One of the biggest industries in photography is that of photography education. Photography is a very difficult craft to learn without help, and as a result, almost every aspiring photographer must invest in some sort of education source at some point. Fortunately, this demand has created a massive market of educational content that can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially to new entrants. In this article, we are going to go through the various educational options, including the pros and cons of each.
In nearly any city or town of a reasonable size, there is usually some sort of arts learning center that has a photography course for budding photographers. These sorts of courses are usually designed to get you started with photography. They teach base concepts such as the exposure triangle and the fundamentals of how to use the camera. Most are taught by either longtime hobbyists or photographers who have crested their career and are teaching as something to do during retirement.
Pros: Reasonably priced, great for beginners.
Cons: Very limited in scope, often teach previous generation’s mentality.
An institutional program would represent any sort of long-term series of courses such as an arts degree at a university or some sort of diploma program at a technical college. These programs more or less represent an institutionalized, traditional method of learning that can be very effective for some and quite wasteful for others. Expect a very structured education that goes deep into a wide array of knowledge. Many, unfortunately, suffer from institutionalized bias towards certain aspects of photography, but the shear volume of information presented to the students in the form of lectures, workshops, and mentorship ensures that any grad exits with tremendous photography knowledge.
Pros: Huge volume of content.
Cons: Very time-consuming and very expensive.
Many working photographers supplement their income by teaching workshops throughout the year. These workshops allow photographers to pursue a specialized education that teaches them specifically what they are most interested in by a teacher who they admire. Workshops often require traveling to the city where the teacher is holding the workshop and usually come with fairly high tuition prices. They do, however, tend to be relatively intimate groups with a surprising amount of one-on-one interaction with the teacher. Be weary, though, as many photographers with very little or no experience have been able to collect a large enough social media following and earn a healthy living holding workshops that they do not have the experience to effectively teach. Make sure to research the teacher before the workshop to ensure that they were proven, excellent photographers before they began teaching.
Subscription-based tutorial services have risen to prominence (possibly even dominance) over the last decade or so. A variety of companies have found an excellent business model in charging a relatively low ongoing subscription fee to provide access to a deep backlog of lessons that are quite similar to a shorter version of video tutorials. They also continually increase the value of their offering by adding new content over time, keeping their information very relevant and up to date.
Pros: Cheap price relative to the amount of content offered, huge breadth of knowledge, and always up to date.
Cons: Very time-consuming, and video topics often don’t go as deep as some students wish.
If you walk into any bookstore or search through any online dealer of books, you will quickly find that the breadth of photography books seems to be limitless. Like workshops, books allow you to tailor your learning to exactly what you are interested in but without the high cost of attending a workshop. The downside is that books can be much harder to learn practical skills from and tend to function much better at teaching theory.
Pros: Cheap, specialized, and very deep into specific topics.
Cons: Very time-consuming and difficult to consume effectively.
DVDs and Video Tutorials
Over the past decade or so, video-based tutorials have become very popular. Here at Fstoppers, this is one of the educational forms that we specialize in. Video tutorials are effective because they offer a similar teaching experience to a workshop but without the travel or cost associated with attending a workshop. Unfortunately they lack the opportunity to directly interact with and ask questions in the same way that a workshop would.
Pros: Reasonably priced, specialized, and offer deep knowledge.
Cons: No direct interaction with the teacher and can be hit or miss in terms of quality.
Digital mentorship has become one of the newer forms of paid photography education and is growing in popularity. How digital mentorship functions is that students are able to pay a subscription fee in order to have direct access to teachers in order to learn via tools such as live streaming or video chatting. Digital mentorship is the only online education method that offers feedback to the student on the student’s own work. Unfortunately, the nature of classes as livestreaming often leads to a much less polished education experience.
Pros: Cheap price, direct feedback, and access to educators normally inaccessible.
Cons: Lower production quality of instruction.
Photography clubs have largely fallen out of favor, but there are usually a few in each major city that still exist. Photography clubs teach by offering an environment where photographers can help each other learn. Clubs also often are able to secure speakers and presenters to occasionally come teach at the club. Clubs suffer, however, from often becoming echo chambers where certain approaches to photography become idolized while all others become ignored. As a result, club members tend to vastly limit themselves in terms of photographic growth.
Pros: Cheap and access to like-minded peers.
Cons: Limited growth potential, echo chamber of similar ideas.
There has never before been so many options for anyone looking to learn photography. Most photographers approach learning by mixing several of the above options that work best for them. Before taking your next steps towards learning photography, make sure that you are fully aware of all the options available to you so that you can make the best decision for you. Finally, never forget that the breadth of free options on the Internet are near limitless and often offer fantastic education without spending a dime.