Why I Went To Photography School

Why I Went To Photography School

I went to photography school not because I wanted to learn how to make photographs but understand more about photography.

Sounds obvious?

It isn’t as apparent as first perceived.

When I got into photography, I was about 16 years old. It was something I thought I would enjoy, and I was right. I bought my first manual SLR camera, made by Ricoh, second hand from a shop by London Bridge station. It came with a standard kit 50mm lens, and I added to this over time with other zoom lenses, filters, flashes etc.

I taught myself how to take photographs with my new camera but never thought about studying or becoming a full-time photographer until much later on.

If I look back at pictures that I made back in those days, few remain to tell me that I was pretty good at composition. Even then, I think the focus was on taking pictures of people. I didn’t know anything about documentary or fine art photography.

I had heard about famous photographers like Lord Lichfield and David Bailey, even Rankin. Still, I didn’t know anything about Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cindy Sherman, Vanley Burke, orJeff Wall. Going to photography school introduced me to these amazing photographers and the world of documentary and fine art photography.

Snapshots and Events

My photography at that early stage consisted of snapshots and events. As I had a genuine semi-pro camera, everyone I knew began to ask me to take their photograph or to come down and take some pictures at family events.

Half my family and friends are musical performers, so there were umpteen gigs per month that needed an official photographer. I didn’t make any money at this (grumble grumble), but I didn’t mind; I was getting the opportunity to practice something that I liked, and I got better at it with time. As the requests became more frequent and life started to chew up my free time, I began to lose interest and, after a while, I gave it up.

Travel, writing & photography

Much later on, worn out by the constant issues of corporate life, I started to dream about a career change. I had no firm plans, but I wanted any new career to feature travel, writing, and, once more, photography.

I knew that if this were to work, I would have to improve my writing and photography skills. So I went back to college and took a class in Journalism. I didn’t know whether I would like it, as I hadn’t been back in ‘school’ for nearly eight years by that time. Still, the class was brilliant.

My class tutors were ex Daily Mail and Reuters journalists, and we also had another great tutor with whom we delved into the world of media theory on a Monday evening. There, concepts around the role of images in a story, advertising, and the arts took on greater significance.

Following that class, I began retaking pictures. Also, I enrolled in a weekend workshop photography class run by Zoom-in, a great community education photography school based in Clapham SW London.

Having bought an autofocus SLR the previous year, I was eager to get back into things and the fact that digital SLR’s were beginning to enter the price range that I could afford. The possibilities seemed good for being able to combine travel, writing and photography.

Learning How To Use Your Camera

I am not one for manuals; I find them tedious. Show me, tell me or let me work it out by fiddling; that’s how I learn to use stuff.

I only pick up a manual if something stops working; going back to a photography school, I learned the basics that apply to all areas of photography. All the fiddling in the world couldn’t help me work out what the Aperture range was all about, and I knew no one who could show me.

I knew even less about Depth of Field. I learned about shutter speeds and film speeds, but I did not know how to position myself so that the light wouldn’t cast a shadow. At photography school, I got to go back to the basics. I learned about the rules of composition about pan and zoom shots. I got the chance to develop and print my pictures in the darkroom.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was how to ‘read’ the language of photographs. When you know how to read visual documents, the power of photography comes into focus.

What Do You Mean Read a Photograph?

Learning how to read a photograph helps you to understand how it can impact people. Advertising, marketing, they all use them, and for an excellent reason.

You’ve heard the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, well this belief that you can sum up complex stories in one image is a powerful notion.

However, it doesn’t reveal that a thousand people can interpret the meaning in one image in a thousand different ways.

When you understand this, you begin to think differently about the photographs you make. Knowing people interpret your images differently leads you to think conceptually about your photographic compositions.

Knowing that visual imagery in general and photographs in particular (because of their realist nature) have a more significant impact than words alone lets you understand the opportunity you have to influence people outside of your regular circle.

After attending the photography workshops at Zoom-in, I realised being a photographer could achieve much more than just taking pictures that reveal the beauty in the balmy destinations to which I was planning to travel.

The importance of documentary photography became clearer. The reasons behind the types of photographs used in advertising became more understandable.

10 Reasons To Go To Photography School

  1. To learn about the basic rules of photography
  2. To learn how to use your camera
  3. To understand how to develop and print photographs
  4. To learn about the history of photography
  5. To learn how to make photography your job, career or business
  6. To learn photography techniques
  7. To benefit from the experience of others (photo critiques)
  8. To learn about different styles and types of photography
  9. To understand the history of photography
  10. To gain insight into the impact that photography has on our daily lives

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