Guide to Photography Programs
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Move beyond the darkroom and explore the core classes most photography students take.
Learn which photography jobs require a bachelor's degree and what salary you can expect as a photographer.
Discover the Key Elements of Studying Photography
You can earn professional photography degrees at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s levels, but graduate degrees are uncommon in this field, as advancement is based on experience and networking.
Understand the Advantages of Brick-and-Mortar Programs over Online Programs
You can study photography online or through traditional campus-based programs. Although online photography degrees are available, they are rare because photography is a hands-on profession that requires technical experience in many areas. Depending on your emphasis, it requires anything from engineering skills when designing new cameras and lenses to taking creative initiative when conceiving of sets or lighting schemes. On-campus colleges for photography allow you to polish technical skills like digital imaging and lighting design and photo development in labs.
Online learners can still find reputable, comprehensive photography degrees, but they focus on digital aspects of photography instead of the traditional methods, which involve film development in darkrooms. Online programs tend to be geared toward general photography with the inclusion of specialization courses, so if you are looking for a specific photography concentration, like fashion photography degrees, you will have better luck looking for smaller, niche brick-and-mortar schools.
Build Your Photography Portfolio
Photography differs from other fields in that success does not depend on research-based academic performance, but on your ability to demonstrate artistic talent and professional presentation.
In the photography field, your portfolio is your resumé. You can create a hard copy in the form of a professional album, as well as an online portfolio that allows users to navigate your different areas of expertise. If you are interested in several areas of photography, such as wedding photography and portrait photography, create separate sections that showcase each skill set. Many corporations, television stations, film studios, and technical firms have no reservations about hiring online graduates as long as their creative portfolio is up to par.
Learn About the Average Photography Student
Before you pursue a career as a photographer, consider whether your strengths and interests are a good match for photography. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I possess abstract-thinking skills?
- Am I able to visualize how shooting from different angles alters perception?
- Do I recognize remarkable features in others to bring out in images?
- Do I have technical skill for learning new photo editing technology?
- Do I work well independently to develop my own clientele as a freelance photographer?
If you answered yes to the majority of these questions, photography is a career option worth considering. Although there are many photography disciplines, most photographers exhibit similar personality traits and interests. Portrait photographers, fine artists, and photojournalists alike have abstract- and critical-thinking skills that allow them to contextualize their own artistic thoughts through their images. For example, a political photographer may choose a specific angle from which to photograph a diplomat, thereby completely altering the viewer’s perception and opinion of that person; portrait photographers assess the personal character of their subjects and use lighting, set design, and posture to accentuate those features. Commercial and advertising photographers need to understand their consumers in order to determine which color schemes are more palatable to different types of audiences. On the other end of the spectrum, scientific photographers should be meticulous, detail-oriented, and handy when it comes to troubleshooting microimaging equipment.
See What Classes You’ll Take to Earn a Photography Degree
The most common photography courses found in on-campus and online programs include digital imaging courses, commercial photography classes, technical camera workshops, development lab sessions, professional seminars, and design modules that detail lighting configurations, studio etiquette, and the history of photography. Some of the most common courses found in photography degree programs include:
While these courses are integral to earning your degree, you will also benefit from peer critique sessions and technical workshops. You should also proactively shoot whenever you can in order to constantly improve your eye and visual techniques.
Focus Your Photography Studies
When considering a photography education, think about which aspects of photography engage or excite you the most. If you are more inclined toward film and narrative storytelling, fine art photography is a better choice for you. But if you are more interested in technical skills like lighting, white balancing, or setting the blocking for shots, think about becoming a photographer for corporations like news agencies, magazines, or athletic organizations, where artistic vision is secondary to objectively showing how an event occurred. Not only is the career selection drastically different, but many jobs in the latter field require a bachelor’s degree, while more independent, creative positions are based on past experience and having a good eye.
Discover Your Photography Degree Options
You can earn a photography degree at the following levels:
Note that there is no official accrediting agency in the United States specifically for photography degree programs, so many hiring managers use school prestige and ranking as a way to assess the quality of your education and degree. Therefore, you should always attend an institutionally accredited school to distinguish your resumé and skill set from others.
Learn What Photographers Do on the Job
All photographers are concerned with capturing telling images for promotional, journalistic, scientific, entertainment, or educational reasons. The way they do this differs considerably between photographers; some prefer developing film while others prefer the pixel-resolution capabilities of digital imaging.
Because of the increase in digital technology and entrepreneurial activity, there is a greater need for commercial branding. Photographers who earn a commercial or advertising photography degree or have an impressive marketing image portfolio can pursue careers in this field. Graduates who choose other specialty programs such as sports photography degree programs can find jobs in media outlets. Lastly, many fine artists and portrait photographers are commissioned by museums or organizations like National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Discover the Job Outlook for Photography Professionals
The photography industry boasts a diverse list of jobs ranging from food photography to graphic design. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an estimated job growth of 14% for all photography-related positions, including professions in the arts, design, sports, entertainment, and media fields. Competition is high because of reduced requirements to enter the field, even though positions in product photography and photojournalism require a bachelor’s degree.
Salaried positions are difficult to find because many companies and organizations choose to contract freelance photographers as needed. Photographers are paid a median hourly rate of $14, but those working in the entertainment or sports industries make considerably more at approximately $20 an hour. The largest, most populous states have the highest numbers of employed photographers because they have more clients. California (5,400 employed photographers), New York (4,550), and Texas (3,500) are the leading states in photographer employment.