Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Finally: John Huegel, CPP

Yesterday I received in the mail my certification notification. I'm officially recognized as a Certified Professional Photographer. It took me years to reach this level, and I'm very proud to be in the company of great photographers like my friends Dana Nordlund and Stephanie Cunningham.

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 should a photographer become certified? Again, to quote the organization: 
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.
 Why did I want CPP certification? For several reasons:
- I wanted to prove to myself that I had the skills and knowledge to complete with other true professionals
- I wanted to show my clients (past and future) that I can work for and achieve peer recognition
- I wanted to separate myself from the many "faux-tographers" that appear on Facebook and "shoot" clients for minimum wage
- I wanted to demonstrate that a part-time photographer can become certified and be as legitimate as full time photographers
- I wanted to keep dignity and legitimacy in our industry, and stay connected to the principles of PPA

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not elitist. I very actively encourage new photographers to enter the business. I hold classes, publish books, mentor individuals and support new and established photographers of all kinds. But I tell each of them that they need to know their limitations - their lack of knowledge and skills, and build them so that they become true photographers, not day-workers with a camera.

The certification program consists of an exam, which I took last summer, and the submission of an image portfolio to be evaluated by many certified judges. 

My study process for the exam consisted of me reading my ancient "Photography" text and taking notes on the subjects I didn't know well. Then on the 48days.net Photography forum, Jaime Rowe announced she was writing a book on CPP exam practice. I helped her proofread it, and that really helped my learning. By the way, her CPP practice book is available at certifiedphotographer.net. It was mentioned in a previous post.

The other element of my learning that helped my test readiness was my teaching. I offer several classes each year, and in the process of being asked questions by the students, I have to really think about light, exposure and other aspects of photography, and provide a useful and correct answer to the student. When you teach, you learn.

The test was proctored up in nearby Frewsburg, New York by Dana Nordlund, who was nice enough to sponsor a test site so that I and a few others could sit for the test. Otherwise, I would have had to drive 5 or 6 hours. I did very well on the test, missing less than 10 of the 100 questions. Believe me, they are harder than you can imagine.

On the image review, my first folio was rejected, and I had a couple of moments of anger and frustration. Why didn't they like my images? But I sat through a very humbling and valuable review by a great fellow who described specifically what my images needed to be considered acceptable. I listened. I took notes. And I incorporated each and every comment in my photography over the next year. 

And do you know what? My eyes changed. I learned to see images differently - to spot highlights before I blew them out with an overexposure. To manage white balance. To look at hands and feet and clothing and posing and most importantly, the shape and quality of light falling on my subjects. 

Picking out my second portfolio was not as hard as the first. For in every session file, and there were dozens that year, I had at least one or two really nice images that I knew would rate well. The challenge was getting down to the required number, and making certain that the mandatory shots were well executed.

So I waited patiently for the results of my second image review. I was prepared to continue working on the third review this summer if needed, but in my case, the images were accepted. The letter indicating my certification was addressed to "John Huegel, CPP". That kind of gave away the surprise, but I'm not complaining. I'm one of only two CPP certified photographers in Erie County, and one of only 5 in a 50-mile radius of Erie.

I encourage all of you to set goals in your photography journey. Whether it's CPP certification, Master Craftsman, officer of your camera club, or specific achievements, you will go further in your journey if you identify milestones, determine your gaps and weaknesses, and overcome them!

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