(This MatadorU Photography Course review updated December 2015, originally published Dec 2011.)
There is, I think, still value to the MatadorU program. However, you should know what you expect to gain from the program before you decide whether the cost is worth it to you and if it will help you accomplish the goals you’ve set. This MatadorU photography course review aims to do just that: give some thoughts on my experience with the program and discuss who else it may be a good fit for.
I made around $7000 last year (2014) through writing and photography contacts that I attribute to the MatU program, either through postings directly on their Access boards (which I’ll discuss below) or via contacts I made through the Matador University program. So, for me, the $350 course fee was definitely a worthwhile investment. This number doesn’t even include photography work I picked up through other channels, which I undoubtedly owe some competency credit for to the MatadorU photography course but which becomes a lot harder to assign value to.
Having signed up relatively early in the MatadorU development (in 2011), I’ve seen several iterations of the course over the past several years. While it was once a good resource to get direct authoritative feedback on your work as you grew as a photographer / writer (and later videographer), the ability to directly interact with the professors of MatU has gradually gotten smaller and smaller. From what I’ve seen, the course now offers three opportunities during the curriculum to get direct professional feedback on your personal work.
What this means, essentially, is that once per week for 12 weeks you’ll receive access to a lesson in your chosen field (photography being mine, but writing and videography also popular course options) to complete on your own schedule. Due to the rate the lessons are released you can’t finish the course early, however there are reports of students signing up for several courses concurrently. Then, once per month, you’ll be able to send your assignments to one of the MatadorU staff for critique from a professional in your field. However, perhaps to make up for this change, they’ve also instituted ‘Labs’ that run once every week or two where you can submit one photo/story/video and have other members of the community and several of the staff provide a few quick thoughts.
From an academic point of view, then, the course has lost a bit since I was originally involved. Where it has gained value, though, is in the community. Part of the MatadorU sign-up promise is that student keep access to the MatU community for life. In realistic terms, this usually means engaging with other students on story research or blogging woes or trading links/ social media shares.
It also, importantly, means admission to the Matador Access boards where staff post opportunities for travel media publishers to get out and actually make cash. So, not only do students get tips on preparing and sending pitches in the lessons, but they’re also provided the chance to put this into practice through editorial contacts that show up in Access. I easily picked up enough small assignments through here to cover the cost of the course, and that lifetime ability to get to the boards means that I occasionally continue to visit and find more opportunities there to this day. The downside: this has recently been opened up to those outside the MatadorU community as a separate paid option, which of course means more competition for the same finite number of opportunities. If you’re just looking for job leads, though, this could be a solid alternative to the full courses.
For those looking to make more serious money at photography or travel writing, one of the biggest challenges is often the need to show clips of published assignments. As you pitch editors at new publications, they want some sort of evidence that you can carry through on an assignment and are capable on both the creative and the practical sides of working on an assignment. The easiest way to know this, of course, is simply to see that you’ve done so before!
One of my proudest publications from 2014 was a photo essay on the BBC Travel website, and the original pitch email was a very brief description of the festival and how I planned to cover it followed by a link to clips of similar events I’d attended in the past few year and published on. This is one of the most important parts of MatU for those who are just starting out, I think, because Matador offers its students the chance to publish on their in-house channels as well as providing tips for other potential outlets to build up your portfolio.
The lessons themselves focus on a wide range of things, starting with the basic technical side of photography (i.e. how to work a camera – in manual and semi-auto modes instead of full auto especially) and moving on to thinking more deeply about framing and atmosphere as well as the business side of things like how to pitch editors and prepare invoices. I can definitely see progress in the quality of my photography when I look at before and after shots, and learning to be more comfortable with the camera I had was also part of what convinced me to move up to better gear.
The other side of this, of course, is that you could find much of the same information online elsewhere, often for free. The convenience factor of MatadorU is that is has all been gathered together for you and programmed to slow-drip into your system, with assignments for each lesson to make sure you’re retaining part of what you learn. If you’d prefer just a few quick photo tips for an occasional refresher, I’d suggest the YouTube channels of The Art of Photography and Brendan Van Son.
So, final thought. Don’t go into MatadorU thinking it will give you the immediate skills to leave your normal life behind for a fabulous life of world travel. However, if you’re looking to both build skills and gain access to both a community of fellow travel media producers and a posting board that will advertise opportunities to put your skills into action… well, go check it out.
Find this review helpful? Head over to my photography portfolio to see more of my work, or connect with me on social media at the links below to share some of yours!