Do I Need a College Degree for Photography?
“So did you go to school for photography?” a bridesmaid asks me. It’s a familiar question I’ve received several times throughout my career. And a topic that I feel pretty passionately about. The answer is yes, I went to school for photography. But do I feel like it’s helped me with my business? That’s where the answer gets a little more complicated.
No, you don’t need a degree to learn photography.
I’m just going to come out and say it. It’s ok to be a self taught photographer! Some of the biggest names in the industry are self taught. There are SO many resources out there, some even free, that you can turn to in order to grow your skill set as a photographer. Find a mentor, read articles, buy books, watch youtube videos and practice, practice, practice. (Did I mention practice?) The best way to learn is to dive head first and learn everything you can about your camera, light, and interacting with clients. Find friends to practice on.
There are so many great educational sites out there. CreativeLive is a leading resource, streaming live classrooms and opening up a world of knowledge from those who are knowledgeable leaders in the photography industry. Their classes are free if you watch them live, or you have the option to purchase at a reasonable price. Other forums such as ClickinMoms and The Bloom Forum offer workshops by photographers. By being a member, you get access to their forum where you can get feedback and questions answered from other members plus they offer some awesome workshops for a range of prices. There are other photographers out there that offer eworkshop books, presets for editing programs, etc. However, make sure you do your research and read reviews from others before purchasing!
If you’re going to go to continue your education, go for the business classes.
I received my BFA from a local art school. And while I feel like the fine art aspect helped me find my voice and learn techniques, it taught me little to nothing about being a small business owner. There are many similar graduates who would agree. If you are going to pursue a degree or any type of continuing education, the main type of classes you should focus on in order to succeed are business and marketing. (Or a photo program that has a strong business focus.) So many photographers fail because they are creatives. They can take photos but don’t know how to run the business side of things. Learning how to use Quickbooks, market yourself, customer service, sales, find your brand, set up your taxes properly, get contracts, systemize your workflow… These are the things that you need and will take your business to the next level. And by doing these things, you will be able to sustain your business long term. (Be sure to check out your state government page, as they usually have info on how to set up your business the correct way according to state laws.)
Be smart, and weigh the pros and cons.
As you look into what type of education is the best fit for you, make sure you sit down to weigh the cost versus what your income will be. If you feel like you really need a degree, look for a cost effective school. You don’t need to go to a prestigious business school, putting yourself into debt for years to come. That’s a lot of stress to put on you AND your business. On that same note, if you are self-teaching or taking workshops be sure to stick to an education budget. Don’t become a workshop junkie. It’s easy to get caught up in meeting the people we idolize. But there comes a point where you need to focus your time and money on things that are actually going to help run your business.
About the Author:
Megan Sullivan is the Director of Marketing for Iris Works and a wedding and portrait photographer in Indianapolis. She loves to connect with other photographers, capture the beauty in the everyday and spend time with her husband and English Bulldog, Duke.