While photography schools have been operating for some time, there’s little doubt their importance continues to divide photographers. On the one hand, there is a firm camp of believers who support the view that the best way to learn photography skills is through hands on experience, as well as plenty of practice – including learning from mistakes. Conversely however, there’s an equally supportive group of photographers who argue schools form the basis to start one’s career, particularly from a technical standpoint. So then, just how valuable a contribution do photography schools add to your career?
First things first, in the photography world, you certainly don’t need a degree or any formal qualifications to succeed. Many of the top photographers have picked up a camera and built their career from scratch, and ultimately, your ability to succeed will be dependent on your ability, skills, reputation, portfolio, and business acumen.
At the same time however, a formal classroom environment is an excellent way to exchange ideas and learn from others in a collaborative context. Not only will the feedback and networking opportunities prove a valuable experience, as long as you’re not going into it with the expectation of a job upon conclusion, but the nature of such an environment should motivate one to continue pushing themselves as they compete against their peers or seek validation from their teacher(s). And in the grand scheme of things, this competitive nature is only a glimpse of what to expect in the real world – so it helps to know what you’re up against.
From a content perspective, photography schools are all about helping one pick up the fundamental technical skills – be it, lighting, exposure, editing and so forth. There is also coverage towards industry insights, which may help you establish if the career is really for you, and one will also learn about the art of photography – how to appreciate it or understand how others appreciate it.
There are however, failings of photography schools – the most prominent of which concerns the quality of the teacher delivering the course and/or subjects. Great photographers don’t always make great teachers, and conversely, great teachers do not equate with one learning great photography skills. On the photographer’s side, if they’re not drawn towards their teacher, or feeling a respective affiliation towards them, then the content won’t find its mark.
Furthermore, one of the common gripes that comes from photography students once they make it into the ‘real world’, is that their course didn’t equip them with sufficient business acumen. And as small business owners, it’s important to have the appropriate skillset for things like: dealing with difficult customers; managing the books; promoting your business; establishing contracts; and more.
Given the degree of commitment (financial and time) that photographers must dedicate towards such courses, it’s understandable that opinions will always be divided. Photography schools won’t be for everyone but that’s not to say you’ll end up with any lower chance of ‘making it’ on your own. It comes down to the individual and how they want to shape their career, and even then, one can only get out of photography school what they are prepared to put in.