07th Apr2013

Are Photography Instructors Helping or Harming the Industry?

by Christine
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now before you get your panties in a wad and get all offended, hear me out…

I was recently contacted by a college-level instructor who teaches introductory classes in photography and Adobe Photoshop.

Her message (in part, identifying comments removed):

… It seems like every student that takes my class has already started a photography “business” (if you can call it that), is in the process of creating one, or does shortly after the class. Am I doing a dis-service to the professional community? I feel horrible when I see my student’s pictures on Facebook and they are just god-awful and of course…full cd with copyright release for only $25.00 that they are plugging to everyone! I’m considering not teaching at all anymore because all I’ve seen out of it is a huge FLOOD in the local market… 

I’ve actually been sitting on this for a week or so because I’ve been trying to figure out how to tactfully write about this topic.  I too, have been struggling with this same issue.

So, dear readers, what say you? Go ahead, let it spill – fill up the comment boxes below and later on I’ll do a wrap-up article or series of articles exploring the different opinions and thought processes out there. If I’m impressed with yours, I may contact you for further input.

Instructors from all levels are invited to comment.

Thank you for your participation. 🙂


41 Responses to “Are Photography Instructors Helping or Harming the Industry?”

  • Kaylley M. Williams

    What a great read. Thanks for sharing.

  • I thought I would throw a student's perspective in. I've just completed my two year diploma of commercial photography at Algonquin College in Ottawa. I guess just as there is a range in the competence of instructors, the same can be said for students. In my class alone there was a huge range, those who were already "in business", those who were "selling" crappy images on a disk to anyone who would fork over ten bucks…there were also a large number of really bright and talented individuals. I guess what I'm trying to say is I don't think educators can eliminate the type of students mentioned in the above post, but I hope you stick around for those of us who want to take the time to learn, those who want to someday run their own business but are in no hurry to so in a reckless manner. There are some newbies coming into the industry who want to help elevate the industry but who realize that it's going to take a lifetime of learning to do so.

    • Sarah…I apaud you…for wanting to learn and do it right and take the time necessary to promote yourself, learn and grow with experience. In reference to above post, I believe that many people enter recklessly and with out thought and reason except HOW to make a $$. There are so many people who have bastardized this business by lowering quality and prices, and it is up to those who CARE to bring it back to an honorable profession with quality images and great business techniques. I for one and may others DO CARE about people who want to learn and grow in this wonderful profession. YOU did nail it on the head…IT "takes a lifetime of learning to do so"
      God Bless! Live your Dreams!

  • My credentials (for the sake of knowledge, not ego) include 35 years in business full time (45 total), all the PPA degrees and state degrees and 17 years of serious teaching at the professional level. Like Dennis, I feel it is a responsibility to return to the profession what I got from it when I was much less experienced. I have seen a major change in attitude toward learning over the past 6 years, roughly equal the time that good digital cameras have been on the market at affordable prices. Most of the people entering into the field today are convinced that they know all they need to know or at least they can find it on YouTube. That frustrates me because the Photoshop teacher in me sees that they think they know a lot when they don't even know what they don't know? The profession needs to be explored… both Photoshop and Photography… and the fundamentals need to become second nature. You can't control what you do not understand. And quality photography actually REQUIRES an understanding of how to control the technical aspects of the art. As a result, the overall quality of images produced by the "average" photographer is less than mediocre. We KNOW our customers don't really understand what good photography is but at least they can appreciate it. If their photographer doesn't know the difference, everyone loses. As a teacher, however, I do not feel it is my responsibility to put my life aside and impart my knowledge without some sort of compensation. I cannot afford to simply travel and teach for free. But I can guarantee that the knowledge I do give my students is factual and usable based on my experience in the profession, learned while delivering a continually increasing level of quality to my clients. It is a process… a hard road to travel. And I believe it is almost impossible to do it alone without access to or acceptance of quality instructors.

    • Well stated, Al. One should seek out one of Al's classes! He has so much to offer. One does not realize what one is unaware of!

    • Joe Scrogham

      I've taken a photoshop class with Al Audleman, He's an outstanding teacher and a fun guy to be around. you WILL learn a lot if you take his class. I look forward to taking it again one day …

    • THANK YOU! The knowledge shared is priceless and so many of us are better at our craft because of you and instructors like you.

