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Igor Stevanovic / Alamy Stock Photo

Studying photography – is it worth it?

“Is studying photography actually worth it?” is a question I get asked often. If it’s a question you’ve asked yourself then you may find my thoughts on this helpful.

I’m very fortunate that Alamy’s student scheme means I’m able to visit lots of different colleges and universities – at home and abroad – to give lectures to photography students themed on how they can start making money from their photography. I talk about what works and what doesn’t, the basics of the business side of photography and also introduce them to the Alamy 100% student scheme that’s open to them. Obviously, the students in attendance will have already decided that studying photography was a path they wanted to go down, but many students wrestle with deciding whether or not it really is for them prior to enrolling. They ask themselves – ‘is it worth it?’

Photography (as well as other creative-led) degrees and qualifications often raise these doubts. It’s not comparable to getting qualified in something like medicine – there’s often the feeling that, like music, it’s the type of discipline that with natural talent or enough enthusiasm you can ‘teach’ yourself. Of course, many can, but not everyone can self teach and there are often just as many advocating for some sort of formal learning as there are in the self taught camp, so lets explore the “is studying photography worth it?” question a bit deeper.

First off, I want to say that you’ll have absolutely no problem in finding articles telling you that it is definitely not worth studying photography. Often written in a rather big cloud of cynicism by someone wearing a large pair of rose tinted glasses, you will be told to not bother and find something else to do. Perhaps those who write such things are worried about the competition? Who knows, but you’re not going to get that message from me here. You can get it wrong studying if you’re not careful, but done in the right way, studying photography can be an amazing experience and the perfect platform for your future career.

Young woman taking picture with vintage camera
© johnb / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Pick the right course

Do some homework before signing up. See if you can meet the lecturers, talk to former students. If it’s for a university place, find out about the city you’ll be living in and what’s going to be available to you. You don’t want to end up paying for an expensive course with uninspiring tutors in a town where nothing happens do you? Also, studying photography doesn’t always mean a lengthy college course or moving away to study full time. There are some great distance learning packages available like those offered by the New York Institute of Photography where you can learn at your own pace within your current schedule of work or school.

What do you want to get out of it?

Are your primary drivers for studying photography commercial ones? If so, you’re probably in the wrong place. Aside from technical skills, often the value of photography education lies within how you grow in an artistic sense and the skills you develop in producing imagery that connects with people on different levels. Do you want to get a qualification in order to earn more money or is it about the experience and growing your skills? If it’s just about the money, look elsewhere. You can definitely make a good living from photography if you work hard, but if you’re only interested in earning money then this isn’t for you.

Think of the bigger picture

Those who look at degrees and other qualifications in a simple “yeah but what are you gonna be earning at the end of it?” type way are being too shortsighted in my opinion. There are always cost considerations to make before undertaking any sort of higher education but since when has it all been all about the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of it? A photography qualification can get you a foot in the door in a number of positions but don’t forget the life experiences you’ll gain along the way. Whilst studying you’ve got a massive opportunity to start growing your network with your tutors and teachers as well as your classmates. Photography teachers tend to be very well connected and your classmates are your future network. Re-locating to a new city? Branch out and explore what it has to offer. Pick a city that has a vibrant photography scene and get inspired by new ideas.

Students working with tablet pc and photos
© Wavebreak Media ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Take advantage of what’s available to you

Getting the best out of your studies is never about only doing the minimum requirements. The best thing about studying photography is that you’ve often got loads of resources available to you for as much use as you want. Expensive studio equipment, lighting, cameras, software, scanners and printers can all be utilized for your studies and personal work. Make the most of this. Build your portfolio and learn how things work. One day you’ll have to pay for all this stuff if you want it.

Widen your skills

Is there a business skills course you can take in addition to your photography studies? Take it. In order to be a successful photographer these days you need to be a lot more than just a great photographer…

Conclusion

So, is studying photography worth it? Yes, with caveats. It depends on what your goals are and how much you’re willing to work. Will obtaining a degree in photography get you a photography job? No, not on it’s own. Like most things in life, you have to work extra at it and the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out at the end. Studying full time is not for everyone but there are plenty of options to learn photography in addition to something else or to work on your skills whilst working other jobs. Plenty of people use photography as a source of supplementary income and there is nothing at all wrong with that but if you work hard then there is still plenty of money to be made full time and professionally.

If you’re studying and want to start earning from your work via stock photography then it really is a “no brainer” to get involved with the Alamy 100% student scheme. You’ll get 100% commission on any sales you make for 2 years and the best bit is you’re probably already taking pictures for your studies that are completely suitable.

I’m interested in hearing your experiences on this subject, so feel free to add your thoughts.

A photographer, digital media degree holder and part of the Alamy Content team for 15 years. James has a strong interest in all things visual and is our Head of Content.