WHAT ARE YOUR STUDY OPTIONS?
Now that you have at least given some thought to the idea of become a professional photographer, you will need to decide on the type of education you might need.
There is no requirement to get a college degree to become a professional. Andy McCallie, a freelance photographer from LA says:
I do not think formal education and training is necessary for everyone. I would be honest with yourself and drill down to figure out your ideal setting to learn and grow as a creative person. I know many people who absolutely loved their formal training and wouldn’t change that for anything – and on the other side I know just as many who simply had one experience with a camera that sparked an interest that caused a chain reaction of events that eventually lead them to become a photographer full time.”
In fact, you will see later in the interviews, that it’s really a personal choice. However, there are some fundamentals that you need to learn, whether they are self-taught, learnt by apprenticeship or in a classroom, is entirely your choice.
First, you need to learn to take great pictures. For this you will need to experiment and learn how your camera works. Most professionals don’t recommend investing in the lastest gear, if you have the right skill-set, you will be able to take wonderful shots with an older camera, but you need to know very well how it works. There are many tutorials online where you can learn how to use different things, a couple of our experts recommended www.creativelive.com for a good source of learning material.
This process should lead you to understanding colors, lighting and angles. And, also allow you to begin building a portfolio. Maybe the most important thing that you can have as a professional. Jeremy Lawson, from Chicago, told us: “I have yet to have one person ask to see my degree. As an artist, they will ask to see your work. The more you have, the more you can edit to show them the best of the best!”
Finally, learn the business end of things. Almost everyone we interviewed agreed on one thing, they really wish they had had more knowledge about how to run a business. Jessica Merritt, co-owner of Snaptacular Photos says:
“For those interested in getting into the photography industry, I would recommend investing in marketing and business classes in addition to photography education. It’s rare to find a “real” photography job; you’re much more likely to operate as a small independent business. That means in addition to practicing art, you’ll need to master bookkeeping, marketing, customer service, time management, and so much more that you won’t learn in art school.”
WHAT IF YOU DO WANT A DEGREE?
A college degree might not be a necessity, but it can teach you a lot and create great networking opportunities. Plus, it’s a safety net, just in case your photography career doesn’t take off, there are many jobs that will require you to have a degree.
Here are some top photography programs in the US. Remember, this is not an exhaustive list and you can always combine a different type of fine arts degree with photography or add a touch of business training in there as well.
- The New York Film Academy
Despite it’s name, this school offers courses all over the US and abroad. You can take a BFA in Photography, an MFA if you already have a college degree, but also have the option of taking shorter workshops, for 4 or 8 weeks. Locations include NYC, Los Angeles and Florida. Tuition ranges depending on the course you’d like to take, the BFA, for example is $13,000 per semester plus equipment, printing and lab fees.
- Brooks Institute
Located in Santa Barbara and Ventura, the Brooks Institute offers a BFA and an MFA in photography. The current cost is $80,725 and $44,607.50 for the full degree, respectively.
- School of Visual Arts
With it’s campus located in NYC, SVA is a great option for networking. They offer a variety of programs, a BFA, a number of Masters level programs, as well as continued education classes and special courses in photography. They distinguish themselves by having a mentorship program for higher level students. The costs vary, but undergraduate tution is $16,780 per semester plus a photography department fee of $1,340 per semester.
- School of the Art Institute in Chicago
SAIC has a slightly different approach in their program design, where you get to study a BFA and choose to focus on a subject, this can be photography and something else, or many different mediums of art, you design your own curriculum, so-to-speak. They also have Master’s level courses. Tuition currently stands at $1,381 per credit hour for undergrads.
There are also cheaper options available in state colleges and universities, so don’t limit your options to these schools. Getting yourself into a lot of debt with a career like photography can be dangerous, since many start off with low-pay and work their way up. This being said, it can open a lot of doors in terms of getting your network set up and if you are not a self-learner, then this is definitely a great option for you.
GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR
So how do you actually start landing jobs and making money? Most experts will tell you that it’s all about being patient and having low expectations at first. You will need to really get your stuff out there and meet people, all the time, every day, from every possible industry, because you never know if they will need a photographer.
If you specialize in a specific field, such as scientific photography or photojournalism, you might be looking at sending out your portfolio and resume to many, many, many companies and doing some work for free at first. Patience is key.
Larry Oskin, owner of two successful businesses, one in Fine Art Photography and another in marketing and PR advises:
“To pursue a career in art, photograph, crafts or any related field, you must reach out to get involved with the community and the media.”
His career path reflects on how true this can be. He started out very young, volunteering with local organisations, telling his story to the media and building a portfolio while he was still in college. Today, 35 years in the industry, he has a name and is often invited as the feature artist and speaker.
The reality of the business is that every one follows a different path, depending on their skills, focus, location, talent, industry and of course, a little bit of luck. So here are a few photographers who gave us a glimpse at what their careers look like and what they recommend those looking to get into the industry.