A photography Degree, Agree or disagree

Jun 22, 2023 | Learning

“Show notes”

This week Marcus and Sam discuss the hotly debated topic of “Do you need a photography degree/qualification to be a commercial photographer” and what’s the alternative?

Marcus, no surprise, being an ex senior Lecturer in photography comes down in favour! But for reasons that may not be obvious. Sam asks probing questions and has an alarming stat of the Day.

This show is just perfect if you are trying to decide whether to spend your hard earned cash on going to university.

“Show transcription”

Sam: Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Hi Sam, how are you doing?

Sam: Very good, and you?

Marcus: I’m really well, and so looking forward to today’s show because we’re going to be talking about a subject that is really close to my heart. So I’m really looking forward to diving into that. But before we do that, let’s do our regular feature from you, Start of the Day.

Sam: Okay, so start of the day. Today consumers on average spend about 4.2 hours on their mobile devices. So when we’re thinking about marketing, that’s good, that’s a lot of time.And we can think about how we can use that and reach people when they’re spending that 4.2 hours a day on their mobile.

Marcus: That’s a lot of time. That

Sam 4 hours a day on their mobile phone.

That’s not just talking, obviously,that’s browsing everything else.

Sam: That’s it. That’s using social media, and it’s not me. 4.2 hours in one go. Is it’s going to be five minutes here, five minutes there, ten minutes scrolling on Facebook in the lunch hour, and all those little little bits add up for anybody you can pop one of those apps on to track how much time you spend on your phone, and the results are often quite scary.

Marcus: Wow. Is our 4 hours that we’ve lost to social media, what would we have been doing before the phone with those 4 hours? What would we be doing? Probably down the TV maybe?

Sam: Or maybe Marcus, we’d be getting a degree in photography, which is what Today’s show is all about. So today’s show

Marcus: I like what you’ve done there.

Sam: Photography education, agree or disagree? And so we’re going to use Marcus’s specialist knowledge here

as he has a degree in photography, I believe. Marcus, do you want to take us back to the beginning and your degree?

Marcus: Yeah, I’ve got a degree in photography. It’s in editorial photography.

And I’ve just noticed in forums, a lot of people talking about whether you need a degree in photography or to be a commercial photographer.People are saying, oh, it’s better to have a business degree or a marketing degree. And overwhelmingly people seem to be against photography degrees. Well, look, let’s talk about my experience. I did my degree virtually when I started off being a photographer in the mid nineties.

I did it, as I said earlier, as an editorial

Editorial photography in Brighton, which is in the UK. And I had a great time. I really benefited from it afterwards, I did to do this little assisting for advertising and then I started my own career off. And then ironically, Sam, I went back and became a senior lecturer at university.

So I saw both sides of it.So yeah, for me a degree worked out okay.

Sam: And then for that initial job you got?

Were they asking specifically for a photography degree?

Marcus: Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

That’s the point. People say, I’ve never been asked for whether I’ve got a degree for any job that I’ve gone for, except,of course, my job as a senior lecturer. That was very important, having a degree to be able to work at university. But the reason why I’m really for having a degree in photography is a little bit I look at it a bit differently to most people, because degree gives you three years where you can really dig deep into a subject, any subject, but we’re talking about photography and then really make mistakes and experiment and really find yourself. And I think that gives you, I would argue, more of an individual voice. You can find out your style, you can find out what you’re about, you can dig deep into subjects that might interest you.

Now, to do that without a degree, Ithink you’re not going to do it. You’re going to go out there and you’re going to start working and then end up in a very pharaoh,as it were, or Furrow, where you’re stuck in that and that might be for the rest of your career. So in some ways, a degree gives you an opportunity to find your wings.

Sam: That makes sense. So it’s that kind of you can experiment, you can try different things and you’ve not got that commercial pressure on you. That it’s for the next client. If you spend a lot of time and go down a rabbit hole and in the end it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. And it’s all just part of part of the experience and part of the learning process.

Marcus: Mate, I think you put the nail on the head. Exactly. Now, the counter argument to that, of course, and Itotally get this, is the money involved in a degree you’re looking at in the UK? Probably about 30, 40, maybe 50,000 pounds, which is the start of your photography career. That much in depth is really overwhelming. That is the thing that puts me off recommending doing a degree for people, purely the cost. But as far as going, finding your style goes, I don’t think you can beat it.

Sam: Yeah, And then other maybe well, there’s a couple of other things, other maybe sort of college courses where it maybe could be a lower cost because it’s just a year rather than three years, where you still get some of that time to experiment, maybe not as quiet as much.

And then also are the mixed degrees, are there people providing degrees where they don’t just do the photography side,but they also do the business side, so do abit of the marketing, bit of the finance. So you come out having being able to experiment with photography, but also actually with acknowledge of business at the same time.

Marcus: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. Maybe that’s self initiated. Maybe you go out there and think, okay, I’m going to take this pot of money and I’m going to invest in some business courses. I’m going to invest it in some photography courses and basically have a menu of educate needs that you’re going to tick off as you go through it. I’m really mixing my metaphors there,but you get the idea.

Sam: Yeah, I was going to say YouTube.

Marcus: I don’t really recommend YouTube for teaching deep subjects. It’s great for light learning, as we call it,but for deep subjects, you probably would bet.

Yeah, you might go and find a mentor, a business mentor and a mentor who’s a photographer and invest that money or that time with them.

