Do You Need To Have A Formal Photography Education?

Written by | Photography

Should you go and get a formal education if you want to be a serious or successful photographer? You’d be surprised by the number of photographers who struggle with this question. If they don’t all-out struggle with it, they’ve at least asked themselves this once in their amateur or professional career.

Those wondering if they should go to school may do so because their careers aren’t where they want them to be, or they may feel self-conscious when they’re around peers who have formal, photography schooling. Do you need to have a formal photography education, or is it unnecessary?

Think about the Costs

It goes without saying that the cost of attending school – any school for any length of time – is likely the number one discouraging factor in people’s decisions. With the cost of living always on the rise and sound bookkeeping and budgeting not being a priority for everyone, it can be challenging to find where that extra money for school will come from.

Of course, we should dispel a myth right here, too: You don’t need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to go to photography school. There are alternatives to going to a four-year university to get a degree proper. For instance, you could go to your local community college for a two-year course, where you’ll still learn the basics. Then, you can usually transfer your credits to a bigger school after the two years, if you choose to continue your studies.

Think About What You’ll Learn

At the end of the day, going to a serious college or university to learn the finer points of photography will make you a better photographer because you’ll be learning things you won’t by just self-teaching.

For one thing, there’s the competition with fellow students to earn good critiques from professors, stand out and just learn what it is to outperform others vying for the same prize. This type of competition is excellent because it’s the precursor to what you’ll experience both as an amateur (though to a lesser extent) and a professional photographer, as you’ll be gunning for jobs, projects and clients in the real world.

Also, depending on the exact school you go to and the intensity of the photography-related courses you’ll be taking, it’s not uncommon to spend dozens of hours on just photography assignments and real shooting. Again, this prepares you for what running the show on your own as a photographer will feel like.

Think About the Real-World Opportunities You Can Get

The end goal of going to school is making your photography work as a career in the real world. For those who don’t go to school, real-world opportunities can still exist; they just may be in shorter supply. Certainly, if you have the chance to work with a big name in photography as an assistant, intern or project partner, then that’s something you want to take advantage of right away. Perhaps good, old-fashioned networking got you there without school.

However, if you go to school and are serious about your art and craft, you can get put in touch with real-world opportunities as well. Photography/film students always have the occasional opportunity to begin working with a professional film crew, and the contacts you make among professors and fellow students could open up some potentially great freelance-photography opportunities while still in school.

Think About Your Reputation/Credibility

Remember that not all great photographers went to a formal photography school. In other words, you don’t need to head there yourself to become a good photographer. However, consider that some people – as in potential clients – will make a judgement call about you when they see that your resume includes having attended and possibly even graduated from any photography school.

When prospective clients see you went to school, they can form a good opinion about you as a professional who’s dedicated to his art.

Think About Work-Life Balance

The big issue with considering going to photography school – especially if you’re not in your late teens anymore – is how you can fit it into your life. Let’s say you’re an amateur photographer with a day job and a family to support as well. Fitting in school is going to be a bit of a challenge, to say the least.

If you go back to school, can you spend more time with your family on the weekends? Is that okay with them? Even if you’re just going to school part-time, will that interfere with your job? Should you look into night classes, maybe?

While some working people with families can obviously make going back to school work, it will take added commitment and means a bigger responsibility. You have to ask yourself if that’s realistic for your given life situation.

Going to Photography School Has Pros and Cons

That’s really the whole gist of this exploration: Going to photography school has both an upside and a downside. Only you can figure out whether the benefits outweigh the positives or if the cons outweigh the pros.

In spite of whether or not you ultimately choose to go to photography school, there’s one truth that’s almost more important. You have to be quite well-rounded to be an excellent photographer. There’s the creative side, the technical side and the business side; all three should come together eventually, over the course of your career.

Some people can get to this well-rounded aspect with or without school. What’s really important is whether you have the determination or not to be a consummate photographer. For some, going to school is the way to get there, but, for others, it’s getting some real-life experience right off the bat and figuring things out as they go along.

Last modified: