What is a Photography Degree?

Photography degree programs teach the technical, creative, and business skills required to be a professional photographer. Typical coursework includes:

  • History of Photography
  • Black-and-White Photography
  • Color Photography
  • Lighting Techniques
  • Materials and Processes
  • Two-Dimensional Design
  • Digital Photography
  • Photography as a Business

Students quickly learn that the creative aspects of photography are founded on the following:

  • The three basic elements of photography – aperture, shutter, and ISO
  • The seven most important elements of design in photography – line, shape, form, texture, pattern, color, space

Programs also explore different types of photography. The list below is by no means exhaustive; it does, however, demonstrate how diverse the field is:

  • Aerial Photography – images of the Earth from above
  • Composite Photography – features numerous photographs in a single image
  • Infrared Photography – reimagines the world by applying unconventional colors to subjects
  • Dance Photography – captures the strength, artistry, and beauty of dance
  • Food Photography – appetizing images of food
  • Macro Photography – makes small things, like tiny bugs, appear very large
  • Interior Photography – creates inspiring views of confined spaces
  • Natural Landscape Photography – images of the outdoors
  • Documentary Photography – reveals what often goes unnoticed, such as homelessness, street drug problem
  • Photojournalism – communicating news by photographs, especially in newspapers and magazines
  • Wedding Photography – include simple portraits and unconventional shots

Program Options

Certificate in Photography - Up to One Year Duration
Certificate programs in photography are generally offered at community colleges and can often be completed in less than a year. They are designed for students who wish to enter the field as quickly as possible and in a junior-level role. Courses typically include:

  • Fundamentals of Photography – the basic principles of photography
  • Digital Photography – how to use photography software, such as Adobe Photoshop
  • History of Photography – the creative and commercial evolution of photography
  • Film Photography – how film is developed; how to work in a chemical darkroom

Associate Degree in Photography - Two Year Duration
The associate degree in photography is normally offered as an Associate of Arts in Photography or an Associate of Science in Photographic Technology. Programs at this level last two years and are most often offered at community colleges and art schools. They prepare students for entry-level work in the field or for further education at the bachelor’s level. Coursework is composed of the following:

  • Color Photography – color photo theory and aesthetics; how to use transparency and negative film materials
  • Nature Photography – photography in natural environments
  • Studio Photography – how to use tungsten light and electronic flashes as lighting tools in studio settings
  • Photojournalism – utilizing lenses, film, and digital media to take photographs for newspapers, magazines, and other publications

Bachelor’s Degree in Photography - Four Year Duration
The four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Photography is typically offered by art schools, design institutes, and some universities. Students are commonly required to also take a specified number of general education courses. This level of degree is the most common among professional photographers. It prepares students to take on many roles in the field, either as employees or freelancers. The typical curriculum includes the following courses:

  • Contemporary Photography – examination of photography in the late 20 and 21 centuries; contemporary photography issues and ideas
  • Photographic Lighting Techniques – how to use different kinds of lighting in studio and location settings
  • Narrative Editorial Photography – how to research and execute story ideas
  • Advanced Illustrative Photography – how to use imagery in editorial, advertising, and fine art photography

Master’s Degree in Photography - Two Year Duration
The Master’s Degree in Photography or the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Studio Photography explores the theory and practice of photography at an in-depth level. It prepares students to work as artists, instructors, and other professionals in the field. Graduates at this level gain advanced, intricate knowledge in the areas described in the sections above. They also come away with a professional portfolio and business skills in communication, and problem-solving.

Degrees Similar to Photography

Art Direction
Like photographers, art directors are concerned with design, visual style, and imagery. Majors in the field include the magazine, newspaper, product packaging, movie, and television production sectors.

Fine Arts
In addition to photography, the fine arts provide several other similar degree options. Painting, drawing/illustration, and animation are some examples.

Graphic Design
The common goal of photography and graphic design is to produce visual concepts. Both disciplines employ layout, color, and other creative concepts to inspire and captivate.

Commercial Art
Professionals in this field combine art and business by using their creative skills to market and sell products and services.

Exhibit and Set Design
The world of set and exhibit design for large exhibitions and movie, television, and theater sets offers yet another option to students with a visual/design bent.

Film Production
Like photographs, films tell a story. The photographer and the film producer must be equally meticulous about all of the elements that contribute to that story. For the photographer, those elements are line, shape, form, texture, pattern, color, and space. For the producer, they are all of these plus sound.

Photography and journalism are clearly linked. Photos enhance articles and stories and articles and stories expand on photos.

Skills You’ll Learn

In addition to the technical photography expertise that degree holders in the field possess, they have a set of soft skills that are transferrable to many professional roles and to life itself:

  • Creativity
  • Concentration
  • Attention to Detail
  • Critical Thinking
  • Networking
  • Patience

What Can You Do with a Photography Degree?

Photography / Videography
Photographers and videographers use their artistic eye and technical knowledge to capture images on film, digitally, or on video. Specific occupational categories include portrait studios, television, film making, and freelancing.

Media / Photojournalism / Web Design
The artistic and creative skills that are taught in photography degree programs are central to many media occupations. First and foremost is photojournalism – taking and editing photographs for use in magazines, newspapers, and online. Web design, as well, calls for the ability to create the right structure, look, and feel for websites.

Advertising / Art Direction
Photography skills are also adaptable to the advertising field, in which art directors create visual concepts for brochures, magazines, websites, videos, and billboards.

Arts, Culture, and Publishing
Museums and galleries, as well as publishing and publicist firms hire curators and archivists to produce exhibits and preserve historical papers, letters, diaries, clippings, documents, maps, films, videos, sound recordings, and other records.

Photography degree holders can use their knowledge to teach the art, either on a freelance basis or with an art institute or college.


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