Sam: Yeah, that makes sense. So sort of bit more of a mix and match approach, maybe, so that you come out having experimented with photography, got more experience with photography, but also come out with some knowledge of business. Because if you just got that three year degree and you’ve got all the art side, then the understanding side,but if you don’t actually understand how to market your business and how to manage the cost of your business,then that could be a big issue.

Marcus: Yes, but I’d like to just go back to my original point, Sam, about my experiences and my experiences about being a senior lecturer.I taught on a fashion course, which is a very commercial fashion photography, a very commercial course. And we would get about 60 students coming in every year, which was a lot. And there’s a really high demand for photography degrees still. Of those 60 students, I would always probably see about two or three who I thought,wow, they’re really going to make it. They’ve really got a voice, they’ve gota style, they’re really on the path to being producing some amazing work. Those are the kind of people that really will benefit from a degree that is really small, one or 2%, because they don’t need to worry about marketing. Their work has got so strong that people are going to be attracted to them. There’s a great book by Dr.Cal Newport and it’s called Be So Good. They’ll come to you and it’s all about this idea about be the best you can and people will find you.

And I think with those particular studentsI mentioned, yes, they don’t need marketing. People will find them for their unique vision for the rest.And I would count myself and I just student as being one of the rest.You need to have a business acumen, you need to get out there and you need to network.And all these kind of things that we’re going to be discussing on the shows that are coming up, how to attract business

Sam: That makes sense. And then there are the different types of photography degrees. So you said you do editorial photography. Are there some photography degrees that are sort of more down the pure art photography route or more down the journalism photography route, or do they tend to be relatively generic?

Marcus: You’ve got a lot of choices out there. Universities are all about attracting students these days and the student experience and really finding out courses that will suit them. You could do the one I did, fashion, that’s a popular course, commercial photography, lots of art based courses, a lot of general courses as well.

And I’ve had experience of teaching into lots of different courses and overseeing them as well at different universities.

And they’ve all got their thing to offer a degree that used to be around, which isn’t so popular these days. Sam, you might remember this is the fine art degree, which was all about basically dipping your toes and trying lots of different things painting, sculpture,photography, media, digital, mixed media, all these things.I’ve always thought to me that especially moving forward in this climate of change and that doing a mixed degree,something like that, is going to give you a very much more rounded view on things, not just specializing in photography, but learning other things as well. That struck me as being a good degree to do,but really it’s all about just giving you time to experiment and make mistakes with guidance from your tutors.And I think that is really invaluable. I think these days it’s all about being different, isn’t it? If you want to get work, you got to be different.You got to have your own personal brand and people have got to see you as being something unique and what better way to do that than to really dig deep into your photography and find your own voice?

Sam: Yeah, that makes sense. And in some ways, then, I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re doing an art photography degree or fashion photography degree,because you’re still experimenting with photography. And you could do, as you say, athree year fashion photography degree, but actually then end up doing something quite different. But use time to develop style. Develop your technique. Build on that. Mentorship is clearly really key to this.We talked about earlier could maybe be an approach,that sort of mentorship approach, getting a mentor to help you as you develop.

Marcus: Exactly. And somebody who’s going to is going to be honest with you as well. When I mean honest, I mean critical in an academic type of way. Critical of your work.

Sam: Yes,

Marcus: that’s my view.

Sam: And there’s no point having somebody who’s just,

Marcus: yeah,

Sam: That’s why everything you do is great, is that that’s exactly right.

Marcus: Exactly. Yeah. It’s got to be hard work. It’s got to be something that you got to really start digging deep into your ideas and trying things out and not always succeeding under this sort of safe environment of the university of the degree. It’s an argument I put forward.

I think a lot of people still think,oh, no, if only I’d learned marketing instead.

It is a valid point. It is a valid point. Yeah.

Sam: So, in summary, I think what we’re saying is that chance to develop is really powerful and really useful. That chance to not have the commercial pressure and develop yourself. But whether that needs to be the full three year degree or maybe some form of mentorship or maybe a course where you get that chance that’s a little bit shorter or combined with some business knowledge are all good options.

Marcus: That’s a good summary sam.

Exactly. Look at the options, as you say, see what’s available to you, but don’t be too linked to the idea of investing in yourself.

Sam: Definitely.That’s brilliant. And then moving on. Marcus, I believe you’ve got for us your news of the day.

Marcus: Indeed I do, Sam. Yeah. Okay.

And today we’re talking about Instagram.

I’ve just picked up on the fact that Instagram, the Instagram CEO, Adam Mosseri, has acknowledged that they will be reviewing the way that photography is seen on Instagram. Last year, as we all know, they decided to try and follow this TikTok view and really promote videos and reels and all that kind of thing.Not good use for isa’s photographers, I have to say.

But now they’re saying, no, we’re going to go back and we’re going to start promoting photography equally as much.as reels and video, which that’s great, isn’t it? And that’s good to hear that they’ve already seen the light,

Sam: I guess it says. Well, their unique market, isn’t it? With the videos, there’s already TikTok, there’s YouTube shortsand so Instagram is just in that mix. Well, if they just do the photos,they’re standing themselves apart, aren’t they?

Marcus: Well, that’s what they were known for, wasn’t it? I mean, they were known as the app for photography. Why they switched, I have no idea. Who knows? But nevertheless, though, good news for photographers when we all welcome a bit of good news that one of our favorite platforms, Instagram, is going back to promoting photography, as they should do.

Sam: Brilliant. Right. Thanks for that, Marcus. Really good talking to you. And look forward to catching up with you next time.

Marcus: And you too.