Here’s a video from 2011 in which respected Los Angeles-based social documentary photographer John Free vents about his personal frustration with photographic education.
Free says he was convinced back in 1971 to go to a photography school — one of the most prestigious ones in the world — to get much better at the thing he loved to do.
“Well, it was a big mistake (in some ways),” Free says. “In other ways, I’m glad I did — it was such a terrible experience that I thought, ‘Someday I’m going to produce a class that rectifies all the bad that happened in the school that I went to.’”
Free argues that many schools out there are more about making money and handing out fancy degrees than about actually turning you into a great photographer, and that many of the instructors aren’t top-notch photographers themselves.
“The only person that can really teach you photography is you yourself,” Free says. “That’s what I’ve found out after working with photographers for over 20 years.” He recommends becoming extremely familiar with your camera, and then carefully studying the work of great photographers of the world and coming to an understand of what makes those photos good.
For those who are interested in attending a photography school for a more formal education, Free recommends carefully looking into the school, the instructors, and the work they’ve done.
“Be sure they know what they’re doing before you commit a lot of money and a lot of your precious time to these schools,” Free says. There are outstanding schools out there — just make sure you identify a good one before jumping in.