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 protgs–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!