Photography Education Sucks!

Today’s guest post is by Michael Howard, a photographer in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to being a photographer, he is a visionary. He founded Musea, for photographers. He has also created the Musea Gatherings and produces a podcast where he interviews inspirational photographers.

Ok not ALL photography education sucks, but most of it does and that’s why I created the Musea Gatherings, to give photographic artists better education opportunities.

I’ve been a working photographer in the wedding/portrait industry for the last 10 years and I have lived through the digital boom, the textured images, the obsession with off-camera lighting at sunset, the Fong Dong, Trash The Dress sessions, Photoshop actions, Spray and Pray, pee yellow skies, WPPI, Rock Stars and the rise of wedding blogs.

Through it all, I sat back rather quietly, but I kept saying to myself, ‘Is this the best we can do as an industry?’ My answer is ‘Hell No!’ We can do much better, and I believe there is a ground swell of photographers craving something with more honesty and respect for the craft.

When I look back over the previous decade of education for wedding and portrait photographers, I see a lot of sizzle, but no substance. I see an obsession with the surface of things rather than deep, nourishing content. Sometimes you hear people say things like, ‘Running a photography business is 80% about business and 20% about making quality images.’ Sadly, there is some truth to that, but I blame ourselves more than our clients. Many photographers were taught that you just need to buy this awesome, radtacular action set to make your crappy photo look like a piece of ‘art’. Camera makers keep making it easier and easier to shoot in low light, so you don’t even have to think about that anymore. Just ‘Spray and Pray’ and throw some sexy film presets on there, and your clients will never know the difference. To all of this I say, ‘BULLSHIT!’

It doesn’t have to be like this, but this is why being a wedding and portrait photographer is often seen as the low rung on the ladder. A lot of it is very amateur and there is no respect for the history of photography, nor the craft of imaging making. The generation of photographers who has risen since the advent of digital imaging has been bombarded by vultures looking to make a quick buck off their naivete´. They have been pressured by camera companies to jump on the hamster wheel of gear acquisition. They have created this feeling that photographers need to upgrade camera bodies every 6-12 months. On top of that, we have been slapped around by new software and the idea of ‘Oh, I’ll fix that in post.’ All of these marketing tactics by camera and software creators have hindered great image making, not improved it. Today, there are more images than ever, but I don’t believe the ratio of masterful images has increased. I merely think the bar has been lowered for what’s ‘Awesome!’ and what’s not. The idea of ‘that’ll do’ rules the day and it’s hurting all of us.

Most education events are centered around the idea of more. You need more lenses, more off-camera lighting, more film-like presets, a sexier camera bag, more product offerings and more light modifiers. The big photo conventions need more attendees that don’t know anything, so they can sell more gear, gimmicks and magic bullets to them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t stay in business. The unfortunate thing is many of us have believed this lie at one point or another. We thought we could buy our way into being better photographers. We’ve said things like, ‘Oh if I just had that L lens, then I’d really be kicking some ass!’ So we go and buy that lens and realize our pictures didn’t improve at all, they are merely clearer pictures of our unchanged vision. When we buy that item that promises to be a shortcut to better images, we’ve actually hindered our growth by relying on another crutch the industry threw our way. Photographic vision isn’t found in the gear you buy, it’s found in your beliefs about the world and in hours of shooting.

All of this lead me to create the Musea Gatherings, which are centered around the idea of rethinking photography education. It’s time that we raise the bar instead of lower it. We should be taught by people that hold themselves to a higher standard and don’t have some fancy new toy to sell us, especially ones that look like Tupperware.

Musea Gathering

The Gatherings are about embracing the concept of ‘less is more.’ It calls out the lie that you need more stuff, when what you really need is less stuff. You need to edit your life, your career, your business and your portfolio much tighter. You need to cut all the dead weight, and the teachers at the Gatherings will help you do that.

We live in a world where we can do whatever we want. There are no rules, but the reality is that creativity isn’t fostered by freedom. Creativity is born out of limitations. It’s staying within a box, a set of parameters and coming up with as many solutions as possible. The content that will be taught at the Gatherings are designed to give you a set of mental parameters that you need to improve your work and business. You won’t be sold any magic bullets or snake oil, but you will be given some proven guidelines that will point you in the right direction and you’re assumptions will be challenged. We will shake you up, but also give you a tool box to improve your work and business.

Hopefully, you can come to one of the Gatherings this year to help create a better industry that is rooted in the history of the medium and holds all photographers to a higher standard of working. Even if you can’t make it to a Gathering this year, I urge you to improve your photography by educating yourself on the deep things of art and stay away from the empty promises of more gear and software. The next decade of wedding and portrait photography can be the best the world has ever seen, and I want Musea to play an important role in helping us get there!

Michael Howard

Latest posts by Michael Howard (see all)

  • Igor Sryvkov

    I have a 50mm f1.8 whose auto-focus no longer works, a 60mm f2.8 macro and I keep telling myself I should have bought the 100mm f2.8 macro, and a 28-105mm f3.5-5.6 which is regarded as a so-so lens by all reviewers. Whenever I tell myself to get just one more new lens, I go back to reading this wonderful article which tells me to keep on shooting, keep on practicing my photography first. A big thank you to Michael Howard from this newbie. I wish there were more photography ‘teachers’ online like you.

  • Michael Howard

    Thanks Igor! I got trapped into the digital game for about 5 years, but I’m out of it now. Feels so freeing to simplify and focus on the craft. Best of luck to you as you grow!

  • Sarah Boni

    Despite my hackles rising initially at the title (being a second year photography student and all), I read the article with an open mind and thought it was EXCELLENT. Its going in my collection of inspiring articles to read when I become overwhelmed. Thank You!

  • Michael Howard

    Thanks for getting through it Sarah! I’m no expert at titles, so I appreciate your willingness to give it a chance!

  • Stacie

    “Creativity is born out of limitations.”

    This is so true. As someone who does my best work the crappier the camera is I’ve found that when I have to stop thinking about what neat crap the camera can do (because it won’t do squat except expose the film) and think instead about what I am looking at I end up thinking about my vision instead of my cool toys.


    I have been shooting in the past couple of years, and still am not enthralled with all the latest gadgets, I still have not bought an slr, cause that would mean learning what my now seperate lens does, a new camera is great, but that means you have to learn what it does.

  • Nostradamus_1

    Michael. You might not be an expert on titles however your title works, in that it attracts curiosity.

    The motto for a sportswear brand sums it up when thinking about photography (imho). Just do it. Constant upgrading or copying someone else will always leave you wanting.

    It’s not a bad thing to ask how someone achieved an effect however at the end of the day, they tried something, liked it, and did it again. It then became their signature move or look. Bottom line is learn the rules then break them. That is what creativity is all about. isn’t it?

    The best way to learn photography is to take photographs!