What Education Do You Need to Become a Photographer?

A degree program in photography can help develop the technical and artistic talents of photographers. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for photography graduates. View article »

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  • 0:01 Essential Information
  • 0:25 Education Requirements
  • 0:51 Undergraduate Programs
  • 1:45 Graduate Programs
  • 2:44 Salary & Job Outlook

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Video Transcript

Essential Information

Degree Level Bachelor's degree common but sometimes not required
Degree Field(s) Photography
Licensure/Certification None required
Experience Portfolio of relevant work typically required
Key Skills Creativity and visual thinking; knowledge of camera and lighting equipment as well as imaging editing software
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 3% growth
Average Annual Salary (2015) $40,280

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

While an eye for detail is necessary for a career in photography, many positions also require photographers to hold at least a bachelor's degree in photography. Colleges and universities also offer graduate degree programs in photography geared toward students looking to advance their skills or teach at the college level.

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Education Requirements

While some photographers lead successful careers with only experience and skill, many pursue formal career training through undergraduate degree programs. This is especially true for those in specialties such as industrial photography, photojournalism or scientific photography. Even photographers specializing in freelance and portrait photography often gain technical expertise through college degree programs.

Undergraduate Programs

Undergraduate degree programs in photography and related fields may be available at art schools, colleges and universities. Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography programs generally focus on hands-on instruction in the technical and creative aspects of the visual art. Courses may include photography techniques, studio lighting, color theory, graphic design, digital photography and artwork critique.

Upper-division courses may include studio classes in which students use advanced techniques including lighting and digital photography. These courses typically allow students to experiment with their photographic skills. Many photography degree programs culminate in a senior project. These projects help students to build their portfolios and transition to a career as a professional photographer.

Graduate Programs

Photographers interested in further developing their skills and advancing their careers may consider earning a master's degree. While some colleges and universities offer __Master of Fine Arts in Photography__ programs, which typically take 2-3 years to complete. Studio courses and independent study are the backbone of such degree programs. Students utilize their advanced knowledge of photography to complete various projects while pushing the boundaries of their creative abilities.

Students generally develop their own curricula according to areas of interest and complete visual and written thesis projects based on their graduate studies. Thesis projects may be displayed in university exhibitions. Completion of a master's degree program in photography may qualify graduates for teaching positions at community colleges and some 4-year colleges. Some programs prepare students for careers in postsecondary education by incorporating teaching courses.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

As of May 2015, the annual average salary for photographers was $40,280, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS. The BLS projected that employment of photographers in general would increase by 3% from 2014-2024, which was slower than average.

Anticipated growth rates for specialized photographers varied greatly though. For example, the Bureau projected that job prospects for portrait and commercial photographers could increase by 9%, while newspaper photographer positions were predicted to decrease by 41%.

In summary, photographers often have a bachelor's degree in photography, and could advance in their careers by completing a graduate program.

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