12
Feb-2008

Why I Went To Photography School

Photography   /  

I went to photography school for a reason. It’s not that I couldn’t take photographs, I taught myself how to do that. I really went to photography school so that I could learn about photography. Sounds obvious? Actually it isn’t

When I got into photography I was about 16 years old. It was something I thought I would enjoy and I was right. I bought my first manual SLR camera, made by Ricoh, second hand from a shop by London Bridge station. It came with a standard lens and I added to this over time with other zoom lenses, filters, flash etc.

I taught myself how to take photographs with my new camera, but never thought about studying or becoming a full time photographer until much later on in my life.

If I look back at pictures that I made back in those days, what few remain tell me that I was quite good at composition. Even then, I think the focus was on taking pictures of people. I didn’t know anything about documentary or art photography.

I had heard about famous photographers like Lord Lichfield and David Bailey, but didn’t know anything about people such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Cindy Sherman or even Martin Parr. Going to photography school introduced me to these amazing photographers, and the world of documentary and fine art photography.

Snapshots and Events

My photography at that early stage consisted of snapshots and events. As I had a ‘real’ camera, everyone I knew began to ask me to take their photography or to come down and take some pictures at a family event.

Half my family and friends are musical, either playing some instrument or singing, so there were umpteen gigs per month that needed an ‘official’ photographer.

I didn’t make any money at this (grumble grumble) but I didn’t mind, I was getting the opportunity to practice something that I liked, and with time I got better at it.

As the requests got more frequent however, and life (work & raving) started to play a factor in the amount of free time I had, I began to lose interest and after a while, kinda gave it up.

933492_88729738.jpgTravel, writing & photography

Much later on, worn out by the constant crap of corporate life, I started to dream about my ideal career. Whilst no firm career path or job was formulated, I had settled on wanting the new career to feature travel, writing and once more photography.

I knew that if this was to work, I would have to improve on my skills in the writing and photography side. So I went back to college and took a class in journalism.

I didn’t know whether I would like it, as I hadn’t been back in ‘school’ for nearly 8 years by that time. Still the class was brilliant. My class was taught by ex Daily mail, and ex Reuters journalists and we also had another great tutor with whom we delved into the world of media theory on a Monday evening. It was there that concepts around the role of images in a story, advertising and the arts took on greater significance.

Following that class, I decided re-introduce myself to the camera and enrolled in a weekend workshop photography class run by Zoom-in, which is a great community education photography school based in Clapham SW London.

Having bought myself an auto focus SLR the previous year, I was eager to get back into things. As well as the fact that digital SLR’s were beginning to enter the price range that I could afford.

The possibilities seemed good for being able to combine the travel, the writing and the photography.

Back To Basics

Learning How To Use Your Camera

I am not one for manuals, I find them tedious. Show me, tell me or let me work it out by fiddling, that’s how I learn to use stuff. Reading the manual? Only if it stops working.

Going back to photography school, I got to learn the basics that apply to all areas of photography. Believe me, all the fiddling in the world couldn’t help me work out what the Aperture range was all about and I knew no-one who could show me. I knew even less about Depth of Field.

I knew about shutter speeds and film speeds, but not how to position myself in relation to the subject so that the light wouldn’t cast a shadow. At photography school, I got to go back to the basics.

I learned about the rules of composition, about pan and zoom shots. I got the chance to develop and print my own pictures in the dark room.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was how to ‘read’ the language of photographs. It’s when you learn how to read visual documents that the power of photography really comes into focus.

924596_16843440.jpgWhat Do You Mean Read a Photograph?

Learning how to read a photograph, helps you to understand how they can impact on people. Advertising, marketing, they all use them, and for a very good reason.

You’ve heard the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words‘, well this belief that complex stories can be summed up in one image is a powerful notion. What it doesn’t reveal however, is that the meaning in a photograph can be interpreted a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. It is when you understand this, that you begin to think differently about the photographs that you make.

Knowing that your images can be interpreted by the people that see them in different ways, leads you to think conceptually about your photographic compositions. Knowing that visual imagery in general and photographs in particular (because of their realist nature) have a greater impact than words alone, lets you understand the opportunity you have to influence people outside of your regular circle.

It was after attended the photography school at Zoom-in, that I realised I needed to know more. To me, photography had the potential for me to achieve much more than just taking pictures that revealed the beauty in the balmy destinations to which I was planning to travel.

