Dec. 24, 2021

What should you major in to be a photographer?

What should you major in to be a photographer?

💯 💯 💯 "learn how to write an article, learn how to interview people learn how to be an editor, and determine what the publication needs photographically versus just seeing it from the photographer's vantage point."

EP 52:  Many of us ask ourselves whether we should have gone to school for photography, and if you're in school right now, you might be asking what you should major in.  What courses should I be taking, what will prepare me for a path to professional photography?  In this episode, I respond to an audience question with 4 areas to consider studying while in college. 

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Michael Der  0:02  
You're listening to Artrepreneurs, a podcast that inspires photographers and visual artists to live their best creative lives. My name is Michael der and I am a full time photographer with nearly 10 years of experience in the freelancing world. And I'm sitting down with an amazing community of visual artists to talk about process business, in the lessons that have helped them grow. So let's get to it. Artrepreneurs starts right now. 

Hey, welcome to the show. Thank you for tuning into Artrepreneurs. My name is Michael der I am your host, and welcome to episode 52 of Artrepreneurs. How crazy is that, and a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to you and your family. I just want to wish you all a very prosperous new year coming up. And you know, I was just thinking that a year ago at this time, I was scrambling to get episode one ready to launch for this podcast. And amazingly, we have launched an episode every single week for 52 straight weeks. So I'm feeling very thankful, very appreciative of a darn good year, a very consistent year, which is very hard to do as a content creator. And I just want to say thank you to all of you who tuned into the show, it's really in part because of you that I'm able to do this content to consistently show up every week. So if you are enjoying the program, please don't forget to hit subscribe on your favorite platform. And if you were to be so generous, I would love a review on Apple podcasts. I'm really trying to get to 20 reviews, that would be a Christmas miracle if I could. So please, if you got a minute to spare, I would love your feedback on the show. 

So with that out of the way, we can now move on to the supermajor, so to speak the point that you're here, the reason why you're here, I should say. And that is that we have another voicemail question from one of our audience members. And she wants to know about preparing to become a photographer while in college. So I want to say thank you for sending this over. We're going to play this message and get right into it.

Gabriella Whisler  1:51  
Hi, I'm Gabriela Whistler from Gainesville, Florida. And I'm a sports photographer. I'm currently in college and trying to figure out what to major in. So what would you suggest someone major in that's looking to go into pro sports photography when they're older?

Michael Der  2:05  
Alright, Gabriela thank you so much for the voicemail, Happy Holidays to you this is a really good question. And I know this is a very pressing issue for a lot of freshmen and sophomores who are kind of on a time crunch, you have to declare what your major is going to be rather quickly, which is a very anxious time. I know I went through this even though I was not a photographer at that time, I understand exactly what you're going through. And so kudos to you for asking this question. Because truth be told, I am so far removed from my college days that I honestly would not have thought of bringing this topic up organically. So I appreciate the question. Now I'm going to answer this rather abruptly, I would say, and then I'm going to try to elaborate on it a little bit afterwards with a little bit more insight. So just bear with me, my ultimate take on this is that it doesn't matter what you major in. Alright, so I apologize in advance of how abrupt that answer is I don't mean to dismiss the question. But you know, this photography industry, regardless of what field you go into, whether it's advertising, photography, editorial, event based food, photography, whatever, it doesn't really have any strong mandates on college matters. And in fact, if I can go one step further, you could probably do a lot of jobs without a degree at all, you know, you might need a certification to be a personal trainer or a barber. But you actually don't need one to practice your photography professionally. So what I'd like to do is kind of shift this question away from what do I have to major in in college? To? What skills do I need to sharpen while I'm in college? Okay, so the answers that you possess to that latter question is really what's going to determine your ability to get work either by freelance or full time employment, whether it's in sports, or weddings, or something else. So I wrote down a quick list of areas that I would recommend studying to any young creative going through college, particularly yourself, getting ready to enter this photography world. 

