Monday, October 15, 2012

Getting a Degree in Photography!

For most professions today it is a requirement to do some kind of academic study. For example, if you are going to be an accountant, you need to go and get a degree in accounting from a college or university. If you want to be an attorney you have to go to Law school. If you want to be a photographer, you have to… wait what do you have to do? There is a lot of debate out there as to whether or not it is necessary to get a degree in order to be a photographer.  I mean you have to be licensed to be a cosmetologist, why not photography? I put a couple posts out on Facebook asking people to share their reasons why they went to school. Here are some of the responses:

“I loved photography even as a little girl. My mom was kind enough to supply me with rolls and rolls of film and pay for them to be developed. They always said I had a good eye for it, so when I had the option of photography classes in high school, it was an obvious choice. I loved it. I ended up working for (a professional photographer) for 5 years which developed my appreciation for portraiture. Then through the support of other photographers, IPPA seminars, and my husband's financial support, I started my own business in 2005. I'm now a member of PPA and want to work towards my Masters. Having a portrait business here in Utah's over saturated market is difficult for sure, and I'm still learning on how to successfully promote myself, but I wouldn't want any other job.”        -Emily

“Studying with other people can make learning faster than on your own. Peer feedback is invaluable. Diploma on wall may impress a client (or not). It's more fun than studying math.”      -Scott

“In school you get the opportunity to work with professors willing to teach… Being able to work with others, bounce ideas with your peers is in valuable. Having your peers and professors challenge you in a way you wouldn't have thought yourself and while we all hate those core classes they really do help you train your eye with composition and design elements.”     -Lindy

“I don’t think that I would be as good as I am without my peers! Thanks guys!! I have never learned so much info that I can actually apply into my profession…Most jobs require you to have more than just pictures to show you know how to take pictures. The skills that I am learning in my digital, and heck all that I have learned in my film classes, have helped me become a better photographer. The skills that I am learning now in digital are going to get me a job with a really good company. They are going to see the pictures in my portfolio and see that what I learned in my classes are skills that I will be able to contribute to their company. I thank Christopher Gauthiér for all he teaches us in class.”  -Addie

On the opposite side of the spectrum there are people who have the opinion that schooling is not important when pursuing a career in photography, as illustrated by the quote below:

“I'm not. At least not in school. I'm working towards a PhD in Biology. Photography is an on-the-side hobby (and very part-time business) for me. But, I do take photography seriously, and don't let my schooling get in the way of my education. I think photography is one field that's relatively easy to pursue professionally WITHOUT the formal education. For most photographic jobs, the only 'piece of paper' that matters are the ones in your portfolio. A diploma is largely irrelevant. And skills can be obtained (and, I think, are often better obtained) outside the classroom setting.-“     -Jesse

So, who is right? If you are planning on being a professional photographer, should you pursue a degree in photography? Or is it an unnecessary expense of time and money? Let me give you my two cents.

First off, I received not only one, but two degrees in photography (BFA and MFA) as well as an additional degree in Education. Whenever I meet with clients, especially when I am meeting them for the first time, they like to know my background. They ask about my professional experience, how often I shoot weddings, families, etc., and all the usual questions that wedding websites tell them to ask. Usually I bring up the fact that I have two degrees in photography from recognized Universities (the University of Utah and Utah State University) and they are instantly put at ease and they are confident that I am not some guy who just picked up a camera from the local Big Box Mart. The degree means that I not only KNOW about photography, but I have PROVED that I know about photography.  In fact, with my MFA, I can legally to teach classes at the University level (you can’t do that unless you have an MFA degree). So that’s nice on the customer side of it, but what about the actual image.

Edward Weston, Robert Mapplethorpe, Lazlo Maholy Nagy, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Richard Avedon. If you went to college and studied photography, chances are you will not only recognize these names, but also recognize their images and realize how they contributed to the photography medium. In school, you not only study photography but image making as a whole. We learn composition, color, design, presentation, as well as alternative methods for image making. We learn from photographers who have contributed significantly to the art, from inventors to people whose photographs changed the way people look at imagery.

Each time we photograph something, we critique it. When I say critique, I don’t mean putting something up on Facebook and wait for comments. I am talking about a legitimate and HARSH critique of your work. Think of your photography as an exercise. The harder you exercise, the better you are going to get. You NEED critique to improve as an artist, and being critiqued by your peers and by your professors (professionals who have proven themselves through professional experience, critique, and exhibition) WILL improve your work.

My overall advice is this, if you want to be a photographer, you need to look specifically to your end goal. If your plan is to be a part time baby photographer out of your house, then you probably don’t need to get a Masters degree in photography to do it. I would however recommend taking some classes and getting your work critiqued every once in a while. There are some great groups that meet often to do just that on a regular basis. Join these groups and continually improve yourself.

If your end-goal were to make a full-time living at being a photographer, such as a commercial, product, food or fashion, then I would recommend going to a reputable school for your training. If you are applying for jobs such as these and you aren’t getting even so much as a phone call in return, then chances are you should probably go get some schooling.

In essence, I am saying to look at your end goal and what you want to get out of photography. There are different paths to any destination. There are some amazing professional photographers who never went to college, whereas there are some “photographers” from acclaimed Universities who don’t know the difference between their aperture and a hole in the ground. Look at your own work and look at other people’s work and see where you want to improve. If there is one thing that I have learned from my college days is that there is so much more out there to learn. I could spend several lifetimes just learning more and more about photography and still not know it all. I am continually learning. That’s why I am always reading photography and art books, magazines, blogs, etc. I love this medium so much that I can’t get enough of it. That’s why I went to photography school.

I’d love to hear your opinion on the matter. Comment or message me.

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