I needed a challenge. | CPP via PPA

So a few years ago I was getting stale. Or maybe I had already gone flat entirely. I was definitely losing it. I can tell you that. I even considered packing this photography thing all up. I thought long and hard for months. What else could I do? What else would I like to do? Trader Joe’s seemed a good fit. People person, food lover…Nah. I’m too much of a control freak and I would start redesigning the entire store and moving stuff around. Open a little cafe or bakery maybe? Who am I kidding? I only get up before 7am if I am traveling or simply just can’t hold my pee one minute longer! I really couldn’t think of anything. Honestly. You know that inspirational video where the guys asks, “What if money were no object, what would you do?” I had nothing. It became funny to me actually. But then I realized, this is who and what I am, like it or not. What I always was and will always will be. So how do I help myself out?

I realized I needed to challenge myself.  So I decided to go for becoming a CPP. What’s A CPP? From PPA’s site:

“Established in 1977 by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) credential serves to identify professional photographers who have demonstrated technical competence through a written examination and photographic image submission.”

The term for me is a bit off. Certified Professional Photographer. It’s based on technical knowledge and execution. I feel there are entirely many more ingredients to being a professional. These technical requirements were never my strong suits. Technical knowledge. Yikes. You have two years to finish the CPP process once you declare yourself a candidate.

I’ve known about being certified for most of my career. I guess technically I already did it when I graduated NESOP. It would come up in conversations with other photographers. We felt we didn’t need it or want it. Our clients liked us just fine. We didn’t need to compete that way among other photographers, we were plenty busy. We didn’t feel the need to be judged by a panel to tell us work was up to par.

But this time it was different. It wasn’t for any of those reasons. It was the only way I could see if I was still in it. This was personal.

So on my own free will, I decided to STUDY. Me, a girl who I know my high school teachers just figured I would marry a nice Italian man that would take care of me. I would be just fine. Pass her out of this place that is academic hell for this girl until she goes to beauty school.  For WEEKS I studied! Todd had no idea what had happened to me. Every night for about a month I would disappear either into the studio or up in my bedroom for  2-4 hours. I made notes, had tabs, took online quizzes, color coded things, used lots of highlighter, underlined so many things and drew so many asterisks!

Test time came. You have two hours to take it. 100 questions on all things technical. Things like inverse square law and and dye sub printers. Somebody kill me now. I drove an hour south to a PPA affiliate event to take it. I arrived to a room with a bunch of people who just finished taking the all day  intense course for the test and then were now going to take the exam after a break. Here I come strolling in all smiley and ready and these people look all terrified and wiped out. I completely shocked myself (and I’m pretty sure a bunch of people in the room) when I finished and walked out in about 40 minutes. I double checked my answers. I knew what I knew. That’s all there was to it. You have to wait about 2-3 weeks for your results. Ugh. The email came. I PASSED! Wow. Just wow.

The next animal to wrestle was the Image Submission. 3 Mandatory Images to make sure you know some basic principles. 3 out of 9 Elective images to show you understand varying concepts and 9 Client Images to show that you are using and properly executing these principles in your commissioned work. There is an online group to help specifically for your portfolio images. You need to submit all 15 at the same time. I started putting them up for critique. I’ve had my work critiqued by the best of the best since I was 17. I was not new to this process. I’m OK with making myself vulnerable.

You know what I realized? Digital made me dumb. Digital made me lazy. I was so amazed once I realized at I had unintentionally abandoned and forgotten everything I fine tuned at NESOP 26 years ago. When you pay $2. for a TYPE 55 Polaroid and about $30. for 12 frames of medium format film, you know what happens? You slow the hell down. You tweak, adjust, perfect. Photoshop and the internet were not a thing yet. But time, patience and practice were. Which is not really a thing among the masses of photographers now. When I went digital in 2004, I was just in awe of the fact that I could instantly SEE the image I just took and not have to PAY for it beyond the cost of the camera, that I just let the rest go. I didn’t check for details in the shadows and highlights. My work slowly started to look like everyone around me. I think that was part of what made me lose it. I know there were other reasons why I was still getting booked and have repeat clients but really, I wanted it to be just as much about the imagery as well.

The online image submission group kicked my ass and raised me up in the best possible way. Like most online groups that have all sorts of characters, it was enlightening, aggravating, stupid, ridiculous, amazing and ever so helpful. I wanted to quit but there was no way I was going to let myself do that after passing the test. I know Todd would have been totally fine if I walked away from it all! I struggled. I was nasty and miserable. It was SO technical and detailed.

You have a checklist of over 10 requirements you need to hit before you even post and image for critique. Lens choice, composition, backgrounds, catch lights, lighting pattern, exposure, styling, posing…oh my…it was nuts. There were dozens I totally scrapped that didn’t even make it through the checklist. If I did have one, I then had to hold my breath to see what I overlooked beyond that.  After about 8 months of building this portfolio, last Spring, I was ready to submit. And then wait. Again. And then it came. That second and final email letting me know my images had passed! Phew!

Then a little while later I got this gold tube in the mail with all sorts of goods in it. My certificate, a pin, stickers, I don’t even know what else.  But it had my name on it. And this whole process, for how long it took  and how hard and frustrating it was, was exactly what I needed to get excited again.

I have been rekindled and my work has been pushed to a new level. Or maybe back into the standards I was at 26 years ago! I just recently learned it puts me in just 6% of about 25,000 PPA members that are certified.  But I would like to think I stand out from the crowd again. I rekindled my love with this craft. More importantly, I don’t have to get up before 7:00am to make croissants!

Here are some of my images that were included in my portfolio…

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