An online photography degree prepares learners with the technical, creative, evaluative, and business skills to become successful professionals in the photography industry. Successful photographers must possess patience, creativity, attention to detail, and an interest in working with technical equipment. Additionally, these professionals must be self-motivated and disciplined, as most photographers work as freelancers.
Earning a bachelor's in photography online can be considerably cheaper than a degree from a traditional photography school. Online degrees also offer convenient learning that allows individuals to work at their own pace where and when it best suits their busy lives. Our guide offers general information about common requirements, curricula, and career paths for those interested in an online photography degree.
Overview of Photography Degrees
Photographers use technical equipment to capture and edit images. An online bachelor's degree in photography teaches students the visual literacy, technical, business, and critical engagement skills necessary to advance as photography professionals. Although most coursework takes place online, some programs require students to attend courses synchronously. A few programs may also have an in-person residency requirement that allows students to present and receive feedback on their work in-person.
This is an ideal degree for learners who want to increase their general knowledge, skills, and education in photography; for those who wish to begin or advance their photography careers; or for those who plan to eventually pursue advanced degrees in photography.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a six percent decline in professional photography positions between 2016 and 2026, partly because companies tend to hire freelancers rather than hire full-time company photographers. However, skillful photographers with a photography degree can build a successful, well-paying freelance career.
Most online bachelor's programs in photography require applicants to have a high school diploma, a 3.0 GPA, satisfactory SAT/ACT scores, two letters of recommendation, and a completed online application. If students plan to transfer credits, they must also submit transcripts of any previous college education.
The online application usually includes one or more essays, while application fees usually run between $50-$100. For financial aid consideration in the coming academic year, students seeking aid should submit an online FAFSA by the priority filing date of January 1.
What Will I Learn?
An online degree in photography cultivates skills in visual literacy, self-direction, creativity, and criticism that can apply to many different roles. Students complete assignments based on their own ideas, present their work, and receive feedback from peers and professors. By the end of the degree, students develop an artist's statement, a final portfolio, and a network of photographers with whom they can collaborate.
Most online bachelor's in photography degrees require about 120 credits. Students complete about 60 credits of general education requirements, which includes courses on communication skills, information literacy, and cultural engagement and awareness. In addition, students take at least 40 credits of photography courses, including electives in their chosen area of focus, such as film, fine arts photography, or professional photography. Students meet remaining credit requirements through electives in photography or other disciplines.
Required photography courses cover core topics such as black and white, color, and digital photography; art and photography history; and photography principles. Although curricula and course titles differ somewhat by program and school, most photography students take courses on some of the following foundational topics:
Fundamentals of Digital Photography
This course teaches students to cultivate a photographer's eye for capturing and creating perfect photographs; how to create proper photographic composition; and how to use the features of a digital camera, including exposure, lenses, and lighting, to create professional images. Students also learn post-production skills to convert good photographs into excellent and memorable images that communicate with the viewer.
This course teaches students to edit their photographs using Adobe Photoshop features, including sizing, retouching, layers, coloring, cropping, and masks. Students learn to sharpen, restore, and convert photographs in ways that put the finishing touches on their images.
This course teaches students the elements of an excellent portrait and the skills for creating one. Students learn to use lighting and posing -- both in studios and on location -- to take professional portraits, including individuals, groups, children, and pets. Students learn to develop portfolios, assemble website materials, and operate as professional portrait photographers.
Photography and Business
This course teaches students to start a photography business by creating a written business and marketing plan, and cultivating crucial online and in-person marketing skills. Students learn to define their chosen market and to sell their work to clients and other professionals in that market.
Nature and Landscape Photography
This course teaches students to use natural lighting, what gear to use in a variety of outdoor settings, and when to photograph in nature. The course covers composition, framing, and exposure principles involved in creating excellent natural images. Students create stylistically and thematically cohesive portfolios that convey a unique take on the natural subjects photographed.
What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor's Degree in Photography?
With an online bachelor's degree in photography, aspiring photographers learn the technical skills, artistic vision, and business acumen they need to succeed as professional image-makers and editors in an image-driven world. Those pursuing a bachelor's degree in photography usually choose a specialization related to their career aspirations. Graduates of these programs can end up creating images in a wide variety of industries, from fashion to forensics.
An online bachelor's degree in photography includes general liberal arts courses, as well as wide-scale knowledge of the theory, technique, and social impact of photography. Acquired photography skills include the ability to compose and frame striking images and to effectively capture shape and color through the skillful use of lighting, framing, and editing techniques. Students learn both analog and digital camera systems, output systems, and current photography software such as Lightroom and Photoshop.
