CPP has done for you and your business.

I went out and purchased the book, started to study and then something about becoming certified in profession where it’s based on the imagery/art you produce didn’t sit well with me. I asked myself how this was going to improve my work, bring creditability to what I’m doing, and would it bring in additional clients?  I’m far from the greatest photographer… please don’t think for a second I don’t think or know I need to improve my work. It’s a constant battle to get better.

Let’s talk a little about the questions I had/have.

How was this going to improve my work? The book has some great info in it, nothing I’ve used during any of my shoots above and beyond what I know at the moment but, I’m not saying at some point I will not need to go back and reference the material. It pretty much covers the fundamentals of photography. I find I learn more from doing but having additional knowledge or resources to pull from is never a bad thing.  The $130 I paid for the book was a little hard to swallow.. but.. I was on the path.

Bring creditability to what I’m doing?
I really struggle with this statement about being a CPP.    I understand in many professions certificates and degrees bring credibility to the person who must have them to show competency in what they are doing. Would this certificate/course bring credibility to me and my business? I think this is where we are unique as a profession.  Potential clients can and do look at our work …they immediately like it or hate it. They don’t… from my experience go looking through my site/work to see what credentials I have. They see a consistent body of work with a style they may or may not like. I’ve yet to have a person ask me what credentials I have to be a photographer.  My work is my credibility. Or is it?

Additional clients?
I like the thought of this and who wouldn’t? Adding  CPP credentials certainly wouldn’t hurt would they?  It does show I took the time to read a book…take a test…submit my images to a panel of judges and I’m really making the extra effort to show I believe in what I’m doing as a professional photographer.  This would set me apart from my competition right?  I want to think this.. I do.. and I look forward to the comments to come.  Maybe you can convince me I do need to complete the CPP program/process.   However, my train of thought is people hit my site,  they really don’t care for a second if I’m a CPP, or a PPA member or if I have a BFA.  (again… if you have any of these or you belong to the PPA… awesome) Just speaking my mind.  I might be very naive about all of this? But, when they hit the site, the like what they see or they don’t.  I know I have a very long list of favorite photographers and not once have I ever thought… I wonder if they are certified photographers.

Should you? Shouldn’t you?
I can’t say to be honest.  What I do see is an industry with industry leading professionals trying to establish a baseline for this craft. Or, is it just another way to get a few more $’s from your fellow photographers?  As you have heard or may have even seen, there is a flood of photographers out there. Having a standard isn’t all that horrible, or is it? Will I be penalized for not being a part of the CPP group?  Will this help bring “credibility” to those individuals willing to put in the extra effort to become certified? You still have to stand on your work… the visual end of this business.   Hard to say…

Comments from a few top professionals

I asked what they thought about CPP and they were kind enough to  share a few thoughts…

Zack Arias – I’m not a fan of professional certification for photographers.  Certification is usually a list of stuff you’re tested on. Just because you can nail a 3:1 ratio doesn’t mean you can shoot.  Yeah. Not a fan of certification as a way of trying to be legitimate. Trying to certify “art” is a difficult thing. Certifying someone can do heart surgery or replace a transmission is an easier process.

Katrin Eismann – The advantage of CPP is that it also addresses the business side of photography which is just as important as your talent!

Andy from Lighten up and shoot –  I think it’s a bad idea. Nobody should be able to tell you that you are not a photographer. This has been tried many times and failed each time. Reality is you are a pro when you charge money for photography, no other reason! The CPP will eventually be like the BBB, you are in because you paid but it doesn’t mean your good!

Bruce Allen Hendricks MPA, F.Ph. CPP– I think getting certified my the PPCC is an excellent idea and can go a long way to separating you from the rest of the heard in today’s crowded photography market. I am a huge believer in professional photographic associations and pushing yourself to always improve your ability, skill and talent. I believe it should be every photographers goal to achieve their photographic masters, but attaining your CPP is a huge step in distinguishing yourself as a photographer who is not only talented, but also knowledgeable in your craft. Anyone can push a button, and can even get lucky now and then and come up with a decent photograph. However, stepping up and proving that you are skilled in both the technical and the artistic end of this industry and can constantly produce quality work is something that most of today’s new photographers are not capable of demonstrating. Therefore, when you have the recognition of achieving an international certification that stands for that and your competitors do not, you are instantly regarded higher than the competition. I recommend everyone continues on pushing themselves in striving to achieve their photographic masters degree from such organizations as PPA, PPOC, AIPP, etc. something that at best takes years to accomplish, and sometimes is never achieved in your entire career. However, the CPP certification is a standard that every photographer in business (in my opinion) should be forced to achieve. It demonstrated a minimum level of technical and artistic ability that assures the buying public that they will receive a decent product when they hire you. With so many people entering the market with little knowledge, skill and ability today, and dragging down the level of true professional photography, anything that you can do to separate yourself from them is a smart business move on your part. Getting Certified by the PPCC is a giant step in that direction. Stop thinking about it, make the commitment to challenge yourself to achieve it and go out and get it!


Your thoughts and comments.

