Does a photography certification or formal credentials matter?
When I sent my Imaging USA recap message to my list of subscribers last week, two different folks wrote back to challenge me or ask for clarification around a statement I made about folks receiving their photography certification or degrees from PPA.
One person phrased his question as:
I wonder about this really … as more people join the ranks of “photographer” is a degree/certification the thing that clients seek out the most for themselves?
While I don’t have a pile of empirical data behind what I’m about to write1, I’ll share what I’ve seen as someone who:
- worked through earning two PPA degrees (Master Photographer and Photographic Craftsman)
- has served in various roles, including President, of a PPA affiliate organization that promoted degrees and certifications
- has worked with over 100 clients in the event, small business, and entrepreneurial space, frequently asking them about favors used when choosing me as their photographer
- has a background in another profession (IT and software development) where certifications are both common and controversial
Let’s hit what I think might be the common questions around photography certifications and degrees, and my take at some answers:
Is a certification or degree the most important thing to a client?
Nope. Clients want photography that meets a certain threshold for quality, but the most important factor (and this is borne out in PPA’s recent consumer study) is that the photographer is easy to work with.
Is photography certification or a degree a secondary factor for clients?
Like many things in life, it depends. I can say that I’ve had some (primarily commercial) clients who have noted my credentials as something that sets me apart from most of the photographers on the market. You may find that folks who work in credentialed fields (i.e. they routinely encounter folks with letters after their names) may find a credentialed photographer preferable.
Do clients understand the nuance of what the degree or credential really means?
Not without some education. And that education can be pretty straightforward, without going into the nuance of every requirement. We don’t all know the details of every part of medical school, but we understand what it means if someone is a MD. Similarly, we can provide short explanations for photography credentials.
Is it about the photography certification or degree itself, or about the journey to get there?
I feel there’s value in the credentials as it represents accomplishment of a period of work (generally months to several years) and sets you apart. This is what clients may notice as well.
But there’s also value to a photographer in working through the process of earning one’s certification, degree, or other formal credential. A certification will require studying and demonstrated proficiency on a test. A degree such as those offered by PPA represents years of work and service to the industry, with evaluation from those with extensive training. The lessons learned (often through failure) along the way help bolster a photographer’s experiences, making them stronger not for having the credential, but for having gone through the arduous process to get there.
Is a photography credential the right fit for me?
I can’t guarantee that earning a photography certification or degree will help your business or land you more clients.
But I pretty much can guarantee you that it won’t hurt you as a photographer and that you’ll learn a lot through the process.
- I do hope PPA includes questions around degrees and certification among the various consumer research studies it’s considering this year. ↩