Meanwhile, photography students also learn about photography as a business and an industry. Students often specialize in an area of choice, including fine arts photography, professional photography, photojournalism, and film production. For example, students interested in film production and editing skills often learn how to combine film and photography using digital integration and other visual tools.
In addition to technical photography and film skills, photography students develop creative and analytical skills that allow them to conceptualize, design, and present their work for a variety of contexts and audiences. Most programs require students to demonstrate an understanding of how their work interacts with various cultural, artistic, technological, and social trends that shape contemporary photography. Many photography courses and programs culminate in the creation of a portfolio that prepares graduates to showcase their work to potential employers, clients, and venues.
Potential Careers and Salaries
An online bachelor's degree in photography prepares graduates for careers as press photographers, commercial photographers, fashion photographers, portrait or wedding photographers, forensic photographers, nature photographers, fine arts photographers, and freelance or entrepreneurial photographers.
Other photographers opt to branch out into related fields such as journalism, museum and gallery curation, graphic and artistic design, photo and art editing, photo and art direction, film editing and direction, and camera operation.
Annual Median Salary: $34,000
Photographers choose and adjust subjects, lighting, and equipment as they capture and edit images. Photographers often work in a variety of environments and industries, such as advertising and commerce, news, sports, portraiture, and special events. Some may also become photo editors, photojournalists, studio owners, and fine arts photographers. Most photographers hold at least a bachelor's degree.
Annual Median Salary: $43,490
Reporters and journalists work in radio, television, newspapers, or magazines. They use investigation, observation, photography, and interviews to gather information about events, then convert this data into news pieces for consumption by the public. Most of these professionals hold at least a bachelor's degree.
Annual Median Salary: $50,370
Graphic designers produce images that communicate ideas to consumers through magazines, brochures, advertisements, and other media. Some graphic designers work for themselves, but many work in publishing, advertising, public relations, specialized design, and other service industries. Most of these professionals hold at least a bachelor's degree.
Annual Median Salary: $64,140
Historians research and assess past events, people, and cultures by examining primary and secondary sources. Historians may present findings in books, scholarly articles, and presentations. They may also participate in public educational events. Typically, historians need a master's degree.
Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators
Annual Median Salary: $58,990
These professionals collaborate with directors, technicians, and other crew members to assemble sets, arrange cameras, operate equipment, compose shots, record scenes, and edit video. These professionals often play a role in maintaining and repairing film equipment.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Photography?
A bachelor's degree in photography can prepare graduates for entry-level positions as photographer's assistants, freelancers, or camera operators. However, those aspiring to leadership or specialized positions -- such as art directors, photography teachers, or professors -- usually continue their education beyond a bachelor's.
Talented bachelor's degree holders with a sophisticated grasp of visual language, photographic technique, and business savvy, often rise in the photography industry as they gain work experience and acquire a reputation for producing excellent work. Photography -- like many other artistic endeavors -- requires considerable practice, so photographers learn a great deal on the job as they experience new contexts, projects, and opportunities.
Accreditation for Photography Bachelor's Programs
Programmatic accreditation for photography programs is not yet available; however, schools offering this degree can earn general accreditation from various independent regional or national accreditation agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation.
When possible, prospective photography students should choose regionally-accredited schools over nationally-accredited schools, as regional accreditation signifies higher academic standards and therefore elicits greater respect from future schools and employers.
Many of the schools that offer online bachelor's degrees in photography hold regional accreditation from agencies such as the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the New England Commission of Higher Education, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or the Senior College and University Commission.
Photography Professional Organizations
Many photographers utilize professional photography organizations to collaborate, find employment, and stay current on recent developments in the art and business of photography. Many of these organizations provide job boards, industry discounts, marketing tools, as well as trainings and other continuing education opportunities. Some organizations also advocate for photographers at state and national levels.
Professional Photographers of America
A nonprofit organization created in 1869 by photographers, the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) helps photographers develop lucrative careers and businesses as professional photographers. The PPA primarily focuses on providing photography education opportunities including in-person and online photography business education; however, the PPA also offers membership in a photographer-finder online database, industry discounts and perks, marketing tools, government advocacy, and help with business and gear protection.
American Society of Media Photographers
This leading photography organization advocates for and advances the art and business of photography. ASMP offers its members a business guide, a database of photography assistants, marketing resources, industry discounts, and templates for web design. In addition, photographers use ASMP to connect with the larger photography community and to stay updated on new developments in the field.
American Photographers Association
A professional organization created by photographers in America and beyond, the American Photographers Association shares photography knowledge; promotes photographic work; exposes photographers to new education, training, competition, exhibition, and other career opportunities. The APA also provides a member portfolio page and features some photographers' work in APA's social media and marketing materials.