Studying art is such an argued topic, people believe going to university to study is beneficial, others believe it’s superficial. Read on to see the views of our social media and community manager who is currently studying a BA in Photographic Arts at the University of Westminster, London.
I am writing as a (BA) Photographic Arts student, I studied photography briefly in secondary school, as a core subject in college, alongside moving image in my art foundation and now I study it full-time at university.
But is studying photography really necessary for you to become a good photographer?
My answer is no.
But it can help.
Anyone can pick up a camera and take a good photo. What is a good photo anyway? (That’s another topic…) Nearly everyone who owns a phone owns one with a built-in camera these days; photography isn’t limited to just professionals, or even those who specifically go out to buy cameras. When a camera comes free with a phone, it doesn’t hurt to use it, people can discover their inner photographer they didn’t even know existed.
Practice makes perfect
You learn what you like to photograph and how to photograph it, by simply photographing! Practice makes perfect. Education regularly puts you in a situation where you have to go out and photograph, whether you want to or not (you’ve got to get them grades!) but sometimes directing someone to go out and photograph opens the mind to photographing new things, and even liking it. If you don’t have that something pushing you, you need the will to go out and take photos without direction or the need to.
I am more qualified with an education in photography
Having a photography qualification means you have had experience hands-on with a camera. It also can show that you have learnt editing and how to use other equipment such as lighting. You would generally have a better idea about correct exposure and colour temperature than someone who photographs casually. But all this can also be learnt without a formal education. The internet is filled with tutorials and YouTube videos teaching photography, there are thousands of books on photography, or you might have a photographer relative or friend who can show you the ropes. Someone who doesn’t have a formal education in photography can still have a better knowledge of photography than someone that does. The curriculum is limited, your craving for knowledge shouldn’t be.
Perks of borrowing
Institutions that teach photography will often have a lot of photography gear that their students can borrow out: different cameras, tripods, lighting gear, and sometimes very expensive exclusive equipment that would otherwise cost someone a fortune to use or buy. They might even have studio space to rent out, film processing and darkroom facilities, as well as a store to buy resources at a discounted price. These are massive perks to photographers who just want to experiment and don’t have the money to buy or rent gadgets and studio space.
In my belief, a student with a First Class Honours is not more likely to succeed in a photography job than someone with a lower qualification or even none. I have no regard for what my photography is like written on such a paper. Art is subjective, how do you grade something that has no accurate measure? I know plenty of friends who graduated with a First and still haven’t found jobs, their belief in meritocracy over other skills or experience has jeopardised them.
‘As a typical student, I will say “university sucks” on a regular basis.’
Don’t get me wrong: sure, getting the best grade that there is shows you are great at following a specification accurately. It shows dedication, perseverance and hard work. But it doesn’t show you are an accommodating photographer to photograph my wedding, my magazine spread or my kid on school picture day. Someone with better contacts and an approachable personality can snatch those jobs away.
A whole institution is filled with students and staff who are passionate about similar areas of practice as yourself, every student should make use of this! You would be a fool not to. My class is filled with amazing aspiring photographers, my teachers have years of experience in different fields of photography and other people on other courses link so closely to what I do; opportunities for collaboration are everywhere. Aspiring fashion photographers should join with aspiring fashion designers. Do they? No, not really. It takes an outgoing personality and the right situations to reach out to other students. Everyone is in one space; so many amazing things could happen with all these people, but it’s unlikely people even know each other exist. It still takes networking to make connections.
I love my course
Really, I do. I love studying Photographic Arts and the conceptual philosophical side of art. But having had work experience in a real work place, it makes all my learning about working in photography seem like a similar situation to someone reading about how to play football and then turning up to play a match and having no idea how to dribble with their actual feet. Sometimes things will only stick after learning it during an experience, especially for kinaesthetic learners.
As a typical student, I will say “university sucks” on a regular basis. When I’m not learning in a particular lesson, I’ll say “it’s a waste of money”, but the fact I’ve taken time to type out this blog post shows that I really think university is actually quite awesome, but it’s up to the individual to make the most out of it. Which means there is no reason why someone who doesn’t formally study photography can’t succeed, as long as they are passionate, have the will to do well and know what to do to improve.
There are things you learn in university that you can’t learn out, but there are things you learn out of university that you can’t learn only in. Hard work pays off in any circumstance. Your education background doesn’t define how well you will do in the future.
“Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”
— John Wooden