Should You Go To Photo School?

You should go to photo school if you want structured learning. Groundwork from the fundamentals to the bigger concepts. It will move too slowly for many of you, too fast for others. There are lots of great programs, worldwide.

If you don’t do better with structured learning and you are highly motivated and prefer real world experience, don’t go. Instead, teach yourself, take workshops, get mentors, read books, build your support network, work for other people. And most importantly take a helluva lot of photographs. Dig the long ditch that it takes to learn to make a living with photographs.

If this is too simple a post for you, then go to photo school.

110 Responses to Should You Go To Photo School?

  1. Joe July 11, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    I choose to not go to school. I am glad that Pro’s are saying this like Joey L. said it as well. I like the ideal of using mentors, never thought about that before.

    • Dan - right brained July 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

      My 2 cents (as A CPA – mostly right brained).

      One of the ‘problems’ out there making it hard for the ‘dedicated’ to make a living is that too many ‘learners’ are willing to take photos for free or on ‘Spec’. But, my guess is that most of those who go to a formal college (like Brooks or others mentioned) come out of the program ready to work commercially and anxious to earn money to pay back the loans – rather than the shooter who is waiting tables and will take any work at any price (and even free for “friends or experience”). Where will the future Chase Jarvis or Joe McNally come from? it could be either place.

      and, yes, in my profession, everything is really structured – and, for a graduate who gets a job in a commercial operation, I imagine it is very structured as well. But, we know that the creativity comes with the freedom – and motivation – that is rarely there in a structured environment.

      And professors – aren’t they paid mentors? I do believe that the college route will make more contacts unless you hit a sweet spot early on your own (really tough) and hopefully there’s a college class in leveraging relationships in the photo world.

      That said – it is good to have the options opened. We need both types of learners and artists. Follow the dream.

      • Anonymous November 29, 2013 at 8:50 am #

        I really like your post. However if you want your Masters in photography education can only help you achieve that. Well said article. I like the simplicity.

  2. derek heisler July 11, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Couldn’t have been put better. I am definitely the latter :)

  3. Chris Gibson July 11, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Great post, Im taking the do it yourself route :) Have a great day!

  4. Optic Bard July 11, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    I am so glad to see you post this. The truth is that I decided a while ago that school was the right root for me. I have had many photographer friends that are going the self taught root that it is a waste of my money, and that I can learn everything I need to on my own. But you in this simple post summed up what I couldn’t explain to others, I do better with structured learning.

    • Mystic Women of Salem July 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

      I am an art major in Photography concentration and believe me when I say that being formally educated in photography gives you a HUGE edge in the industry!

    • Anna July 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

      It wasn’t a college degree, though, was it? ROUTE. And that’s just the beginning. Unbelievable.

      • John January 11, 2012 at 11:32 am #

        Been thinking about this all day, sad man that I am. I think you’re being a bit harsh on Optic (may I call you Optic?), Anna. She’s a visual person, like you probably, and writing may not come as easily to her as it does you. After all, it’s a quick comment on a blog, not a formal paper. Let’s try to get on nicely together :).

  5. illogical42 July 11, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Don’t just get mentors, get the right mentors. The question to ask is a potential mentor is “who would you want as your mentor?”

    • mhpics July 11, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      Zack Arias

    • Jethro July 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      chase jarvis :D

    • aqcrye July 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

      @zackarias, @chasejarvis, and @primejunta

      • Chris October 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

        This post in a nutshell describes one of the major pitfalls of teaching yourself… the unknown unknowns.

        The three photographers mentioned are perfectly competent, but are notorious as much for their web presence as much as they are for their photography. The blog community that has formed around those mentioned here and David Hobby is quite inbread in a way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to aspire to be like those guys, they do a great job, but it’s a very inward looking attitude. Zach, David, Chase, Joe etc. are all good photographers, but more than that they are great entrepreneurs that have very intelligently used social media to their advantage… no offence guys, but none of you are (yet?) what I would call ‘one of the greats’. Aspiring photographers should draw influence from the valuable lessons that these guys teach (for free), but should not fall into the trap of thinking that they are the be all and end all of photography. Bresson, Maplethorpe, Wall, Bourdin, Kertez, Sherman, Parr, McCullin, Sander, Evans, Frank etc… these are some of the protagonists that have shaped the medium.

