In one of my first posts in this category I told you that there is no need to take a photography course. And this remains true for most of the time and likely for most photographers. But there comes a time when you feel stuck, you are lacking inspiration, direction or you just need a special skill set in order to get a certain job done. Then it is time to take a photography course. But before you sign up you should take a couple of minutes to make up your mind on a few items.
First of all, what do you expect from such a course? What do you want to learn? How much are you willing to spend? Not only in terms of money but as well in terms of time (some courses last a day or two, others can range up to 6 months, 5 times a week for a couple of hours a day). And trust me, time is of the essence these days especially if you have to be flexible in order to serve your customers needs.
Next you should check out which schools are available in your area. If you live in a big city, such as New York, London, Berlin etc. there are likely some schools around which you can check out. (More about this in a few seconds)
If you are not so lucky and you are located a bit of the main stream then you should check if there are some events in your area (usually community collages or university offer courses, others will be held by companies or a private person) or if it is worth to travel for a couple of days to one of the big cities in order to take the course. (I know some cinematographers who did exactly that, they came to New York in order to study there for a period of 3 months and they said it boosted their skills tenth fold ).
Now to the important part, which school and course to pick? This is most certainly a tricky one. You have to know what you want from the course. Some are recognized by certain organizations, others are not. Some are well know, others are not so much. Some provide you just with the skills, others come with a certificate.
Here it all boils down to why you are taking this course. Do you want to learn or do you need another certificate to hang on your wall so you can impress your next client? This is a very personal decision and I can just give you my 5 cent on the issue. I rather learn AND get a piece of paper that says I have some skills. I know usually skills count but lets be frank, photography is marketing and you want as much leverage as you can get. But make sure you are not just taking the course in order to get a fancy paper, you want something your money worth, right?
This is why you should go and talk to the people at the school. Talk to the coordinator, the guy responsible for the course, the person who will teach the course, ask some students, former and current ones. And maybe if you are as straight forward as I am, ask about alternatives that other schools offer (if the competitions recommends a course it most likely will be worth the money.)
Also try to get a free class if possible. Unfortunately a big name is not a guarantee for a good teacher or a good class and visa versa. Or the format of the course is just not for you.
If you have set your eyes on a specific school and course it is time to bargain. There is always a discount available, you just have to play hard ball. Your clients ask for discounts all day long, so why not try it your self? You would be surprised how much you can save if you start making this a practise every time you purchase something.
Everything is settled, you have signed the contract and you are about to take your first class. Make sure you take away as much as possible from the course. Be prepared, bring your equipment (if needed! Don’t show up with a tripod or your light equipment unless it is required!). Don’t forget a notepad and a pan, if allowed bring your camcorder and film as much as you can. Because a few weeks later you will be wondering how the guy did this one shot and you just can’t remember.
Ask questions! If something is unclear, if you don’t get the results you want, ask! You have paid for this so get what you came for.
Participate! Don’t be the one student standing back all the time. You won’t learn from just looking at the things, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty in order to get to understand the process. Plus if you make a mistake your teacher will correct you and thus you won’t make the same mistake when you are with your client.
The last part is not to be underestimated, networking. Talk to the teachers, talk to the other photographers, exchange ideas and experiences. Always have a business card available. Those people are most certainly not your next customers but sometimes you will get a referral through them. Or somebody needs a second shooter for a big event etc. You will never know if you don’t try
After you are done with your course go and try out your new skills. Make them part of your skill-set. You will most likely over do it in the beginning but that is okay. Experiment, play and in the end incorporate what you need into your style.