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Portfolio reviews – all too hard?

Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has defended its new certification process, which replaces portfolio reviews with a test requiring applicants to photograph miniature items. Locally, the AIPP has much more stringent requirements for accreditation, with no plans to drop its standards.

PPA portfolio review
Does lighting these objects in three different ways prove professional competence?

The peak body representing US professional photographers has been criticised for lowering the bar of professionalism, by replacing portfolio reviews that show paid work with a Technical Image Evaluation test. Now it appears any technically competent photographer, regardless of prior work experience, can become a ‘Certified Professional Photographer’.

Applicants must purchase a US$35 kit including a 12-inch wooden mannequin, two 4-inch Styrofoam balls, a set of crayons, a black sharpie marker, and three sheets of grey paper, and photograph the items in three lighting scenarios – electronic flash, continuous light, and natural light.

‘And while this is awesome for those photographers who actually make their living photographing small wooden figures, styrofoam balls, boxes of crayons and Sharpies, for the rest of the industry, with real people in front of their cameras, not so much,’ writes US pro photography comedy writer, Missy Mwac (pseudonym).

‘And I know what people will say. This will be defended as a means to broaden the membership field and encourage education; the powers that be will certainly defend this move, stating if you can light these goofy objects correctly then surely you can do the same with a family of 10, or a wedding, or a moving toddler, or an outdoor session where the light is changing every five minutes.

‘You know, ’cause photographing a tiny wooden doll and a styrofoam ball over and over again until your images match the sample images you provide is exactly the same as photographing real people in a session.’

The Technical Image Evaluation test is the final step to becoming a PPA Certified Professional Photographer. Applicants also need to pay a $200 fee, and pass an exam that covers technical topic like digital post processing, composition and design, exposure and meters, and so on. They must then pay an ongoing US$27 monthly fee. But the process doesn’t ask a ‘Certified Professional Photographer’ applicant if they have ever been paid for making pictures.

There’s a perception that PPA has changed the certification process to open the gates of membership for amateurs and enthusiast photographers.

Audrey Wancket, PPA president, denies this claim. She attributes the new process to the difficulty of assessing an image portfolio.

‘I would start by saying that the changes in certification are rooted in years of difficulty with judging the image submission,’ she says. ‘Because the images – and we can only assume they were actual client work – varied so dramatically, there was no way for certification judges to efficiently and objectively judge them. Success in certification depended on who was judging and the perspectives, preferences, and life experiences of the judging panel.

‘Though great effort went into judges’ training, there was really no way to reach a truly objective standard for certifying a specific level of competency. We know there are some who were not part of those deliberations who may argue that point, but we lived through years of experience proving otherwise.’

Wancket says that countless PPA Certification Committee volunteers struggled with judging applicant images, and the new process brings about an objective set of criteria.

‘The compulsory images would simply help the judges evaluate quickly and objectively whether the photographer knew what she/he is doing. Is there still a level of subjectivity in it? Of course. But because all candidates are shooting the same thing, the ability to objectively evaluate that competency is increased. In essence, you either know how to do it or you don’t.’

She also refutes claims the PPA is about making money, but that seems a bit of a stretch. Not even a teensy bit about the almighty dollar? Professional associations have to generate revenue and be financially healthy to operate. Surely the PPA will benefit to some degree by no longer requiring applicants to prove they have a portfolio of paid work.

More part-timers and semi-pro photographers are in operation than ever before, with some undoubtedly having a lower professional standard than others. That being said, it’s surprising an expert committee of judges struggle to evaluate a professional-grade image.

Portfolio reviews: A global industry standard
Other prestigious professional photography associations require members to earn money from images, and all applicants must pass a portfolio review. This includes the British Institute of Professional Photography, the Federation of European Photographers, New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography, and the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP). Portfolio reviews are the standard – a robust system of judging a photographers’ body of work.

AIPP portfolio reviews are done by qualified anonymous assessors, who do not discuss or deliberate bon the merit of a portfolio with others. If an assessor feels challenged by a set of images, for example if the pictures fall outside their field of expertise, they can decline to provide feedback and the portfolio is reallocated.

‘The AIPPs folio assessment process, and the feedback provided for the individual member, is a highly regarded element of our accreditation system,’ AIPP vice president, Louise Bagger, told Inside Imaging. ‘There are periods where an assessor may feel they would not be able to fairly judge a portfolio for any manner of reason. The feedback provided by assessors varies from person to person but this is where the AIPP’s system, I believe, is unique, based on the anonymity of the process which enables assessors to provide a true and honest assessment without feeling intimidated or guided in any way.’

An AIPP Accredited Professional Photographer applicant is required to earn an income from image making for two years, provide an ABN, three written references from clients, and a public liability insurance certificate. The Institute also addressed the increased presence of up-and-coming professional photographers by introducing lower-tier memberships such as Emerging and Student, who then work to becoming an AIPP Accredited Photographer.

Louise Bagger highlights that an Emerging Member applicant is also invited to undergo an AIPP portfolio assessment. Assessors are not informed if the applicant is actually applying to be an emerging member. If they pass the portfolio assessment, the applicant is asked if they meet the other requirements. In some cases, this has led to the AIPP granting the Emerging Member applicant a fast-track full accreditation.

https://www.aipp.com.au/about/what-is-an-accredited-professional-photographer

 

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