Last week an old student of mine asked me my thoughts on college education for photography and videography. While I responded to him with what appeared as a small book on the subject, I thought it an appropriate topic to write on especially with my own graduation looming. I will preface this post by saying I am not an expert in education, I have no formal authority in the matter. This post is simply be the humble opinion of a peculiar college senior, drawing from external and internal experiences in the higher educational institution. Any examples used come from my own path, and while an increasing number seem to be blazing their own trail, many more are still unsure of the right path in this changing world.
Firstly, short pamphlet on my background. My siblings and I grew up homeschooled. Our curriculums consisted of various subjects, textbooks, and tests, just like any other school. We had extra-curricular activities including music, arts, sports and such. We had a large group of friends who were also homeschooled that we saw weekly. We had governmental requirements we had to meet to sustain our homeschooled status. In fact as far as I can tell, the only differences as I can deduce is the lack of a formal building, regimented grade divisions, and parents for teachers; even our teachers. Even our teachers varied, sometimes our parents, sometimes instructors trained in their field, and sometimes we were left to our own to teach ourselves the subject at hand. Regularly when individuals learn of my childhood, more often than not, they could not tell I was homeschooled. Its not an uncommon thing either. Chances are, you know someone who was homeschooled, and they would appear as normal as anyone else.
College itself brought with it a new set of challenges. If I’m honest however, with regards to general education, it came in the form of increased focus on efficiency, and meeting deadlines, while unintentionally generating a lower expectation of the quality of work. (Again I speak from the perspective of a student at a mid-rate private liberal arts college, I am sure more prestigious universities and degrees have a higher expectation). I would be at fault to only criticize, as a handful of instructors I’ve had the pleasure to learn under reminded me that education comes from the individual not from the institution and no matter what educational straits one may face, they (the student) are ultimately in control; the difficulty that person may face in learning may be greater or lesser, but I digress. The purpose of this post is not to compare education but rather if formal education for photography and video is the best way to go. I would be lying if I didn’t consider my position in imaging a unique one. For photography my path was primarily self taught, for video however my education has been primarily taught to me through my college.
We live in an incredibly technologically rich period; one result being the reduced entrance cost for ventures that in the past would be reserved for next of kin, incredibly wealthy, or incredibly fortunate people. Digital storage, high-resoultion/high-preformance sensors, cheap support and editing software; not to mention the ever increasing number of open-source programing making services and software in many cases completely free. Photography has been especially impacted by this change, making it incredibly easy to accumulating equipment and knowledge. Practice and skill however is still contained to our own ability to learn, retain, and preform; a trade which comes only through time and energy. The means of attaining that practice however is also being affected. The amount of teaching resources is unfathomable, some of the most notable being sites like CreativeLive, Instructables, and even simply Youtube videos and Subreddits. There are always people who love to teach, and the connectivity we enjoy today has only made that love easily accessible. The beauty of this self taught system is the ability to learn at your own pace, no matter how slow or fast you may need to go. You also have the freedom to sculpt your education to guide you towards a more specific goal, where as under a college curriculum, one is often forced to travel at the pace and path of the instructor. These days I meet more and more photographers who have taught themselves through these avenues. One of my idols in this field, and one of the founders of CreativeLive, Chase Jarvis, is a self taught shooter. Teaching oneself still requires the same amount of effort, only more ground can be covered these days, meaning each successive generation learns more than the last, building on each other’s successes. Presently i’ve taken my education for photography in the form of shadowing, specifically many of the talented shooters over at Bruton Stroube. What this approach does is create a very effective, all be it aimless at times, path.
Film has also had a great many advances to reduced stakes of starting. For every photography tutorial there is another film tutorial. The two are so closely related and yet so indescribably different, that the types of people who specialize in one over another could be brother and sister. In my time in the college system, I’ve been pushed to accomplish tasks I never would have thought of on my own, or at least not for a good long while. Several of my most treasured connections with other industry professionals have come from assignments that required me to seek out others in the field either for interviews work, or simply to talk about the weather. The introduction of deadlines also brought with it its own reward. Soon I found myself shooting, editing and promoting my work more efficiently, which when working in an trade industry is invaluable; sometimes, clients will choose who can get the job done fastest, over who can do it best. This frustrating fact is still true though, meaning there is still a great need to become efficient in work, just as important as it is to be effective in your work.
The biggest struggle with this topic is that there is no definite path these days. What used to be common place is now only common in that it is just another path to take. For photography and cinematography the added difficulty for a simple solution comes in that they are both learned trades. Trained physical and mental labor, that must be refined honed and kept sharp. Each day the landscape changes, some days more than others. The best advice I can give is to examine your present state. Do you find yourself pining over every little detail in a photo or video? Go to college, subject yourself to the deadlines and forceful nature of group projects with people you don’t much care for. Or are you tired of hearing the same lectures on the function of a camera over and over and over? Then take your education into your own hand. Determine a goal, then work towards it through whatever means you manage to find.
Perhaps this subject would be better suited to a book rather than a blogpost.
How did you learn? Did you teach yourself? Did you have a mentor? Did you climb to the highest peak and seek the guidance of some solitary monk? I wanna hear!