So Gabriella, the first area that I would look into his personal finance courses. Okay, so this is, to me the bedrock of your survival skill base. And the reason why I say that the reason why I believe so firmly in that is because truly, you will engage with money for the rest of your life, guaranteed, alright, there will never be a point where you don't engage with it. You know, you may not engage with art history, or Shakespearean literature, or trigonometry, or even political science. But as long as you live, and I hope you live a very long and fruitful life until you're 125 years old, you're going to engage with money, either by earning it, owning it, saving it, spending it or investing it. And generally the way it works is that it only gets more complicated as you get older. So you should really get a foundation for how to manage your assets right now, while you're young. To prepare for life's inevitable curveballs. You know, the older you get, the more likely your debts and your expenses are going to go up either by choice like starting a family or buying a home or investing in your business, or by force like higher medical bills, insurance rates or inflation. So what that often usually means is that you might end up with more things for you to manage as you get older at the same time that your earned income is actually going down as you head into retirement. Okay, so just keep that in mind get a grasp on personal finance. Now when your life is actually the simplest it's probably ever going to be so that you can maybe better handle a potential shitstorm that will occur in 15 years when you've got kids and you've added on the mortgage and medical bills. and business expenses and a diverse investment portfolio. I mean, at that point, it's hard to keep track of what's what and where's where. So just keep that on the backburner simmering a little bit, you know, it's only likely going to get more complex as you get older in regards to managing your assets and your finances. Okay, so it's better to have a foundation now. And on the subject of retirement, which I would assume is probably the farthest thing from your mind right now, which is probably rightfully so I wasn't too different. Just remember that you're going to need to proactively fund that yourself to sort of accommodate for your, your non working years, or as I like to call it your unemployed years, which retirement is basically unemployment, right. So if you plan on retiring at 65, and you live until 95, you have to account for 30 years of unemployment, that's what retirement is. So it's really important that you develop some sort of financial literacy to plan for these inevitabilities along with all the other aspects of managing money. So if there are any courses that you can take, to help you understand how money works, and how to manage it, it would be the very first thing that I would look for. 

The second course I would look for is any form of entrepreneurship class that deals with self employment and small business finances and taxation. So I'm not saying that you have to major in any of this, but I would strongly suggest seeking out classes that can give you some form of insight into how to run your business. I know it's not that sexy, but you know, you're going to have these questions eventually, you know, how do you fill out a schedule C? What is the schedule C? You know, what deductions? Can you take advantage of? How do you calculate quarterly estimates? How do you pay yourself a salary as an LLC? And even just generically, what are the key differences between employment and self employment, and similar to personal finance, and how, as mentioned that it gets more complicated as you get older, so does professional finance because you're going to separate your personal income from your professional income. So while you're in school, get familiar with the kind of macro sense of what self employment entails. And once you understand a lot of the conceptual ideas behind the Why do you do this? Why do you do that, you will invariably learn the more micro details of how to do this and how to do that. And truth be told, even if you spend the next 20 years or 30 years of your life right out of college working a full time job for somebody else, having some foundation of self employment literacy is going to ultimately less than the fear of you starting your own business, if you ever choose to down the road. Because I don't want you facing a situation where one day you have the opportunity to start a business or pursue a new venture as an entrepreneur only for you to be terrified that you don't have any of the skills or the know how to do so. And therefore you never take the chance. 

Alright, so the next aspect that I would suggest looking into is sort of twofold. One, I would look for any form of journalism classes outside of the very obvious photojournalism classes. And two, I would look for any art classes outside of the obvious photography classes. And so I suggest this because I actually believe it's gonna make you a lot more well rounded, like it's gonna, it's gonna prepare you a lot better as you enter in the actual profession. Because the reality is, you're not always just going to be asked, Hey, shoot this baseball game or shoot this football game, you know, you might actually be asked to do a lot more different things. So I would suggest finding journalism classes that teach you the other side of covering a story. Right. So actually learn how to write an article, learn how to interview people learn how to be an editor, and determine what the publication needs photographically versus just seeing it from the photographer's vantage point. So really diversify your experience when you're in college, you know, learn how to set up a two camera shot with a soccer coach in her office with terrible lighting. Okay, get used to miking someone up and directing an interview. And these are very realistic things that you might encounter in the field of photography, let alone the actual sports photography field, which is certainly possible. And maybe your photojournalism classes cover these bases, but maybe they don't. So you don't really ask your counselors about that, I'm just giving you some ideas of what to seek out. And on top of that, look for some art classes that will diversify your Creative Palette, you know, so don't just focus solely on photography. So maybe find a film theory class to gain appreciation of how cinematography can really impact story and mood, you know, take a painting class to really understand the the power of light and shadows and where they should be placed. And even a graphic design course to really understand how images can be used and will be used from a marketing side. These are all areas that can help you develop your visual palette. 

