I was recently inspired by an Entrepreneur Magazine article on education and started to think how it relates to photography.
Most important fact about education: it’s good for you. I don’t care what you study. Education is good. Especially if you can get a degree while you’re at it. I certainly want to go back to school and earn more degrees. But not just to earn degrees, but to learn things I really want to learn. I have a dream where I have advanced degrees in business, art and music. No, it’s not to make up for any faults of mine. I know I’m a smart guy. I just think it’s cool.
The Entrepreneur article had a couple of business experts talking about the pros and cons of an MBA. I definitely understood and witnessed both sides of that coin. Many people thought having an MBA would give them a major advantage in climbing the corporate ladder or in business in general. However, I’ve known plenty of MBA graduates from very good schools who have had serious problems getting employed. So not only are the disillusioned, they are usually 10’s of thousands of dollars in debt. Most MBA programs start at $60,000 and easily go over $100,000.
I have a friend who has a friend studying photography at an expensive art school in San Francisco. He told me he had some pictures taken of himself by his friend. I couldn’t wait to see them. I thought “This kid is spending a good $60,000 on photography school. These pics should be fantastic!” When he showed me the pics, I was horrified. I’m surprised my tongue wasn’t gushing blood when I looked through his pictures on his iPhone. The lighting was weak. The quality of the images was mediocre. The posing and energy was decent because my friend is a personality. It’s the only thing those pictures had going. It’s not the only case I’ve seen either.
In my first two years of photography, I probably read enough books on theories and techniques of photography to finish a college degree. I don’t think all this education has made me a better photographer. You are who you are. But what it has given me is options. When the weather gets dark, equipment failures and other things that may happen on a photo shoot. You have to make adjustments. If you know one way to make a picture, you’re pretty screwed. But if you have the knowledge to make adjustments, then you’re in great shape! Look at this video… Here is David Thompson who works regularly with Vogue Magazine. You know you’re at the top of the photography food-chain if you’re shooting for Vogue… Did you see his lighting setup? Looks sophisticated doesn’t it? It really isn’t. It’s a very basic, commonly used 3-point lighting setup. You can do this in your garage! Okay, he’s using some top-quality equipment and there are some other details which help his images look the way they do. But if you didn’t have the knowledge to tear-down his setup, you would think there’s something magical. When you take a peak at the Digital Tech’s screen, all of the images taken look like keepers. Pretty much perfect every picture. That rocks!
On a recent photo shoot I had my lighting setup hit the floor. Hard. Seriously, the lights literally jumped off the light stand. Okay, I panicked a little. I was so sick and tired though, I kept my panic to myself and just said in my brain “Fuck it! Make it happen! Do the best ass picture you’ve done!” Bad stuff happens to all photographers. But how you handle the problem is what defines your professionalism.
With this image, I knew we would be in the shade mostly so I wouldn’t have to worry about harsh light. Notice just a glint of a shadow on the model. Perfect. The background is a little bright. But if I exposed the background a little better, I would risk it being ‘too busy’ and distracting from the subject. I got enough of the background and the model looks great.
So with my photography knowledge and the tools I had to work with, I was able to set up my gear and location to work. Okay, there is a good deal of experience involved here and the confidence that I can make the shoot work somehow.
Another one of my favorite videos is one done by Fstoppers done at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai. I love how Gregory Heisler says “It HAS to work. So you MAKE it happen.” While I don’t talk about what photographers I like and not, I will say that I love Heisler’s philosophy and attitude about the art and business.
Education. Love it! Especially when it helps me do things better! But a piece of paper doesn’t guarantee anything. Being better involves constant practice, motivation and always learning. Yes!