I see.

Hallmark Institute of Photography

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I’m a Hallmark institute of Photography Graduate. I finished top of my class. I got rave reviews when my portfolio was judged. This post is something I’ve been thinking very carefully about, at great length. So here is my tell-all about my alma mater. I will add to it as I see fit, and update as things come to my memory. Portions of this post are also available on the Hallmark Yelp Page

Only the most basic level of photographic instruction is provided at Hallmark, despite claims to being a top notch school. In reality, it’s like photography high school. Everyone from 18-65 is treated as if they are a secondary student instead of an artist spending a ton of money to be there.

Hallmark’s marketing materials are designed to make you think you’ll be ready to work in the industry after you graduate. The reality is, the portrait program is comparable to working at JC Penny for 10 months, and the commercial program is an absolute joke. Everyone learns the exact same outdated, incredibly basic lighting patterns. There is no creativity program, and everyone just rips each other off. The prop room has the same garbage in it that’s been there for years, and the school is too cheap to buy new ones. Which is funny because tuition is over $45k.

The only benefit to attending hallmark is that once you’ve realized you’re getting screwed it’s almost over.

Hallmark’s scare tactics for any naysayers are becoming widely known. A fellow alum received hate mail from staff and instructors after she posted a self portrait of herself on flickr stating that she went to Hallmark and couldn’t find a job. Many people from my graduating class were unable to find work in the photography field and have had to resort to other careers. Hallmark has NO placement program, does not even attempt to help you find work, and cuts you loose upon graduation. Oh and by the way, they spend at least 40-50k on the graduation ceremony, and thousands on open houses (they make students sell the school to potential victims) to make it seem like things are really great.

My numerous meetings with the director of education and the president of the school to address my concerns were fruitless. Their responses were either dismissive or told me to “wait for the next phase” because things would “get better”. They never did.

Hallmark teaches to the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. This means if you have any background in photography at all, you will be wallowing in ineptitude for almost half of the program. The least experienced person in the school sets the pace of what is covered. So if you’d like to do some advanced lighting, post-production or anything else photo-related, you’re held back and it never comes. Again, this is the most rudimentary photographic education you can buy.

I took out $70,000 in student loans to pay for school and living expenses. I can’t imagine what it’s costing this fall’s incoming crop of students to hang out in the hell holes of greenfield and turners falls. Both towns are full of white trash or the wealthy. Not much in the way of dining or entertainment. But not to worry, you’re so busy trying to find models (nearly impossible) to photograph that you might not mind. The school doesn’t provide any models or resources to find them.

One of the most revered advertising photographers in the world, David Langley, was an instructor during my stay at Hallmark. They were so cheap that when he asked for a raise the second year, they chose to let him go. Hallmark has everyone else so scared to step out of line, they keep their mouths shut.

I really wish I had a better experience here. But I’m really afraid more people are going to keep padding their pockets without a fair warning. I’ll probably get blowback for even opening my mouth about what goes on here, but there’s plenty more. I can’t in good conscience go another day without saying something.

Bottom line: If you want to spend a lot of money to get a “Certificate” that says you’re a photographer, but don’t really care about being a great one, this might be the school for you. Just be prepared for a mediocre education, lots of unnecessary stress, and to be left high and dry as soon as you’re finished. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


5 responses

  1. Chris

    Dang Justin, I didn’t know much about Hallmark to begin with but it sounds terrible. I finished my art degree in photography at UNR and really enjoyed it.

    August 20, 2009 at 10:00 pm

  2. justinsullivan

    The program has a lot of holes. It was frustrating to see them plainly, try to address those concerns and be shot down.

    It was doubly frustrating to be stuck in the middle of nowhere masachusetts with no models, make up or hair stylists trying to breathe some creativity into the work.

    I’m glad it was a short program because with all the money I owe now, I needed to get to work.

    August 20, 2009 at 11:16 pm

  3. Hi there, Justin,

    I am glad you wrote this post because I was looking into Hallmark and turned down my acceptance because I simply could not front the costs of the program after already completing a four-year degree.

    I was impressed with the facilities and staff during the open house and my four-hour long tour and interview. (I can now understand why after reading your comment about the school’s choice of budgeting and allocating of funds.) Conversely, I felt I was given a lot of information in one sitting and was then pressured to make a decision all too soon.

    I was also unimpressed by the manner in which the Director of Admissions suggested that I “be a little more proactive” in seeking out Hallmark’s alumni when I expressed my hesitations in solidifying career opportunities upon completion of the program. I found her statement to suggest that the school lacks a strong affinity with its alumni. Having graduated from an institution where the alumnae are the college’s lifeblood, I found it unsettling that the director couldn’t offer to put me in touch with alumni willing to vouch for the program and its putative excellence.

    My question to you: What do you recommend to those who have an ambitious avocational interest in photography?

    I am self-taught and fully aware that there is much to learn. (If you’d like you can take a look at some of my work at http://idle_eyes.ipernity.com ) If you know of any resources, would you be willing to suggest them? Any advice you could offer it would be greatly appreciated.

    All the best!

    December 7, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    • justinsullivan

      That sounds about right. They do a good job selling the experience but the reality never lives up to the pitch. Unfortunate to say the least. It’s funny to think back to when I was excited about getting “accepted”. Then I realized I hadn’t submitted a portfolio or really done anything to prove my merit besides find funding for the tuition. Pretty disheartening.

      A lot of the education that photo schools provide can be found online through websites like strobist to get the basics down. Youtube has thousands and thousands of tutorials. Do some digging and you can sift through the crap and find some gems.
      Participate in flickr groups with people who you feel do good work, and engage in the community. Often people are happy to share their set-ups and help others see how to do what they’ve done.

      Watch pros and if you can get assisting work, get it. That’s the best way to learn, and it may take longer. But you’re saving money and getting a good education while working.

      December 9, 2009 at 3:07 am

  4. Thank you so much for the response and the tips, Justin! I appreciate it!

    December 9, 2009 at 4:30 pm

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