        This is the crux of the matter really, self-teaching is all well and good, but you can’t possibly know what information you actually need to learn and what you don’t. I know plenty of self-taught photographers that are more than capable, but in my experience they lack some of the academic underpinning that those that go to art-school have… That’s not to say that this is always the case, but most of the blog content out there that you may be teaching yourself from is going to be equipment and technique focussed, as this is what is of most interest.

        I guess my point is, if you want to teach yourself anything you have to be incredibly disciplined. Don’t just read the articles that interest you, read EVERYTHING! Remember there’s no right or wrong way to do anything. Read up on critical theory, semiotics and art history, they are just as important as lighting setups or gear reviews (probably more important actually).

        • Tobias January 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm #


        • Jaime February 11, 2013 at 9:57 am #

          you nailed it.

    • Algernon Parker July 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

      Chase Jarvis, Joe McNally, and Jeremy Cowart…

  6. Kalyan Yasaswi July 11, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    You’re just so right man. Amen! to that.

  7. Camila July 11, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    What do you mean by photo school? A complete university degree or random photography courses? I have learned halfway alone and the other half on courses. My opinion is that a course, seminar, workshops or whatever you call it is a good place to make your way shorter in man aspects. You can actually meet other people that like the same stuff, you share and learn from them, and also from the content of the course itself. I am not totally against a photography course, I believe in self learners, but if you can broaden your horizons, why not?

    • John Cornicello July 11, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      Camila, check out the second paragraph. I’m all for classes, workshops, seminars (free or paid). Not so hot on photo school. Yes, get a good school education, but learn to learn. Then go out in the world and learn. And share your knowledge. It is so easy to fall into the “curse of knowledge” trap where it is difficult to understand what it is like to not have knowledge of something once you know about it. You had to learn it. I had to learn it. The next person will have to learn it. Ask questions. Answer questions. I often learn more when answering because it makes me re-think some concepts.

      Use all the avenues available. But be smart about the choices.


      • Marlies Anastasia August 8, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

        “Use all the avenues available. But be smart about the choices.”

        So very true!

  8. Gabe July 11, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    I went to school. It was one class in high-school. Taught me how to use aperture and shutter speeds. How to use rule of thirds and develop film. What makes for good compositions. Other than that I have been taking self assigned classes. Watching Creative Live, reading a TON of posts, blogs, how to’s, etc.

    So yea, I’ve been to school. Just depends on your definition of school.

  9. Landon Mathers July 11, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Randolph Community College in Asheboro, NC. One of the best photography colleges in the nation!! I just received my Commercial and Bio-Communications degree from there. Awesome teachers!!

  10. Brandon Hill Photos July 11, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    I agree. For the most part, don’t go. Assist and find mentors for life. Photo school is by far the most expensive way to go in an expensive career. The internet has changed everything.

  11. Sergiu July 11, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    I went for the first semester.Then I dropped out.I didn’t want other people telling me what my vision should or shouldn’t be.

  12. Art Zaratsyan July 11, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Don’t bother with school, don’t waste your time. Grab a book, read some blogs, study the masters, and shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot!

    That is all. :)

  13. Jonny July 11, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Photo school was awesome. A giant on-going collective of other individuals who care about the same thing. A healthy competition with assignments goes past the class room and into the real world, which by far was one of the best assets I took from Photo School.

    Just remember… Photo Degrees don’t speak, your photography will.

    • Fusal January 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      Well said :)

  14. Joe July 11, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    One other point is I rather learn from a Pro photographer that is working in the field now than a teacher that was a pro in the film days. Not saying all are the teachers are, but the one’s I met are out of date. Plus like other say with seminars, workshops, and webinars I can learn from Pro’s in the industry that are current and working in the field. Just my 2 cents.

  15. majortom July 11, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Depends on the school. Some are very art-oriented and will “tell you what your vision should or shouldn’t be”. Others concentrate on photojournalism. Others (there’s a great one at a community college here in Seattle) will give you a great grounding in the nuts-and-bolts of technique, mechanics, self-promotion, and what it takes to have a commercial career.

  16. stacymarie July 11, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    We have an excellent school in Seattle called Photographic Center Northwest. Not only does it have classes, workshops and darkrooms but you get the feeling that you belong to a community, which is what I was seeking when looking for photography classes. In my opinion you’re going to learn a lot more from school than you would from your monthly photo club…

    I was self taught for many years, but then I went to school and was able to put a lot of the things I’d be reading about or seeing into action. It’s not just having a structured way of learning, it’s bouncing your ideas off other people. It’s learning the history of your art. If you are dropping out or not wanting to go to school because people are telling you how to be a photographer well then, in my opinion, you weren’t an artist to begin with. Just a person with a good camera taking some pictures that turn out ok sometimes and your friends tell you has “great composition”.

