Don’t Go To School

Why I don't support going to school to be a photog

Do you want to be a doctor or a lawyer? Maybe a CPA? If not, don't go to college. Don't send your kids to college if they don't want to be a doctor or lawyer or accountant. Our options for getting an education are better than we've ever had, and college is a huge waste of time and money compared to some of these other choices. I stand behind this 1000%. 

I have never been asked what degree I have or what my GPA was in school. No client cares that I have a degree from a university. And, being a photographer, there is no reason I needed to take that last oceanography class that kept me from graduating. My clients want me to take amazing photos and deliver what I promise. That's what they care about. Fun fact: I've never taken a photography class. I didn't decide to pursue this until after I graduated. 

School is expensive. Schools like Brooks Institute would cost you about $40,000 in tuition and you would get hands-on experience with studio lighting and darkroom equipment. There were some good things about their program. But... for $40k, you could buy your own gear, rent a studio for 2 years, and be a freakin' wizard with your lights in a fraction of the time. 

The last reason I vote against going to school for photography is that the curriculum doesn't focus on what will actually make you money. You need to learn how to run a business. Obviously, taking great photos is a must. But... you can be the best photog in the world (whatever that means) and still have to wait tables to pay your bills. You can just as likely be a mediocre photog and make $100k+. Once you're making money and you don't have an unrelated day job, you can focus more time on honing your craft. 

Here are some other options outside of the traditional university route. 

Online Courses

If there is something to learn about it, there is an online course for it. This is especially true for photography. You can take courses on shooting every style of photography, starting a legal business, marketing, editing, everything... And most courses are priced between $299 and $2999. That's a hell of a lot cheaper than a semester in college and you will learn a lot more from an online program. Most courses also include membership to a private Facebook group or some other community meeting place that will be available 24/7, unlike your class meetings in school. You also get lifetime access to the courses you buy online, unlike school courses which are only available while you're there in the room with the teacher.

Online courses are great also because you can read the teacher's blog, listen to their podcast, or watch their videos before you buy the course. You will know before you ever open your wallet if the educator knows what they're talking about and if their communication style resonates with you. You don't have that luxury with traditional school. You just show up and hope for the best.

Another reason I love e-courses is that the educators update their content as things change. If there is new software to use, or new techniques, or new anything, it gets updated in the course and you have access to it. If your college professor learns something new, you don't get an update. You just miss out. 

Hands-On Workshops

I am a huuuuge proponent for these for two reasons. The first being that someone else is doing all the work to put the class together and you get real hands-on experience shooting or editing or doing whatever the workshop is about. It makes shooting feel very approachable. The second is that you learn from the minute you arrive until you leave, as long as you're paying attention. Watch when other students are shooting and take notes on what's happening. They will ask questions and try new things you didn't think of and you can learn from all of that. It's amazing.

Do some research before you sign up for one. Some are filled with creepy dudes who just want to photograph a naked model. I've even heard of a guy near me who sets up shoots, collects the money, and then doesn't even show up. It's up to everyone there to figure things out on their own. I'd be furious if that's what I showed up to. 

Also avoid 'portfolio builder' workshops. These aren't actually workshops. It's an event where all of the lighting and sets are prearranged and all of the models pose themselves and look amazing in every shot. The photogs just walk around shooting the scenes like you're in a museum. You don't actually learn anything. And when you put those images in your portfolio, you're lying to your customers. Your portfolio is a collection of your work. Those photos aren't your work. You didn't pose the model, set up the lights, or arrange anything. If a client hires you based on those photos, you probably won't be able to recreate them because you didn't actually learn how to do that shoot. Your time and money are much better spent on an event where you actually get input and experience playing with the lights and sets. 

PPA Degrees

This is one of those instances where the real prize is in the journey. Earning your Master of Photography from PPA isn't about the medal or the title. It's about the work you put in to be the best photog you can be, and then to get even better. This is going to up your photography game considerably by requiring you to enter competitions and to teach others. It will give you a lot more of the right kind of education compared to taking photography classes at the local college. I would couple this with other programs that focus on business and you'll be in a great spot. 

Hiring a Coach

This is also a great way to up your photography and business game. Working with a coach 1-on-1 will be the quickest way to level up. A good coach will identify the areas where you need the most immediate improvement and guide you through learning those skills. The reason I really love working with a coach is because of the fact that you don't know what you don't know. You might think that you need help in one area and that's where all of your problems are coming from, but it could actually be something entirely different. A solid coach will be able to spot that. And they will work with your schedule. It's the most personalized approach.

Getting Started

The first thing to consider is how willing are you to do the work. Be 1000% honest with yourself here. No amount of coaching and education will help you if you aren't willing to put in the work. It's not easy, and it's not always fun, but the payoff is well worth it. Having a solid set of goals and a real mission will help you finish what you start.

If you're not sure which path would be the best fit for you, let's chat. I'm happy to help. Let's schedule a free 15 minute strategy session and I'll help you pick the right plan of attack for your goals and your schedule/budget. Email me here! mike@photogsunite.com

About the Author Mike Lloyd

Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.

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