Monday, February 8, 2010

NAU's photography program

For those of you who don't know, I'm a sophomore at Northern Arizona University.
I am currently double-majoring in photography and marketing. Two entirely separate colleges, two separate cores, two entirely different mindsets.

The photography program at NAU is a joke. I'm being honest. The truth hurts sometimes. 
There are a few instructors who know what its like to work as a photographer. I'd say about half of them are up to date with digital and what the modern market is like. The other half are out of touch - they suck at teaching and they barely know what to teach us because the market is constantly changing.

I did a portrait session with a client the other day who expressed interest in switching his major from Exercise Science to Photography. I told him not to bother. Straight up - it isn't worth the money or the time.

There are two great ways to learn photography. The first (and best) is to do it. A lot. Nothing beats taking literally tens of thousands of pictures. The second is to learn from experts. People who live and breathe photography and who are good teachers. Learn from a photographer you respect and whose work you admire. The internet is full of photographers just giving out information. The tough part is finding someone who does it well. People like David Hobby, David duChemin, Zack Arias, Scott Kelby etc.

Chase Jarvis has a mantra of sorts - Create, Share, Sustain. Note that the central idea is to SHARE. Photography may be a super-competitive field. There may be millions of people who call themselves photographers and you may all be competing for the same clientele, but when it comes down to it, the only way we can learn is from each other. Chase knows this and so he does behind-the-scenes videos to show how he preps, shoots and closes with a client. Start to finish, he doesn't hold anything back. There are many photographers out there who are willing to sit with you and teach you the next step. If that's learning the basic functions of a camera, lighting setups, or advanced post-processing technique, you can find someone who has something about it on the internet.

The program at NAU doesn't do very well with teaching, but it does have decent facilities that give students the opportunity to use equipment that is well beyond a student's budget. Once you get access to those facilities, the program isn't so bad. Whenever I want to learn how to do something, I ask Google, not my instructors at school. Once i've figured out the basics of how to do it, I go use the studio at school to try it out.

In the industry, a degree in photography doesn't mean squat. So if a university is giving you a useless degree, doing a poor job of it and taking your money in the process... I don't see what the point is. If you want to make a living as a photographer, get a BS in business! If you know business, you can make a living as a photographer, even if your photography skills are lacking.

The only reason I'm still in the photo program at NAU is for access to the studio and computers. If things continue the way they have in the last two years, I may well drop the major, get a minor with the classes I've already taken, and call it quits with the photo program. There have been rumors that some of the older professors are retiring. With any luck, the system will hire younger instructors who are up to date with photography and the real world - and most importantly - how the two come together.