  17. venura herath July 11, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    I learned/ing molecular biology at Graduate School while i learned/ing photography by trial and error.
    Knowledge is always there. task it how good you are apprehending it.

    Good post Chase!

  18. Corbin July 11, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Well , another benefit beyond the structured learning is the people you’ll meet there and learn with.
    ALSO, the access to different types and kinds of equipment that you might otherwise not know about or have access to is something worth considering.

  19. CWDaly July 11, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Funny you bring this up, my cousin just asked me about this. I pointed her to some online courses.
    I never went to photography school, but if I made my living from it, perhaps I would feel differently about it, or perhaps not.

    Great post


  20. agv July 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Yes you can learn a lot from the internet and books but for the majority of people that will only get you so far. Surrounding yourself with other like minded professionals helps out more than anything else. If you get that in school then good on you, if you get that another place good on you also.

    I was fortunate enough to go to a photo school. I found that some of the best things that I got out of it was hands on learning with actual equipment that professionals use in the field. On top of that I was in a network of other photographers that helped me get a full time job in a commercial studio.

  21. Sam Ortiz July 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Thanks to photographers like you Chase, and many others out there who are willing to share their knowledge, I was able to teach myself and continue to learn every day! Couldn’t agree with this post more..

  22. Corey Thompson July 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    I like the idea of getting a mentor. The only problem to that suggestion for me is finding someone who has the time and willingness to mentor me. I have no desire to mentor the local wedding photographer or portrait photographer. I would love to have someone like Zach Arias or Chase Jarvis mentor me, but there are probably thousands of people thinking the exact same thing.

    I chose not to go to photography school. I do better with hands on learning. I like to go at a pace that caters to how quickly or slowly I’m learning. I took a course in college in Visual Basic. The professor did not teach me Visual Basic. He taught me how to teach myself Visual Basic. As a result I passed at the top of the class and everyone else missed the very important lesson he tried to teach us; that you won’t always have someone there to show you how to do something. His lesson was that in the real world, you won’t have a teacher holding your hand showing you what to do, you need to learn how to find the right resources that will provide you with the knowledge to help you get to where you want to go.

    I find that in the classroom environment, if you’re not picking up on something quick enough, the class goes on and you’re left behind. If you catch on faster then everyone, the class still goes at the same pace and what you learn is limited by what everyone as a group has the capacity to learn in one semester.

    What works for me may not work for someone else. To each their own.

  23. Christian Held July 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Lovely. I shouldn’t go then. Like to teach myself and get hard but fair critique after presenting a couple of shots to other people than my friends and family.

    Now off to shoot some fireworks from a top secret location which is my house as the weather isn’t very welcoming for the upcoming 21cc fireworks for The Tall Ship Race 2011 in Greenock, Scotland.

    Take care everyone!

  24. Shannon July 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    After watching creativeLIVE all last weekend, really can’t compare any kind of classroom learning to the amazing on-the-fly, in-real-time education from the CL courses. Watching the CL instructors, you not only get to see the concepts explained, but you also get to see demonstrations of how those ideas are manifested in best practices around the industry. Opinions vary, but the live chat room is also filled with tons of help (from novice to expert) on almost every topic you can think of. I don’t know who said it, but someone commented this past weekend that Gale Tattersall taught more than a year of film school in just a couple of days… Everyone has to make their own choice — but many people will probably find that learning online from resources like creativeLIVE are all that are needed to get to the next level of where you want your education to go……

  25. Daria Riley July 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I would also add that people who choose to go the self-taught route should NOT assume that their journey will be shorter. It’s definitely not the easy way out.

    • Jaime February 11, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      realizing this now.there is a lot to learn A LOT and either i have the discipline, drive and perseverance, and appetite to learn or not.

      this is a craft and there is only one way and that is through it. otherwise hang it up.

  26. siri smets July 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    LOVE the last sentence … (as I am a recent drop-out-of-school…)
    Thank you for letting me stand on your shoulders!

  27. Don Cudney July 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    “And most importantly take a helluva lot of photographs. Dig the long ditch that it takes to learn to make a living with photographs.” – I disagree.

