Blog - October 2018 - Are Photography Degrees Worth it?

book with blog on the cover A photography degree is still a very popular course and universities continue to produce lots of qualified photographers for the working world. I’ve never studied photography at a degree level but I imagine three years of learning the craft must be quite exhilarating. A time to be submerged in the technical and creative sides of the genre with opportunities to not only learn from within the confines of the university but for some, also outside in the real world.

For those looking to start a photography business there’s no legal qualification required to trade, unlike say a gas engineer who must meet stringent criteria before they can fit boilers and the like. So a person who picked up a camera for the first time yesterday could start a photography business just as easily as the degree-qualified graduate fresh out of studying for three years at uni.

The technical aspects of a photograph, that is, the ISO, shutter speed and aperture can be learned very quickly so it wouldn’t take our theoretical new photographer very long to become technically proficient at making an image. So what does the degree give the graduate that the newbie doesn’t have?

We can’t of course consider every photography course here as there are many, commercial, fine art, editorial or documentary to name but a few but they should all go deep in to the subject beyond the basic technical and on to skills a photographer must have such as digital workflow, understanding light and perhaps business skills too like building a portfolio to sell your skills to clients.

Everything we’ve listed here could though still be learnt by the newbie who is open to self-study and getting out there with a camera to learn from doing. This approach is likely to be harder than those who have a structured learning experience because they are led by experienced tutors teaching exactly what’s required. The self-study photographer has to ensure they’re studying just the right things all on their own. This though isn’t impossible and with some discipline should be achievable.

There is one aspect of university study that is not open to the self-studying newbie and that’s the doors that are opened by being part of a university-driven programme to get their students experience and knowledge of the working world. Networking is an important part of any business seeking new contacts and universities are very good at creating networks to enhance student opportunities like work experience. They’re especially good at keeping in touch with graduates who move on to their media careers who come back to talk about and pass on their experiences to students. Knowledge that those outside of those circles rarely get an opportunity to hear.

For the newbie, networking is mostly a ground-up affair looking to build a contact list of people in the area of photography that’s of most interest right from scratch. This is not an impossible task but will come easier to some than others. Networking is a bit of a dark art whether one has a photography degree or not.

Another significant dfference between the newbie and the graduate is the investment made by each to gain their experience. University courses cost thousands of Pounds, Euros or Dollars all of which must be paid back eventually. The newbie can avoid the majority of this cost altogether. They will have to spend some money on gear, they need at least a camera to get started after all but this could be as simple as using their phone which as we all know, take great images. The advantage to the studying at university is the range of gear the student gets to use and experience. All of which will be industry standard and all of which the new photographer will be expected to be able to use when they venture in to working as a photographer. The self-studying newbie will have to find ways to experience that equipment in other ways. Again not impossible but will be harder to do.

There are many pros and cons to taking a degree course in the hope of making photography a career. It would at least be wise to consider if the career could also be achieved by self-study and getting out there to take lots of pictures to learn from experience.

What do you think?

All images © Peter Hatter
Article Date - October 2018
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