The short answer here is no. You don’t need photography qualifications to be a photographer.
However, there is a lot to learn about photography, from creative to technical aspects and many people choose to study these things in a classroom - usually with a formal qualification at the end. That’s absolutely fine, and there are many colleges and universities that have fantastic courses to help you do this.
I’m mostly a self taught photographer, but I did attend some evening classes in the past. This was a great way to learn the basics and gain technical understanding. It was especially helpful when all the fandangled editing software took off.
The internet wasn’t even a thing back then! (I know I'm such a dinosaur…) So webinar, online courses and even YouTube tutorials were non-existent.
But really I believe that the best classroom is on the road. It’s where I really learned the art of photography, with continual practice and experimentation.
Reasons why you might want or need photography qualifications
There are many photographers who seek out recognised qualifications from major national professional associations e.g. BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography), PPA (Professional Photographers of America), RPS (Royal Photographic Society), AOP (The Association of Photographers).
Having one of these may award you a ‘badge of honour’ per se, which will be recognised across the world. At a professional level, this can create opportunities and connections that you might not otherwise get.
It’s entirely down to what you want to achieve and what you’d like your photography lifestyle to look like.
If you’re aiming to work for the likes of the BBC, National Geographic or some other world-renowned organisation, you’re more likely to need some recognised awards and qualifications. But mostly they want to see your years of experience and (many) examples of your work.
National Geographic even states that to become a freelance photographer for them, you usually need at least 5-10 years of experience in photojournalism with other magazines or newspapers.
Even if you’re not aiming for the premier league of employers, when it comes to people hiring a photographer, some do look specifically for those with certificates, awards or degrees against their name. That’s just the way it is - it sometimes takes a bit of paper of a shiny badge for people to trust you know what you’re doing…
But really, when it comes to something of an art form, most of us base our opinions on what we see. Which leads me on to why you don’t necessarily need a qualification.
Why you don’t necessarily need a photography qualification
If you want to offer your services as a photographer, getting hired to take photos for people, the most important thing you can have is a portfolio.
People want to see what your style of photography is like to see if it fits what they are after. And they usually want to know how long you’ve been doing it for - in this field experience is often associated with expertise.
When it comes to taking up photography as a hobby - you definitely shouldn’t focus on qualifications. They can be pricey to get and they aren’t necessarily going to make you a better photographer.
That’s not to say avoid courses full stop...
Photography courses and workshops are a brilliant way to learn how to be a great photographer. They teach you the language, show you how to use the equipment and software that’s available, and they help you to develop confidence with your camera and explore creative opportunities.
If you’re passionate about your craft, I would always suggest utilising the abundance of courses, webinars and workshops on offer. There are thousands of them and I guarantee you will feel the benefits of taking part.
Of course knowing which one to choose can be tough. I’ve got some other blogs that could help you figure out what to look for:
What you need to be a good photographer
Success is subjective. That’s a statement we all know to be true - so let’s talk about how you can be a good (or even great) photographer.
The first key element, in my opinion, is a level of technical understanding. Learn how your camera works, what all the settings mean and what you can achieve when using them.
Next you need to develop your creative thinking. The best way to do this is by practice - get out there and explore your artistic mind.
It’s really important to learn how to think deliberately and intelligently about what looks good in a frame and why.
Photography is an extremely competitive field - everyone is doing it. Yes a lot of them are doing it with smartphones… but there are still thousands of people using quality cameras and equipment all trying to stand out and capture something no one else has.
One of my favourite photos is from behind the Taj Mahal. We’ve all seen the standard face on image, with the channel of water leading up to the building a gazillion times. Yes it’s lovely, but it doesn’t necessarily stop us in our tracks anymore. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to take creative risks.
If you plan on working as a hired photographer, in order to please your clients, you must listen to what they want you to do, so customer service skills are so important.
There’s a lot of other considerations, photography is a real skill. Below are just some of the things you will want to get clued up on.
What about technical photography qualifications?
Having an understanding of the latest technologies is pretty important, as a photographer today you will want or even need to be familiar with them. We’re talking specifically about hardware and software, so let’s get into a little more detail.
Hardware is referring to cameras, lenses, tripods, lights, and all the other physical equipment a photographer might use. Professional cameras have a selection of pros and cons, as well as being designed for specific purposes. It’s a good idea to do plenty of research when buying one - or better yet ask around; speak to people who are actively using them.
Knowing your camera settings is crucial. SLRs have really good auto mode, so if you want to you can just point and shoot and still end up with decent results. But the more you know about manual camera settings, the more control you will have and creative options open to you.
Secondly it’s a great idea to learn about visual editing software if you’re using digital photography.
Not only can you enhance your images, retouching, correcting etc. but software can also help you get your workflow into great shape. I’m in no doubt you’re going to be shooting thousands of frames, so if you don’t keep yourself organised you’ll get in a right mess. It could take you hours to find that one perfect shot - no one has time for that!
You can gain qualifications on all this technical stuff, but again, you can learn it via courses and workshops that don’t break the bank and give you the same level of expertise.
How to enrol on a Mike Browne photography course
As I said there are thousands of courses you can do. But while you’re here I’m going to tell you about the ones that I offer.
I host a variety of different online courses, as well as hosting workshops and webinars.
They are designed for all levels, though they don’t provide a professional qualification at the end, you do get a certificate from completing a course with a professional photography teacher - I’ve got a City and Guilds teaching qualification. You can find out more about me, my background and my awards etc here.
My first course is suited to those fairly new to photography, or have been doing it for a while without mastering the crucial basic techniques. The Masterclass in Photography has been going for quite a while now and I get great feedback, which has allowed me to alter and shape it into a course that really works.
If you consider yourself less of a beginner and at a more intermediate level I can teach you the 7 Building Block of Photography. Here you will learn the essential photographer's thought process and all you need to become a truly advanced photographer. Gaining the ability to instinctively have the perfect lighting, composition and camera settings for every image.