The term ‘professional photographer’ means different things to different people. To some, it’s about money – making your living from photography. To others, it’s about work ethic, certification and experience. In either case, all agree that there must be something that differentiates the professional from the non-professional (although, I have since revised my outlook on this, as outlined in this post here).
Within the Professional Photographers of Canada, that begins with the Accreditation process. As it’s described by the PPOC: “Accreditation is the first elevation above the general membership level, and is achieved by submitting samples of the applicant’s photography to a PPOC Board of Review for Accreditation. Accreditation demonstrates that the photographer is capable of delivering above average quality photography in a chosen category.”
What does that mean? Simply put, that an accredited photographer has proven their knowledge and use of impact, creativity, style, composition, presentation, colour balance, centre of interest, lighting, subject matter, image file quality, technique and story telling within a given discipline of photography. Each are hallmarks in their own right and, together, make a professional image what it is.
Personally, I wouldn’t trust my photographic needs to anyone who hasn’t demonstrated the ability to deliver results based on those criteria. In an industry without any real regulation, there has to be some kind of benchmark to separate the “Pros from the Joes”. Accreditation is one such benchmark.
On Monday, I had the opportunity to see the Accreditation process in action. Held four times a year at locations around the country, the third round of this year’s accreditation judging was here, in London, ON. Not being a qualified judge myself (yet!), my involvement was as he-who-inputs-the-judge’s-comments. On the surface, an inglorious role but a necessary one, nonetheless, and one that proved invaluable to me.
It’s one thing to work through the process of creating an image, quite another to hear a group of qualified judges break down that same image into its most basic elements. The overall impact of the image is evaluated. Every small detail is scrutinised. The relationships between content, composition, lighting and post processing are weighed and measured. Then, they’re weighed and measured again. It’s an eye-opening experience, to be sure.
It’s a gut wrenching experience when those same images are your own.
My submissions for this round were in Environmental Portrait and Couple’s Portrait. Watching them come up on the screen, sitting there in dead silence, waiting for the judges to start their review – I’m surprised that I didn’t bite straight through my tongue.
As sometimes happens (even to the best photographers out there), I miscalculated with the Couple’s submission. Instead of going straight to my best and most recent work for submission, I selected several images that I was personally attached to. Images that, at the time of creation, sparked some kind of ‘pride of accomplishment’ or fond memory. The result was, should have been, predictable – several of the images, the ones I threw in ‘just because’, failed my submission. With the Environmental Portrait submission, I somehow knew better. The judges unanimously agreed that the images were worthy of passing accreditation. So, pass they did and I’ve earned the accreditation.
What’s the lesson in this? Well, the first lesson is to take the good with the bad. That’s how the industry, that’s how life, works. The second lesson is that nobody’s perfect (don’t start with me, Peanut Gallery, I already knew that one …), but perfection really isn’t the end goal – it doesn’t even really exist. Improvement and growth are the goals. Taking the suggestions that the judges offered and an improved knowledge of what’s expected from professional image making, my next submission will be better than the last.
It wouldn’t be professional to strive for less.
Update: Since the time of writing this post, which I still stand behind 100%, I’ve gone on to add accreditations in Studio Portrait, High Key Portrait, Glamour, Fantasy Illustration, Low Key Portrait, Image Manipulation, Figure Study and, yes, Couple’s Portrait. Oh, and I became a qualified accreditation judge too. How about that, eh?