Do you want to be a photographer, but not sure if it’s worth the study? Find out what a photography course can offer you, and how even a basic course can fast-track your professional or freelance photography career.
When photography was invented almost 200 years ago, probably no one imagined quite the power and gigantic scale it would claim in our society.
Think of all the spaces photography has been influencing, and how often it features in your own life and surroundings. From family albums, ultrasounds, profile photos, and music posters – to ID or passport pics, business ads, and fashion shoots. It’s everywhere. These days we even find (accidental) animal selfies. Seriously.
Photography as A Career Choice
For some people the love of photography ends with the pure appreciation of it – whether it is the appreciation of art, aesthetics, or just the ability it has to capture a special moment.
Others take it a notch further and not only appreciate it, but actively participate in taking photographs – for fun, or as a hobby, or for their social media. Again – selfies.
Then there are those who not only love photography, but are so good at it that they decide to do it professionally. There are many freelance photographers who use their passion and talent to make some money on the side – and just as many professional photographers who take photos for a living.
Some examples are in areas like:
- fashion, showbiz & advertising
- street art, nudes & photojournalism
- family, pregnancy & kids
- wildlife & underwater
- action sports, weddings & other events
But, Why Should I Study It?
It’s a good question. Why should you? It’s no secret that many amazing photographers are self-taught. In today’s technological world, you can find camera user tutorials and easy photo editing software pretty quick sticks. And when it comes to actually snapping pics, a lot of it comes down to trial and error.
If this is the case, why do so many institutions bother to offer photography courses, even full-time degrees and other qualifications, in a discipline that you can theoretically do without formal training?
Actually, there are many reasons. Many really good reasons too.
A photography course will, in a short amount of time, make you
- Really understand your camera. You can’t compare a user manual to the kind of expert help you get from lecturers and experienced photographers. A course will teach you the basic anatomy and functionality of your camera, like how and when to use a flash, or how to work in a dark room.
- Introduce you to techniques, methods, and conventions. Anyone can click a button and take a photo, but not everyone knows about certain conventions, or what works and doesn’t work in terms of lighting settings, depth, or texture. It’s important to be aware of various conventions, so that when you want to sell your photos to a specific market, you know what to aim for when you click away.
- Expose you to different niches. If you want to make this your career, you’ll have to figure out a niche for yourself – certain subjects that you really love capturing. Maybe you want to focus on studio photography, or maybe you’re the kind of person who can sit for 8 hours hiding in the bush, just to capture that one perfect photo of a buffalo stampede. A course will give you valuable insight and practical knowledge on how to enter those niches.
- Teach you how to use editing software. Photographs are almost always retouched. But the aim is not to make them look retouched. You learn this by understanding the important elements of photo editing, working with software like Photoshop, and how to manipulate images to the way you want them to look. Learning these skills in a course with trained professionals will save you a lot of time, and it gives you the opportunity to ask as many complex questions about the programmes as you want.
- Help you start your own photography business. Now here is something for which you want a mentor. When it comes to starting your business and making your services known, you want to have the best guidance and advice you can get. A course will teach you business tactics, entrepreneurial skills, and provide you with personal advice from a network of professional and experienced photographers. Nothing beats first-hand experience and hearing what has and hasn’t worked for other people in the same industry.
What Do Photography Students Say?
“Before I came to CityVarsity, I had researched some online courses, but many people advised me against that option.
I realised that studying a full-time course in Photography was better for me, because I’d have constant interaction with lecturers, as well as their assistance.
I chose CityVarsity because of the high quality standard of work compared to some competitor institutions. I also experienced strong motivation and passion coming from the lecturers in the photography department, which made the college very interesting to me.”
– Patrick Kristiansen, 1st Year Photography student at CityVarsity
“The main reason I’m studying Photography is because of my father. He had a hiking tour business and he’d always take photos with his Pentax camera. After his passing, I felt motivated to study Photography and follow his footsteps.
I chose to study full-time photography for the interaction and learning about conceptual development beyond the technicality of my camera.
I chose CityVarsity in specific because I like the fact that there is this collaborative aspect among the different departments like Art, Film, and Journalism.“
– Tanya Chute, 2nd Year Photography student at CityVarsity
What Do Professionals Say?
“As much natural potential as you may have by good fortune, I think it’s essential to develop your abilities through learning. A formal course can provide the groundwork for a general learning curve, and photographic studies.
I feel that only positive things emerge through interaction with new methods, equipment, techniques and the right feedback from staff and lecturers that challenge you in a constructive way. Ultimately it will only make you a better photographer.”
– Andrew Ogterop, professional photographer
“The interactions between the full-time photography students and our department are very important. Studying photography moves beyond the technical learning of your camera and lighting and also covers knowledge on professional practice skills, interviewing and communication skills, as well as an overall personal development.
This college environment mimics real life industry spaces and experiences, while teaching and assessing each student’s growth and development – both through individual and collaborative projects.
A big advantage of studying at a college like CityVarsity means that, apart from course content, they have access to facilities like a studio, darkroom, make-up artists and models – free of extra cost. Privately, these facilities are very expensive to hire.”
– Kelly Maroon, CityVarsity Media & Creative Arts lecturer
“Studying photography does have many advantages. It teaches business and technical skills that could give entrepreneurs a major upper hand. However, students should be careful to not let creativity be stifled in the process.“
– Zahraa Dollie, freelance photographer
Where Can I Embark On a Course?
There are many South African establishments that offer studies in photography, from crash courses, online courses, degrees, and workshops.
Private colleges, however, are definitely forerunners in this field, because of their practical approach. It gives students an in-depth knowledge on the all-encompassing world of photography while making sure that practical skills are the key focus.
CityVarsity is one of the most popular of these private institutions for photography courses, with campuses in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Their photography courses on offer are
- a 2-year full-time Diploma in Professional Photography
If you want to find out more information on either of these courses, you can contact CityVarsity directly. Whoop.
Oh, and make sure you stay up to date with their events and Open Days, so you can go check it out for yourself.
Many successful photographers are freelancers and build up their clientele and reputation over time. The more successful you become as a freelancer photographer, the more likely you’ll be able to go full-out creative with the projects you take on. Have a look at this article on some of the pros and cons of freelancing if you feel like it’s the kind of career lifestyle you want.