A degree in photography: is it over-rated?
I’ve often wondered if I had to do it over if I should have majored in something else other than Photojournalism.
Perhaps I’m wondering more now than before since I left the industry and also because newspapers are going under just about everywhere in the US.
The biggest reason for a formal education for photographers, especially those who want to work in journalism, is this: a society as litigious as ours requires journalists to be aware of libel laws.
The fine art photographer is exempt from anything like that. In fact most can be self-taught. The few photography jobs or positions that require some sort of formal degree are usually teaching positions.
It is after all an art form. There is no doctorate degree in photography, is there? And even if there were, it doesn’t mean the degree holder is a super photographer. It probably means they have a formal education in the arts often are able to express themselves in the lingo of traditional artists who draw and paint.
One of my readers from the Netherlands pointed out to me that their photography schools are very expensive and that it’s often a very close-knit circle and tend to be cliquish.
I’m not surprised. It’s similar here in the US. If you were to attend say Brooks Institute of Photography, whoever is looking at your resume might notice that but once they lay down your work next to your competition, the gloves come off.
The best will be very obvious and you can bet that where someone went to study photography won’t matter as much as how good the work looks.
There is a tendency that photography schools have formulas. It’s inevitable. That’s what a curriculum dictates.
One of the better ideas for photography schools is to require their students to do internships say during the summer.
During a summer concert, as an intern at the Buffalo News, NY, I captured this image of a streaker at Buffalo’s Memorial Stadium. It was strange because the streaker was an off-duty Buffalo police officer. Sadly, I think he lost his job.
I can’t say enough of how much you learn by doing actual photography day in and day out.
The college courses, however useful, can’t provide you with what you really need. Experience. If you want to be a photographer, you have to use your camera every single day. It needs to become like what a pen and paper is to a writer.
So the biggest challenge for most of us is finding the inspiration to pick up the camera everyday.
Tips for finding good pictures
- You should keep a notebook where you can jot down ideas. If you’re driving around and something catches your eye, take a picture of the street sign with your cellphone. That’s a great way to remind you of where it is and you can come back with your real camera. The best part of the cellphone picture is the time is embedded. If what you saw looked great at a certain time of the day, you now know what time to return for the best picture.
- Try to emulate picture that excites you, cut it out and study it. No, not copy but improve on it.
- Use your interests and tell a story about it with pictures. I like meeting people, so I’m naturally drawn to events where there are lots of people having a good time. Even if these turn out to be duds, it’s okay. You’re out and about and you’re using your camera.
- Read the local newspaper . These are often great sources of ideas. Often newspapers have a community event calendar. I stress local because if you have to travel far, you are less likely to do use your camera.This last piece of advice is a bit dicey since traditional print media are in dire straits themselves. The key is stay abreast of what is going on in your community.
Hopefully this short list can get you thinking. If anyone else has any tips, please share them.
If I think long enough, I can come up with more tips, I’m sure. The key is to not get lazy and say, “oh…it’s been done before countless times.” If every photographer had that attitude we’d never see great photography.
So is a degree necessary? I don’t think it is, unless, you plan on going into journalism. If you are, you probably might consider adding other skills besides just still photography. There’s a lot of very talented still photographers from newspapers who are out of a job.
You should add these skills: videography and multimedia authoring.