    I wish I could get more photographers to understand that “the business of photography” has NOTHING to do with the pictures you create – it’s the BUSINESS you create. Our images are only a SMALL part of being a COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHER. Next time your at lunch with a client ask them point blank – “what images of mine do you like or love.” I bet they only remember one or two of your images, but they’ll remember how fast you delivered your last job and how the overall experience effected their company. IT’S NOT YOUR IMAGES – It’s YOU. – Stop “worrying” about creating pretty pictures and start creating a successful business. My two cents and years of experience!

    • Masahiko F July 12, 2011 at 7:46 am #

      Don, you can’t say things like that. Photographers who understand that professional photography is a business first and foremost will more likely become long term competitors. Let’s stick with “Take lots of pictures and follow your vision.”

  28. Jack Pope July 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    You explained this to me a while ago and its refreshing to hear it again. People usually say I should go because it would at least be fun and provide credentials, but there is something frightfully exciting about trying to figure it out on my own. I can’t pass up an adventure like that.

  29. Ahmad Namavar July 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    take a helluva lot of photographs

  30. Algernon Parker July 11, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    I would rather go to school for a business degree… I’m a self taught photographer and I’m always learning. I hope to never stop learning!

  31. Otto Koota July 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    For me there has been many forks on my road to becoming an image maker, I did the self taught bit and then went to University to top-up my skills and CONTACTS… Being a photographer is great, best thing I have ever done! Making a living out of photography, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done…

    I’m probably not the best photographer around, well most definitely not. But I believe in my product and can sell the concept and that you can only learn by DOING :)

  32. JasonL July 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Dont forget a business class & or workshop along the way either!

  33. Dale Reubin July 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Haha! Love the kicker at the end. Sums it up well I think.

  34. A Photo Teacher July 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Should you go to “photo school?” No.

    You should go to school to not only learn and enhance your photography skills, but rather primarily, to develop your knowledge base and critical thinking skills about other things as well, including the humanities (literature, languages, history, sociology, psychology), the sciences and sure practical things like communication skills and business.

    Sure, the strategy to “teach yourself, take workshops, get mentors, read books, build your support network, work for other people” is taking charge of one’s direction with photography, but imagine the possibilities if this is further enhanced with a formal education that includes photography in relationship to other endeavors and interests.

    And most importantly, “making” rather than “taking” a helluva lot of photographs would be helpful whether you’re in school or not. Yes, there is a difference. Click on and scroll down.

  35. James Andrews July 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Or a combination of the two .

  36. michael murphy July 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more, either way.

  37. Richard Cave July 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    You should go to school, you should do an apprenticeship. I am really hacked off with the quick fix culture with vocatonal professions. Yes you can read a book or hang round like a lapdog waiting for tweet or a blog post to get a nugget.

    You learn the hard way with people who themselves who went through it.

    You learn the art of management,teamwork and business.

    Sorry but joey l is as far as i am concerned a precocious brat, go to school.


  38. Chris July 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    School, so far I’ve been self taught, and found myself somewhat lost.. in need of some quick (3 month part time) courses just to learn more studio lighting, and clean commercial tricks.

  39. Mark Tipple July 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    I’m asked this a lot as well, my response is that while Google taught me the technical side of photography, it wasn’t until I went to film school that I learned story through image. Now that 99.9% of my work is documentary photography the story telling film aspect has helped ten-fold. My $0.02.

  40. bimal nair July 12, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    I loved your last line :) It says so much so shrewdly :P

  41. Alexis July 12, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    Well I think the CreateLive concept is even a bigger statement than the one made in this post.
    Just a newbee’s perspective : one or the other anyways : Long is the road towards self satisfaction, isn’t it what this is all about ? the path should be enjoyed as much as the goal. And you can take it : I’m a long way from the goal, but already enjoying my little stinky bastard self …

    Cheers !

  42. fas July 12, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    It totally depends on what your after. If you want to do your own stuff then having a school degree not that important.

  43. Adam July 12, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    This question always troubles me because I know a lot of great, creative people who do study visual arts, including photography and film making. I never want to speak negatively about such aspirations. On the other hand, I know just as many who have studied it and it didn’t work out for them. They’d put all their eggs into studying photography for example, they got the degree but didn’t have the creative drive to turn it into anything after that. The pressure to learn formally and then professionalise what they once held as a creative outlet was self defeating in the end.

    Creativity can’t really be taught, it should instead develop naturally. If one wants to do photography commercially, then focus on learning those skills that will aid the art… business, accounting, business law and marketing. Not only will they help with turning a passion into a career, but they provide a a back up career, something to take the pressure off being a successful artist straight away.

