I’m a formal student of photography and probably will be a life-long student of it, and I’m faced with constant struggles in class. Although fighting through the completion of degree (that doesn’t necessarily help you to not become a starving artist) is a very real, hefty and common problem that students face, there are deeper and more dampening issues for those photography protégés–especially for those who have been fueled by their passion and took it upon themselves to study and experiment, which includes me.

While every student’s education experience and photography level will always be different, I’ve tried to feel out how people felt around me–my own classmates, other photography peers, and some in the industry– and how that affected their work during the time they were in class. They agree.

Author’s note: Formal education is important. I’ll definitely say that. It provides an opportunity to gain of a lot of skills and traits that I’d be as bold to say are relatively hard to acquire elsewhere.

The Struggle

I asked a couple classmates about what they think the hardest part about being a photography student is.

“Being too focused on the prerequisite passing points and not making something we are proud of or really can say is us. It’s too tight of a scope to be creative with and I get stifled.” – Casey J.

“Probably putting the shoots together. Models, etc. Got easier towards the end as I made more contacts and got more reputation, but still. Part of it is coming up with a an idea and making it happen quickly. People in Vegas are generally busy and it’s hard to get a random person to commit to a time to have their picture taken. In classes, it was hard to be creative on a time frame and in the box of an assignment.” – Skylar S.

“Honestly.. Figuring out what the teacher wants to get an A on the assignments. I have found that at times I lose my own creativity at trying to get the “A” instead of shooting how I want to shoot or edit. Plus the other hard part is working full time at the same time as trying to juggle school.” – Crystal T.

I have a hard freakin time trying to be creative while in class.

The trend in my educational career has been one of personal battles more than anything, but it was all related to the suppression of anything imaginative in trade for something technically sound. While I think that that learning the techniques are extremely important to learn, the adherence and concentration given to each technical assignment gives little room for expression of the creative artist.


Class example

I was lucky to sneak a couple broken standard composition rules and get away with this picture in class.

The Understanding

I would have to say that the classes I’m taking are there to prepare me for the real world (in commercial photography), although I believe that they’re only sharing about 40% of what photographers need to know in order to run a successful business. The assignments are typically built on the idea of an approaching client that doesn’t really know what you’re capable of and what you’re capable of doing, in terms of actually capturing frames. I feel that there isn’t a good balance, and perhaps that’s a whole different challenge that needs to be faced.

Personally, I feel that the early stages of the degree should really focus on the technical aspects of photography, while the middle stage should help one to explore the creative voice and vision that one needs to develop, while the final stages should focus on honing that voice and applying into an assignment of sorts.

What do you think?

I’m interested in finding out the opinions of those who have been formally educated, are currently enrolled and are being educated and those who never had any formal education. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the photography programs can be improved!

Mykii Liu is a professional portrait creative in photography working out of Las Vegas, NV.

You can read more of Mykii’s articles HERE, and view his work and website HERE.


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Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Great insight!

  2. I “learned” photography, then went to get a degree and then began working as a professional (photojournalism). My advice is get your technical chops down how while you have the time and professional help and freedom to do so; there’s more than enough time to develop creatively later. Creating a style is something that’s a lifelong process and it just gives you confidence to have that solid technical background behind you.Dealing with deadlines and demanding clients is difficult at best and it’s what you can expect; the last thing you need at that point is time spent trying to learn a flash setup or complex post-production on the run.

  3. I work in a different world and am learning photography on the side as a hobby for the second time. If it becomes a full blown passion and source of income, I will have to learn more of the basics. In my field, I had to learn the basics, learn the creativity and then focus on specifics. Basically the same as you indicated. I believe also that there should be a strong grounding in basic business procedures from the start as well as social standards. Maybe that is just me.

    • Oh HECK yeah! Basic business procedures would be amazing. The 2 year program at the college I attend doesn’t really have any emphasis on how to actually earn an income as a photographer. They’re contemplating creating a 3 year program, where the business practices actually are incorporated, but that’s far down the line.

  4. All your struggles are real. I’m an older student… started my photography business, then decided (since my kids were grown) that I would go back to school for my AS degree (photographic technology). I will also continue my education in photography… it will never stop changing. Aside from being rushed, not being allowed the creativity, and trying to please each professor (they are all different), I do feel like I have knowledge of the equipment, chemicals, and editing. Which makes me more confident when speaking to clients, and allows me to create in a professional manner.

    Remember… learn the rules… then break them!

    Good luck with you endeavors!

    • Thanks Wendy!

      I’m all for learning the rules and breaking them! The worst is when you have a professor that tells you that, then marks you off for breaking the rules :/ it drives me nuts!

      • Sometimes you have to argue your point with them. I emailed a professor once and told him I didn’t want to do his create…I wanted to do my own! He never said a word about the email. He and I get along great now. One professor had a classmate in tears because he kept denying her images in our portfolio class. When he left the room I went to her and said, “don’t cry… put what you think is your best work in your portfolio. He will appreciate it in the end. She ended up with an A after all her struggle with trying to please him. Make your point, and hold on to your dreams!!

  5. At my school they liked us to break rules and everything was about the image. I learnt a lot about not just photography but publishing, holding exhibitions and working with others. I went to school in 2004 and the third year of the course being digital photography centered. The problem was that half the teachers were stuck in the past and the others were looking at the digital future. I will always remember a tutor laughing at HDR saying it will never be big, whoops.

    • Haha, good ol HDR. I’m personally not a big fan of it– well, I should say that I like using it in certain applications, but generally not a big fan. I think that breaking the rules is fun and important, but I’d say it’s important to know which rules you’re breaking. I’m thinking that it’ll be hard to find the balance in the school system.

  6. Interesting post, Im the hobby photographer who is thinking about study and perhaps changing careers. Unlikely at this stage as I simply enjoy taking pictures of things I enjoy and find beauty in. So much to learn still and I suspect there always will be.

  7. […] M. (2014) The Student Struggle [online article/forum]. Available at: http://photofocus.com/2014/08/28/the-real-student-struggle/ [Accessed 11 September […]


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About Mykii Liu

This portrait photographer is named "Mykii Liu". Yeah, that is a weird/crazy awesome spelling, isn't it? Well, that kind of goes with his personality. Liu is a technological geek that has drifted in and out of full-time portrait and wedding photography as well as the IT world. As a youth, he was raised with computers and exuded an inherit ability to explore and understand other bits of technology, which included a 35mm Canon FTb film camera that he was gifted. Fast forward 20 years, add a couple other cameras, computers, lights and lenses, then find Mykii Liu shoot for love as he explores the portrait world.


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