When French inventor Joseph Niepce developed the world's first photograph in his camera obscura in 1816, the whole world took notice. More than 200 years later, photos still captivate us. Students with a passion for both creativity and communication should consider pursuing a photography degree. Photography degree graduates often create their own schedules and work as freelancers, or they seek stability from a job at a corporation or editorial publication.
Overview of Photography Degrees
Photography involves knowing how each function of a camera works together and framing your subject beautifully. If you want to pursue a photography degree, research a school's program. For example, a basic photography degree usually teaches students how to use both digital and film cameras. On the contrary, a digital photography degree typically only covers the use of digital cameras and how to use digital editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the field's job growth to decline by 6% from 2016-2026. However, this broad degree prepares students for various photography careers and even careers in related fields by teaching students how to operate cameras, use lighting equipment, edit photos, and communicate through images. Graduates can work as wedding photographers, editorial photographers, travel photographers, photojournalists, and graphic designers. Many students complete the degree fully online, but some programs require occasional in-person art critiques. Photography degrees are ideal for creative individuals who love finding beauty in the ordinary.
Application prerequisites vary by program, but a high school degree remains a must. Most schools maintain minimum GPA requirements. Bachelor's programs usually only require your high school or associate program transcripts. You also might need to submit your photography portfolio to a board for review. You can request your transcripts from your previous school for a small fee, which is typically less than $20. Students with transfer credits should work with the institution's admissions department to determine which credits transfer successfully.
Extremely competitive programs require recommendation letters and an artist statement essay. Schools specify who should write a recommendation letter, such as a previous teacher, a past employer, or a professional mentor. Make sure to budget anywhere from $50-$150 for the application fee, and don't forget to thank those who write your recommendation letters.
What Will I Learn?
Photography students learn fundamentals of art and design, how to operate a camera, how to use additional equipment, and the best editing practices. Top online photography programs cover copyright laws and ethics. While earning an online photography degree, look for ways to gain experience working with photography clients one-on-one. Even the best photography programs don't always offer classes about interpersonal communication. Within the program you must also take foundation and general education courses to earn an online photography degree. Schools typically require 50-60 general education credits, 30-35 degree-related credits, and 25-27 elective credits. Below are six common courses that most accredited colleges require:
Art Foundation Course
In this class, students learn about design elements, what defines art, and how to apply this knowledge through different mediums, such as photography. This course includes both lecture and studio time. Students can take a test to waive this course, but this option varies by university. This knowledge prepares students for success in advanced photography courses.
Small Format and Black and White Photography Course
Before jumping into digital or color photography, students complete a course that teaches small-format film photography. Some classes also cover the basics of how to develop photos. To complete this class online, you need access to a dark room. Mastering black and white film photography gives photographers the foundational knowledge they need to create complex digital images.
Color Photography Course
After mastering black and white photography, students work with color. Professors usually teach this class as a digital class and emphasize how to use the color balance function on different digital cameras. Design elements such as balance and color harmony are important in this course. This class prepares photographers for future careers by teaching them to pay more attention to color and how to take the best images in various lighting situations.
In this class, students learn how to use common editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, for advanced editing, and Lightroom for batch editing. Editing courses offer step-by-step instructions on how to complete common client requests, such as how to edit blemishes and how to edit photos taken in poor lighting situations. After learning the ins and outs of Adobe software, graduates can work as photographers or graphic designers.
Photography Seminar Course
In the last year of the program, students complete some form of a seminar class. During the semester, students develop their personal vision and photography style. Seminar courses also require a research project, typically about a noteworthy photographer's portfolio. Most students leave this class with a portfolio to show to potential employers.
Upon completing introductory online photography degree courses, students apply their knowledge through an internship. Some accredited universities require an unpaid internship to earn degree credit. An internship class prepares students for their future career by offering real-world experience to include in their portfolios.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Photography?
After earning a degree, students leave with the necessary core skills to work as a photographer, art curator, or film producer. You can also apply what you learn to different art mediums, such as painting or drawing. Students who pursue a graduate degree in photography often work as university professors. Familiarize yourself with the specific skills photography students learn and what you can do with your online bachelor's degree in photography so you know what to expect when you graduate.
Online photography programs teach hard and soft skills. During their studies, individuals learn the hard skill of operating a camera. Course material covers how to use aperture, shutter speed, and film speed (also known as ISO) to create stunning images in all lighting settings. Photographers must know how these settings work together in a balancing act. Students also learn the hard skill of photo editing. Freelance photographers, wedding photographers, and photojournalists who create their own signature editing style stand out from the crowd.
Soft skills are difficult to quantify. As a result, most photography programs test these skills through verbal and written essays. Critical thinking stands out as one of these soft skills. Learning how to evaluate your own work helps you continually improve. Another soft skill this program teaches is design expertise. By taking and editing numerous photos, students develop an eye for design. These soft skills help you succeed in future photography-related careers.
Potential Careers and Salaries
With a photography degree, graduates often pursue careers in the communication and art industries. These two broad industries have unique career fields. Once you earn your online photography degree, you can lend your creative talents to the film industry by working as a film producer or work in a museum and curate stunning photography exhibits to inspire future generations. If you like to create your own schedule, work as a freelance photo editor and lend your expertise to other photographers who need help with advanced Photoshop tasks. You can explore endless career options with a photography degree, and the more you refine specific photography skills, the more money you can make.
Annual Median Salary: $45,924
Art curators search for unique artwork to create a cohesive collection. These professionals work in museums and art galleries, but some work with individual clients to grow personal collections.
Annual Median Salary: $45,488
Photo editors use Adobe Suite programs, such as Photoshop and Lightroom, to digitally alter photographs. Some photo editors freelance for multiple clients, while others work for one organization.
Annual Median Salary: $71,620
Many professionals with photography degrees work in the film industry. Film producers use photographic skills to create moving pictures, rather than still pictures. Both jobs require the ability to operate a camera and artfully frame subjects.
Annual Median Salary: $34,070
Most people who earn photography degrees work as photographers. Freelance, wedding, and editorial photographers work behind the camera to produce images for businesses, nonprofits, or individual clients.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Photography?
For most entry-level photography jobs, a bachelor's degree suffices. Students can impress high-paying clients and employers by continually building upon skills and creating a robust portfolio. Professionals who want to quickly increase their earning potential or work in the secondary education field should earn a master's in photography. Advancing your education with an additional degree shows employers you have what it takes to complete advanced editing projects and work with difficult lighting equipment.
Earning an additional degree also helps you obtain experience in a specialized field such as videography or art curation. While an online photography degree remains a good starting point, a master's degree takes your knowledge to the next level. Most colleges require their photography professors to obtain this advanced degree.
Accreditation for Photography Bachelor's Programs
When it comes to applying for an online photography degree, accreditation is key. Unfortunately, unaccredited online colleges prey on individuals and charge expensive fees for invalid degrees. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design exists as the leading accrediting agency for photography programs. If your desired college doesn't possess accreditation for its photography program, make sure it holds either regional or national accreditation. Both expensive and affordable schools can obtain either regional or national accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education grants certificates to private agencies with regional or national accreditation.
If a school boasts regional accreditation, it means the institution received the honor from an agency that only accredits schools in a specific region. Colleges and universities with national accreditation receive accreditation from agencies with certification to evaluate schools across America. Schools with regional accreditation are more prestigious than schools with national accreditation, and their credits maintain a high transfer success rate.
Photography Professional Organizations
Your education shouldn't stop after you submit your last online photography degree assignment. Continue to look for ways to gain more knowledge. The photography industry constantly evolves, so professionals should evolve, too. Professional organizations provide photographers with a network of colleagues who often exchange tips and share news with one another. Most of these organizations also provide members with tools, such as resource libraries and webinars.
American Photographic Artists
APA provides members with affordable professional insurance plans, discounts on photography software, and a media card that expedites the airport check-in service process and provides a discount on excess baggage. This organization also connects members with potential clients.
American Society of Media Professionals
ASMP promotes photographers' rights, produces business publications for photographers, and connects clients with member photographers. Members must adhere to the organization's code of ethics, which aims to protect the industry's integrity. Join your local chapter to unlock all the benefits and meet talented photographers.
Professional Photographers of America
This organization aims to provide photographers with tools to increase their earnings. Members can take advantage of educational resources such as webinars and software discounts. PPA also offers an extensive list of insurance plans for member photographers. This large organization boasts a network of 30,000 creative members in more than 50 countries.