3 Reasons You Don’t Need A Photography Degree

A degree in fine art with a major in photography has been one of the long-standing pathways of entering a photography career.

At the end of your degree, you’ll end up with a good-looking portfolio, as well as skills that enable you to translate ideas into photographic art.

Photo by M0THart
Photo by M0THart

Is it a good idea? Is studying 3-4 years going to get you a job? What other skills do you need?

There are plenty of successful professional photographers who started that way. But that was yesterday. Here are quick 3 reasons why I think today you have better alternatives.

1. A Degree Doesn’t Prepare You For The Real World.

Shooting as a job is very different to shooting as a hobby. Sure, as part of a photography degree you’ll have to do some projects which simulate a real-world

For example, you’ll probably need to do a project where you produce a piece of work that satisfies a brief. And that’s a step in the right direction.

But it won’t teach you how to deal with bored or annoyed customers, wardrobe malfunctions, a camera which suddenly refuses to autofocus, sick assistants
who can’t make it at the last second, unexpected lighting situations, people and situations you feel intimidated by and all your own internal mental mumbo-jumbo – all the things which, when you’re shooting, you’ll have to deal with.

2. A Degree Doesn’t Teach You Business Skills.

Again, some courses will probably touch on teaching you some business skills.

But for the most part, it will just be a drop in the ocean, an an outdated one at that. The advances in business and technology get incorporated into tertiary curriculums at a glacial rate.
By the time next year’s business books are printed, the kids with their iPads hooked up to a subscription of Harvard Business Review and updates from blogs by Matt Cutts and Seth Godin are miles ahead.

I think if you ask most university business professors what Penguin and Panda are they’ll, firstly, thank you for your interest in welfare of endangered animals and, second, refer you to their colleagues in the Zoology department.

You need to be up to speed in both the technical aspects of business advancement and the philosophies that are driving them. In other words, you need to look at the changes, but you also need to understand why these changes are taking place.

This will allow you to predict which changes are coming up next – and that is the main skill that will help you to outmanoeuvre your competition.

3. A Degree Doesn’t Help You Grow.

If you read my stuff regularly, you know I’m big on being aware of motivations which underpin everything you do.

In short, the quickest way to grow as a photographer is to grow as a human being. For a long explanation of this, read this Squidoo page about How To Become A Successful Professional Photographer

Your willingness to give love and be a contribution, as well as an ability to live a rich, rewarding, fulfilling life, will directly influence your ability to become a
successful photographer.

As a starting point, ask yourself – what drives you? What makes you get out of bed every morning? And be honest with yourself. Most people walk around telling themselves and others that they want to be achievers while in reality they want to be accepted, validated and look better than the other guy.

I spent many years being driven by those motivations, and I still sometimes find myself there. And any business and creative decisions I make when I’m driven by those kind of ambitions are usually not very valuable ones.

Where do you start if you want to grow? Well, you can’t change anything that you’re not aware of. So, step one is awareness. For the next week, stop at various points of the day and ask yourself – why am I really doing this? Give yourself a brutally honest answer. You know you’re hitting a nail on the head if the answer is not a particularly pretty one.

See how long it will take you to catch yourself being driven by the same, unempowering, destructive ambition again.

If you pay attention to yourself enough, you’ll be amazed at how much your brain pulls you into a land of trying to prove something, trying to complain about something, trying to make you temporarily happy by daydreaming about cars, women, men, fashion, alcohol – whatever your thing is.

Start making changes in your life which help you generate happiness, power and freedom from within, instead of relying on your environment to prop you up. I think for specific advice on how to do that we’ll need a whole new post. Stay tuned.

By Steven M

Steven McConnell is a professional photographer based in Sydney, Australia. He currently specialises in family photography and is passionate about creating photographs which tell real stories and businesses which deliver real value. You can connect with him on Google+


  1. There are many reasons, indeed. A major never helps for being a highly-valued photographer. In private universities, you pa for diploma, anyhow you will be graduated 🙂

    Good approach, thanks for sharing..

  2. 1. Actually, internships for photo students gives real world experience. They can intern or coop over summer or while they are in classes (depends on the program). They can get experience working in different types of studios/jobs (fashion, news, etc.) or work situations (small studio assistant versus at a company or in house photog). This sampling while interning is great because then you really do know what you enjoy or want to do in the profession.

    Most interns end up being hired by the company they interned for.0
    Even with out an intern option, many student photographers work as photographers while they get their degree.

    2. Any photo program worth attending will also have required courses in other departments and colleges, like business. Indeed, this is another advantage to a degree: your mind is expanded and exposed to other ways of thinking. For instance, if you are a photo major and can take art history from ancient to Modern, you should! Also consider other art areas, film/video, design, business for non business majors, American Studies (AKA media studies – all about pop culture, film, and IMAGES but more contemporary), and just useful/mind expanding things like psychology, math, science, etc.

    3. College is essentially a way to grow to adulthood faster. It is all about growing. It gives you a lead in life, business, and creativity. You can engage in critical thought and know history so you don’t repeat what has been done (or if you do, you know what you are doing!)
    Last but not least, from 2007 to 2012, photography job postings requiring a Bachelors Degree increased 36%:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *