David Weintraub’s most recent Black Star Rising column, “Notes from the VisCom Classroom: Teaching Software ,” laid out a list of 18 different software products currently taught to visual communications students at his university, ranging from Photoshop to GarageBand.
David posed a number of insightful questions in his piece, including one that particularly resonated with me: “Should we be teaching software at all?”
I won’t go so far as to say that software shouldn’t be taught in college. But I do think the balance has tilted toward too much focus on technical proficiencies and too little on core skills, such as the development of vision and storytelling ability.
Photoshop Over Photography
Over the past 20 years, I frequently have worked with young photographers, including those still in college and those fresh out of college. The experience has been just as rewarding as working with some of the biggest names in the field.
That’s why, even with all the portfolios that come across my desk, I still take the time to review the work of students. You just never know who’s going to walk through the door next.
Unfortunately, in recent years I’ve been disappointed in the portfolios of young photographers more often than I would like. Even as we see more students graduating in photography than ever before (too many, one could argue, given the size and relative growth of the industry), I am getting fewer and fewer portfolios that show a critical vision — that offer real visual opinions.
Too much of what I see today represents style over substance, Photoshop over photography. The craft and vision that animates great photography is rarely visible, an occasional glimmer amid the software masterpieces.
Vision Should Come First
I can only speak for myself. But personally, when I hire a photographer for an editorial assignment, I look for someone who can bring opinion and insight to a project.
I want someone who understands how to tell a story. I want someone who can explore a project to its fullest degree. And I want someone who has outstanding vision.
I do not look for someone who can jazz up an otherwise banal and soulless image with computer effects.
Now, I would never go so far as to say that software skills are unimportant. They are. So are business management and marketing skills, for that matter.
But I place none of these at the core of what it is to be a photographer.
Too much focus on software in college — like having to master 12, or 15, or 18 different software products — can lead to a steady stream of newly minted photographers who can’t shoot the forest for the trees.