Thursday, 15 September 2011

To Degree, or not to Degree?

It's been exactly a year since I didn't go back to Uni to complete my Foundation degree in Professional Photography.

To brief *my* situation - I had to find somewhere to take my final year to get my BA degree.
I applied to two Uni's - Gloucester Uni & UWE, with Gloucester stopping halfway through my interview and telling me, 'I honestly cannot offer you anything more, go and start up your own business' and UWE telling me my Portfolio was 'too commercial'.
Two opinion, poles apart.

There are both pro's & con's to University, I also think it depends on what kind of person you are.
Please bear in mind these are only *my* opinions on *my* experiences.


- You learn.
I know we are technically learning all the time, however having someone stand up and tell you is a different experience. Having someone there to answer questions, and show you the theory is also a great plus, also Lecturers that specialise in Photography 99.9% of the time are at least a very enthusiastic amateur or have been a practising freelance Photographer. This adds to the fact that they can teach you things based on their own experiences, which is always priceless knowledge as we all know theory doesn't always work when put into practise.

- You have equipment to play with.
Photography is an expensive career/hobby choice. Being able to use such things as better DSLR's, Medium  Format Film cameras, Studio lights & Space, Film developing rooms is like gold dust.
In my second year at Uni I practically lived in the Studio's there. It costs you nothing, and you can really familiarise yourself with how a studio works, what lighting modifiers do what, and how to generally *work* in a studio.

- You learn Film.
Most people will disagree with this, but I found it really taught me the foundation of Photography. You can't take 60 images and tweak each one, you really have to think about your exposure, your composition to nail that shot. It's a pretty invaluable skill I think, and if you apply it digitally you won't waste time 'chimping' away.

- You meet people who have the same interest.
This sounds kind of stupid - sometimes I show my friends the creative work I'd done and they just looked back at me, kind of confused. I'd show the rest of my class, and they'd totally get it. If you have a creative eye, and you are surrounded by people similar, you embrace that. You experiment more because they are on the same wavelength as you. Those people will influence you more than you realise.


- The cost.
Tuition fee's are crazy expensive, especially from what I experienced in Uni, it was a waste. I had awesome tutors, but there is so much stuff for the Exam Board that is unrelated. We spent more time doing 'visual workbooks' than shooting. We had to draw/explain/influence what/how/why we were doing certain things. I used my student loan to buy my studio lights & modifiers, a backdrop, and most recently the rest of it to upgrade my DSLR. I got more out of that than I did the amount I paid for my course.

- There is no 'wrong' in Photography.
Technically - there is no wrong. You can over/under expose, you can be out of focus, have wonky composition and these days, that's perfectly acceptable. It's a form of Art so it's dependant on it's viewer to make the judgement.
One of my tutors was a Portrait Photographer, the other a Street/Documentary Photographer - both poles apart in what they liked & disliked. This made it nigh on impossible to please both, which I had to do because both of them would mark my work. One would give me a distinction and the other would fail me. I understand in Degree's such as Law, where the answer can either be Yes or No, but Art as a subject is so broad it's generally a 'Maybe."

- You learn things you will not ever use again.
I know I said as a Pro, you learn Film. Some will disagree, but as I said, this is just my view. I found that I spent so many seminars not actually ever learning anything of use to being a practising Photographer. We'd watch slideshows on Age old photographers & Art movements. Granted - I found a lot of Photographers I look up to, but more so I can barely remember the name of any of the people mentioned. 

- No Business Education.
Some courses may teach you the business side of things, my course didn't. Not once did we really have any information on setting up a business, aside from a booklet from the A-level centre. 
I think I can safely assume that 98% of people taking a degree in Photography will want a career & business out of it, so why do we never get taught HOW to do that?

- The Internet.
We pretty much live on the Internet these days, so why can't we learn from it? I learnt SO much from Zack Arias, a US Photographer who does Live seminars. I also learnt most of my Photoshop skills from YouTube. 
Aside from that, Books are super cheap on the Internet, I have several books from 'Posing techniques' to 'Lighting for idiots' that I've learnt more. Those kind of resources allow you to learn what you want to learn.

- Proof.
I don't think anyone I've known Photography wise has ever gotten a job because they did a degree. Photography is a visual art and your Portfolio speaks 1000% words.
If there was competition for a job, and one person has a Degree + a mediocre Portfolio whereas the other person has no degree, but a fantastic Portfolio, who do you think will get the job? The person that has the art down to magical images, or the person that KNOWS how to do it, but is alright at it?

I firmly believe the best thing that ever happened to my career was being denied access to Uni. I know what works for me, and I can choose how fast or how slow I want my career to progress.
If anyone is starting a Photography Degree, I don't want to scare you off! Remember that what you put in, you get out, and your experience may be opposite to mine.

If anyone has any questions or any more requested blog posts please don't hesitate to get in contact via Facebook/E-mail :)