    • Franci Kettman

      And after all that, still the nicest, down-to-earth, funny, wonderful instructor and mentor.

    • Some of the "pros" around here need to take some classes from you Al. I was looking at some local web sites and could not believe what was being sold.

    • Sorry but have to chuckle. I really appreciate to wonderful comments from you guys. Seriously, really!!!!! My comments were intended to answer the original post, which I am not sure I did … but I sure enjoyed the responses. 🙂

    • Al, you were the instructor in the first PS class I ever took, and the reason I continued going back! Wish I could catch a few more of your classes. PS and dancing!

  • Very well stated and heartfelt my photographic brother! Continue to do what you do and share what you know. "Many hear but few listen".

  • I have been in the Photographic industry for over 37 years. Having received many degrees and awards, I felt it was my goal to educate the upcoming photographers. The problem is, they want a quick fix, don't want to learn proper lighting and posing and the business of Photography. As I watch many of these forums all I see is DRAMA caused from lack of experience , inproper business techniques, poor photographic quality and a BIG figgin EGO. They don't want to or won't listen to 'seasoned professionals' for advice or suggestions. I always tell people when they want to study with someone, "Are they where you want to be or want to learn". It is upsetting to me to see individuals out there 'teaching' when they can't do it themselves. It saddens me greatly to see the industry standards slipping and yes maybe I am maybe one of the "old farts" out there, but I believe I have taken my teachings, learn and adapted to newer styles and develped my OWN style. Too many of the newbies run after each new rockstar trying to emulate them- fail- then move on to the next, NEVER developing their own look and style. If todays instructors (rather them be educators) would actually care more about the craft and art of Photography rather than the $$ they can put in their pockets, how much further this professional could advance. Just saying my 2 cents worth!

    • Don Patrick

      I couldn't have said it better Dennis. I had this same discussion with someone a few days ago. It's a shame to see the state of photography today. I also have been involved with photography professionally since 1985. I learned from some of the very best craftsmen like Monte Zucker, Don Blair, Gary Bernstein, Dean Collins ( who I met personally and shared a meal) and many many more. The point is it seems that owning a digital camera today makes everyone a "professional" photographer. The craft of photography is slowly being forgotten. This hurts my heart because I truly LOVE this business. Good for you that you are continuing to educate the new photographers that are smart enough to know that there is a lot that they don't know!!

    • Go get em' Dennis……

    • You're so right Dennis!!

    • Well said Dennis! I just saw that two local shooters ( I don't know how to refer to them) are doing workshops and they need to attend a few more themselves! It's getting ridiculous!

    • John Stanton

      Well said. What I miss most in this digital world is the darkroom. The magic of an image appearing in the soup.

    • Well said Dennis…In the past we looked up to those leading the way because they had paid their dues and knew what they were talking about… today it is all dressing and no substance…They will all fade as quickly as they have appeared

    • They seem to think they know it all or it doesn't matter.

    • Paul Grolla

      Took Photography 101 back in college around 1980 yet still consider myself to have a ton to learn. I have attended a few of the rock star seminars and have been amazed had how poor they are as instructors. I have been dragged into the worst possible light a venue has to offer and taught to overcome it with high tech flash solutions. I was wondering the whole time why we did not just move to better light.

    • Dennis Hammon that's the reason taking your class because no matter how much I can learn from a seasoned pro there is always more to learn. I will never tell anyone that I know it all because you never can.

    • Luigi Barbano


    • As long as I've been in business..I can honestly say there hasn't been a day that I haven't read or studied something about photography or business. I still feel I'm paying 'dues' but now want to share that knowledge with those who desire to learn. True, Digital photography has made "everyone a professional" and everyone can get a good shot once in awhile, kind of like the old saying my daddy used to say, "You shoot into a flock long enough, soon enough you'll hit one" (or my opinion they'll drop from exhaustion ). Every day, every session, nailing the posing, the lighting the expression, exposure, and all the elements that should make it good print should be paramount in your life. Become part of the solution NOT the problem.

