Photography is undoubtedly the art form of the modern day – almost everyone has access to a camera and simple, high-level editing software has exploded the medium. To keep up with the trend, we listed down guide on becoming a pro photographer without going to photography school.
Due to all this, a new generation of amateur photographers is upon us, in numbers greater than ever before. But for those who want to exit the rookie realm, do they need photography school?
Teaching any kind of creative discipline enters the touchy territory, especially for people’s ideals and bank accounts. But, in a day and age where many career photographers struggle to get paid work – do you need formal training to stay competitive over the millions of images on Instagram and Flickr?
First, it’s important to figure out why you want the skills.
Whether you want to be a photographer or just love taking pictures, learn what you need with our in-depth courses in photography: how to shoot photos that tell a story, choose the right gear, create a photo book, and more. Get tips on photo editing, studio photography, and lighting, too.
Finding the Purpose of Your Photography
Not everyone can take a hobby and flip it into a career, and not everyone wants to. When weighing up the importance of enrolling to study, you have to ask yourself if it’s a good investment. As anyone with a degree can tell you – they’re not cheap. The average annual cost of tuition fees can shoot up to as high as US$33,000. That’s a lot of money to throw at a hobby.
If you want to take good photos but don’t want to drop big bucks on being qualified, there’s a ton of ways to develop your skills—we’ll get to those in a bit.
Pros and Cons of Photography School
You’re aware of the cost but want to look further into study – let’s lay out the major pros and cons of photography school.
- Better understanding of the art, its history and its development.
- Refine your natural skills and learn from people who have succeeded in the business.
- Gain a thorough understanding of lighting and composition techniques.
- Make connections throughout your degree that could help in your professional life.
- Tuition expense is high and average yearly salaries are low, meaning it could take you decades to pay back your debt
- Equipment is also super pricey, making it hard to balance the cost of lenses, cameras, and accessories with the price of study.
- Employment isn’t guaranteed, especially as art and photography degrees are limiting.
- Possibility of having to go back to school to pursue more education if your photography career doesn’t flourish.
Regardless of what you want to achieve with your photography, here are some sure-fire ways to improve your skills without a degree.
1. Watch online tutorials
With the inception of the internet making most people think of manuals as artifacts, you can also go to the net to learn. Especially if you find reading difficult/uninspiring, there will be countless videos and blogs on how to use the model you’ve picked. This is great when looking for reviews from people who have actually used the rig for a while. YouTube, in particular, is filled with reviews, tips, and warnings for photographers, check out popular channels like Mango Street or Peter McKinnon for easy to follow videos. And remember to put what you’ve watched into action!
2. Hit the books
Indulging in a good book or online portfolio will help you absorb details in a creative, colorful and interesting way. They will inspire you and help you figure out niches that you want to play around with. Whilst you’re learning portfolios can also be a source of great frustration, as you look at what others can achieve and struggle to mirror it. Don’t let it get you down though, just like every good art form, it takes time to master.
Nothing is going to help you more than experience—so bring your camera everywhere and shoot anything remotely interesting! You can take fifty photography courses, read every book about lighting and exposure and talk about it all day – but taking photos is what is going to allow you to unlock your style and natural skill. As hundreds of photos build up on your memory card, you’ll see what needs improvement and where you excel. It’s good to keep some early evidence of your trials and errors so you can look back and see how far you’ve come!
5. Expand your network
Studying, reading and ogling photographer’s works and words are important, but you also need to hit the streets and network. Contacts and referrals enable you to gain valuable skills and if you want to make money, get clients. Networking is all about figuring out who you need to know and how you’re going to build long-term relationships with them.
Photography is a very personal business, networking lets you get to know people.
You are your brand, making yourself known as a person and not just a photographer helps you get repeat customers.
Networking is cheap in comparison to other marketing strategies.
Without good relationships – no business will succeed.
6. Get a mentor or apprenticeship
Mentors and apprenticeships are a surprisingly overlooked way of breaking into photography. Ask many successful self-taught professionals how they learned the ropes, and many will credit working their way up the ladder at an internship.
A big tip though—do your research into who you are going to be working for. You need to connect with someone who is generous with their knowledge and encouraging in their style. The wrong kind of experience can leave you sitting behind a desk all day, filing paperwork and answer phones.
7. Attend a workshop
Continuing from above, going to a workshop is another great way to learn. Workshops are particularly good for people who might want to go to photography school but don’t want to commit to 3+ years and shell out tons of cash. That’s not to say that workshops aren’t expensive, some are quite eye-watering—but—put it in comparison to a degree and it’s quite the bargain. Workshops also tie into a lot of things we’ve already discussed—they’re great for making connections, finding internships and discovering styles/niches you love.
8. Enter a photography competition
Photography competitions are a great way to get some feedback on your work if you’re finding it hard to get critiques from anywhere else. Some photography competitions can also have pretty hefty cash prizes, so if you’re looking to make money off your shots then this could be your chance. But, be warned—a lot of photography competitions are more of a money making scheme for the host than a legitimate way to celebrate talent—research the comp and don’t pay more than $30 or $40 for an entry.
Use the passion you’ve got and apply it to every photo you take, every book you read, every video you watch and every program you learn. Photography is art, and the best art comes from a place of passion.
Wondering which online courses or photography ebooks can help you become a pro without having to enroll in photography schools? Check them out today on Taming Light Photography.