Do you need a photography degree to be a good photographer?

Do you need a qualification to be a good photographer? I have to say no, as I know plenty of great photographers who have never been to college or university. However I’m glad I went to college and gained my qualifications, once I got them no-one could take them away from me (unlike certain association qualifications) and I needed them to work in certain areas. (both medical and police required an HNC or HND in Photography to even get shortlisted for interview.) I was never impressed with the photographic degrees, finding them too art based. To this day I still believe photography is a craft, not art. That’s just my personal opinion, your mileage may vary… ;-)

When I went to photo college back in the ’80s, I was a day release student. I worked as a junior medical photographer and went to college one day and evening a week. I think this was the perfect combination, I learned more from my boss than college I have to admit, but college taught me different things. I mixed with other student photographers who worked in different areas. I loved this as it widened my horizons compared to medical and applied photography. Saying that, I was lucky that my work had a full studio, with small, medium and large format cameras, darkrooms with B/W, C41, E6 and Cibachrome facilities.

In those days employers prefered an HNC/HND over a degree as they were more practical based courses, according to the employers I spoke to. Of course these days it’s all different, it seems more “bums on seats” than only taking the amount of students that there are jobs for. I wonder just how many students that come through photography colleges actually enter full time employment in Photography? I’m sure it’s not many, and how many immediately become freelance? I’ve been priviliged to spend most of my career as staff, 24 years in fact. Medical, Social, Police, Press and it’s only been the last 3 years as Freelance. 27 years in this business, and they said it would never last? ;-)

Would I do it all again? I’m not so sure, not if I was just starting college now. I still love photography, but I guess I miss the days of film/darkrooms and the whole craft of it all. I just don’t think photographers are respected as the craftsmen that they undoubtably are anymore. There just aren’t the jobs, and I have advised my daughters to get a proper job. It’s a sad state of affairs and I don’t see it getting any better I’m afraid. I’m glad I did it when I did, I think I saw the last of the good years, film, darkrooms, when you could actually find photography jobs advertised in the BJP. Sigh, how things have changed. :-(

A very interesting blog post on photo education.

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