I Love Photography; Should I Get a Degree to Learn?

September 15, 2022

School or no school?

Photo by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash

This is a common question that my photography students ask me.

Should I go to school and get a degree in photography?

I always answer a hard no, and here is why.

What does a photography degree get me?

Photo by RUT MIIT on Unsplash

The honest answer is that a ‘photography degree’ is a $50,000 piece of paper.

Does it teach you photography? A little bit.

Does it teach you how to get a job? No.

Does it give you other opportunities in the future? Eh, maybe.

Many dream of becoming a ‘professional photographer’ because it is creative. And they feel good creating images.

Yet, a degree in photography is not needed to work as a professional photographer.

Some think that it makes them ‘special’ or that it makes them stand out from the competition.

The honest answer: NO ONE CARES.

So why do colleges offer photography degrees?

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

The honest answer: Because they want MONEY.

Don’t get me wrong.

Going to college is a great experience.

You will learn a lot about how to think.

There are processes that I learned in art school while doing non-photography classes that are invaluable to my work today.

Yet, a college degree in photography does not get you a job.

And it does not make you a ‘professional photographer with a degree and a college portfolio.

MANY people want to be professional photographers and don’t have a degree.

And, no one needs a college degree to start a photography business.

You need a camera and people that want to pay you money.

So why should I go to college?

Photo by Michael Marsh on Unsplash

I would suggest that if you want to go to college, get a degree with unlimited potential.

Get a degree that needs individuals straight out of school.

Get a degree that will give you and your future family stability.

This could be law, medicine, computers, or other demanding fields.

My point, get a degree that will have the potential for work at all times.

A photography degree does not get you a job.

A photography degree does not give you stability.

A photography degree puts you in debt as you try to learn how to make money off of it.

How you can learn photography while you get a degree that matters

Photo by William Bayreuther on Unsplash

If you truly love photography and want to learn, great.

Make photographs because you love them.

Make photographs because your heart, gut, and soul scream.

Make photographs to remember.

But do not be disappointed if photography does not make you a lot of money or make you rich.

If you wish to learn photography while going to school for a degree that offers jobs as a backup plan, there are plenty of ways to study.

  1. Take photography classes at a community college. This allows you to learn photography without paying as much.
  2. Hire a private photography teacher. Look for experience and a teaching track record before you hire someone. As professionals, there are a lot of us that teach as well. For example, I taught at NYU and UM, as well as Adorama, Photo Manhattan, and others. This is an excellent track record to see from a private photography teacher.
  3. Read about photography. Buy or download books on photography and consume them when you have time.
  4. Watch videos. Videos can be an excellent resource for learning something specific. I would not suggest them, though, to someone that wants to learn photography. There are a lot of people that make short videos that teach you one trick. This is OK to learn tricks. But, make sure that you also know your camera and understand lighting. And if you are going into business, there is a different set of classes for you.
  5. Get out there and shoot! Sometimes the action of photography itself is the best teacher. I was very stubborn when I started and started this way. I wish that I had taken classes first. I would have saved a lot of time and a lot of mistakes.

Learn photography in these methods. It will save you a LOT of money versus a full-on college degree.

College degrees are great, but they do not teach you photography or how to go into business.

Other pieces of advice

Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

Here are five things I wish that I would have known before getting a college degree in photography:

  • I wish I had known that I would be in student loan debt for many years.
  • I wish I knew I could learn my camera easier by hiring a coach.
  • I wish that I had studied business more.
  • I wish that someone would have advised me about long-term life goals for stability.
  • I wish I had taken photography classes in the ways I mentioned.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

But I share this advice in hopes that you, as a photographer, can avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced.

And if you do wish to learn photography and need a coach, I am happy to set up a session with you.

I teach both on Zoom and in person.

Drop me an email, and I will help to get you where you want to be.

Happy shooting!

Hi, I am Charlie Naebeck
I am a professional photographer and teacher. Voted in the top 10 photography teachers in NYC. Top photography writer on Medium. 
I can help you: 
-Improve your photography and video skills
-Create better content
-Learn how to make passive income
-Create business engagement with better content and strategy
-Coach you how to plan for success
Contact me here to book a coaching session or photography lesson.
Download my classes and Ebooks here where I provide many valuable insights and tips. 
If you like what you read, please consider giving me a follow here on Medium.Thank you!

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