Photography Degree

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What is Photography?

Photography is the form of technology that captures images into a permanent state through a variety of mediums. Originally utilizing a form of film for the purposes of capture, technology has allowed for the use of digital storage to capture and manipulate images, resulting in the slow phase out of film roll, silver paper, and development fluids and rooms. Photography as a profession requires an understanding of equipment, technique, modes, types, lenses and other factors that allow for the desired capture of imagery for use commercially or artistically by others. The field of photography is broad, allowing for various types of photographers to exist as professionals.

Top Photography Degrees

Students considering a degree or certificate in photography have several options to choose from in the field.  Photographers can take a graduate certificate or degree-granting program from accredited colleges and universities.  As a result of the choices available, it is important to understand the types of programs available.  Once you know what degrees exist, you can simply request information from accredited colleges and universities to help you on your path to becoming a photographer.  An overview of programs include certificate programs, bachelor degrees, and master degrees in photography.

Certificate Programs in Photography

On-site or online photography degrees are available from several top ranked colleges and universities.  Certificate programs in this field of study are typically undergraduate programs used to provide foundational knowledge and skills to students.  Certificates can be as short as 4-week programs and with 2-year programs not uncommon.  The length of time it takes to complete a certificate will depend on the curricular design coupled with your pace and course load.  Finding the right program for you is a function of your unique priorities and career aspirations.  Certificate programs lasting a few weeks up to two years can include the following areas of emphasis:

  • Certificate in Studio Photography
  • Certificate in Portrait Photography
  • Certificate in Digital Workflow
  • Certificate in Fashion Photography

Bachelor Degree in Photography

A bachelor degree in photography is conferred as either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA).  The 4-year program will help students extend critical thinking skills, problem-solving, lighting skills, digital imaging, camera capture techniques, and be equipped to step into a career in a variety of industries.  Adjacent degree programs and career tracks can include the following:

  • Digital Photography
  • Commercial and Advertising Art
  • Digital Arts
  • Illustration
  • Graphic Design
  • Design and Visual Communications
  • Commercial Photography
  • Cinematography and Film

Master Degree in Photography

A master’s degree in photography is typically a 2-year graduate program of full-time matriculation.  Master degrees are conferred as a Master in Fine Arts (MFA) or Master of Arts (MA).  Classes in the MA and MFA programs will vary by school and region.  Program emphasis can shift from college to college based on curricular design and professor expectations.  Photography courses will generally include the following photography classes: concepts & techniques, language, lighting, landscape, nature, darkroom, photoshop, still life, composition, portraiture, documentary & visual narrative, digital imaging, environment, and montage.

Educational Requirements for Photographers

A degree in photography prepares individuals for the multiple career opportunities one can have in the field of photography. Students studying photography will be exposed to an interesting cross section of art and science. Students will learn about the technical functions of cameras, the use of appropriate lenses, and various formulae to find the right settings for a given shot. Alongside the technical courses, students will learn about the art of photography, its history, as an artistic medium, lighting, composition and more.  Students of photography will be required to take photos constantly as part of their course load, building a portfolio and gaining practical experience even as they study.

Most students pursuing a degree in photography will pursue a bachelor's degree, though associate and certificate programs are also available. Also, photography can be attached to another discipline, such as science or journalism, allowing for specialization in the types of photos and subject matter the individual will focus.

A curriculum in photography may include:

  • Digital Imaging
  • Graphic Design
  • History of Photography
  • Color
  • Portraiture

Schools Other Students Requested Information From:

Employment Opportunities and Career Outlook

A career in photography does not require an individual to obtain a degree in photography. As an art form, photography prizes talent and skill over formal education. As such one's portfolio is more important that a degree, and readily demonstrable skill more valuable than a certification. That being said, certain types of photography careers may require an individual to have a certain level of education, such as an industrial photographer or photojournalist. Often students will choose to take photography courses in conjunction with another program allowing for the combination of the two fields, for example industrial design, journalism, or fashion design. Individuals who chose to specialize in such a manner will have specific knowledge of their subjects, and thus more likely to find work in that specific field.

Even though photography does not require a post-secondary education, individuals should consider taking courses or pursuing a degree due to the exposure to the various equipment, styles, and techniques that one may not encounter in a normal work setting. The increased knowledge can open up opportunities and assist in developing skills that can be beneficial in obtaining work. Additionally, having a professional provide tutelage and methods for shot selection,  light readings and the variety of other minutiae that allows a photographer quickly and capably produce print quality images can be useful in a hobbyist or professional setting.

One of the primary barriers of entry into photography is cost, with professional grade equipment often costing large sums and requiring some professionals to upgrade as new iterations of equipment are released. Though the cost of equipment is high, it has seen an overall reduction in price for without an increase in quality for even the lowest end cameras allowing aspiring professionals to enter the market more easily than in the past. Additionally, costs are somewhat offset by the reduced use of expensive film and the costs of development.

Job Growth, Salary and Related Photography Fields

Job growth is expected to remain about as fast as average over the next decade. This is due to multiple factors, including the decreasing cost of digital camera equipment and the increase in amateur enthusiasts and hobbyists. Additionally, as quality of images increases and the manipulation of images becomes technologically easier, and thus more commonplace, will increase competition. The average salary for a photographer is approximately $29,000 per year,  but can vary greatly based on industry or type of photographer.

Individuals interested in photography may also be interested in cinematography and film, photojournalism, or graphic design.  As an additional resource, you can also read our blog post titled Top College Degrees for Animal Lovers for more information.  Associations such as the APA and PPA may be a great resource for students serious about taking their careers to the next level.

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Career Summary: Photography Major




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