    • Love your input and viewpoint Dennis Hammon, but it sounds like the college instructor that the article mentions is not one of the unqualified instructors out there, but someone who thinks professionally and is wondering if she's adding to the problem. What is your advice for the truly knowledgeable instructor who wants to make sure that their students do not think they are now qualified to be in business?

    • One can not tell another "instructor" how or what to teach, BUT they could teach proper principles and instil into the students that until they get the proper foundation, should they consider themselves "pro's" No more that a first year Medical student could go out and perform surgury. The problem is…the students are led to believe that their work is "great" and "amazing"…then in turn believe that they can do 'as well' as any pro. Several years ago I had a local photography student come into my studio and ask for a job. I wasn't looking for a second shooter or someone to take over my work. As he looked around, he looked at me with a total serious face and said, "I could do this kind of work any day"…I looked at him at said "you're a real dumb ass to even think you could justify your work with mine (remember he just showed me some work)" He said," My instructor said my work was as good as any pro's." I was dumbfounded. The instructors need to get a firm grasp of reality. I taught college also, and the students need positive re-inforcement for sure…but to say that is only miss-leading the student, but being unfair to the photographic industry. I can only hope and pray that instructors can be honest with their students, and in turn they have the foresight to realize that they are in over their heads. It will take all of us to help with this photographic reform to bring back quality to the industry.

    • If the consumes can't tell good from bad and the old guard is fading away, it seems that no one cares about quality anymore. The m3 player is as good as the quality stereo and custom speakers.

  • I have my Master of Photography degree, and am trying to achieve the Craftsman degree through PPA. Even so, I struggle with feelings of doubt that I actually know enough about photography to teach it. The thing that bothers me is the workshops and classes that are springing up everywhere being taught by people with very little experience or credentials. Most of these workshops are actually more expensive than what PPA and our local affiliate offer, and yet they are almost always full! It's the blind leading the blind. I feel like the above professor would be doing a disservice and compounding the problem by not offering her skilled and qualified knowledge as an alternative to the "easy photography" route.

  • I think there is plenty of room for honest and competent instruction. Unfortunately most of the photographic instructors that are running around the country telling all who will listen how successful they are, they are neither qualified or honest. They lie to their students in the attempt to get them to buy into their "mentoring" or dvds or other products. The "rock star" instructors are really no better than the snake oil salesmen of old, or some of the fake television preachers who are only in the business to relieve as many gullible individuals of their money!

  • Here is honesty, period. As a 24 year professional, I have spent 10's of thousands of dollars attending conventions, seminars about REAL photography, etc. and a good portion of the best years of my life learning my craft. I practice said craft with integrity and professionalism.

    To see the "rockstars" harvesting money from wannabes, without regard to the actual ART of photography repulses me. I think these people, along with the camera and software are rushing headlong into the market place of newbies and destroying the profession I love in the process.

    I will no return to making buggy whips. Thank you for your time.

  • I always loook forward to your posts, Christine. Thanks for them! When it comes to teaching, maybe photography teachers could also teach a little about professionalism and value during each photography lesson? If they all did they, it may improve the industry. Also, as professionals, when a client comes to us and says “I can get that same package (hour long session and disc) from another photographer $25…” we should say, “My price is x because it includes ME”. Anyone with a camera can call themselves a photographer, but I would rather invest $500 and spend a couple hours with a photographer whose work I adore. Lastly, I think it is a great idea for students to practice on their friends on fam.. And third shoot weddings to learn the ropes before trying to build a client base.

  • Rebecca Wood

    I am not an instructor but a student but I feel that the injustice is when the teachers are about keeping the students in class and not being honest about the pictures. I went to school to get better, if my pictures are not getting better then I am wasting mine and the teachers time. I can handle critism I want honest opions about my pictures, I want them the best they can be. I want to be better than the mom with a point and shoot and if you don't tell me wihat I am doing wrong how can I get better, and I hate hearing just shoot I understand that but I could have done that without going to school. the students are there to learn so be honest and if they cant handle honesty they will not be able to handle the world. Not everyone is going to like our work I understand that and every student should understand that. Just be honest. Our teachers make sure they teach us the business side also and what to charge and it is hard because I live in a small town and a mom on the corner with a camera giving away pictures, that is why mine have to be better. http://beccaphoto.wix.com/beccasphotography

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