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Beyond the Certificate: Nathan's Journey to Becoming a Certified Professional Photographer

After years of practice, countless sleepless nights of pouring over another YouTube video, the decision to pursue my Professional Photographer designation through PPA and passing two exams. I had finally done it: I was officially a Certified Professional Photographer. But I did not feel proud of myself; instead, the certificate in my hand felt like any other piece of paper.

Who was I to call myself a professional photographer?

I couldn't shake the feeling that I either didn't deserve this achievement or my earning it didn't mean as much as I had hoped. It was, after all, just a piece of paper with some ink on it. And I passed the exam with relative ease, similar to how I always passed tests in high school. Therefore, because all value is commensurate with difficulty, and since I effortlessly passed the exam, it must mean my certificate was valueless. Right?


I was looking at the situation with too limited a perspective.

I was not allowing myself to look at the bigger picture, and I couldn't see the truth in that state of mind.

The truth is that I spent four years practicing my craft, making tens of thousands of mistakes, and learning from them. I pushed myself to continue learning even when it had no purpose but to teach me something new, something I enjoyed.

I invested four years learning how to adjust the aperture, shutter, and ISO, what the Inverse Square Law meant, and how to balance off-camera flash with natural light. In addition, I learned the different light temperatures, how bulbs create various color temperatures, and why some produce more consistent colors.

Further, I learned about different lighting patterns and why you want to use them. From broad, butterfly, and Rembrandt lighting to short and split lighting, I analyzed the various purposes for these set-ups and what facial structures benefit from each.

I did all of this for no purpose other than to do something I love, and that's why the exam was easy for me because I had already done all the hard work.

When I finally let myself consider all that, I could look at my certificate with much more appreciation for what it meant:

I had earned my credential as a professional photographer.

My journey of attaining it could look different and have different mile markers along the way as long as I met the ones laid out in the exams, and that is what I had done.

Earning my certification wasn't just a matter of passing a test. It culminated in years of hard work and dedication to my craft. It was a testament to my willingness to learn and grow as a photographer. And most importantly, it was a validation of my skills and abilities.

Of course, I still have so much to learn, and there will always be room for improvement. But instead of letting my self-doubt hold me back, I am now using it as fuel to push myself even further. I am taking on new challenges and projects and constantly seeking opportunities to learn and grow.

Becoming a Certified Professional Photographer began a new chapter in my journey, and I am excited to see where it will take me. I may have struggled with imposter syndrome in the beginning, but now I know that I am more than deserving of this achievement. And as I continue to work hard and push myself, I know I will achieve even greater things.

If you are also on a journey to improve your photography talents, I look forward to connecting with you as we progress.

My wife and I are hosting a workshop on May 21st, "Photographing with Publication in Mind." In this class, we will share our approach to finding and seizing creative opportunities through collaboration using a recent motorcycle portrait session as a framework. Then, together we will guide you through using that same framework for future projects.

During the workshop, you'll also learn lighting techniques for creating magazine-worthy images in any lighting environment with any subject. Whether you're interested in automotive portraiture or human subjects, the skills presented in this class will help you elevate your photography game.


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