Learn Photography: Art School Pros and Cons

Learn Photography: Art School Pros and Cons

Some people eat, dream, and breathe photography, so when it comes to pursuing it as a career, it may seem like a natural choice for them to attend "a really good art school". But is art school really worth it? Many experts say, "No," citing that many of the people who are successful in the field are self-taught individuals who do not have any formal education or degrees. Others say, "Yes," citing that majoring in photography can help an aspiring photographer become well-rounded, refine his technique and develop a personal style.


Better knowledge of art history, photography history, and the liberal arts. When you attend a four-year college you will have to take classes in general topics like art history, biology, mathematics, English and the foreign languages.

Refined skills. People go to college to refine their skills, and art school is no different. If you choose to go to art school, you will have the opportunity to refine your natural photography skills and learn from people who have been in the business.

Stronger understanding of lighting and composition technique.
When you take classes that are specifically focused on photography, you will learn how to light, contrast and compose photographs better. This can give you a stronger advantage over someone who has no formal education.


Tuition expense. Four-year art colleges and private universities are extremely expensive, and public universities are increasing in cost. Ask yourself: "Am I prepared to be $120,000 in debt by the time I graduate? Can I afford to live on my own and pay for my own equipment with debt while earning an average starting salary of $26,000?" If you feel comfortable with that decision, you realize that you need to make significant sacrifices before and after university.

Equipment expense.
Photography equipment--especially quality photography equipment--is extremely expensive. A good lens, camera, or simple accessory can cost as much as a subcompact car, and even though you only have to buy these items at least once every few years, they are still a significant expense. Your continuous supplies, such as film, developing chemicals, flash cards, software updates and filters will also cost you a significant amount of money.

Employment is harder to find with a BFA. Employment is not guaranteed with any degree, but a degree in something as specific as photography can limit your skill set. If you want to go to school for photography, then major in business and minor in photography, or take on a double major. Photographers spend 80 percent of their time running their business and 20 percent of their time shooting, so it is more beneficial to an aspiring photographer to have a degree in business and adequate experience in photography.

Possibility of having to pursue more education. If your photography career does not work out--and if you only have a photography degree--teaching may be one of your only options. A post-graduate certificate in education or a Master's of Fine Arts in photography is your only routes in that case.

A Better Plan

You may be better off getting an Associate's degree in photography from a community or technical college, fulfilling your general education requirements, and transferring to a four-year college to pursue a business degree. If you are still passionate, get in touch with a professional in your area and assist him or her during the summers. He or she can help you refine your ability to take pictures, build a portfolio, and foster business sense. This way, if photography does not work out, you have another degree to support you.

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