The Best Path to Becoming a Better Photographer: Education, Experience or Both?


Newcomers to photography these days are quite often surprised at how easy it is to take good pictures. This however, is because modern digital cameras flatter you. They are designed to get the very best image that their electronics can output, giving you almost perfect results all the time. As you grow as a photographer, two things become apparent, firstly sometimes the camera is not always giving you the result you want, and secondly, that this photography lark goes a lot deeper than you originally thought.

So how can you go about learning photography, improving your abilities. What is the best way to better your image making? Like most things in life, the two main options are education and experience, so what is the best option for you? 

Education РEducating yourself in the art of photography can take many forms, but like learning anything you have to devote yourself to it, dedicate a certain amount of time per week to study. 

Feel free to check our another article on photography education!

The easiest route for studying is of course books. We live in a great time for photographic books. There is a bewildering choice of titles available all claiming to be the best for this or that. If you are literally just starting out, then look for books that will give you a good understanding of the basics of exposure, lighting, equipment and composition. Books by Scott Kelby and Michael Freeman are highly regarded for this. Beyond that, there are books for every aspect of photography, perhaps the best guide as what to buy is Amazon ratings and comments.

Black dslr camera on start with why by simon siner book by Edwin Jaulani

Of course, whilst books cover a huge amount of topics, they do not give you any feedback – a vital element in progressing your photography. Your best option for this is to take an actual photographic course. You can choose to study with an online course or go to a local school or college. Online courses can vary in quality and cost so you need to do your research well. Beware of courses that just provide study materials but have no interaction. You need to find a course that gives you an assigned tutor who will give you the much needed feedback on your work.
Research online courses well by Jason Row Photography, on Flickr

Going to a real class of course means that you will get proper tuition and feedback. When choosing a photography class, it is well worth looking for one that will provide you with a recognized qualification at the end, regardless of whether you aim to work in photography. If you are going to devote several hours a week to the study of photography you might as well get something useful at the end of it.
A photography class in the field by Gord McKenna, on Flickr

One of the biggest problems of the education route is that courses often try to shape your thinking to their own style. With photography being a creative art form, sometime this rigidity can stilt your own development. With this in mind, another great way to learn is through experience.

The best way of gaining experience in photography is to spend time with your peers. My route into photography was via my uncle who was an avid, experienced and very good amateur photographer. Although I spent two years at college studying photography, I still learnt more about composition, light and the realities of photography from him. 

Photography clubs are another way to get great advice from your peers. Look for clubs that take regular field trips rather than just meeting in a hall once a week. Go on the field trips, watch the regular members at work, look for the people that are happy to give advice and critique to you. By watching your peers at work and looking at their results you will get a great insight in how to take photographs in reality rather than in a educational environment. By mimicking and modifying what you learn from your peers you are more likely to create your own unique style and find your own niche in photography.
Camera clubs are a great way to gain experience by GaryPaulson, on Flickr

Both education and experience are the only ways to truly learn photography. In reality a combination of both is the very best option, however as we mentioned at the top, if you are going to study, you need to take it seriously and devote time to it. Not everyone thrives in an educational environment and it may be that joining a club or society and spending time with your peers may be a better route for some to understand the subtle, beautiful art of photography.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Seriously thinking about going to uni but cant workout whether its the best thing for me. I love photography more then anything and its the only thing that makes me truely satisfied, I always thought I’d do it on my own though , travel and just somehoe meet the right people and now im thinking well why be so niave and leave it just to chance why not get all the skills possible and then take the world with both hands and give it everything ive got . In deciding if uni is for me I also have to decide which course to take.. whether photography, photojournalism or documentary photography would be a better option in terms of the fact that i immediately broaden my options if i take something that isnt so specific

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