Education Needed for a Photography Career

A photographer requires no formal education. Learn about the education options, job duties and optional certification to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Photographers work in industries like portrait photography, journalism, advertising and science. Because many photographers are self-employed, only a small number hold salaried positions. Although no postsecondary education is required to enter this field, many aspiring photographers seek fine arts undergraduate degrees in photography. Photographers can also earn a voluntary certification.

Required Education High school diploma
Projected Job Growth 4% from 2012-2022*
Median Salary (2013) $29,280 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Needed to Become a Photographer

An undergraduate fine arts degree program in photography is different from a standard arts degree because it emphasizes studio work and the completion of a final project. Applicants to such bachelor's degree programs in photography should have strong artistic sensibilities and be able to grasp technical concepts and techniques.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography (BFA)

A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography program is studio intensive and challenges students to master photographic principles and develop distinct styles. Many fine arts programs allow students to choose a major area of study. Some possible concentration areas include commercial photography, fine arts photography and biomedical photography; however, most BFA programs in photography focus solely on the area of fine arts. Some key topics covered in a photography curriculum include photographic practices, color digital photography, large format photography and documentary photography.

Many of these classes require that students spend a significant amount of time taking pictures in the field and gaining experience with photographic equipment, such as tripods, lighting equipment and meters. During the final year of the photography program, each student develops a portfolio of work on a particular subject of interest, working closely with their advisers to develop a theme that is closely mirrored in the work. Graduates can use these portfolios to demonstrate professional competency to future employers. It is not uncommon for a student's final project to be exhibited at a university's museum.

Optional Certification

The Professional Photography Certification Commission offers the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) designation. Those interested in certification must declare their candidacy by filling out an application and paying a fee. Then, candidates must take the CPP examination. The exam covers technical topics in lighting, color and exposure. Finally, candidates must submit photographic images for review. Benefits of the CPP designation include proof of professional competency to potential clients and a listing in the photographer referral service offered through the Professional Photography Certification Commission.

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