Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is Photo School Worth It?

By Staff Published in The Business of Photography
Is Photo School Worth It?
Hallmark Institute of Photography

With the introduction of video capabilities into DSLRs, photographers are no longer expected to just create still images. "Figuring out what the role of the photographer is, and what the final product is that they are expected to produce, is a challenge in today's world," he admits.

Yet educators are up to the challenge, expanding programs, changing curriculum and trying to answer these elusive questions for themselves as well as for the students.

In the case of Brooks Institute, David Litschel, the Vice President of Academic Affairs, explains, "Today, not only is digital still capture and video capture the heart of the curriculum, but the expansion of knowledge to include digital workflow, asset management, audio, required websites, the knowledge of all aspects of multimedia and a high level of business savvy is expected of graduates."

Each of these programs continues to evolve because they earnestly want to provide the best education for tomorrow's photographers. At all levels of education—universities, community colleges, trade schools and art schools—the game is changing more rapidly and with greater impact than merely the shift from film to digital. Sometimes the change is best expressed as an inclusion of more techniques, approaches and knowledge.

Modern photographic educators have to understand not only the needs of the photo industry, but also the needs of the photo student—and how to make him or her a photo professional. The two are intertwined, yet also separate, and it's the job of the photo educator to see where we're going, remember where we've been, understand where we are and communicate that knowledge in today's classrooms. —DPP, November 2010

Educators at the best photography schools do more than simply teach about depth of field. In addition to classes that explain the inverse square law of light and the Gurney-Mott theory of latent image formation, there are classes about business management, accounting and self-promotion. The hours spent refining the craft of photography are coupled with hours spent on the business, critical studies and visions of the future of photography.

School of Visual Arts

In all of the discussion and press about what a student gets for his or her tuition, one particularly critical aspect has been almost completely overlooked. That's the dynamic of students working together in an academic setting. School is more than a place to attend classes. It's a place where students have frank and open exchanges of ideas. It's a crucible where no idea is too outlandish and one has the freedom to give just about anything a try. This aspect of the photo school experience is completely up to the student. The school provides the forum; it's up to the individual to make the most of it.

In an effort to be fully transparent, more and more photo schools are listing estimates of the full costs of their programs, not just the tuition. The costs are significant, and students who fund their educations through loans will emerge with a lot of debt. Against these high costs, one obviously needs to weigh the benefits. Should a student expect to be able to pay off their loans from their first job? Upon graduation, will the publisher of National Geographic be calling to offer a six-month, all-expenses-paid assignment to Asia? Will CNN be offering a huge salary, benefits and stock options along with the job of lead photographer and multimedia creator for the Summer Olympics? The chances of these scenarios happening are slim. However, graduates can expect to have a leg up as they work to break into the business, and students who have taken full advantage of the programs at their schools will have the skills to impress whoever hires them.

The bumper-sticker wisdom that says, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance" actually hits pretty close to the mark. It's conceivable for reasonably talented and smart people to learn how to use a camera, lens and lights all on their own, but going through a full-fledged photography program at an accredited school is about much more than just that craft. There are no guarantees of fame, fortune and an endless line of high-paying jobs. What you get is an education, and with that, the sky is the limit.

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