What Does It Mean To Be A Master Photographer?

I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America, the largest photography organization in the world that was founded 150 years ago. Have you ever seen the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War? All those battlefield images were shot by Matthew Brady. He was a founding member of the PPA.

One of the things that this organization does is bestow “degrees.” There are three you can earn.

PPA Degrees

Photographic Craftsman
This degree is for teaching. It requires 25 merits: 13 must be from teaching and 12 from any source. You typically get 1 merit each time you teach a seminar, etc. I received my Craftsman several years ago because I travel and teach quite a bit.

Master Artist 
The “photoshop” degree. This degree is for your art. You don’t even have to have shot the photo. It requires 25 merits: 13 must be from the International Photographic Competition and 12 from any source.

Master of Photography 
This degree is for your photography (with a generous helping of photoshop in most cases). It requires 25 merits: 13 must be from the International Photographic Competition and 12 from any source. To be clear, it is considered a big deal if you can merit all 4 images in the competition. It takes years to get the 13 you need. I’ve posted about these competitions several times..

PPA degree ribbons
These are the degrees. Photographers wear these ribbons and medals to conventions and such

There are 30,000 members in the PPA. Last year there were 95 awarded the Master of Photography Degree.

It is generally acknowledged that the hardest images to “merit” in competition are wedding images. We don’t have the time on a wedding day to be as “perfect” as a portrait photographer. We also have no control over location, time of day, clothing, subject… and there’s a severe time limit. For years I have been a very vocal critic of how wedding photographers are treated in the competition. So vocal that it’s a running joke among my fellow photographers, “Oh God, don’t get Booray started about Image Competition!”

And so, when the day came that I finally had accrued the 13 merits (10 with wedding images) that I needed to become a Master, all my friends breathed a sigh of relief that I would finally shut up about wedding photographers not being judged correctly for the Master of Photography degree.


Because I had been such a whiner about competition for so long, my friends decided to make sure that I had the loudest cheering section in the hall when the time came for me to get my degree. Everyone should have friends like these.

Master of Wedding Photography

But here’s the best part. The day before I received my degree I voted for a new degree to be added with it’s own competition at PPA. The Master Wedding Photographers Degree! Now there will be FOUR degrees including one specifically for the wedding photographers, the “Iron Chefs” of photography who work under extreme pressure in extreme circumstances and produce incredible images. Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll be announcing that I’ve received THAT degree as well. :)

Getting “hung” as we call it, on stage at the National Convention in Atlanta last January

So, this last year has been a wonderful experience for me. I became a Master of Photography and I helped create a new Master of Wedding Photography degree in the hope that my fellow wedding photographers will be recognized for the unique skills required to be truly good at this very special type of photography. I’m proud to have my Masters but I’m even more proud to have participated in creating something new and long overdue for my peeps!

Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah

I finally shipped a beautiful album today for a Bat Mitzvah at Schaarai Zedek with the party at Palma Ceia Country Club that I photographed almost 5 years ago! It’s a running joke in my business that people often take years to finally finish their Bat Mitzvah album and this one may be the record.

But here’s the thing: I don’t mind.

Most photographers have a time limit for completion of an album but I never have. I know how it is after a Bat Mitzvah…. you’ve spent all this time planning the event and now you just want a break… you’ll make your album image selections next month. Then, it’s school so maybe this summer. Then it’s sleep-away camp and school again and the next thing you know it’s been a year.

The great thing is that it doesn’t matter if you finish in one month or 12, I’m always here. We’ll get it done when you are ready and it will be great. Having the album right away has the advantage of being done but waiting a while can have perks too. One mom told me that waiting gave her daughter time to reflect on who was really deserving of being in this family heirloom. When you’re a teenager, your “best friends” can change pretty fast. A few years later and you might look back on that time differently. I had never really thought about it that way.

I also don’t mind waiting because I’m so frequently interacting with my clients long after the event anyway. In this particular case, I did Lainey’s brother’s Bar Mitzvah as well. I photographed a family reunion. I did the headshots in her Dad’s office just last year. I’m at Schaarai Zedek Temple so often that sometimes I forget I’m not Jewish. So for me it’s one long job and since I really seem to have great relationships with my clients I honestly enjoy being in contact for years. :)

Be sure and check out my Bat Mitzvah page for more information and albums!

Here’s Lainey’s album pages!

Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Schaarai Zedek Temple Bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah
Palma Ceia bat Mitzvah

Temple Beth Am and a Great Idea

It’s Monday and I’m still recovering from another Bat Mitzvah Weekend at Temple Beth Am in Tampa. We did temple portraits on Friday morning, family portraits on Saturday morning and then the party that night at Hunter’s Green Country Club in Tampa. It’s a long weekend for me to be sure but it’s nothing compared to what the family does which includes the actual service, a luncheon, brunch and of course entertaining all the out-of-town visitors and family. It’s exhausting I’m sure but also such a great time with family and friends!

Temple Beth Am Bat Mitzvah

This weekend it was Elana’s turn and she was a delight. She was patient and kind and all the things you hope for when working with a teenager who is being asked to do so much. I’m constantly impressed by these kids and their ability to be graceful under pressure.

Temple Beth Am Bat Mitzvah

Here’s What I Saw at Temple Beth Am

I saw something this weekend that I’ve never seen before and I wanted to talk about it a bit because it’s such a great idea. One of the things that the family always does for a Bat Mitzvah is to buy flower arrangements for the bimah (the dais or platform at the front of the temple). I’m always sure to get a picture of these flowers as part of my coverage. But this time, there were no flowers.

This time, there were food baskets.

Temple Beth Am Bat Mitzvah

I found out later that Tracy, Elana’s mother, is Chairman of the Board at Joshua House, a great organization in Tampa that helps abused and neglected children. I guess serving an organization like that tends to make you see everything as an opportunity for good and so she just couldn’t bring herself to buy flowers that would go to waste after a few days. Instead, they decorated food baskets which they will donate to a local food bank after the event.

It’s such a great idea. Here’s a chance to donate to a great cause and help some people without spending any money… I mean, you would spend the money on the flowers anyway, right? It’s the sort of thing I would love to see become a tradition in Temple Beth Am and other houses of worship everywhere. What a great idea!

I haven’t even started working on the images yet but I’ll be posting a bunch in a few weeks when they are ready. In the meantime, here’s my page for Bar Mitzvah Photography in Tampa Bay.