Share with us what you think about this post and becoming a CPP.  Are you one now? Are you planning on becoming certified?  Let’s get the discussion rolling!

Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment.


About the Author
Frank Hatcher | Professional photographer based out of Phoenix Arizona.


  1. Shane says:

    In my opinion, being certified is not necessary to be successful in our line of work. First, it is always good to learn more about what we do. The day I say I have learned everything there is to learn is the day I need to hang it up. But there is a difference between theory and practice. I can read all the material that is required, but that doesn’t mean I can shoot. Submitting a photo for them to look at and say if I am good enough isn’t viable either. All because I have a great shot doesn’t mean that I am consistent. My being able to say that I am a CPP would be good I guess, but I don’t think anyone can put a tag on knowledge, skill and being personable. I am a photographer because that is what I do, I am professional because I handle myself in a professional manner, know how to talk to clients, and get paid for my services, and my certification comes from my clients, when they are happy with the products that I deliver, and who keep coming back to me because of that. No one can tell me that I am not any of these, and I would hope that anyone else would be secure enough in their work to say the same.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Shane. You hit on a lot of good points! As I mentioned, I think it’s great people want to improve their knowledge/craft. At the end of the day for me, it’s many of the things you mentioned. Professionalism and quality work. What worries to a degree is if the public in general starts to base their assumptions on having a certificate or not having one. Would the client choose the another photographer because they are not certified even if their work is stronger? I don’t think we are anywhere near that point… but.. with the major professional organizations and some top level professionals pushing certification. Where is all this going?

      Thanks again,

  2. Wendy M says:

    Just like in the post, I learned a lot from the study materials. Nice to review some things and learn more about certain topics, but I decided not to pursue the certification. To be really honest, I am so busy that I found it hard to run a business, be creative, take care of my family, do volunteer work, AND study for certification. Besides, in my little neck ‘o the woods, not too many people are impressed with initials after your name, unless you are a doctor or a dentist. The people that contact me for pictures do so because they like the images they have already seen. Yes, I can always improve and I look for learning opportunities in a variety of places and from a variety of different photographers. Are my images perfect? No, but the people who pay me to photograph them love their pictures, and I love creating them. Is there more than that?

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree… there is a lot to do when it comes to the business end of things let alone just things going on in our daily lives. I’m curious to see how all this plays out in the future. I’m just glad we are talking about…good, bad, or ugly. Thanks again!

  3. Michael123103 says:

    Professional photographer certifications have been with us a very long time, and they may have made some sense when the ability of potential clients to see a photographers work were not as transparent or as easy as it is today. Consumers then could be influenced by a certification designation on a photographer’s ad in the yellow pages or on printed collateral at least in terms of narrowing down who they would contact. Most professional clients never cared a thing about certifications as they had the transparency need to view the photographers work through various means (portfolios, tear sheets, etc) before making a hiring decision.

    Today, just as in years past, I believe that a certification means much more within the industry than with consumers/clients. Photographers are more impressed than the overwhelming majority of consumer/clients will ever be IMHO. Like most professions, photographers are not immune to the tendency to overvalue this type of resume line item. On the other end of the spectrum I think that there are many photographers new to the industry that will feel that this will buy them some credibility.

    Some points from the PPCC website that I disagree with (my thoughts are in parentheses):

    “Doctors, mechanics, accountants, professional secretaries, surveyors and many others are all required to go through a certification process of some kind.” (None of these professions has transparency of the final product as does photography, so in those areas it makes sense).

    “Studies show that certification is the most widely recognized consumer credential. Consumers may not know a lot about professional photography, but they know that certification should ensure professional-quality goods and services” (Consumers may not know how to produce photography that they like, but they certainly can recognize it when they see it).

    “Clients in every industry seek out credentialed professionals, as the public recognizes certification as a sign that one is an authority in the field. A Certified Photographer designation offers potential clients an assurance, not just of quality, but of technical skill and artistic expertise.” (no certification in the world can provide assurance of artistic expertise. By the way what is artistic expertise? I always believed that art was subjective).

    With the ability for photographers to get their work out in front of potential clients in so many ways these days, I am not certain that the time, effort and money spent on pursuing this would not be better spent on marketing, workshops and buying a copy of either the ASMP book or John Harrington’s latest.

    As a final thought, how much value is a certification that is equated to being about as difficult/easy as the driver’s license test (as stated in the promotion video at the top of the page)?

    1. Many thanks Michael for the comments. Lots of great points! Many of the points you touched on…I will say I agree with you. “Consumers may not know how to produce photography that they like, but they certainly can recognize it when they see it” Very true! And I do agree that art is completely subjective. Thanks again for the comments. Glad you enjoyed the post. Hatch

  4. merissa lambert says:

    Here is a thought: I already paid $35,000 and counting for a BA in photography.
    Thought that would lend some credibility? Like some of the people have said I don’t really feel comfortable with paying and getting tested on my skills to see if I am “professional” We do get tested everyday and returning and happy customers usually defines this for me. The business stuff makes sense but artistic skills…hmm. I looked over the sample questions for this certification and found them a little outdated…but maybe that’s because it was stuff I learned in my 1st photo class. Filter factors…I doubt many newer photographers have ever put a filter on a lens! Since I actually learned film I understand most of this stuff but a lot of it does not even cross my mind shooting digital. Also, lighting ratios are useful to know but as a mostly location photographer which I think is the fastest growing section of photographers, it just doesn’t apply really.
    I am all for continuing eduction and I know I have more to learn everyday but it seems like this certification will not really separate quality, talented, experienced and ethical photographers from those that are not.
    Just a thought. I am not expert. Just doing what I love and paying those loans back.