Alright, so the last thing that I would advise and this is the most important takeaway here is really no study class at all. It's about finding ways to actively work in photography while you're at school, you know, at least photography adjacent. So contact your teachers, contact your counselors talk to them about what your ambitions actually are. Maybe it means you apply for an internship, maybe it means you work for the school paper, maybe it means you work for the athletic department, you know, there are so many resources there for you as a student, so I would hit the pavement really hard and try out as many opportunities as possible while you're there. And I say this as someone who never pursued these avenues in college because I had no idea what I wanted to do after college, you know, you have the luxury of identifying what it is that you want to do, you know, you want to get better at this. So to me, this is what college is all about. It's about opportunity and taking advantage of that to get a leg up to build that runway for your life. And the great thing about this Gabriela is that you have very little risk at play here and all the benefits at your disposal. So hit your guidance counselor's and your professors up as soon as you can maybe after winter break and just let them know that you don't know what to do. You know, you don't really know what the first step is. So you need a little bit help. There's no shame in that. They might even be able to help connect you to the athletic director that you don't know or the newspaper editor or the radio station DJ or whoever it might be. And I totally understand that declaring a major is sort of time sensitive. You need to fill core credits toward that major. So it's not something you can really postpone for a super long time. But just remember, the major is not the most important thing. What's important are the skills that you come out of college with in the experience that you're open to. So whether you major in video editing or photo journalism, or marketing, or whatever it might be just balance your college career out with some electives that, that really round out your creative and business arsenal. 

Now, I'm not actively involved with many colleges or universities to know what is or isn't being covered for aspiring professional photographers. You know, I've heard my fair share of horror stories about what isn't being covered. But to be honest with you, that's just a different fight altogether, I think the best approach is to assume that the college is not going to be at your beck and call, you know, they're not going to walk you through every step of what you might face in your career, they're not going to tell you to take this course on self employment or taxation, you know, I think that burden is on you fair or unfair, and I get it. It's a tough situation, you know, you don't know what you don't know, not just at your age, but my age and anybody else's age, you know, and I think that's why we need to keep asking these questions to the people that are surrounding us. And so I'm super appreciative that you've asked me, that's step one. But keep asking the people at your school who know the curriculum, who know the instructors who know the opportunities that they can provide you. If you can do that, you're going to be well on your way. So this was a fabulous question, Gabriella, I really hope that I was able to give you just a little bit of insight, maybe at the very least, ease the pressure off you just a little bit as you declare your major for the rest of you who would like to have something answered on the show. Hit us up at and leave your question, wishing you all the very best in your endeavors. Thank you for tuning in. Everybody have a very Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. And I'll see you next week.

Hey, everybody, this is Michael der thank you so much for making it all the way to the end of the episode. I hope you'll follow tag and engage with us on our Instagram account at Artrepreneurspod. We've also launched our website It is the central hub where you can sign up for our newsletter, read our blog posts, send us voicemails, and even access discounts from our amazing affiliates. It's also the perfect spot to shout out Artrepreneurs with what would be an immensely appreciated five star rating and review. And if you're feeling extra generous, you can even make a small donation that's really going to help accelerate the growth of this podcast. But no matter what you do, folks, I just want to say thank you so much for supporting this program. There are a lot of great photography podcasts out there and I am just grateful to have gained your trust even for a moment. Take care everyone. See you next week.