Study photography. University or not?
So you want to learn photography? A lot of people wonder if they need to be born with certain skills or if photography can be learned. Definitely the second. But should you really go to college or uni to study for a degree in photography? Here’s my thoughts.
Long time ago before the advent of fast Internet connections, it was much more difficult to learn photography. Unless people were very determined or knew someone that could mentor them, yes, they had to attend a college or uni degree to learn photography. Nowadays I find it really difficult to say if a uni or college degree in photography is needed not. None of the professional photographers I know have a formal degree and most of them believe that getting a college degree in photography could be a waste of time. But let’s see what it means.
First. Please don’t give up photography. I want to make sure it’s clear that I am not discouraging you from pursuing a career in photography. It’s the opposite. I really want you to get into it because photography is one of the most exciting fields you could get into today. It can open doors that you wouldn’t even imagine. You could travel the world, become a video maker, a blogger, start your own business, collaborate with famous brands. It’s one of the most fulfilling careers you can find. Same story if you want to start photography just as a hobby. Also, if you are already enrolled in a photography course, or you’re a professional with a formal degree, please by no mean I’m saying that what you did wasn’t useful. With this article I’m just expressing my point of view. You might have a different opinion and I’m really keen to hear from you. So at the end of this post jump to the comment section and let me know what you think.
Cons of study photography at University
Courses are very expensive. Now, if you have your parents, supporting you to study something you are passionate about, such as photography, then you are really lucky. A Uni degree is not a joke, it’s a serious economic investment and you are not certain that you will get a return. Skipping the cost of a tertiary education or a two years course (which would still be very expensive) you’ll save thousands of dollars that you could spend in gear or travels.
There’s no job. If you think that after a 2 or 3 years course you will get a job into a Magazine or something similar, unfortunately that’s pretty unlikely. Sorry. Magazines today struggle to sell copies. People find things online. You need creativity to find gigs and entrepreneurial skills to brand yourself and sell your services. I know people that bought a drone, learned how to use it properly and take photos and videos and now are paid a lot of money by advertising agencies to travel the world and work for them. Since they are specialised in one thing only and they were able to build a brand and sell their services properly, they were able to find a lucrative niche without the need of a formal course or degree.
Will you really learn what you want? No spontaneous photo shoots, no field excursions. You’ll need to learn what they teach you and I’ve heard a lot of students complaining about it. Students expect to start a photography course and go shoot a landscape. University is a serious commitment and you’ll have assignments and classes to attend. Often on topics you don’t care. For at least three years. With the money and time you (or your parents) will spend learning stuff you don’t like, you could buy a one week workshop, learn the basics, travel a lot, buy good gear and probably you will still be saving a lot. You can spend those three years building your portfolio and refining your craft, finding your own unique style based on what you really feel and like on the field.
The advent of fast Internet connections. Today you can learn pretty much everything you want online. You can find different levels of photography courses and for a few hundred dollars you can get a lot more as a return compared to a 2 or 3 years College course that would cost you thousands of dollars. The advantages are that you can learn at your own pace and don’t need to go through the stress of needing to hand in assignments. You can work on the projects you like and that you create for yourself. You could meet someone online and go take photos together and learn from each other. With the level of connectivity we have today there are countless opportunities to reach out to professionals all over the world and ask for their opinions too and even if they’d ask for some money, it would be much more valuable to pay a professional photographer that you follow and you’d like than spending money for a degree where you risk of learning things you are not even interested in.
You can find an internship. After learning enough and becoming confident with your camera, you could try and be an apprentice for a professional photographer. You may or may not get paid, but a 3 or 4 months spent working at a professional studio will give you a really clear idea of what it is to become a professional photographer. What you can learn in the real world is worth much more than your time and money. Yes I know, no one likes to work for free, but hey you are willing to pay thousands of dollars to learn something you are not sure you’re going to like. Why not giving it a try? You never know, you might be lucky and that photographer could decide to give you a job in the end.
Pros of study photography at University
Connections. At uni you will make a lot of them. Probably one of the most valuable things for your career. You are going to study with people that you are doing what you are doing and you are going to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other. The environment is going to provide you a lot of critiques and peer reviews and you can get quite a lot out of it.
All round education. A college degree will provide you with an all round education on other subjects, such as history, visual arts in general, but also some business and personal branding.
A degree. This sound obvious, but a positive of having a degree is that if you want to teach photography at school you are going to need a formal education. So in case you want to become a teacher at Uni a degree in photography is needed.
So what’s my advice? Pursuing a College Degree is a pretty serious life choice and financial and time commitment. If you decide to go to Uni, I would say choose the best possible Institute that can give you strong connections. In my opinion one of the best things you can get out of Uni is a strong alumni network. This will be much useful once you’ve finished your degree to find collaborations, to know about jobs and opportunities. To study is amazing and having the opportunity to go to College is without a doubt a privilege. If you have this privilege, do it, but what I can say in regards to a photography specific degree is that probably if you want to become a photographer you don’t really needed it. If you look for famous professionals, fine art artists, visual artists, photographers and so forth, 99% of them don’t have a degree. What I think you should consider instead of a photography specific course is something like a degree in Marketing, or Business with a minor in photography or filmmaking or anything related to a creative field that will allow you to step out to the world and allow you to take on multiple roles.
Ultimately I would say, think properly about what is the right choice for you and seek for advice. There’s no rush and if you feel like you need to take some time off let’s say one year to explore various possibilities. Go for it.
Thank you for getting to the end to this article and please, let me know what you think in the comments section below!