    1. Thank you very much for the great comments Merissa. I’m going to cross post this in a a forum I belong to. I really like your last statement. “I am all for continuing eduction and I know I have more to learn everyday but it seems like this certification will not really separate quality, talented, experienced and ethical photographers from those that are not.
      Just a thought. I am not expert. Just doing what I love and paying those loans back.”

      Thanks again and all the best in your ventures.

  5. Personally, I would not say it improves you, but if you are competent, it will show when you test for the CPP.

    Steve Tinetti, (the wedding forum moderator), took it and has encouraged me to take it to. We are just now starting to put together a local site for those of us who participated in this CPP program.

    Here: http://www.professionalweddingphotographersdenver.com

    If you cannot make it work for you, don’t do it. If you can… go for it. 🙂

  6. Jaime Rowe says:

    I do agree with Wendy that studying for the CPP Exam while running a business, volunteering, and taking care of your family is a lot to handle. I decided to take the exam in March of this year because it was a nice “downtime” in my business. I studied Jan-March to prepare for the exam. I found that after I made a plan to study for the exam (3 chapters a week) that I “made” time to study. You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. I do not have a degree in photography and I wanted to become a better photographer for myself and my clients. I knew that if I planned to take the exam and signed up for a date, then it would push me to study and learn more about my craft.

    “Be a
    good craftsman, it won’t stop you being a genius.” Renoir
    Good Luck to everyone studying for the CPP Exam! Cheers!

  7. TheresaFrench says:

    To be certified or not? That is the question!

    I’ve been a professional photographer for more than 18 years… in and out of “business” but never far from the heart of photography…the creative soul which resides within any one person. A question was asked of me about 3 years into my photography career that I have never forgotten and still to this day is the test by which I keep myself accountable every time the subject of “becoming certified” comes up. “There are Gold merits and then there are Green merits when it comes to photography. Which do you want more of?” Gold merits are acquired when you have been certified and can wear the coveted gold CPP pin on your lapel at the conventions you attend. Achieved through a process of intense learning, critique and technical training that is nothing to sneeze at–and most definitely worth the trip if you’re dedicated to improving skill and being the best technical photographer you can possibly be. On the other hand…

    Green merits are the dollars your clients pay you to provide them with photography that has touched their hearts. It’s the ultimate “thank you note” given to you by happy clients. These green merits are what have paid my bills, allowed me MORE training and motivated me far beyond where I thought I’d ever be.

    I’m going to go one step further–perhaps a little “out there” for some, but here it is anyway! “Tear merits”– I am talking about the moments that can only be achieved through a real heart connection with your subject. Knowing them and having the ability to truly translate their emotions into tangible images they can relate to and recall from. When you’ve captured THAT moment “on film”- and you’ve managed to capture your clients heart… THAT is when magic happens and THAT is what distinguishes every photographer from another. THAT is when their “wallet” opens wide and says “awwww.” This is my credibility and I only need one of those at a time… this kind of certification can never be worn at a convention and rarely is it discussed in open forums- and it doesn’t matter (to me). It resides in my heart- the satisfaction of the art I’ve created for my client. It’s why I do what I do and it’s why I spend money to study, network, learn and push myself to always be better.

    Will I ever “get certified?” I’ll let you answer that for yourself.

  8. ksvany says:

    Just came across this and thought it was interesting. I am currently studying for my CPP and I am very excited about it. I have BS in photography/film I have been working as a professional photographer for 20 years and, within the last 5 years have joined several Photo Associations. The workshops I’ve attended in these 5 years have taught me more than I ever learned in college. I never learned 3:1 ratios in college and was embarrassed about that. It may not always be necessary to use it, but it’s great to know how to do it if/when I want to – not to mention “why” I would want to use it. 3:1 ratios can often be achieved in location photography and can help to create dynamic images. The more I know, the more tools I have to use when I am creating images for myself and my clients. My clients often have tears of joy when they see their images, they love the emotions I capture, so I see no reason why I wouldn’t want to learn and apply everything I can to make those experiences better. Do I (or anyone else) NEED to be a CPP? Absolutely not. I’m not doing it for someone else’s approval/validation. I am doing it for myself as another step in my creative and technical education. I have always aspired to become a Master Photographer and knowing these things will help me to create beautiful, creative and technically wonderful images. It is one of many ways to challenge myself and my craft. I think the CPP is a very personal decision that can often lead to better business results if one so desires to use it for that purpose. I am very proud to be doing this and I wish luck to anyone else who is planning on pursuing this new challenge.