Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Where The One-Eyed Man Is King: Tips On Finding The Right Photography Training

Heard the one about the lady who goes to see the doctor to get treatment for a wart on her finger and the doctor tells her to go behind the screen and take all her clothes off. She says to him, “You’re not a real doctor, are you?” and he replies, “Well, I have a doctor’s outfit, and I read medical books, and I’ve painted this room up to look like a doctor’s surgery, and got a First Aid badge when I was in the Cubs. Isn’t that the same thing?”

Okay, it’s not much of a joke. It really isn’t. But this is my point. Should the lady have checked this man’s credentials or just dumbly done as she was asked. Sadly, the world of photographic training is a bit like the Wild West – unregulated and open to any charlatan who decides to put up a sign over the door that says “Photography Courses Here“. Yes, cowboy trainers. Or Rogue Trainers.

Anyone can set up a website and a studio, and invent an untraceable “professional” history, and unfortunately this seems to be happening all over the place. In these days when times are increasingly tough for those plying their trade in the socia/wedding fields, many photographers are, quite understandably, seeking new income streams to broaden their chances of sustainability. And in many cases these are just the type of people that those new to photography can learn the most from. Sadly, another breed of chancer is entering this market – the aforementioned “cowboy trainers”.

There is a huge appetite for photographic training – something that we at Fotofilia are very grateful for, of course. But I am increasingly concerned that photographic training is being offered by people who are unqualified, uninsured, part-time amateurs with no track record of significant or successful professional or artistic background.

I came to photographic training as a way to help fund my photography degree. To my surprise I very much enjoyed it and as time has gone by I have found it to be a rewarding and increasingly large part of my post-university career. It has meant that I have met (and continue to meet) some lovely people and have needed to do less of the kinds of photographic work that I previously had to do(but didn’t particularly enjoy) in order to fund my personal photographic practice. I feel that my own work benefits from each term that I teach and I am constantly looking for new ways to stimulate the people who attend Fotofilia’s courses, workshops and clubs. When I feel there is someone better placed to deliver training in a specific field, I am only too happy to bring those people in. After all, no photographer can truly profess to know everything about photography to a very high standard.

So back to those cowboys. Undoubtedly, people will hand over cash and trot along to be “taught” by people who have little more knowledge than they do, and even walk away with slightly more knowledge than they arrived with. But, as the old saying goes: In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Here’s my tips for ensuring your photographic training is being provided by real experts…

  • Ask to see examples of their professional work (images on a website mean little).
  • Ask to see proof of: qualifications, professional status, and insurance. Admittedly some real pros never had formal training but instead will have traceable work history or exhibitions.
  • Ask about weekday daytime availability. If they only seem to be available for courses in the evening and at weekends, this might be a clue that they have a “day job” and I don’t know about you but I’d rather learn from someone involved full time in the subject they’re trying to teach rather than someone who works at a call centre (no offence to call centre workers but maybe you’re not the ideal photographic trainers).
  • If they say they are wedding or social/people photographers, find out how many weddings or portrait shoots they’ve had in the previous week.
  • If they say they are art photographers, ask what they have exhibited and where.
  • And most importantly, ask where else they have provided photographic training.

By asking any or all of these questions, you should be able to sniff out the cowboys.


6 responses

  1. Yeeeee Harrrrrrr, round em up and kick em out xx

    April 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm

  2. XK50

    Of course, the old wart routine! I often wondered where they got those nude models from.

    April 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

  3. Ellis

    I read your post with interest. I am interested in photograpy hence looking at your blog however I disagre with your thoughts.

    I am a dance tutor – I have no formal qualifications, I dont teach anywhere else or have I taken part in huge displays of work however what I do have is experience, life experience and a master in my own craft.

    You seem to point out to your audience that you have to be qualified, be available 24/7 and be working all day every day.

    My expeience goes a lot further than someone who has a qualification. Whats written on the paper is not always the best insight into the persons capabilities.

    April 26, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    • Thanks for your comment. I actually agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. I agree especially that a piece of paper doesnt necessarily tell the whole story. I have people who come in to talk to our clubs and courses who mightn’t have formal qualifications but have proven experience and a great deal of practical knowledge to impart.

      I think that dance might be a slightly different arena than photography in that it wouldn’t take long for any class you take to work out that you couldn’t do what you were supposed to be able to do because they’d be able to see you “in action”. Whereas a group of people hoping to learn photography only have the tutor’s word for it that they know what they’re talking about. It’s perhaps a bit harder to see your tutor “in action”. Photographic results are often greatly enhanced some time after the actual shot was taken.

      It would be possible for someone with only a very basic knowledge of photography, regurgitated from magazines, to successfully teach basic photography to people with no knowledge of the medium at all. However, this level of knowledge would soon reveal itself. I imagine (but might be wrong) that most first time attendees of a dance class might soon realise something was amiss if you came out dancing like David Brent.

      April 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

  4. Alex Johnson

    Can you please advise what formal qualifications you hold for teaching?

    I am a music tutor, I have no formal qualifications although I class myself to be very good at what I do.

    Your blog implies because someone has another role in their life they cannot be good at something else and need qualifications to show people? However you go on to reply to the previous comment by saying you agree with what my fellow reader has posted?

    I follow this blog with interest, not agreeing with all of your views but certainly watching with interest as I share your passion for photography.

    I wait with interest to learn of your own teaching qualifications.

    Alex J

    May 4, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    • Hi Alex,

      Confused indeed. Firstly, I’m not a teacher, I’m a photographer – and increasingly, a tutor. I “tute” rather than teach. I have no formal teaching qualification but I have a First Class BA (Hons) in Photography and an MA in Fine Art – enough for me to secure part-time teaching posts in my subject at respected colleges of FE (which I have done).

      In my response to the previous post, I agreed that a piece of paper does not make a good teacher, or even a good photographer, and that I have passed on training work to people who mightn’t have qualifications in either teaching or photography but instead have a real talent. There is, I believe, a clear distinction between “passion” and “talent”. I fully acknowledge that it is not true that, as you put it “because someone has another role in their life they cannot be good at something else and need qualifications to show people”.

      However, i stand by my assertion that given the choice between being taught by someone with no qualifications and only a couple of years experience in their subject (no matter how passionate they are about their subject), and someone who is qualified to a high standard with decades of experience, I’ll go with the second option every time.

      Hope this clears things up.


      May 5, 2011 at 10:37 am

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