  44. Dan baker July 12, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    The problem with photo school as well as many other art programs, your entire grade is based upon the subjective opinion of a handfull of instructors. I would say better to get a business degree and assist with a photographer who’s style you admire.

  45. OlléS July 12, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    I like that blog.
    I take pictures for some years now and had the feeling of getting to a dead end.
    Only recently did I find Chase Jarvis YouTube videos and creativeLive.
    Those online classes gave me a new boost. And I hope I’ll learn at lot soon
    to actually start earning a living from making pictures. Creativity is just a big part of me

  46. Mike, the guy who never shot a wedding in his life July 12, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    Right now, the commercial arts are completely driven by popular culture. This is the main reason that school has not necessarily been required for commercial artists working in the post-world war 2 era. Pop culture is entirely about living in the moment and instant gratification (Do as thou wilt) It rejects the past and invests nothing in the future. This is why each pop culture trend has a lifespan of only 2-4 years. The people that are best at creating pop culture for advertising usually share a similar attitude towards the craft of photography. Why spend years studying the masters when they can “just do it” now? Why worry about the future when the moment is all that counts anyway? If everything they are doing today is only going to be replaced by something new tomorrow, then why bother mastering anything today? Self-taught photographers are really good at not-mastering anything and they are also really good at “just doing it” and living in the moment. They don’t have the patience to take a structured approach towards craftsmanship and want to start making something now. They don’t want to learn about a bunch of old dead white guys and this is why school bores them. School stands completely at odds with pop culture and doesn’t create good pop artists. Academic institutions won’t be considered valuable as long as pop culture exists. However, if something comes along to destroy pop culture, then school will be important again. Basically, the folks that don’t want to go to school can do fine as long as they’re living in an era dominated by popular culture. But, if something comes along to change that then they’re screwed.

  47. Mike Folden July 12, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    I was so set on going to school until I didn’t get in. I was looking for the structure but when I didn’t get in, I figured I would see how much I could learn over the next year until it starts again. I learned so much and went pro in a little over a year (after 5 years of shooting). I think school would have been great but in the end I think if you have motivation then you can do it without. Not to mention, the interwebz has infinite amounts of information that is always current and up to date.

    Great post!

  48. SupaFry July 12, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    One of the best pieces of advice that anyone ever gave me came from one of my old photo professors, Bob Ware. I was trying to decide whether or not to take an internship with a major photographer, which meant dropping out of school to be able to work (no pay/stipend with the internship). His words were, “Never let school get in the way of your education.” I know he wasn’t the first to say it, but it was the first time I had heard it, and it changed my outlook on going to school just for the sake of going to school.

    • Mike, the guy who never shot a wedding in his life July 12, 2011 at 11:31 am #

      A person with a weak background in photography doesn’t know enough about the craft in order to discern a good mentor from bad. Ignorance leads to poor choices. The cliche about “practice makes perfect” is a myth and the reality is that practice makes permanent. Bad habits taught by poor mentors and practiced continuously become very difficult to unlearn. School provides a solid background that can help a person choose a good mentor and also prevents the formation of bad habits. Basically, mentors should not be looked at as a way to avoid school but rather as a way to supplement an already solid background. Also, highly skilled craftsman won’t easily part with their hard earned knowledge. If a mentor is giving away information too freely then there is a good chance that the information isn’t all that valuable in the first place. The most useful insight is usually reserved for those who earn it in order to prevent it from becoming vulgarized.

  49. Flora July 12, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Hi! I really admire you Chase but I have one question for you. Isn’t working with a mentor a school too? It is an education too, and it is an education too to buy a lot of books. I have got an education and if I should base my comment on my first univeristy I would say: don’t study photography, do it on your own. But then I got into some wonderful classes and I see that what I have learned there I would have never learned myself if not in many years.

    It alla depends on what a person needs and meets. I would rather say too: if you apply for an education don’t bother to see if the teacher have a foot in the branch. They MUST be active photographers. But care more that they are above all GOOD TEACHERS. It is all about learning something and if you choose a school remember it can affect you in many ways. Some teachers I met have a great name among photographers and are totally unable to teach and encourage. I almost decided to give up and that is the sign that the education was a failure. It should not frustrate the enthusiasm.

    A creative photographer with a sound education behind is gunpowder. Don’t underestimate what creativity AND knowledge together can do. (This is most meant to the other who commented here and not the author).

