2021 PPA Master of Photography Degree

Over the years, photography has worked it’s way from a passion to a profession and back to a passion again for me. What I mean by that is when I started shooting landscape photography many, many years ago, I did it because I loved how quick and easy it was to make photographs. I loved editing them in the dark room in the days of film and later in the Lightroom on my Mac.

Eventually, I started generating enough business out of my passion to do it full time. The thing was, I was being asked to shoot events, stories, magazine articles, weddings and other subjects that I just wasn’t as interested in. So, I decided to stop taking on any work and just doing it for the love of the landscape. Landscape photography has been a passion of mine, and instead of chasing the dollar and the wedding gigs, I just stuck with what I loved, even though it didn’t make me any real money. (I will explain how I make money off of photography in another blog post coming soon, though, so stay tuned for that…).

Anyway, fast forward 20 years and I’m still taking pictures for me. I don’t accept gigs for weddings or portraiture, I don’t shoot event photography. I only take fine art landscape photography from here in Hawaii and from amazing locations all over the world. And even though once in a while I do break out of my mold and shoot a family or headshot, magazine article or something else, for the most part, it’s nature images that finds their way onto my hard drives.

Focus on Landscape Photography

Since I started shooting landscapes, and focusing on just fine art landscape photography, my photography skills have gotten better and better. I’ve honed my skills, my Photoshop techniques, Lightroom techniques and in-camera techniques to get as much as I can out of my images. And over the years I started racking up the accolades.

In 2014 I was told I should start entering photography competitions. So I did. Not because I really cared for the awards, instead, it was just to push myself to be a better photographer. Here and there I started collecting awards from smaller competitions, but the big boys were collecting them from the PPA.

The Professional Photographer’s of America

At the time I didn’t know what the PPA was. Turns out it stands for the Professional Photographer’s of America. And getting awards from their competitions really gave street cred to you as a serious photographer.

I joined the Professional Photographer’s of America and started entering their annual competitions. Every year depending on where you live you would get to participate in a district competition. For me, living in Hawaii I was always in the Western District with some really amazing professional photographers. For the Western District competition you are allowed to enter up to 4 images. If they do well they are sent on to the International Photographic Competition held once a year for professional photographers all over the world.

These competitions were fierce but helped me learn what really went in to making a great photograph. Since 2014 I was able to collect numerous awards from the PPA in their district competitions as well as in the International Photographic Competition. In fact, 3 times I was awarded a Silver Medal in the International Photographic Competition (2016, 2017, 2019).

Master of PhotographyMaster of Photography

This year I didn’t do as well as in years past, but I did take home a couple of awards, and with them the prize that I secretly coveted since I started entering these competitions. On January 17, 2021 I was honored at Imaging USA with an honorary Master of Photography degree.

This is not a degree you can buy, but one you must earn. You can earn it by taking classes, teaching classes or producing world class images that merit in the most exclusive photography competitions. I took no classes. I taught no classes. I simply worked hard to produce the best possible images I could and entered the competition every year.

While this Master of Photography degree does nothing for me personally, it signifies that I’ve made it. I now am among only a small handful of photographers in the state, in the country and in the world that hold this title from the Professional Photographer’s of America. And though you won’t see me wearing the shiny new medallion they sent me, or framing the certificate or hanging a plaque, you might see me display the “M.Photog.” distinction after my name, as I am quite proud to join this exclusive club.

Does this mean I’m done?

Oh, hell no. I’m just getting started. Remember, I only won three silver medals in the International Photographic Competition. I can do better. I’ve only written one book teaching my process, photography tips, tricks and photography techniques (The Landscape Photographer’s Field Guide). I can write more. I’ve only published one book of landscape photography from my home on Maui (The Kingdom of Maui). I can publish more. I can do more. I can be more. I will be more!

I am sincerely grateful to those of you who have encouraged me from the beginning and for all of you who have stuck by me through experimental and sometimes disastrous works. I hope you continue to support me and you join me on this ride to see where the next 8, 10, 20 years and beyond will take me. And I really hope I can share what I’ve learned along the way and inspire you and future generations to keep pushing the envelope.

Thank you so much!

Mike Neubauer

p.s. Want to see the images that helped me earn this distinction? Click here.