Do you need qual­i­fi­ca­tions?

Should you study pho­tog­ra­phy for­mally or is a strong port­fo­lio and hard-won ex­pe­ri­ence enough?

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Study­ing for a pho­tog­ra­phy qual­i­fi­ca­tion can help to fill in any gaps in your tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, strengthen your port­fo­lio and demon­strate your com­mit­ment – some­thing that can cer­tainly make a dif­fer­ence when you’re look­ing for your first job. But how rel­e­vant is it for the keen am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher look­ing to turn pro­fes­sional?

“I feel it’s im­por­tant to have a good tech­ni­cal un­der­stand­ing of pho­tog­ra­phy and the busi­ness of pho­tog­ra­phy, so a higher ed­u­ca­tion de­gree from a re­spected in­sti­tu­tion is a good start­ing point,” ad­vises Tom Mackie. “Pho­to­graphic work­shops are also a good way to learn from pro­fes­sion­als. I have had many am­a­teur

If I had my time again I might well con­sider study­ing art and de­sign, which I think is a far more valu­able area of study than tak­ing a course on pho­tog­ra­phy

David Ti­pling, bird pho­tog­ra­pher

pho­tog­ra­phers on my work­shops who have even­tu­ally taken the plunge to be­come pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers. There is a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence be­tween a pho­tog­ra­pher and a ‘pro­fes­sional’ pho­tog­ra­pher in the way they work in the field and with clients.”

Univer­sity of life

Like many pros, Richard Peters didn’t study pho­tog­ra­phy: “I opted for the hands-on ap­proach of trial-and-er­ror, in­stead, shar­ing my im­ages on fo­rums with others to seek feed­back and help me de­velop.

“Any­one can pick up a cam­era and learn what but­tons do what and take a tech­ni­cally bril­liant record shot,” he adds. “How­ever, the real chal­lenge is un­der­stand­ing light, how to work with it and how to cre­ate some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the rest. It’s not easy, and not ev­ery shot you take will be an award-win­ner or a big seller. But the more time you spend be­hind a cam­era, the more you’ll grow and learn.”

“I have only two qual­i­fi­ca­tions,” adds Alex Bai­ley. “A driv­ing li­cence and a City & Guilds in pho­tog­ra­phy – I didn’t get any other qual­i­fi­ca­tions at all! If you ac­tu­ally delve into the his­tory of a great deal of well-es­tab­lished pho­tog­ra­phers, many of them have lit­tle or no for­mal qual­i­fi­ca­tions – they have done it through hard graft from the ground up.”

If you’re con­sid­er­ing turn­ing pro­fes­sional then you’re con­fi­dent in your pho­to­graphic abil­ity and maybe a qual­i­fi­ca­tion isn’t for you. But how much thought have you put to man­ag­ing your busi­ness? You’ll need to have a sound grasp of the fi­nan­cial side. Get­ting to grips with ac­count­ing, tax pay­ments and in­surance – in ad­di­tion to cov­er­ing your gear for dam­age and theft, you’ll need pub­lic in­dem­nity in­surance – is vi­tal, and at­tend­ing a short course on set­ting up and run­ning a busi­ness is likely to prove as worth­while as study­ing for a for­mal pho­tog­ra­phy qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

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