I recently had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at 4 different west coast universities to interact with and educate their photography students. Along with Sigma, my goals were to inspire students to push their creative bounds and also to provide them valuable real-world lessons that they could use to grow their careers and ease their transitions into professional life.
One of the great things about the students I encountered was their eagerness to devour every piece of advice I provided. They want to learn. They want to prepare. They want to ask questions. In fact, after one evening lecture I stayed several hours (until 11pm!) after the lecture had concluded to answer questions. The students waited patiently in a long line to ask the questions they felt could help enhance their career, or simply to thank me for speaking! Their passion and drive, especially after a long day of school, was beautiful to see. Many of them were absolutely filled to the brim with information from school, yet were eager to see how much more they could stuff into their hungry minds!
In some schools I provided portfolio critiques where I was granted one-on-one time to answer student questions, critique their images, and help give them career advice. In other instances we did hands-on shooting demos where we arranged a model and students had hands on time with Sigma lenses to experiment and learn as I gave lighting tips. I helped advise students on the gear that would best fit the type of photography they do, as well as demonstrated ideal lighting and camera angles.
I also had the pleasure of teaching two lectures; one on creativity and the other on breaking into the fashion industry. In fact, I created an entirely new presentation for the tour to share my story and the different steps I have take to establish my career, make connections, grow my portfolio, and expand my career.
During the tour I encountered many questions and found myself often giving the same pieces of advice. I’d love to take a moment to share three common threads that came up during the week tour!
1. What is your portfolio ‘about’? Focus on your style.
After portfolio reviews, I found that I was often giving the same piece of advice and asking the same questions. I would ask the students the following:
What is your portfolio about? After someone reviews your portfolio, what words and visuals do you want to stick in their minds. I suggest you aim to have three to four words constant throughout your portfolio to help make you memorable. One word should describe subject matter. One word should describe the emotion you want someone to feel when looking at your images. One word should describe a constant visual element.
- Bright Youthful Portraiture
- Dark Mysterious Fine Art
- Clean Bold Fashion
- Playful Sexy Glamour
When you define these few words, focus on utilizing them in every shoot you do. This will become your style. Your style helps to set you apart and helps a client remember your work.
2. Don’t Wait
I heard a lot of student say ‘when I graduate I’ll start to…’. Don’t wait! Don’t wait to start making client connections. Don’t wait to start shooting personal work. Don’t wait to start developing a style. If you are waiting until your work is ‘perfect’ or you have it all figured out, it will never happen.
You are much better off pursuing a connection today that might turn into a paying gig, instead of waiting to be perfect to market yourself for a gig that may never exist.
Don’t wait. Your life and career start now!
3. Is going to college for photography ‘worth it’?
A lot of students I encountered were, understandably, wondering if the large amount of debt they are incurring is worth it. Is it worth tens of thousands of debt a year to become a photographer? Is a photographic education even worth it?
I understand the concerns. The answer is yes, and no… it all depends on the person!
A person can absolutely succeed as a photographer without any photographic education, this is true. Someone can learn on the job or from a photographic mentor, and then put their good business sense to work in order to succeed. Some people graduate high school and are just ready to dive into a career. Others are on their second or third careers and don’t have time for school. Yes, these people can absolutely succeed in photography without a formal education.
For me, personally, college was an important journey. First of all, college allowed me a safe place to learn and (more importantly) to make mistakes in an environment where I could ask questions and experiment. I didn’t have to worry about messing up a client’s shoot. I could find my style, get feedback, and have much lower pressure.
In college I tried every type of photography; nature, portrait, photojournalism, and fashion. I may not have found my true calling, fashion photography, if I had not been encouraged to try new things in college.
Finally, college allowed me time to find myself and grow as an individual. This personal growth was essential to my professional success. In fact, the technical information I learned in college was actually not even in the top 3 things on my list that I gained from my college experience… but instead growth in other ways!
So, is going to college for photography worth it? That truly depends on your needs as an individual, your goals, and what YOU want to get from college!
I met many incredible students. Some had work that wowed me. Others had energy and a hunger for knowledge that blew me away. Others simply had kind hearts and a deep love for photography that touched my heart. Can’t wait until my next university tour!