Exclusive: A Photographer’s Journey to Certification

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by Jim House,  CPP

I always loved taking photos with a point and shoot camera as I was growing up.  Some people would say that I had an eye for good composition, but I think it was just luck!

Fast forward about thirty years, after working in the corporate world, I found myself going to the bookstore three years in a row to buy books on photography.   I had already purchased a digital camera for my wife so that she could take better photos of her soap to sell on-line. I wasn’t much help to her in those early days.   I started borrowing her camera and messing up the settings as I hiked in the woods taking photos of dead trees and mushrooms! A co-worker suggested that I should buy my own camera, and so I did on Father’s Day in 2012.

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I began experimenting and learning.  I started taking on-line training through KelbyOne.com, and Lynda.com.  I began reading every book I could find on digital photography. I learned about editing digital images through Lightroom & Photoshop.

Before I knew it, I was hooked!  I really liked taking photos and I wanted to understand everything I could about photography.  It became my passion! I built a web-site, created a small company “Winding Trail Photography”, started hiking in the woods to take more photos, and expanded to wildlife and other subjects.

At the same time, I was struggling with my corporate work during this period and it began to affect my mental health as well as inducing lots of sleepless nights.  The breaking point came in January 2015 when all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed. I decided to seek out help with a stress counselor. After I had finished explaining my litany of issues, he looked me in the eyes and said: “You have control, you can do anything that you want!”  Suddenly I realized that I did have the power to do whatever I wanted to do!  The challenge was stepping away from an entire career based on the security of a weekly check

As I slowly transitioned into retirement, a co-worker dropped a photography magazine on my chair.  As I browsed through this periodical I discovered an advertisement for PPA (Professional Photographers of America).

On May 15th, 2015 I walked out of work and left a 37-year career behind.  Now I could focus full time on my photography, but there were still a lot of unknowns.   I continued to take long walks in the woods with my camera and think about my new passion:  Could I continue to improve? Could I make money with my camera? Everyone has a camera or a smart phone!  What sets great photographers apart? What is a photographic style, and could I develop one?

As I continued to learn and investigate this organization (PPA), I discovered that they had been in existence for 150 years and had a certification program that was 40 years old.  Their goal is to ensure that Certified Photographers are well grounded in the science and art of photography. Their end goal is to ensure that customers feel confident that they are dealing with a professional that understands how to produce beautiful images.

The CPP program is not for the casual photographer.  You must first pass a written proctored test that ensures that you know all the fundamentals of the camera, lens, colors, lighting, composition, exposure, f-stops, etc.  Once the written test is passed, you are then required to create a 15-image portfolio that confirms that you can consistently apply all that you have learned in a practical sense.

In September 2016 I declared my candidacy, paid my $200, and purchased a study guide.  I signed up for the Imaging USA 2017 conference, read the entire study guide, and attended the three-day pre-conference class and passed the written test.  While I was nervous, I had made it past the first major hurdle.

Returning home, I was anxious about having to submit images for critique and shooting portfolio.  I was hoping that I would be able to find acceptable images from my previous work that would qualify.  I submitted a few images that I thought would pass, received critical feedback, and felt the sting of having someone else judge my work as being unworthy.  I decided that I needed to watch others get critiqued and learn from their successes and failures. I spent over a year watching weekly critiques. I attended the next conference and felt I was falling behind.  Doubt was starting to settle in.

Not having a studio, I started in my basement.  I bought lighting equipment, stands, a mannequin head, wigs, backdrops, light meters, grey cards, and calibration software for my monitors.  I quickly determined that the ceiling was too low in the basement. Moving into my daughter’s vacated bedroom, I quickly found that a 70-200 mm lens would not let me shoot in a bedroom that was only fifteen feet across.  I finally settled in our family room which has a cathedral ceiling and sufficient length for my lens.

May 2018, I have less than a year to build my portfolio, submit, and pass.  I have a limited amount of time to find my subjects/victims, photograph them, and build my portfolio.  June, August, and October are the only submission periods left. If I don’t get this done I have to pay $100 to extend for an additional year.   Unfortunately, I do not have a thriving business or clients pounding on my door. My chances of enticing people to pay me is running thin.

Luckily, I have met many actors through my Behind the Scenes Photography.  I decide to reach out to them for help, so I offered actors the opportunity to sit for portraits/headshots to help me build my portfolio.  I stop my neighbors while walking my dogs and interrupt them while they jog to see if the want new headshots!

With the help of my film family, neighbors, and especially my daughter Anna, I was able to successfully build my portfolio by the end of September and receive enough feedback, that I thought I might pass.  I submitted my portfolio on October 5th and waited.  By November 3rd I was going nuts with anxiety and starting to lose sleep.

Finally, on Tuesday, November 6th, I received the e-mail congratulating me on obtaining my certification through Professional Photographers of America.  My market materials should be arriving soon, and I can proudly display CPP at the end of my name on all correspondence, business cards, web-site and marketing material.

I will complete my seventh film, A Bennett Song Holiday, with Harley Wallen & Nancy Oeswein on January 13th, 2019 and I leave January 16th for Imaging USA 2019.  I will proudly walk across the stage and receive the acknowledgment by other Professional Photographers that I am certified.  It is an elite group. PPA has 30,000+ members, is the only photography organization with a certification program, and only 1,550 of these members are certified CPPs.

Life is a journey!  I named my photography company Winding Trail Photography as an analogy.  I am continuing my journey! My next goal is to study and enter print competition so that I can continue to grow and hopefully receive merit awards that show my progress.

If we have not met, I hope that we do on a future film or at my home studio.  Life is a journey and I hope to meet you somewhere along the trail!

If I can help you with your photographic needs, please consider reaching out to me.


All the Best,

Jim House CPP

Winding Trail Photography



248-724-8395 Cell


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