BetterPhoto Q&A
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Photography Question 
Tiffany M. Childress
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/24/2008

Where to start??

Number one, do you even have to have a college education to have a career in photography? I have one daughter, and a son on the way and I just don't know how I would pay for a college education. I would like to go to college for photography, so, if I WERE to end up going to college what classes should I take? What type of degree should I get.. I just don't know where I would begin with this whole thing. I love photography, and I would love even more to make a career out of it, but, I need some help!

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3/13/2008 9:32:33 PM

Debby A. Tabb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/4/2004
you may want to start reading the Studio Photography Threads.
They are a group of people much like yourself with a passion for this art form and questions from where to start,cameras,lighting, how to set up a Studio,get expression,deal with clients an the business of.
Here is part #1 of 23 threads:

I hope this helps,
Deby Tabb

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3/14/2008 6:15:18 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  There's a lot more to a career in photography than photography, Tiffany. One important aspect of a college degree is that it provides people with an alternative career to earn a living
in case they don't really make it as a photographer or in lean times like seasonal downturns.

As far as who pays for it, there are lots of options available including student loans, scholarships, work-study programs, state schools, starting off at a local two-year college, getting an AA degree than transfering to a 4 year university. All those types of financial aid are available without regard to age.

And lastly for now, without intending to be discouraging, reality is that you've picked a highly competitive field that's overstocked with people who imagine themselves as globetrotting, creative artistic types. Many of them (and this is being generous I think) suffer from what I refer to as "the full heart and empty head syndrome". They don't realize that talent in this biz these days means relatively little. Talent abounds. Business acumen, marketing sense, knowing how to formulate a flexible business plan, implementing it and running it on a day-to-day basis will consume about 80-85% of your time. Thus, it's not just knowing how to rig a studio light or take a portrait. It's how to survive in a cut-throat business that counts. Most people initially think this will be fun. It's not fun most of the time, it's hard work. While it can be rewarding, it's nonetheless, still hard work. I think Debby will agree.

To support that theory, Tiffany, look around here. People who charge $25 for a wedding or photo license to a corporation. People are giving their work away just to get published and then wondering why no one wants to pay them a reasonable day rate later when they ask for it. Tough biz. Very tough. Almost as tough as raising kids these days. . BTW, I speak from 36 years of experience in this biz.
"It's not just a career", Tiffany, "It's an adventure." Best of luck to you.

Take it light ;>)

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3/14/2008 10:05:57 AM

Christopher A. Walrath
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2006
  Hi, Tiffany. Three words before venturing into business.

Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.

Learn about photography, not just the owners manual, but I mean what the f/stop number refers to, why to place a particular portion of your subject on which exposure zone, I mean the nuts and bolts, the tricks of the trade. If you take schooling, I would take a film photography course first. This will, with a good professor, indoctorinate you into the way that a camera allows light to dance on film or a CMOS sensor and why it does what it does. I digital course will be more geared to the aforementioned owners manual and editing software and may neglect the means with which you can get the picture right on-camera and exclude unnecessary work later in the dark/light room.

As to the need for education to pursue a career in photography, Ansel Adams was a concert pianist that loved photography enough as a creative outlet that he just one day (of course it wasn't as simple as that) decided that photography was the way he wanted to go. Having never set foot in an organized classroom until he helped to get a photography program started at a local California college (the name fails me) he went on to create a legacy for photographers the world over, put the Zone System into words as a means for photographers to learn to control their photography. All without any formal education.

I say all of this to say that I would think it of more vital importance to learn how to MAKE a photograph, whether through trial and error (not suggested) or with the help of other experienced photographers, be it in a classroom or otherwise.

Knowing photography will later seperate you from the click and send hacks that are perpetually flooding the 'professional' photography market and provide a much better clientele when they realize that they are dealing with someone who knows their stuff, not just how to operate a computer and press a button and hope for rain.

Good luck in all your ventures.


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3/14/2008 4:13:23 PM

Molly A. Galloway   No, a degree in photography is not necessary. It is kind of silly actually. All it will do is say you have a "degree." Most colleges have about two to four classes for photography and the rest for the photo degree is all ART classes!

However, there is nothing wrong with getting a degree in photography if that's what you want to do. I suggest getting a degree in busisness or whatever and then possibly getting certification from the PPA.

It's all about your work. Practice, take lots of classes, and look at good photographer's work.

