I didn't go to a photography school, and it was one of the best professional decisions I've ever made.
Now, before some of you get all up in arms, let me say that while it was the best decision for me, it may not be for you. On the other hand, it may.
At the end of the day, you have to make that choice for yourself. What I'm offering here is information from my experience and perspective that may help you in your decision, not a hard-fast opinion for everyone.
Reasons Not Going to School Was the Right Decision for Me:
- I have no college debt to speak of.
- I was forced to learn real-world and applicable lessons rather than theoretical knowledge.
- I was able to learn at my own pace and only study what I wanted.
- I didn't have to spend time on classes that didn't apply to my chosen profession.
- The decision for a client to hire me never factors in whether or not I have a photojournalism degree.
- I wasn't influenced by what is "right," which allowed me to find my own style more organically.
Some Things I Missed Out on by Not Going to School:
- Having professionals at my disposal whose job is to tell me what they know.
- Many photography programs offer resources and equipment to students. That would have been nice!
- Potential networking opportunities.
- A streamlined curriculum for learning my skill and trade.
- Discovering other knowledge from non-photo-related classes.
- The college "social" experience. (This is almost a moot point though.)
Why I Didn't Go to Photo School:
During my senior year of high school, I started to really consider my options. It had long since become clear to me that I would either be a professional artist of some kind or work a "normal job" and do art on the side. Being from Atlanta, I looked into S.C.A.D. (Savannah College of Art & Design) with a specific interest in a degree in photojournalism.
I was excited to go, but as soon as the dollar signs from tuition and all of the other nameless fees began to stack, I started to rethink my decision. Not to mention, what was I even going to do with a degree in photojournalism? Teach? Nah! I just wanted to take photos!
This is the age of Google! We have ever-expanding knowledge at our fingertips!
I quickly decided that I would just learn on my own and went out and got a shit job and a shit camera.
If you decide to take a path similar to mine, I have some advice for you that I wish I'd had.
- Be systematic and intentional. You don't necessarily have to create your own curriculum, but decide on areas and subjects of study and work through them diligently. Spend time on just composition, or just color theory, or just technical details, etc. This system of learning naturally expands on itself and becomes a forever-rotation of education. And that's amazing because you never want to stop learning!
- If you take any classes, TAKE A BUSINESS CLASS! Do this especially if you're like me (more art brain — less business brain) since the logistical and administrative side of earning a living as an artist will not come easy. Learning things about photography is fun and joyful! Find some help so that you can get a good handle on the other side of this coin.
- Learn some marketing. There are many folks out there who will be doing the same overall thing that you are. Learn how to stand out and tell people about it!
- Get comfortable with hearing, "No." It's something that you'll hear a lot of. It often comes with hearing nothing at all. You just have to keep going.
- Do personal work! This is something that I stress to other artists as often as I can. The benefits of doing personal projects and work are hard to overstate. When you make personal work a part of your regular routine, you learn to develop your individual voice and style and show others how you are unique. You can't do all of that with only paid projects.
Many years later, I'm still glad to have made the decision that I did. The fact that it turned out well has been thanks to a bit of dumb luck, a few hard lessons learned, and a lot of persistence. My "education" still came at a price–it just looked different from the tuition fees at S.C.A.D.
Continuing education in a formal setting provides loads of benefits–great benefits!–and may be the best option for you and how you learn. It doesn't have to be the only option, though.
Did you go to photography school? If so, what did you love about it? What did you not like so much? Let us know in the comments below!