Should I ditch photography School?

Recently on our pho­tog­ra­phy forum this ques­tion (To go or not to go to pho­tog­ra­phy school) was brought up by forum mem­ber kat. She won­dered whether it was worth it to take a pho­tog­ra­phy pro­gram at the uni­ver­sity level.

It’s a very inter­est­ing ques­tion and it brought me back to my own uni­ver­sity days and reminded me of some­thing a sta­tis­tics pro­fes­sor once told me. He said that the WORST thing you can do (ON AVERAGE for the aver­age per­son) for your life­time earn­ings is to go to uni­ver­sity. This is because while you are going into uni­ver­sity you are rack­ing up debt and not mak­ing money. Obvi­ously for pro­fes­sional degrees (account­ing, med­i­cine, law etc.) there is no other way, but pho­tog­ra­phy is dif­fer­ent. You can either go to pho­tog­ra­phy school or learn pho­tog­ra­phy by your­self, online, by tak­ing work­shops, appren­tic­ing etc.

As for myself, I did go to pho­tog­ra­phy school and com­pleted a 2.5 year pro­gram after uni­ver­sity in the mid 90’s. I don’t regret it one bit, I love knowl­edge and photo school trained my eye quite well.

How­ever — If I were in this posi­tion today would I do the same thing?.…Honestly, I doubt I would.

The world these days is dig­i­tal, and there’s SO much excel­lent online learn­ing that wasn’t there when I stud­ied, plus the dark­room work that was so impor­tant then, has been replaced by digital.

I really think I’d rec­om­mend work­shops and self-learning over a full on pro­gram that takes 2–3 years. Keep in mind that AFTER the 2–3 years nobody will be wait­ing to give you a job, you will have to hus­tle BIG TIME and mar­ket your­self‚ BIG TIME..or else, on aver­age you will fail.

Another sober­ing stat from back in the day is that 2 years AFTER grad­u­at­ing from pho­tog­ra­phy school, only 20–25% of the grad­u­ates will be work­ing pho­tog­ra­phers. That stat still seems accu­rate to me today based on what I‚ see.

So what do you think — Is pho­tog­ra­phy school a waste of time?


  1. admin says:

    Thanks for the com­ment Eric and i wish you the best of luck! even though you will be learn­ing tons of gen­eral stuff, try to focus early on the type of pho­tog­ra­phy you love to do. Pho­tog­ra­phy is great work if you can get it. Web design is also a GREAT choice for a degree.
    Best — Marko

  2. Eric Pepin says:

    As a per­son who has just applied to a 2 year pho­tog­ra­phy pro­gram heres my view on it. My school has hun­dreads of thou­sands of dol­lars worth of lenses and cam­era bod­ies to use, things i could not afford for years. Also my school has medium for­mat and 4x5 cam­eras, again things that even if i read up on I would be hard pressed to get enough hours on to become skilled with them. Top it all off with two large proffe­sional stu­dios with all the light­ing and back­drops and you start to see why it is finan­cially the best course of action. With the 7 or 8 ish pho­tog­ra­phers who teach in the pro­gram i get sem­i­nars every­day rang­ing from wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy, prod­uct shoots and full on fash­ion shoots, all things impos­si­ble to emu­late as a beg­giner try­ing to teach themselves.

    Ive looked into both options but my mind is set, after i get my web design degree im doing pho­tog­ra­phy, doing it alone can work sure, but with pro­pre instruc­tion full time and instant feed­back i feel i could accom­plish so much more and get there so much faster.

  3. Bambi says:

    So what do you think ‚” Is pho­tog­ra­phy school a waste of time?”

    I like to think that no learn­ing is wasted. But then I am optimistic

    How­ever, I totally get your point about it being bet­ter to do self learn­ing if you want to be a pro­fes­sional. The self-learning though only works if you are dis­ci­plined enough to do it on your own. Some peo­ple would do bet­ter in a struc­tured pro­gram to keep them on track.

    I know very lit­tle about pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy so I have a ques­tion: is it a lack of knowl­edge regard­ing what is out there for employ­ment which leads to the 20–25% esti­mate? Does every­one want to work independently?

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