Colleges I recommend:
Brooks Insitute
The Art Institute

...And the PPA for a certification:

P.S. I have many photographers that I can suggest you look at their work. Message me if interested.

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6/26/2008 6:22:33 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  My guess is Molly, is that Tiffany is long-since gone. Nonetheless, I strongly disagree with your answer that a college degree for photographers is "silly" and I'll give you a few reasons why these days, it's not at all silly, IMO (and the opinions of a lot of us who hire other photographers) and actually, it's just plain smart.

First, a four-year college degree separates you from the herd, so-to-speak. Regardless of what that degree is in, it tells prospective employers that you are educated a cut-above others and have the stick-to-itiveness, to engage, compete and prevail, in a post-secondary educational program and presumably learn something from it.

I'm solicited by Brooks graduates all the time, seeking gigs as assistants and who want to apprentice right out of school. Their portfolios look pretty much all the same to me.

Second, and even more importantly, I think, is a college degree gives you skills to fall back on in the event your photography career either stalls or for some reason, just fails outright for one of many reasons including the economy. Without a 4 year back-up degree in something, any thing, you may end up behind a cash register or mop at Walmart. There's nothing wrong with that type of work, but it's tough to support yourself let alone a family on that level of income or lack of it.

Third, and as I mentioned earlier, talent abounds in this business. Business sense doesn't, however, and while you can get that kind of sense and experience from being out in the real world, having a four-year or better degree enables you to work more effectively at the higher end of the food chain. That becomes apparent when you talk with say publishers, successful studio owners, specialty photographers like medical shooters, photojournalists, adverising shooters, and again, prospective employers. In other words, while having a strong portfolio is important, knowing how to communicate, market, establish and run a business, understanding people, knowing how to overcome obstacles, all among a myriad of other problems of the self-employed, are all skills that come easier by starting off with a college education.

While not at all intending to sound arrogant, no, it's not necessary, but I don't think it's silly either. I think Chris and Debby, among others here, would agree with that.
Take it light ;>)

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6/26/2008 8:54:16 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  A ppa certificate is the opposite of silly?

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6/26/2008 10:49:35 PM

Molly A. Galloway   Oh please don't misunderstand me. That may have not been explained clearly. I myself am in the process of getting a degree in photography. I think the important thing is that you have some kind of BA degree.

What I mean to say is that when you get a degree in photography you basically get an art degree. It isn't much needed unless you are wanting to work for a major company. It's kind of limited. Why not get a degree in something else in case you ever decide photography isn't working out.?

And yes, a PPA cert. is kind of silly too, but to people like your customers it makes you sound good. Plus it does teach you a lot.

You can have all the degrees and certifications you want and still be a horrible photographer. I have noticed that far too many times.

And as you will notice many people without a degree are among the best.

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6/27/2008 9:28:20 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  PPa certificate is really only good for those that automatically think senior portraits and bridal stuff.

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6/27/2008 3:09:22 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  A college degree in any profession can open doors and certainly help toward qualifying a person as "competant" in the eyes of a prospective employer within that field.
It will confirm that he or she is committed...that goals have been defined and that ground work has been lain. It can also be assumed by an employer that at least some requisite knowledge within that field was acquired along the way.

If one plans upon being self-employed, a degree in photography will only be as valuable as an individual's ability to utilize that degree effectively.
The marketing skills and "business acumen" Mark F. describes have determined the success or failure of many great photographers.

As mentioned, a lot of folks can take great pictures. Mastering one's equipment and using empirical knowledge to get better at a given craft is the easy part.

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6/27/2008 4:37:26 PM

Molly A. Galloway   Nicely put, Bob!

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6/27/2008 9:19:28 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  "As mentioned, a lot of folks can take great pictures. Mastering one's equipment and using empirical knowledge to get better at a given craft is the easy part. "

Bob, Bob Bob !!!! Spoken like a true word smith!!! Excellent point and very well said. Thanks! [Now, was that undergrad degree in English perhaps? (among other things like hard knocks? ) Great point. Thanks again.

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6/28/2008 9:36:36 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Thanks Mark.
An undergrad in English? (...not exactly.)
...'cause my daddy done told me I don't need to know nuttin' 'bout no book-learnin'. :)

My "Hard Knocks" degrees are well earned though and are displayed proudly.

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6/28/2008 2:14:33 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  My pleasure Bob. Interestingly that my parents were going around singing:

"Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be photo-graphers." LOL !!!
Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

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6/28/2008 8:06:54 PM

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