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Do you need to do a photography course to be a photographer?

Self-taught or paid education? Here's the pros, cons and opinions on the two options.

Do you need to do a photography course to be a photographer? October 17, 2016

Matt is a live music photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about dark shadows and crisp details, Matt is committed to sharing his knowledge with beginner photographers. Matt has been published by TIME, Huffington Post, VICE, and more.

One of the common questions I get asked is what photography course I have done. Have I done a photography course in Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney? Was the course offered by a prestigious university or by an accomplished artist? Nope. My photography education is exclusively from people just like you.

What does a photography course teach you?

It’s a bit of a vague question because there are many specialised photography courses out there. Beginner photography courses cover the very basics on how to use a camera for basic photography. These courses often won’t apply any skills to a specific genre. A guideline I use for photography courses is that if the teacher does not offer both beginner and expert level courses, generally they aren’t worth doing.

Photography courses generally show you:

  • how to navigate your camera’s settings
  • cleaning processes
  • composition techniques

Photography courses generally won’t teach you:

  • how to edit your images
  • how to find your style
  • buy equipment that suits your needs

My theories on photography courses

If a course only has a beginner level offering, it isn’t worth doing. Why? Simply because teachers who are able to teach both beginner and intermediate photographers would be competing in a smaller market. So why wouldn’t all teachers teach both beginner and intermediate classes if there’s more money to be made? My theory is that those who only teach beginner photographers do so because they are not confident with their own skills. Can you imagine a teacher who can’t answer a student’s question? It doesn’t make you particularly confident in the teacher’s ability to use a camera better than you can. If a photography course has at least a beginner and intermediate level, or offers niche lessons (as in, macro photography, music photography etc), it’s more likely you will get your money’s worth.

Should you buy a cheap photography course or learn photography yourself?

Another hard question, but let’s assume you have found a photography class that meets my recommendations above. Should you shell out your hard earned cash for a photography class, or can you teach yourself?

I am self taught. That doesn’t mean it suits everyone, but it did suit me. I have not spent a single dollar on photography classes. If you are self disciplined and are able to manage your own time and motivation, I recommend you surf the internet for the questions you need answering. If you need structure, commitment and someone to guide you in person, you’re more suited to a photography class.

Why do I think self-teaching photography skills is important?

Even if you do pay for a photography course, there is still value in teaching yourself a thing or two. No teacher will know everything, and there is no guarantee that your photography teacher is going to explain things in a way that makes sense on the first attempt. Sometimes it takes multiple times for information to sink in and that’s time you just can’t afford in a photography classroom (unless you are sitting on a massive pile of cash!). Simply hitting YouTube with your burning questions can teach you a lot.

No matter which way you choose to learn, I wish you the best of luck!

Matt is a live music photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about dark shadows and crisp details, Matt is committed to sharing his knowledge with beginner photographers. Matt has been published by TIME, Huffington Post, VICE, and more.