    • Adam July 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

      There’s a difference I would say between learning and being taught. In a school, you are being taught, the dialogue is for the most part going one way and you are assessed on strict and often subjective criteria. Many educational experts agree that for most people, this is the worst way to gain knowledge. Learning is the seeking of knowledge and the free and open dialogue of ideas and opinions that build and inform ones knowledge.

  50. Mark J July 12, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    How about become a mentor? It’s easy, once you pick up a camera, to find others that will ask you for help and advice. No matter your or their level, if you are involved with learning / teaching you will learn from each other.
    You never know who or what will spark your innovation.

    Keep an open mind,

  51. Mary July 12, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Learning is very personal. Some people learn better with structured classes, others learn by doing and figuring out on their own. Like everything in life I think we all need a little of everything. Structured learning may help you get the basics in the shortest period of time. After that, you may be better off with participating in workshops, mentoring programs or just working in the field. I am an amateur and most of what I’ve learned in photography I learned in structured classes mostly workshops. That is my learning style. Technology has changed teaching and learning dramatically, asynchronous learning is everywhere! I think the key is to never underestimate the delivery method and never think you know it all. There is always room for improvement and learning.

  52. BMT July 12, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Photo school will foster a certain type of rigorousness that is hard (but not impossible) to develop on your own. Aside from making sure you get the basics down solidly (you’ll never get past photo 101 without developing your own film), you are constantly in a state where your photos are being critiqued. This is actually quite useful, not only in terms of improving, but also in terms of defining why you as a photographer make certain choices, as well as explaining those choices both visually and literally. It also teaches you how to properly give as well as take criticism; there are SO many photographers out there who take any tiny bit of criticism as an insult, since they can’t separate themselves from their art enough to take a critique and use it to improve.

    So I’m a huge fan of learning the basics in a very formal setting (either class, or through a mentor). Once you learn the basics, you learn when and how to bend the rules to get what you want, and have the reasoning to back up why you did it (instead of just saying “it looks pretty”). There’s also a ton of theory usually involved, and it shows you why certain things work more than others (and again, when to break those conventions to achieve something different). Basically you’re given the tools to understand WHY you find one photo better than another, the ability to discuss it, and most importantly, how you can use it to improve yourself.

    Now again, this isn’t always just obtained through a formal photo education; there are plenty of ways to approach it. Mentoring is a great way to get these ideas down, especially if you can match that up with a good critique circle and some exhibitions as well as a healthy dose of reading (especially photo history, people never read that stuff on their own it seems). Photo education just lays it all out in a straight line for you.

    Too many times I see people who think their photos are untouchably great just can’t handle even the smallest criticism (I blame the mindless “great photo!” flickr phenomena here in part), and they forever live in a bubble where there is no improvement.

  53. Henry Posner July 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I did not and had a successful 20+ year career. But if I had I might have had ideas and concepts spoonfed to me I had to learn piecemeal, the hard way. I’d have been exposed to equipment and industry contacts more easily and it’s quite possible my career would have moved more swiftly and I’d have had a wider range of employments options when I was starting out.

    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video

  54. DanielKphoto July 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    I don’t think a photoschool would be the thing for me, I’d much rather go and find out for myself and teach myself :)

  55. Kathleen Barngrover July 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    I went the US Navy School of Photography route. It was a cross between structured and unstructured, self paced. Allowed one to really learn in depth fairly quickly. When assigned to duty station, all of the learning was followed up by on the job experience and plenty of time to be creative and to experiment with the very best equipment money could buy.

  56. TimR July 12, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Anyone contemplating going to school for photography should consider film school instead. You learn all you need to know and much more for taking stills, plus you’ll learn how to shoot motion, which you at least need to try. And mostly importantly, you’ll learn about story, and how to show them visually, which is the heart of it all.

    • Tamara July 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

      TimR, what a great point! Seems so obvious, yet I never thought of it.

  57. Brian Powell July 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I’m sure many have said it above, but that last line is genius! :)

  58. Raul July 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    What it comes down to is you get out of it what you put in.
    A crafty businessman once stated to me, “there aint nothin worth free” A lot of folks say they want to be a mentor and give someone a start, but they are not interested in training their competition unless there is something in it for them. Usually that means 2 or 3 years of free labor. Conservatively you could say 15 thousand dollars worth of schlepping equipment and doing the dirty work per year, and you still have paid 45 thousand in trade and hopefully learned something along the way. But how do you know ? Without a clear set of goals or a syllabus or some sort of projected learning outcome you may learn a few “tricks” but still not be prepared to go it alone.

