As with many other creative professions, no training is required to become a professional photographer. Of course, it’s always nice to have more formal training in this area.
These days, it’s easy to learn the ins and outs of photography without spending a penny. YouTube has tons of channels and videos that teach you everything you need to know about photography.
If you want something a little more structured, there are all kinds of educational websites that offer short courses on different aspects of photography. So why go to college to learn photography?
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Before getting to the heart of the matter, I want to say that I love school. I would be very happy if I could stay a student for the rest of my life and get paid for it. In addition, I attended a school of photography for 7 years.
I obtained my Bachelor of Arts in photography and art education in 4 years and then my Master of Fine Arts in photography in 3 years. So by now, it should be quite clear that I am a proponent of teaching photography.
But I also strongly believe that college is not for everyone, especially in areas like photography. However, there are good reasons to believe that earning a degree in photography can be beneficial for some.
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One of the greatest strengths of university photography education is its structure. Watching a few videos on YouTube is fine, but without a roadmap that tells you which ones to watch and when to watch them, you can get lost and not get much.
To make matters worse, meeting creators with contradictory discourses can contribute to confusing you further.
Photography lessons are structured so that students use the equipment and develop their skills gradually, rather than haphazardly.
If you value consistency, it’s important that you only follow one instructor. Academic studies are best for you if you are the type of student who needs well-structured studies to learn better.
Taking an introductory photography course will be enough to get you on the right track once you have the basics down.
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Being pressured to create something
Another reason regular classes are good is that they encourage you to immediately put what you’ve learned into practice.
Instead of watching a video on how to use Flash and waiting months to put it into practice, you are forced to put what you learn into practice immediately, because as part of your training, you have deadlines you shouldn’t miss.
Specific projects related to the concepts you have just covered will also be assigned to help you consolidate your knowledge.
Some people are very motivated by the idea of getting good grades. Because it is much more difficult to start and take pictures without this pressure.
When you have a specific deadline, for a project for example, you are motivated to find time to achieve it, instead of procrastinating.
I feel guilty for not giving myself enough time to be creative since leaving school.
But sometimes making art allows you to apply the knowledge and skills you learned in school to your artwork.
Criticisms are formal
One of the things I miss most about school is formal criticism. It is very important to have regular feedback from people who are in the same situation as you.
Having a group of people working on the same project or with the same goal in a room usually makes for a more constructive and helpful conversation.
Of course, there were also classes where students were afraid to speak up during the critique sessions, but overall the critique sessions seem very rewarding and inspiring.
The chance to be exposed to different techniques and approaches
If you decide to go to school for a degree in photography and take a series of courses, you’ll be exposed to a wide range of techniques and creative approaches.
You may have the opportunity to take a film course with full access to a darkroom and film developing equipment.
You can also take a course on alternative processes, which will give you the opportunity to try out different ways of doing photography that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Alternatively, you can take a course in another medium, which will give you ideas on how you can go beyond just print photography.
Overall, college is a great way to get exposed to things you might never have been exposed to otherwise, and that’s absolutely true when it comes to photography and art..
When I was a student, I had to take a sculpture course, one of the projects of which was installation.
This project sparked in me a passion for installation art and inspired work that eventually expanded into photography and led me to graduate school, eventually becoming my graduation project.
The incentive to go beyond your comfort zone
Starting from the importance of reviews and learning new things, formal photography training can take you out of your comfort zone and beyond what you are used to creating.
In college, I started cutting up photographs and manipulating them after they were printed, which was a scary step for me. Given the way I operate, I probably wouldn’t have had this idea or the courage (or knowledge) to pursue it if I hadn’t taken art and photography classes with teachers who challenged me.
Being encouraged and then having the time to try new things and push the limits of my creativity has allowed me to make tremendous progress in photography.
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Bonus: teaching photography
The main reason I did doctoral studies was to teach photography at university.
As I mentioned, one of my undergraduate degrees was in art education, but I knew that what I wanted was to teach only photography and not other artistic disciplines, which was not possible in the normal cycle.
So I got my master’s degree in art because most colleges require instructors and professors to have a master’s degree in art.
If teaching, and specifically teaching in a formal setting, interests you, earning a degree in photography is more or less essential.
Ultimately, the decision to study photography is a very personal decision. You need to understand how you learn best, what resources you have, and what your photography goals are.
It’s entirely possible to pursue a career in photography or art without a degree, but going to school to learn photography can also be an invaluable experience for some.