Monday, April 16, 2007


Part 3: Should you study photography?

If you want to be a photographer you can usually just go out there and do it, though it is often very difficult to find clients for your work. However, for many areas of photography no formal educational qualifications are needed - if your work is good enough and you can promote it you will succeed...

However I would recommend everyone to take an appropriate course, preferably to college graduate level. You don't have to give up the idea of being a photographer until after you finish your course though - get out and start taking pictures now. Some students even find they can earn enough from photography to support them through their course.

As well as giving a thorough grounding in theory and practice, any worthwhile course will also enlarge your horizons generally and give you a valuable perspective on the career you want to pursue. It may well lead you to refine or alter your career plans and should provide you with added confidence.

Some courses will also include opportunities for work experience, trying out your chosen area and seeing how others make a living at it. You can of course arrange this for yourself even if you are not taking a course, and on many courses you will have to make the arrangements yourself in any case. Work experience is a great way to find out more about a career.

Although currently there are many areas of photography for which the only qualification you need is to be able to produce good pictures, you are quite likely to find at some point in your life that the lack of qualifications will bar you progress or prevent you taking a new direction.
For some areas of photography, the most appropriate course may not necessarily be a photography or related course. If you read the biographies of many well-known photojournalists you will find a wide variety of qualifications. Degrees in English, Journalism, Economics, Sociology and other subjects abound.

For mature entrants to photography - those who have already qualified in other fields, there is probably less point in taking a photography course. However some courses prefer mature students and it can be a great advantage to have had experience of life in other occupations.

Which School

There is no right choice of course for everyone - you need to research your choices carefully. Apart from the material factors such as location, cost, length and level of qualification, you need to look carefully at what each school has to offer, as some have quite different aims to others. Some are very much art orientated and others give more attention to professional matters and there are also more scientific courses. You will need to decide which approach is best for you and your intended career.

Most colleges now have some course information on line and you should also get published material from your likely choices. There should be opportunities to see student work, either on the web or in print or in end of course shows and there may be opportunities to visit or Open Days, when you may be able to talk to students, If the student work doesn't interest you then this may not be the course for you.

Larger schools can often offer better equipment and may have better-known staff, but smaller institutions may be easier to get to know people in and offer a more personal treatment. Institutions in large urban areas may have a much greater range of experience to offer in terms of access to museums, exhibitions and photographers studios etc, while those away from the big city may have other advantages, such as more space and interesting local landscape.

Courses will also differ in their entry requirements, and for some these will be more general than photographic. For many courses a good general educational standard, perhaps particularly in English, Mathematics and Science will be needed. For those courses concerned with your creative development, the application or interview process will almost certainly involve some sort of portfolio of your work.

Portfolios for course interviews are usually rather different from those you will use in getting work. The first and most essential thing is to read any advice or instruction given in either the course leaflets or an invitation to interview. If you have any doubts about what you should take, ring up well in advance and ask.

In a course interview, the tutors will be interested to see how you work and develop your ideas rather than just the finished product, so a portfolio might include background research, sketches and proofs as well as final prints. They are looking for potential more than for professional competence - which is what the course should add.

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