The importance of documentary photography became clearer. The reasons behind the types of photographs used in advertising became more understandable. I began to read more about photography and photographers. I increased my knowledge about the business of photography. I became a better photographer.

10 Reasons To Go To Photography School

  1. To learn about the basic rules of photography
  2. To learn how to use your camera
  3. To understand how to develop and print photographs
  4. To learn about the history of photography
  5. To learn how to make photography your job, career or business
  6. To learn photography techniques
  7. To benefit from the experience of others (photo critiques)
  8. To learn about different styles and types of photography
  9. To understand the history of photography
  10. To gain insight into the impact that photography has on our daily lives

Where you self taught, or did you go to photography school? Why not comment on this post below, perhaps you have some tips for someone who is thinking about it.

The Photographs for this article are © Asif Akbar

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  1. Shawn /

    Excellent post!

    I’ve never taken a photography class… Completely self-taught. However, I’ve recently been thinking about taking classes and this post may have put me over the top.

    Thanks!

  2. pawel /

    To be honest, none of photographers i admire has ever been in a photography school. Well, at least not as a student 😉

  3. DSLR Camera lenses /

    I think the biggest and best thing any new DSLR owner can do to improve their pictures is to a) slow down and actually look at the picture they are about to take through the view finder BEFORE they fire the shutter and b) buy a decent prime lens (50mm f1.8, sooo cheap yet so much fun) and actually compose the picture my moving – not by cranking the zoom back and forth whilst staying glued to the spot.

    A good prime lens really helps you think about your shot.

    Oh, and go to photography school too!

  4. PhotographyByJet /

    Those are all good reasons for going to photography school, but there is an even more important reason to go.
    If you have any plans of using photography for your income, you need to learn all you can about the business of photography. Sales, marketing, managing costs and setting your pricing. If you are going to try to make a living in photography, you need to make sure your photography school covers this aspect in depth.
    Of course, if you have no real plans to live off your photography, then any source of photographic education will do.

  5. Wednesday Link Love /

    […] has a great article on why you should go to photography school. Most of us appear to be self-learners, which is great, but after reading this, I’m […]

  6. Ardaly /

    nice articles, I never take photography school, but I did get when I go to art school (which I never finish it also)
    I self thought for photography skill, and still do until today… Just this few days, I start to realize that I should take photography school, at least a year or something.
    The problem I have now is, I have no Idea where n how to work with ppl, coz I do everything alone normally, but when I start to do project with team, then I realize that I have this problem.
    Somehow its confuse me, who is rite or wrong…. who think about the design, the ideas… is it from the photographer? or there is someone else will do that work~ for sure I have problem to think about Pose, as I have many experiences in Journalist (travel & weddings) and Portraits

    any advice anyone?

  7. Science of Identity Foundation /

    Yeah, sometimes you’d have to go back to school to improve on certain things. There are times where you take up something and after a while you realize its not something you want. But nonetheless, its never too late to study again, especially if its for self improvement and something you really enjoy….Anyway, great article, and thanks also for the comment “PhotographyByJet”. true, there’s lots more to the photography business than just knowing how to take really great shots.

  8. Carl Hahn /

    Anyone thinking they can self tech them selves in photography is only fooling them selves. If you want to be a point and shooter or a picture taker, forget school. . If you want to better yourself and take photographs people are interested in looking at, then take some classes. Most camera clubs have some type of classes which is start. If you’re really serious, enroll in a college, take an art course, or a photography school dedicated for photography only. The people pictures are great, Very colorful. .

    • Stirlyn /

      Sorry Carl, I don’t agree with you about people fooling themselves. I think it’s entirely possible to teach yourself photography skills and learn what you need to know about a camera if you take time and practice, read the manuals and photography books. Visit exhibitions and learn about photography and photographers. I am not saying don’t go to photography school but they are not the be all and end all.

  9. ed /

    i tried going to a photography school , but the truth is i didnt like it and i stopped going , i agree with stirlyn and i learned enough myself from using a normal camera to take beautiful photos which my freinds loved and i also got a job from doing so too and i love it.

  10. Stirlyn /

    Thanks Shawn, I smiled as I read the about box on your blog, (there are so many of us trying to ‘escape’. I think we can all benefit from going ‘back to school’ from time to time. Even the pro’s go to master classes and isn’t it the reason why we subscribe to countless photomags and visit exhibitions. One pro I would recommend for inspiration is Chase Jarvis he does an excellent job of showing us what the life of a pro commercial photographer is like.

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