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Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Photography

Learn about the preparation needed to become a photographer. Get a quick view of the requirements for a career in photography as well as details about optional degree programs and certifications to find out if this is the career for you.

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Photographers are not required to have a degree or postsecondary training; however, formal education in photography can help develop crucial skills that can improve job prospects. It's possible to specialize in different types of photography while pursuing a degree, and this can lead to careers as a scientific or forensic photographer, or in photojournalism.

Essential Information

Photography is an artistic field that allows an individual to capture the world around them, to capture a moment in time. There are no specific certification or education requirements for a career in photography, although some training is often helpful in obtaining work as a professional. Read on to learn more about potential photography careers and education programs.

Education Optional degree programs and certifications
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (for all photographers)
Median Salary (2015)* $31,710 annually (for all photographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Photojournalist

Photojournalists work for news organizations, magazines and newspapers, taking pictures of compelling events such as political rallies, protests, sports events, battles or natural disasters for readers and viewers. Photojournalists, like all photographers, might also be self-employed. These photographers need to combine a good eye and composition abilities with an instinct for the 'scoop' and strong narrative skills. Photojournalists are also aided by strong interpersonal abilities.

Scientific Photographer

These photographers may work for research institutions or as freelancers, taking pictures of test results, subjects, phenomena, formations and other subjects of interest to researchers and scientists for archival purposes, comparison and analysis. Scientific photographers usually need strong knowledge of a scientific discipline, such as biology or entomology, in order to produce scientifically worthwhile photographs useful to the research community.

Forensic Photographer

Forensic photographers document evidence at accidents, fires, crime scenes and other situations of legal significance. Forensic photographers often come from careers in the criminal justice field. A forensic photography program might include instruction in digital photography techniques, including underwater and low-light photography, as well as chain of custody issues, the use of video cameras in collecting evidence and how to give accurate testimony in court.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes scientific photographers, aerial photographers, and photojournalists in its listing of photographer salary information (www.bls.gov). In 2014, the BLS noted that there were 124,900 photographers of all classifications employed in the U.S., of those 60% were self-employed with one third of all photographers employed only part time. The BLS also listed in May 2015 that photographers earned $31,710 as a median annual wage. Employment for these workers is predicted to grow at a slower than average rate for the years 2014-2024.

Education Options

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography

Courses in this 4-year degree program, only one of many educational options in photography, range from the history of photography to more technical classes, such as chemical darkroom studies, the differences between photography styles and digital photo editing and adjusting. Students take courses in art history, drawing and a variety of studio courses. An internship may be required.

Professional Certification

Professional photographers can earn certifications through organizations including the Professional Photographic Certification Commission (PPCC), which offers a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) designation or the Certified Evidence Photographer (CEP) credential. To earn the CPP, individuals must declare their candidacy and pass a certification exam and review of their professional portfolios within three years of the candidacy declaration. Within five years, a certified photographer will have to renew certification and can do so by taking another exam, completing 25 units of education or completing 10 units of education and submitting 20 photographs for review.

Also offered by the PPCC, the CEP designation includes an exam over topics such as camera systems and lights, exposure and legal aspects of photography. Applicants must submit a portfolio for review as well. As with the CPP designation, individuals have the option to retest for certification, or they may complete 30 hours of certification education.

Although formal training is not necessarily required to work as a photographer, a bachelor's degree can increase job prospects and can help aspiring photographers earn professional certifications. Some specialized areas of photography, such as forensic or scientific photography, may have postsecondary educational requirements that include training related to that field of work.

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