    Formal Education or Self Paced, either way you have to form some attainable goals. Most schools have been there long enough and have the people who know how to get you there. A school should not be a cookie cutter where everyone gets the same education. At the same time it wouldn’t be a valid education if you can just do what you want because you are “an artiste” and give yourself an A for everything.

    That doesn’t fly in school, you can fight it all you want, quit out of spite etc.

    But I would challenge you to join a recognized group of professionals, enter your A+ work in competitions and see what the results are. 99% of the time you will get the same comments you received in school, and those judges don’t hold back, they are not your coach or your friend, and they are not on your side the way your teachers would be.

    So, I repeat, What it comes down to is you get out of it what you put in. If you pay to go to school, you should capitalize on every penny you have spent, get there early, stay until they kick you out at night, tap those recourses and ask plenty of questions.

  59. Wing Wong July 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    It’s interesting how many people take Chase’s post as a “should everyone go to school or not”. I read the post as, “If you need formal, structured learning… go to school. If you are more freeform/self-directed, then go on your own and/or hook up with a mentor.”

    To each their own.

  60. Tim July 14, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Chase, all your work its definitely a great source of inspiration.. but It does not bother you for example this Lukasz Warzecha form UK? When He is not quoting you its copying a lot of your ideas for his blog and FB fanpage!! what people need to learn it to be creative! cheers!

  61. Marlies Anastasia August 8, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    I am one who was self taught and had mentors but then burned out. I am lucky in that I have the GI Bill plus grants to use and it covers a BFA in Photography and art, so it seems sort of silly not to utilize that “Clue x 4″ swinging at me. If nothing else, it gets puts me on a schedule and gives me more structure and will teach me more patience. I hope.

    It will also be an excellent addition to the networking II have already been doing. If I get bored, I will just have to give myself some personal challenges to work on. I already watch every online workshop I can find, including creativeLIVE. The one huge positive to the intern phase is I get to intern with a pro in the business. I know I am hoping for a certain alumni from my program… that experience would be priceless.

    So for me, school will be opening some doors a but easier than doing it solo. But I know full well I will be augmenting heavily.

  62. Amanda Recker January 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Self taught here. If I had the time I would probably take business and marketing classes. As for taking classes for photography, I suppose I would always learn and benefit from them, but I have a fear of narrowing my mind in the world of creativity when someone tells me that “this” is the right way to do it. Workshops, webinars, and ‘reading, practice, reading, practice’, is my school of choice.

  63. Jason January 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    I learned a lot while going to school in Dawson College, Montreal.

    I would say the photo classes were not the most important part of my learning, but the ones that teach you about laws, finance and all those details you need to know but might not think about when you learn on your own now are really helping me now.

  64. jake scott January 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    that ditch can be a bitch at times

  65. Louis Fornaro January 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    I love this, simple & direct! My thoughts exactly, I was just explaining this to a friend.

  66. schlock January 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    in the past you have blogged about what you discovered about your self and how it opened a creative door in your mind that you express through photography while at san diego st.
    as you know, any monkey can learn aperture and iso, its the art history, philosophy and other courses and discussions and explorations that make chase jarvis’ work so amazing.

    also for most people when they fail to become a chase jarvis in the photography world, having your four year degree doesnt hurt when you need money to support your hobby.

  67. Warwick January 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    I get asked the same question a lot (about whether or not to go to photo or film school)… Most of the time, if I can see that the person has “the eye” and some talent, I tell them to go take business courses. You can teach yourself the technical side of photography, especially if you assist or get a mentor. You can also teach yourself the business side of things, but one year of practical business/entrepreneur courses will help prevent the first 5 years of business being spent learning how to actually run the business. You can be the greatest photographer in town, but if you don’t know how to sell or market your work, it’ll be hard to turn “pro”.

  68. Eliano January 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    «If this is too simple a post for you, then go to photo school».

    Well said Chase!

  69. Dani Gorgon January 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I prefer ‘learn it the hard way’ to structured school.

  70. Jason Wall January 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Questions like the above invite simplistic answers, as demonstrated by many of the comments. Like Chase intimates in his post, truth is that there are many roads to a career in photography, just as there are many different types of people trying to get there. Choose the path that helps you the most.

    On a personal note, I practiced on my own craft for a long time, learned a lot through reading (books, articles, etc..) and experimentation. Its entirely possible to learn the craft that way, and even develop your artistic understanding. Schools help too.

