I am a self-taught photographer. When people ask me where I learnt photography, I always feel a bit strange. I don´t know if I should be proud of being a self-taught photographer or if I should be embarrassed because I didn’t study a degree in arts or photography. I am always scared that people will think I am not good enough because of my lack of education. On the other hand, the percentage of self-taught photographers is pretty high. Some of them are extremely famous. For example, Ansel Adams was mostly a self-taught photographer. And he is considered one of the best american photographers. Almost everybody knows some of his wonderful photos of the Yosemite National Park. So it seems that you can be a pretty good photographer without a degree.
Nowadays, almost everybody has a digital camera. Some of the phone cameras have a higher quality than my first DSRL. In short, the availability of cameras to the masses has grown significantly. My point here is that the number of self-taught photographers has increased a lot because of the easy access to cameras and to online resources. In this crowd of photographers, how can I stand out if I am also a self-taught photographer? This made me think.
I decided to list down the advantages and disadvantages of being a self-taught photographer. Knowing the advantages would help me to feel more confident about myself. Knowing the disadvantages would make me aware of the things I have to work on in order to improve. I hope you find useful what I collected:
Nowadays you can have access to a lot of resources online: blogs, ebooks, tutorials, courses… Some of them are free, for others you will need to pay. However, you should take care of the type of resources you consume. Do some research about the teachers or look for non-biased testimonials. Keep in mind that everybody can upload information online. You need to be selective about the quality of the resources you choose.
I recognize that “learning what you want and when you want” might seem a bit fanciful. I will clarify my point of view. First of all I need to explain that I am not a full-time photographer. I work both as a biologist and photographer. Although I like being multidisciplinary, I have a serious lack of time and I end my days feeling really tired. I am usually able to learn photography at nights or on weekends. With this schedule getting a degree is quite impossible. This is one of the main reasons why I am a self-taught photographer: I am my own master and I can set my learning pace to fit my schedule. Moreover, being able to learn what I want when I want is good for the periods when I am low on energy. This keeps me motivated and I make the effort to learn even if I am tired. I can learn about nature or landscape at any time. But I am not able to go into new Photoshop techniques when I am tired. I keep my less favorite subjects (or the hardest) for less demanding times. You just need to make sure that you learn them too. If not, you will have deficiencies in your development as a photographer.
To compensate on the lack of a degree, self-taught photographers have a tendency to keep learning all the time. You either enjoy it, or you find a different field of interest.
There is something satisfying and exciting in learning by yourself. It can be harder, but once you get it, the sense of accomplishment is so big that it makes you feel all your efforts were totally worth it. It is a feeling of “I am proud of myself because I should be!”.
When you are in a class with one teacher and 20 other classmates it is almost impossible not to absorb the point of views of the vast majority. However, being a self-taught photographer, you are free of constraints and you can develop your style.
Being a self-taught photographer doesn’t seem so bad, does it? But let´s face it. Not everything is so perfect. You should be aware of the disadvantages too. Knowing your weak points can be helpful in order to find ways to compensate for them.
You might feel second rate because you don´t have a degree/certificate that says that you are a professional. It seems that when you have a certificate to show, people automatically think that you are good. As a self-taught photographer you rely mostly on your portfolio and on the references/testimonies of other people. Solution: always try to do your best as a photographer. Keep learning and practicing. Your main goal is to build a great portfolio that shows your quality as a photographer because you are not going to be able to show a diploma.
The learning process is slower and sometimes it can be also painful. You don´t have anybody to teach you, so you have to figure it out for yourself. Things that somebody can teach you in 10 minutes, can take you hours to learn because you have to find resources, understand them, practice… Nobody corrects your mistakes neither. If you understand something in the wrong way, you can carry your mistake for a long time. Solution: be patient, humble and open-minded.
You are not always surrounded by other artists that can be a source of inspirations and motivation. Solution: join a photography community to be able to establish friendships and connections with other photographers.
Nobody will tell you what you should do or what you need to learn next. If you are not disciplined about keeping learning you are at risk of getting stuck in a standstill. If you are not motivated to learn all the time, it is difficult to improve as a photographer. Solution: organize a weekly or monthly planning with subjects to learn.
There are a lot of resources about photographic techniques but not so many about photographic vision. If you don’t put attention, you might get carried away and become a technique collector. This is not bad because mastering techniques gives great advantages. However, if you neglect your photographic vision, you can end up taking perfect photos on the technical level that don’t convey any emotion (like a shell of a photo). Solution: Keep your vision in mind. Never stop spending some time developing your vision and how to express it through photography.
I hope you found this article useful. Personally, now that I know my strengths and my weaknesses I feel a bit more confident saying that I am a self-taught photographer. What about you?