Should You Study Photography?

When taking photos of people at parties or gigs they often ask

  • “So, did you study photography?”
  • “When did you start as a photographer?”
  • “Are you a professional?”

They are usually surprised when I say something like “No, actually I am studying Marketing at UCT. I have taught myself photography through experience and absorbing every source of information I can. I only became serious a year ago with a new camera or two, after I had already started Marketing but I don’t wish I had studied photography. No I am not a professional, but I am able to earn a bit as extra income.”

I’ve heard it is quite possible to get really good in art without having studied it. I think to earn some income you need marketing and networking skills to get yourself known out there. To earn better and to become well-known, you have to differentiate yourself. There’s a quote like “Don’t compete unless you have a competitive advantage”.

I work as a photographer for bands (Captain Stu, Irvine, photographer for Big Concerts), parties and my university’s publications (UCT Varisty mag, UCT RAG Sax Appeal 2011, UCT Ikey Rugby magzine). I am not desperate to take any job, I have the spare time to choose the ones I want and focus more on what I enjoy even if I don’t get paid (like going to gigs and doing model location shoots for friends).


"A Light Lunch", Simon's Town

I would recommend studying photography to someone if that’s what they really want to do and if they have at least a few months experience with a camera to see if they like it. But U think you still need the talent and drive to work hard, to match their inspiration to become a successful photographer. If you think “I’ve never owned a a camera but photography sounds like a nice job” or if a friend tells you “wow you should become a photographer!”, I don’t think those are solid reasons to choose that career path. I’ve heard photographers don’t make that much money – I am rather choosing to have a business career when I finish studying and I can take photos when I like and I can hopefully afford to pay for decent equipment.

I’ve looked into studying photography in Cape Town, but the courses are a lot of things I don’t really want to learn (such as developing film in a dark room or studio lighting techniques) or things I have already taught myself. I pick up a lot through experience, by being conscious of applying and inventing techniques in various situations of taking pictures. I analyse my photo and style and look at the photos of others to get ideas and to find the inspiration to go out and be original and amazing.

You can of course Google “sports photography” or “what is aperture?” and the popular pages will be ranked at the top of your search, but a great starting pointing to find out what is out there to know and a source of beginner to advanced free online lessons, is to use . I talk to other photographers in person or on an online artist community such as .


Captain Stu at Kirstenbosch Silvertree restaurant

Places in Cape Town

  • I know a friend who is enjoying studying photography at Ruth Prowse.
  • I’ve heard about the Cape Town School of Photography. You can do a 9 week workshop with lectures on a subject by signing up with
  • offers photography as a year course and has part time courses for periods like 6 to 18 weeks on topics like an introduction, studio photography, black and white….

I almost always carry my camera with me and I quickly adapt to new settings and ideas when faced with photographic opportunities. I often take photos of bands, parties, events, models, crowds, sports, landscapes, insects, birds and textures such as wood or metal. You can contact me on for specific advice on camera equipment, settings, technique and so on.


Captain Stu

Captain Stu band shoot in Woodstock

I can also recommend reading a photography lesson on this blog for understanding camera settings relating to a DSLR.

Beyond the common “compact” or “point and shoot” cameras, if you are serious you should get at an entry-levelNikon or Canon “DSLR” or “Digital Single Reflex Camera” at R5000 in South Africa, but since it lasts at least 3 years it might be worth spending a few thousand rands more. The main attraction for DSLRS other than quality is that the lenses are removable so you can add more expensive or longer ones, etc.

There is also a new range of larger high end compact cameras still cheaper than DSLRs but they have 10 to 18 times zoom, though they have built in lenses but can’t have an external flash mounted.


Books I recommend

  • The Digital Photography Book boxed set by Scott Kelby (3 books)
  • How to Make Money from Digital Photography by Dan Heller (one of the opening pages says turning photography into income is a great way to ruin a passion or hobby)
  • Digital Photography Masterclass by Tom Ang


The photography magazines out there have a mix of beginner to advance techniques. Some of their articles are quite obvious – or maybe you haven’t heard of the technique before but there are free lessons all over the internet explaining it. The Canon magazine reviews only Canon cameras, but the articles on taking and editing photos are easy to read for a Nikon user like myself. The Black and White Photography magazine or a title like that, has some breathtaking landscapes and portraits. It shows you what black and white photos can look like with purple, brown, orange tints etc.


2 comments on “Should You Study Photography?

  1. Brian Currin says:

    A really well thought-out and excellent article, Michael. Remarkable.

  2. […] I am a Business Science marketing student working as a semi-professional photographer for bands, parties and my university's newspaper and magazines. When taking photos of people at parties they often ask "So, did you study photography?" or "Are you a professional?" I try and explain that I taugt myself and that, with art, it is quite possible to get really good without having studied it (though turning that hobby into an income is more a marketi … Read More […]

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