    I found that a photography program gave me two advantages: the first being contacts, both in the form of the network of working photographers who taught there, the companies the school has relationships with and who can make introductions, as well as the students themselves who become friends and can become an important social network you that can benefit you later. The second benefit is/was constant informed criticism, and perspective (not every criticism is true). The instructors vary often in career path and opinion about what does and doesn’t work and many styles are represented. It allows you to see whats out there and perhaps see the direction you might want to go yourself.

    • Marcy James January 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Great perspective Jason! I agree with everything you have written.

  71. Marcy James January 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Great discussion! I am a believer in the route of self teaching as well as interning and assisting. I taught myself photography via books and photo related jobs for a few years. That being said, I know that my images and my thinking about them shifted dramatically when I went to graduate school to get my MFA in Photography. Being somewhere where my focus was to learn and take my photography to the next level (rather than focusing on paying my rent) was essential to my own evolution. I would not be where I am had I not afforded myself the time to focus on learning. Now I am the Director of Education at an awesome photography school in Missoula, Montana called Rocky Mountain School of Photography (aka RMSP). We offer an intensive program for photographers who would like to immerse themselves in the craft and pursue a profession. Our program is 5 months long and I can guarantee that you will eat, sleep, breathe photography (which is important for those of you who want to survive and thrive as professionals. Photography school isn’t for everyone but there are great options in the world these days. Feel free to email me anytime. I love to help people think about what’s possible. Thanks Chase for a great article to let people know that there is no right or wrong answer in this debate.
    Marcy James
    Rocky Mountain School of Photography

  72. jeremy January 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    I go to school for photography. I think this post is half right. I think the one thing school allows for is fostering relationships with peers and networking with the future of the industry. Not just in photography. I have met so many ppl in other fields with connections and that alone has been worth it. also taking classes like English, history ans such that is geared for an artist really teaches you how to speak and write about your work. I might not be as good as someone who didn’t go to school but I can sling my bullshit better and most the time I close clients because of it. Also when a client needs other work done I know 50 ppl in all different fields that can do the work, and that keeps my name in the digital Rolodex.

  73. Joseph B January 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I am nineteen years old and am currently enrolled in college for Digital Photography.

    I think there are many perks going to college, one you are taught by professional photographers (most of the time) who know what they are talking about, second they become your contact thirdly if you get close enough to your instructors they become someone you can pull contacts from.

    Not only do you learn photography but at most colleges you also take communications, business and other very useful courses. I was very lucky and am part of the first class of Digital Photography at my college. This made for small classes (15-20 students) and also the teachers weren’t worn out, they want us to succeed as the first graduates of the program.

    Lastly, many college programs are no more than 2 years, in reality that is not a lot of time.

    Well, thats my story!

  74. Gilleam Trapenberg January 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I think it depends in what country you’re in.
    You can’t just say all photo schools are the same, as far as I know photo schools in USA are extremely overpriced and overrated.
    They teach you everything you could learn on your own.

    But, an Art Academy is something totally different.
    I’m currently attending the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague and what I’m learning here I would not have learned anywhere else. It’s not just about the technical aspects of photography, it’s about everything else, and photography is so much more than just taking pictures.

    Ofcourse you can learn to take beautiful pictures on your own, you can spend a year on Youtube learning everything about shutterspeed and f stops, but in the end, you don’t have a clue how to tell a story with your images.

  75. randell January 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    It’s all about intelligence – If you understand what you need to learn to do the job, and can use your knowledge to overcome the technical aspects of solving problems on an actual shoot, then it doesn’t really matter where you got that information from.

    What is important is that when you’re employed to do a job of work because of your creative vision, but can’t deliver the goods because you don’t know how to apply the mechanics of photography to create you vision – then you fail as a photographer.

    Creativity is important, but unless you can use the tools properly, you hands are tied.

    You don’t need to spend weeks learning about Rembrandt, his life, lovers and what he liked to eat for lunch to be a great photographer. All I need to know is how he and other artists used light and shadow to portray their subjects (I use Rembrandt as an example only).

    Inspiration for creativity may come from many areas of life, it’s all down to how in tune with their surroundings a person actually is.

    I’d rather take classes on business management and marketing than fine art classes.
    I don’t think my employers would be too impressed that I could critique a work by Raphael, but would be impressed at how efficiently I run my business, market myself and that my quotes are on the mark.

    Oh! yeah and that I can actually use a camera with anger.

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