School’s Out For ..Ever – Should you go to Photo School?

all the peeps from photo school

My time as a student has finally come to a close. A core part of my identity, gone at the end of a meandering week consisting of a couple lingering assignments. And it was this anticlimactic thing.There was no specific moment where I said, “Yes, I’m done.”

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper – T.S. Eliot

Here’s maybe what you think I mean:

the ending of the final school year?

the ending of the final school year?

The Real World

The reality: for me, the “real world” isn’t a terrifying thing anymore.

Now that I know what I want, and I have the means and the skills to go after it, the end of school was actually very freeing. I was just expecting the end of it to be a bigger thing that really affected me.

So what did school really do for me?

There’s lots of burgeoning photographers out there, and I’m sure lots of them are wondering if they should go to photo school to get a formal education, so I think it’s important for me to try to express what you might get out of school, in case you are in that position and reading this.

Before photography school, I did three years of intensive courses in biochemistry at a university. Once I realized I had no idea what kind of life that would lead to, but that I wasn’t at all interested in ANY of those prospects.. well things changed really quickly and before I knew it I was in photography school.

NAIT’s photographic technology program is a practical based 2-year diploma. The two years went a lot faster than even a year of those university courses. At the same time, I find it hard to remember what things were like before I moved to Edmonton to pursue my dreams.

I tried to make a list of the things that changed in my life, but it was very difficult. So many little things, accumulating day after day. It was even difficult to touch on what I learned photographically in these last two years. It was rarely a situation of – on Tuesday I learned how to use curves in Photoshop and then learned how to light glassware. 

But sure enough, now I have my own commercial photography company, Cooper & O’Hara – a partnership with a great friend I met at school. We’re doing things that I never would have even considered two years ago.

So how did my abilities improve, and my direction of photography change so much? I guess surrounding myself with photography, and people cut from the same cloth (although often refreshingly different than myself) just made things slowly, and transformatively, change.

From my biology days:

gradualism [ˈgrædjʊəˌlɪzəm]


1. the policy of seeking to change something or achieve a goal gradually rather than quickly or violently, esp in politics
2. (Earth Sciences / Geological Science) the theory that explains major changes in rock strata, fossils, etc. in terms of gradual evolutionary processes rather than sudden violent catastrophes. Compared to catastrophism



Although it went by quickly to me, practicing photography, day-in and day-out, was like the slow moving of a mountain or a glacier, and by the end of it I couldn’t even remember how I used to think. I’m now very grateful for going through this program. It was just what I needed, exactly when I needed it.


So I guess in the course of writing this I was all “school just sort of ended, no big deal” and then I was all “whoa that was like…. transformative, dude.” I think the crux of it is that now I have a whole bunch of things I’m really excited to do, and I’m not done learning. There was no definitive moment of change at the end of the school year. There are a lot of things that school didn’t specifically prepare me for, or teach me about, but that’s not the point of it.

Just for a bit of variety and perspective, here’s what a few of my classmates had to say about what photo school did for them.

Sarah Priestley

Fine Art Photography and Conservationism / Sarah's blog

The most useful thing was the technical knowledge, and how it helps me troubleshoot or just avoid running into problems altogether

Kaihla Tonai

Portrait/Wedding Photography / Kaihla Tonai Photography

School allowed me to explore every aspect of photography, that I never would have ever tried on my own. The best thing about school was being surrounded by amazing people with incredible talent, every single day

Chad Steeves

Photojournalism and Extreme Sports / Chad Steeves Photography

I enjoyed having two years to concentrate on my work while strengthening aspects of photography that I wasn’t natural at… and doing things that I wouldn’t have even explored otherwise.

Above all I’d like to thank all these great people featured here, as well as the rest of my class, for making these past two years so great. You are great friends and wonderful photographers, and I wish the absolute best for your futures. Also a big shout out to Shaun Scade and Ian Grant for being excellent instructors.. Fletcher O’Grady too, of course, but he’s old school and doesn’t have a webpage!

If you have any questions about the NAIT Photographic Technology program, or photography school in general, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email at bryancooperphotography[at]




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Bryan can most often be found taking photographs for his commercial studio Cooper & O'Hara, but he also has a passion for cooking, zoology, travel, science, entertainment, design, and creativity in general. Email Me