The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Photography Program Suggestions

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Photography Program Suggestions

I have mixed feelings about saying what I’m about to say, but I think it needs to be said, so here goes…

From what I’ve heard, I think the Photography Department at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh is doing an extreme disservice to its students by deterring them from freelance assisting, either while they are going to school or after they have graduated.

AIP graduates have told me that the teachers tell the students that it is unwise to assist after they leave the school or even while they’re at the school.  Before they graduate, they are told they don’t know enough, and after they graduate, they are told they know too much to lower themselves to such menial work.  This is ridicules.

If I were to advise students, that I cared about, I would suggest just the opposite.  In my opinion, there is no better way to learn about the world of professional photography than by being exposed to it as soon as possible.  In reality, graduating students of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh have little knowledge of the “real world”, and they’re told that upon graduation, they are ready to enter the workforce as a “real live qualified photographer”.  In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.  The truth is, they really “don’t know shit” (as a friend of mine is found of saying).  Sure, they may be able to take a decent exposure and maybe even frame an acceptable composition, but that’s about it. They don’t know much about client relations, marketing, bookkeeping, and a hundred other things necessary to being a professional photographer.  They need exposure, and that’s what assisting will give them.

There are so many things to learn about professional photography, it’s hard to fathom.  No, it isn’t rocket surgery, but it does require a very technical and diverse skill set that couldn’t possible be taught only in school, no matter how talented the instructors.  So I don’t blame the instructors for not being able to teach students everything they need to become a professional photographer, in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else for that matter, but I do blame them for not suggesting that their students go out and become assistants.  To me, it’s a real disservice to their students.

So, here’s my advice, advice coming from a professional commercial Pittsburgh photographer.  If you want to become a professional commercial photographer, assist as soon as you can.  Do it for free if you need to.  I guarantee that you will learn more about photography assisting than you ever will from any school.  Don’t worry about not knowing enough, because if you’re bright, you’ll be able to pick it up.   Just do it.

I have more to say on the subject of a photographer’s career path, but that will need to wait for another post.



Since I published this, I was told by an AIP instructor that they indeed to discourage the students from interning.  I’m going to do a little research and update this post as I learn more.

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