Each and every week, we feature a segment called "Fstoppers Answers", where we invite our community to ask a question to our writers to answer. This week, you asked "What Is Your Photo Education? How Important Do You Think Formal Education Is In The Field?"
As always, feel free to share your answer in the comments below. If you have a question you'd like to see answered, feel free to ask it in the comments below, to see if it'll be featured in next weeks Fstoppers Answers.
Long internet rant ahead (sorry):
I think that saying "a degree in photography is a wasted effort" is a bit harsh. I have a BFA in photography and while I don't believe it is entirely necessary, i do think it comes in handy. For me the decision was made to go to school because I eventually want to get a MFA so that I can be a professor later in life.
Going to school is a great way to fast track not just the technical side, but the creative side of your work. It teaches you how to critique and almost more importantly how to take a critique. I spent my first year there shooting everything on black and white 4x5. However, polaroid wasn't really available to us so if we got something wrong, we didn't know until the next day when we actually had time to go to the dark room. Personally i think think this experience was vital to the way i make images now. I know exactly what i'm going for and how I am going to do it before i ever pick up a camera and that is more than I can say for a lot of people who learned their craft in a reactive way.
BUT, i will say that you get what you put into it, just like any degree. A degree has never and will never assure someone employment. I am doing a lot better than a lot of my classmates(that i know on Facebook anyway) that went to the Art Institute. At least I get to say that I do what I love full time, and that isn't making coffee. in the end, the school didn't make me who I am, the school provided a venue.
I agree with this. A degree on its own isn't going to get you a job, and it doesn't necessarily provide you with knowledge you can't learn from other sources - however, being in a learning environment can be enormously beneficial to your creative processes and thinking. You may also meet other people who inspire you or you can feed off of and inspire each other, which drives you forward faster than trying to do things on your own - of course this can happen by assisting or other means as well. But I do see values to studying Photography besides a direct relation to getting jobs.
Also, as it happens, my degree did actually land me a six month job once - my portfolio helped but I know that my degree shaped how those reviewing my portfolio viewed it.
Totally agree that there are other important things to educate oneself in such as business, finance and administration, and of course Art History and Art theory.
Well a BFA like a BS, BBA, etc. is a general degree and they force you to learn other areas so for your time and effort, you're getting a complete education. I think people like me who think going to school for just photography is a waste of money say it because it's just one specific area of art where a degree doesn't make a difference in whether you make it or not. Most people go to a doctor because they have a medical degree. They hire an engineer to build a bridge because they know he's had formal training in math and the bridge won't collapse (or less likely). People don't hire someone to shoot their wedding because he had a degree.
Indeed they don't, but that's not it's only value and many of the things that it brings you might make you more likely to get hired to shoot that wedding or whatever else you may shoot. There's more to it than picking up the degree title, it's about what you do during that time and dedicating that time to Photography and exploring your creativity can be valuable in many ways.
I received a BFA from RIT recently, and I have to say that it's been incredibly helpful and, in many cases, necessary to what I do. As a shooter, assistant and social media manager, knowing how to light, what equipment is needed/new, and what's happening in the photo world has allowed me to get jobs that I never would have been able to handle without going to school to learn all of those things.
how much does it cost? it's 4 year?
RIT is a 4-year school for photo. And,honestly, it was really expensive, but I'm from NYS, so I paid in-state tuition and I received financial aid. But, I knew I was going to go to college and, for me, what better way to spend my money than learning valuable information about a subject I love?
You could have learned the same thing for about $100 in price of books and started working 3 years earlier?
School's not for everyone, but I do not regret my degree at all.
With peers and mentors you can learn anything. The technical side can be learned easily through the internet and experience.
The real challenge is to learn the creative process which, despite what people outside of creative fields believe, is a skill that has to be learned. And, it is a process. This is where my formal education came in handy. It forced me to actually think through what I was doing (and analyze that process) rather than acting on instinct.
The most important thing, though, is to have peers and mentors. You can learn from them by just being around them and picking up on the things that people don't think to teach.
I know old pros who like to compare their profession to that of a doctor, engineer, or even a plumber get mad when I say this, but anybody can learn to be a good photographer and most people can produce professional quality pictures, consistently if they put in some effort. The same can't be said of an amateur doctor, engineer, or plumber. So the first step in being a good photographer is to accept that it's not rocket science. Your goal of taking a picture is finally done when you look in a viewfinder and press a button.
Having said that, there is a technical part to photography that is really easy to learn if you just read a few books on exposure and how to properly use lights. All it takes for that to sink in is use what you learned and get out and shoot. Do a long exposure at a low ISO narrow aperture, do a short exposure with raised ISO and wide aperture, do work in harsh lighting, do work in good lighting, use a tripod, try to handhold, etc. Easy easy easy.
The last step is to develop an artistic eye. Again, there are plenty of books on composition, youtube videos, meetup groups, and hey, newspapers and magazines still have pictures so look at what looks pleasing and see why it works. That's it. Congratulations. You're a photographer.
95% of the same business knowledge that applies to a plumber also applies to a photographer. Except unlike a plumber, you don't need to be licensed and pass a bunch of tests and get permits. If you want to wet your beak at being a professional, and you're already a good photographer come on in.
I think it's a waste of money to go to a photography school because again, this isn't rocket science. Those guys have already wasted their time and money and if they were any good, they wouldn't be teaching photography at a JR college and instead would be out making money with their photography. They'll blab about this history of film, maybe have a few math problems to see whether you really can calculate your fstops, etc. but at the end your photography certificate from the Blahblah school of photography isn't going to be worth anything and you'd be out 20 grand.
If you're really an arts person and want to go to college then at least be a fine arts major so when your photography career hits a brick wall and you're working at Starbucks, you can get into other fields like marketing because you have a 4 year degree and people still respect that. Better yet, try to become a doctor or engineer and do photography as a side gig.
Disagree. A couple of the best engineers I've worked with (at companies like Intel and Microsoft) were self taught.
“A master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried”
Thanks Gary, that's a great quote.
It's not even a fair question to ask in today's world... Where we skimped and struggled eating Mac & Cheese, borrowed money from back home, work part-time jobs just to get chemicals and paper to do our Photo-Arts degrees.. With the exception of in camera exposure -- control, lighting technique, and composition. Everything has changed.
The entire post process which made up the bulk of creativity is no more..
30+ years shooting, 18 a software engineer, and Ps was one of the toughest pieces of software I've encountered in 23 years of computing.. I'll never know all of it.