Is Photography School Really Worth It?

Now, there’s a question: Do you think photography school and courses are really worth it?

And, by ‘worth it’, I’m not just meaning the money they involve, but also everything else: the time, the work, and – perhaps most importantly – the results. I’m really interested in getting people’s feedback on this subject – have you been to a photography school? Have you perhaps gone to your local college for some photography classes? Did you learn a lot? Was it expensive? Good value? Would you recommend it to others?

Photography School

By Thomas Hawk, on Flickr

When there are so many free sources of information and guidance available on the internet – this site included – is there really a need for them?

On the other hand, surely you can only learn so much from books, so much from articles?

As a newcomer to photography, trying to learn as much as I can to further my enjoyment of this fantastic medium, I admit that I’m tempted. I see lots of ads in the back of photography magazines offering courses in all different types of photography, and, I admit, a large part of me really fancies it. But then I investigate a bit further, see the costs (some of which seem astronomical!) and it gets me thinking again… would it really be worth it?

These are the pro’s and con’s, in my opinion:


Photography School: The Pro’s

  • Surely the no.1. thing is that you’re going to be taught by a professional, someone who really knows what they’re talking about – and they will be there with you, physically. You won’t be reading a guide on how to hold your camera, trying to decipher the images showing you where to place your hands; you’re going to be physically shown how to do it. That’s massively appealing.
  • You’ll be surrounded by other, like-minded (hopefully) amateur photographers. This is another massive plus – I’d be able to chat and share photography experience, tips, get critiques on my work, and even – gasp! – make some friends while I’m at it.
  • Instant feedback. If I had a question on how best to use a certain feature on my Canon 500D, I wouldn’t have to try to find the right chapter in a book, or even consult the mighty Google – I’d just raise my hand, and ask a professional. Quick, easy – excellent.
  • There’d be assignments. That really appeals, actually. I know there are plenty of photography sites who also run a weekly assignment, and that’s great, but I don’t think it’d beat a real hands-on, my-photos-critiqued-in-front-of-me-by-a-pro-and-hopefully-not-too-harshly experience.
  • It’d be inspriational. Not only would the tutor inspire me to go out and take shots I probably wouldn’t have even thought of taking, but I’m sure I’d also be inspired by the other students’ work too.
  • Lastly, if it was a night class, I’d probably be able to sneak in a quick cider or two after as well, with my new-found photography chums. Now, on to:

Photography School: The Con’s

  • If it’s one thing that photography courses are not, its cheap. Just do a quick search on Google and you’ll find some horrific prices out there. They may offer a potentially fantastic experience, but can I really justify struggling to pay the mortgage this month…?
  • They’re very expensive. Did I mention that?
  • There’s such a risk involved. What if the teacher is no good? What if it’s all really mundane stuff that I already (think I) know? I can’t seem to find any classes that offer a money-back-guarantee….
  • What if there are 50 students to 1 tutor? Would I be noticed, or get any real quality tutor-time?
  • What if there are only 3 students to 1 tutor? Then I’d be in the limelight all the time – my homework would have to be great!
  • Unless you live in the middle of a big city – or even a town (neither of which applies to me, alas) – then you’re going to have to travel a fair way. That’s time. And money.
  • And then there’s that nagging feeling, all the while: Couldn’t I just learn all this from the internet…?

Honestly, I’m really torn, and I’d love your thoughts: Whether you’ve attended a course, are thinking about it, graduated with a degree in photography, or just love learning on the ‘net, drop a comment below and let me know what you think.


9 comments

  1. Is photography school really worth it? Yes!!! I would still be shooting with the little green box with no clue why some pictures had DOF and some didn’t. Understanding the ISO – Shutter – Aperture was a very hard concept for me to understand one of which I think I needed someone to say over and over in class until one day it finally clicked how they are all related.

    When you are trying to learn something that you don’t understand it is hard to figure out what question you want to Google or what books you want to buy. For instance the rule “Sunny 16” I would never have known to Googlethis or buy a book that talks about it. The class not only showed me how to use a camera, but also terms and rules I might want to look up on my own.

    The critiques in class are extremely valuable! Of course the advice they give you on your own photos – different directions you might want to think about cropping and subject matter are wonderful. What sometimes is even more educational is what everyone else decided to take a picture of when given the same assignment. Everyone comes in with such different ideas it helps you to learn to think outside of your comfort zone outside the box.

    Price is always an issue and there are some very expensive photography schools out there, but it you look around there are always deals to find!

  2. Hi Amy – thanks for your great comments and thoughts. As someone who has been to a class I really value your input. You’re totally right in that people wouldn’t even think to Google things like the ‘Sunny 16’ rule, I hadn’t thought of that – and it really must be great to see how different people treat the same photography assignment – I think all your points are great. Thanks for contributing.

  3. Photography is an art, not a science.
    Nobody can teach you how to express yourself the “correct” way.

  4. I agree that Photography is an art, but the tools used nowadays are very technical and having someone guide you and teach you the correct way to use them is invaluable than trying to fumble around with online tutorials and videos even though some are very good. The digital workflow has become significantly more technical than the days of film. And there are so many options that learning about them will be extremely beneficial.

    And I’ll also agree that art cannot be taught, but then again, a good instructor will not try to teach you how to make art, but open your mind to new ideas and concepts that may take an individual years to reach on their own through self-realization. The projects assigned should guide you through process where you essentially learn by doing and you have the benefit of critique and assistance from the individuals around you. A good explanation of the history would also bring to light problems discovered by the masters of photography and how they dealt with them.

    Learning through the internet in frequent cases you may find valuable help, but then again, the internet is filled with individuals that can be easily distracted, navigate away from a page, or just plain indifferent since there is no real discussion.

    Art is a journey through life and you never really stop learning new things, but having a good foundation is very important in my opinion.

  5. Thanks for your comments, guys. I agree that photography is an art, but I also agree that a good teacher will try to teach you just how to express your art as well…it’s an interesting discussion!

  6. I’m kinda con – in the sense that all u need to do is get involved on flickr, facebook or other medias where u can perhaps get some good know how camera wise. I have learned heaps from flickr, met some awesome people irl – who have taught me what they know, i gave them some tricks of the trade. This combined with heaps of podcasts, hrs infront of youtube etc… Now i teach others of my findings, and no i dont charge anything but perhaps a beer 😮

  7. Thanks for your input, Rina – you’re right, you can learn so much from Flickr and other websites, there is a wealth of information out there. Love your photography, by the way, you have a lovely site. Thanks for commenting.

  8. This is a great topic thanks for sharing. I really am caught in the middle I’ve been doing photography as a profession for 3 years. I never have taken any college courses…but have taking some training online. So I have been thinking about taking a 2 year course but don’t really know if I need to.

    I agree photography is an art and even with schooling if you don’t have an eye for the art you will not do well. I see many people these days going into photography but the eye and common sense just doesn’t seem to be apart of the picture.

  9. I agree with you, Jeff, and know a couple of people who have done degrees in photography and who have said it really wasn’t worth it. Although technical knowledge is of course needed, it’s a definite second behind creative talent, and an eye for what makes good pictures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *