I recently graduated from the Photography Institute (http://www.thephotographyinstitute.co.uk) with a Diploma of Professional Photography and wanted to tell you about it. The reason I took this course was all about self-belief and confidence, my photography had kind of plateaued, I felt like I wasn’t progressing and I needed something that reassured me I was capable of taking my photography further should I want to. I had shot a couple of weddings both as a second shooter and on my own and decided that this might be something I’d want to pursue further, and having some sort of qualification might help me in this respect.

I looked at a number of courses and self-starter books and either the course was too involved, pitched at the wrong level or simply just too expensive, the books just not cutting it either, then I stumbled across the photography institute course, the write up sounded ideal so I applied for a prospectus to read more and did nothing more about it for a couple of years. If you know me, you’ll know that procrastination is my main failing. After numerous emails following up the application for a prospectus trying to convince me to join the course, I finally gave in and joined at the start of 2014.

I had read lots about this course, some people being dissatisfied with the lack of recognition the diploma gets, but to me it’s merely an acknowledgement I had completed a body of work to a satisfactory level and that’s all I was after. So, I threw myself into the course, finding out there were multiple Facebook pages for sharing and support, both internationally and UK specific. Now, trust me when I say this, there are an awful lot of people doing the course, some that should never hold a camera ever and some that were simply born to take photos, with a whole host of variations in between. I guess in that respect it’s no different to any other subject you might choose to study.

To sum up the course, there are 12 modules and 11 assignments that you have to complete in order to graduate (module summary later). The course notes stipulate that you can complete the course within 6 months, but you have a year to do it. I later found out that as you hit 12 months, if you still haven’t completed the course, you automatically get another 3 months, but anything after that will cost you extra. In the end it took me 14 months to complete, so I needed the extra 3 months. Why did it take me so long? My old nemesis, procrastination!

The course starts off with equipment and throws you in the deep end with the first assignment asking you which kit you’d use for each outlined scenario, this instantly panicked me, but the on-line tutor I was given assured me this was just to assess capability and current levels of knowledge. Had I wanted to, I could have applied for the primer that gives you some background reading, I didn’t, but if you’re new to photography and want to do this course, I highly recommend it. Matt (Matthew Evans), my tutor, was available to be contacted through the website, and gave me plenty of encouragement and also gave me a list of background reading that I might find helpful. Some of the books he recommended I had already read, others I plan to read going forward. The course is written by a photographer called George Seper, he has done most types of photography in his career, but is most notably and currently known for his food photography, with many examples of his work in the course material. One particularly good example was presented for when he is shooting on white plates and how he uses the zone system to get his exposure just right, this is covered off in module 3.

Further modules took me through camera settings and their relationships, exposure and metering, film vs digital photography, light and colour, lighting, how to take better photos, equipment and software, post processing and printing, studio work, constructing a portfolio and photo agencies and how to get work. I have listed out the course coverage below if you’re interested, but that’s as far as I can go without breaching copyright. For me though, the most useful aspects of the course took me on an exploration of my camera and its capabilities and talk of pre-visualisation, which I now use a lot even for other artistic endeavours than photography.

In summary, I found the course to be both useful and hard work, mostly hard due to me stalling mid-way through the course and needing to give myself a kick up the backside to get moving again. You could argue that a good book would teach you the same things, but having a course structure and deadline and on-line support makes all the difference. Does this make me a better photographer? I will allow my peers to decide, but what it has made me is a more complete and considered photographer and allowed me to understand more about the business, where I can go with my photography and what some of the challenges might be.

Some examples of the images that I used to pass the course are shared here, with my 6 portfolio images for the last assignment that I submitted on the subject of wedding photography. I hope you have found this article interesting and informative.

Some of the images I had to submit for my assignments, not all I might add.

And these are my final images for my wedding portfolio to close out the course:

The Course Breakdown

Module 1

Cameras & Lenses

Description

Introduction to the Professional Photography Course

About the Author

Cameras

  • The Small Format SLR
  • The Medium Format Camera
  • The Large Format Camera
  • Small & Medium Format SLR Features
  • Interchangeable Lenses
  • Adjustable ISO
  • Depth of Field Preview
  • Integrated Light Meters
  • Mirror Locking
  • Self-Timer
  • Interchangeable Focusing Screens
Lenses
  • Focal Length
  • Lens Faults
  • Spherical Aberration
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Barrel & Pincushion Distortion
  • Flare & Vignetting
  • Lens Types
  • The Normal Lens
  • Wide Angle Lenses
  • Telephoto Lenses

Speciality Lenses & Attachments

  • Macro Lenses
  • Zoom Lenses
  • Reflex Lenses
  • The Tilt-Shift Lens
  • Filters

Caring For Your Lenses

Camera Care

Practical Lens Choices

  • Food Photography
  • Fashion Photography
  • Portrait & Beauty Photography
  • Architecture & Interior Photography
  • Travel Photography
  • Sport & Wildlife Photography

Module 2

Shutters, Aperture, ISO & Their Relationships

Description

The Shutter

  • Shutter Types
  • Stops
  • F/Stops

The Aperture / Shutter Speed Relationship

  • Reciprocity
  • Depth of Field (DOF)
  • Circles of Confusion
  • Sharpness
  • Depth of Field Scale
  • Hyperfocal Distance
  • The Depth of Field Preview Button
  • Depth of Field & the View Camera
  • Digital Sensors & the View Camera
  • SLR Shooting Modes
  • Manual (M)
  • Aperture Priority (AV) or (A)
  • Shutter Priority (TV) or (S)
  • Program Mode (P)

Putting it all Together

Pre-visualisation

Module 3

Exposure & Metering

Description

Light Meters

  • Overview
  • Hand Held Meters
  • In Camera Light Meters
  • Average Reflective Metering
  • Incident Metering
  • Spot Metering

ISO & Exposure Compensation Control

  • The Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO Relationship
  • The 18% Grey Card
  • Palm Metering
  • Dynamic Range & A Metering Method
  • The Stepped Greyscale Test
  • Zone System Basics
  • Building Your Own Zone Ruler

Metering Colours & Other Tip

Some Final Thoughts on Metering

The Sunny F/16 Rule

Module 4

The Film & Digital Process

Description

A Brief History of the Photographic Process

  • The Optical Process
  • The Chemical Process

Composition of Modern Film

The Wet Process

  • Developer
  • Stop Bath
  • Fixer
  • Wash
  • Photo-Flo
  • Dry

My Darkroom Method

  • Fogging

Colour Film Processing

  • Pushing
  • Pulling

The D Log E Curve of Film

Digital Image Capture

  • CCD & CMOS Compared
  • Tri-Linear Array Scanning Backs

Film V Digital

  • Digital Advantages
  • Digital Disadvantages

The D Log E Curve of Digital

The Histogram

In Camera Controls & What to Do With Them

  • RAW
  • Adobe 1998 RGB
  • sRGB
  • Greyscale
  • Saturation, Contrast & Sharpening

Module 5

Light & Colour

Description

The Colour Spectrum

Colour Temperature

Early Colour Theory Development

Maxwell’s Triangle and Modern Colour Theory

Additive and Subtractive Colour Systems

The CIE and LAB Colour

Photographic Filters

Useful Filters in the Digital World

The Mired Scale

Wratten Filters

The Colour Temperature Meter

Digital White Balance

Custom Colour Balance

Seeing Like a Camera

  • Colour Perception
  • Depth Perception
  • Dynamic Range

Some Useful Tricks

  • Squinting
  • Looking through a ND Filter
  • Closing One Eye
  • Making a Fist
  • Rotate the Image
  • Squat

Previsualisation

Setting Shadow and Highlights

Black and White

  • Method One
  • Method Two
  • Method Three
  • Method Four
  • Method Five
  • Method Six
  • My Favourite Method

The Red Channel in RGB

The Blue Channel in RGB

The L Channel in Lab

Module 6

Lighting

Description

About Light

  • The Sun Colour
  • Blue/Amber
  • Green/Magenta

Light Quality

I love Daylight

Artificial Light Sources

Lighting Outdoors

  • Time of the Day
  • The Weather

Lighting People & Small Moveable Objects

  • Fill in Flash
  • Mirrors
  • Scrims
  • Reflectors
  • Backlighting

The World's Best Lighting

The Daylight Look Indoors

  • Lighting Method 1
  • Lighting Method 2
  • Lighting Method 3

Tungsten Lights

  • Pros & Cons
  • Bouncing Light
  • Balancing Flash & Daylight
  • Flash Duration

Portrait Lighting

  • Unisex Portraiture Lighting Scheme
  • The Vanity Index
  • Lighting Men and Women

Module 7

How To Take Better Photos

Description

The Big Question

Commercial Reality

  • Travel Photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Magazine Photography
  • Advertising Photography
  • The Little Photoshop on the Corner

Back to Business of Taking Pictures

  • Educate Yourself
  • Why a Duck?
  • A Process for Photographing Objects
  • A Mental Shooting Checklist
  • Thinking Like a Lens
  • Previsualising

Colour Management in Camera

  • Adobe RGB (1998)
  • sRGB
  • ProPhoto RGB

The Cameras Preview Tools

  • Low Resolution LCD Colour Preview
  • Black & White Histogram
  • Colour Histogram
  • Exposure Warning

Working Tethered

The Photoshop Trap

Warning --- Danger Ahead

Sticking to a Subject

  • Be Honest With Yourself
  • Be Realistic

A Word on Plagiarism

A Cut-Out Portfolio

A Style to Call Your Own

Module 8

Equipment & Software

Description

Camera Choices

  • Format Size
  • The Small Format Camera System
  • The Medium Format Camera System
  • The Large Format Camera System

My Choice of Camera System

  • Small Format System
  • Medium Format System
  • Large Format System
  • Questions & Considerations

Buying V Hiring

Which Lenses do I Need?

Old Film Lenses in a Digital World

Where is the Technology Going?

Lighting Equipment

  • Studio Flash Units
  • Which Brand Should I Buy?
  • Portability
  • Tungsten Lighting

Second Hand Gear

Computers & Monitors

  • The Calibration Device

Data Storage

  • Compact Discs – CDs
  • Digital Video Discs – DVDs
  • Disc Dos and Don’ts
  • External Hard Drives
  • RAID Arrays
  • The Future of File Storage
  • A Storage File Formal Suggestion
  • My Storage System

The Graphics Tablet

Capture Software

  • Capture One Software
  • Adobe Photoshop, Bridge & Camera Raw

Module 9

Retouching, Resolution & Printing

Description

Photoshop & Other Retouching Software

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
  • Capture One
  • Aperture by Apple
  • Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo
  • Adobe Creative Cloud & Corel Draw Graphics Suite
  • Other Image Editing & Retouching Tools

The Interesting Issue of DPI & PPI

Image Size…How Big is Big Enough?

Output Devices & Resolution Requirements

  • Photo Quality Inkjet Printers
  • Offset Press
  • The Professional Print Lab
  • The Web

Dot Gain

Working in RGB

Gamma

Gamut

The CMYK Workspace

Bit Depth

Colour Channels in Photoshop

File Formats for Digital Imaging & Printing

  • Camera Raw
  • DNG
  • JPEG

File Formats for Print Bound Images

  • Photoshop’s PSD File Format
  • TIFF
  • EPS
  • PDF
  • CompuServe GIF
  • JPEG 2000
  • Other Random File Formats

Working with 16 Bit Files

HDR for High Contrast Images

  • Interpolation

Photoshop Toolbox

Quick masking

Photoshop’s Densitometer

Adjustment Layers

Sharpening

  • Every Digital Image Requires Sharpening
  • Amount
  • Radius
  • Threshold

Traps for Young Players

My Sharpening Methodology

Camera Raw Image Adjustment Basics

  • Info Panel
  • Histogram
  • Temperature Slider
  • Tint
  • Exposure
  • Recovery
  • Fill Light
  • Whites
  • Shadows
  • Contrast
  • Clarity
  • Vibrance
  • Saturation
  • Curves
  • Camera Raw Toolbar

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Image Adjustment Basics

Do Your Prints Look Like the Screen Image?

Calibrate the Whole Shebang

Module 10

The Studio

Description

The Photographer’s Studio

  • Do I Need a Studio?
  • Hiring a Studio
  • Sharing
  • Living In
  • How Big a Studio Do I Need?

Working from Home

  • The Perils
  • The Joys

The Wedding & Portrait Studio

In Your Studio

  • The Question of Daylight
  • Ceiling Heights
  • Colours & Decorating
  • The Floor
  • Poly Boards
  • Must Haves
  • Bus & Train Routes
  • Parking
  • Security

Hiring Out Your Precious Studio

Start Small

Where to Begin

Module 11

How To Construct A Professional Portfolio

Description

Where to Begin

Selecting a Speciality Area

  • Fashion & Beauty
  • Portraiture
  • Weddings & Family
  • Nudes & Glamour
  • Photojournalism
  • Travel & Resort
  • Food
  • Product & Still Life
  • Architecture & Interiors
  • Industrial & Corporate
  • Cars

The Photographer’s Assistant

Career Path Suggestions

Try to Get a Look at Other Photographers’ Work

Look at the Portfolios of Stylists to get Ideas

How to Find the Right People to Schmooze

Talk to Photo Agents

Be Ruthless

Don’t Dilute the Portfolio

Is One Folio Enough

Get Other Opinions

Think About Your Presentation

This is Where to Spend Money Wisely

Some Ideas on Marketing Tools

Module 12

Photo Agents - Picture Agencies How To Get Work & Keep It

Description

The Photographer’s Agent

  • The Role of the Agent
  • The Photographer/Agent Relationship
  • How to Find a Photo Agent
  • Avoid Mixed Agencies if You Can

Be Prepared for Your Interview… You Only Get One Chance

Fees & Charges

Agency Politics

  • Don’t Argue!

Photo Libraries & Picture Agencies in a Nutshell

The Copyright Issue

How to Submit Images

Be Organised

Do Your Homework

Write Down Names in the Lift

Sell Yourself!

Going It Alone

Befriend the Art Buyer

A Final Word  


Recommended reading:

Landscape, by Charlie Waite (C&B publishers)

First Light: a landscape photographer’s art, by Joe Cornish (Argentum)

The Complete guide to night and low-light photography, by Lee Frost (D&C)

Lighting for interiors photography, by John Freeman (Rotovision)

The art and technique of business portrait photography, by Andre Aymot (Amherst Media)

Taking pictures for profit, Lee Frost (D&C) Sell and resell your photographs, Rohn Engh (Writer’s Digest Books)

The Freelance Photographer’s Market Handbook (current year) The Writer’s Handbook (also current year)