Commercial Photography Degree Program Information

Oct 23, 2019

Individuals interested in commercial photography can develop their skills through associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs. These programs emphasize the technical aspect of photography as well as the business side of the industry.

Essential Information

Undergraduate degree programs in commercial photography educate students in topics such as equipment use, darkroom technology, digital photo editing and photography history. Some bachelor's programs offer concentrations in fashion photography or fine arts photography. Master's degree programs often vary based on what photographic topic the student wishes to study, but usually require a thesis or final project to graduate. However, coursework at both levels combine classroom instruction with practical experiences. Once completed, graduates can pursue certification from professional organizations. Undergraduate degrees require a high school diploma or GED. Master's degrees expect a bachelor's degree and three to five years of photography work experience.

Associate's Degree in Commercial Photography

This 2-year program engages the technical aesthetic and business-oriented aspects of the photographic medium. Program content examines conventional film-based and digital imaging systems, natural and artificial light and methods of altering or manipulating an image for use in merchandising. Classes covering formal and technical topics may be concentrated in the first year and commercial topics covered the second year. Course topics may include:

  • Camera technology
  • Lighting
  • Darkroom procedures
  • Black & white photography
  • Color photography

Bachelor's Degree in Commercial Photography

This program can be completed in four years and includes practical experience shooting film or digital images. Students learn to use a range of studio cameras, lighting equipment, photo manipulation software and electronic publishing tools. They are also introduced to business dimensions of photography, including copyright, licensing and promotion. Courses are likely to include:

  • History of photography
  • Digital image editing
  • Photography for advertising
  • Web photography
  • Catalog photography

Master's Degree in Commercial Photography

Students enrolled in this 2-year program are allowed to intensively explore concepts and techniques introduced in undergraduate programs. They are also encouraged to develop a characteristic mode of expression while functioning within the constraints of commercial obligation. Some programs are offered as a degree in visual communication or a degree in art with a commercial photography emphasis. Courses may include:

  • Photographic representational theory
  • Photographic art
  • Studio craft and procedure
  • Commercial photography trends
  • Illustrative photography

Popular Career Options

Those with an associate's degree often become photography lab technicians, photography assistants or photographers. Commercial photographers may either freelance or work directly for an agency. A wide range of fields use the services of commercial photographers, and they may work as a(n):

  • Corporate commercial photographer
  • Consumer product commercial photographer
  • Industrial commercial photographer
  • Aircraft commercial photographer
  • Stock or editorial commercial photographer

Bachelor's degree holders can seek those positions as well other career options such as:

  • Photo equipment salesperson
  • Photo editor
  • Photo retoucher
  • Studio manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Commercial photographer positions are generally found in the fields of wedding, portrait, advertising, industrial and stock photography. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of photographers from 2018 to 2028 would decrease by 6% ( This is due to enhancements in digital technology, which has made it easier for amateur photographers to enter the profession. As of May 2018, the median salary of photographers was $34,000, according BLS statistics.

Continuing Education

All degree holders are eligible for certifications offered by the Professional Photographic Certification Commission (PPCC) and the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). PPCC and PPA certification both entail passing an exam and submitting a portfolio to a panel of judges. The PPA requires photographers to renew their certification every five years.

Degree programs in commercial photography can include lecture courses and hands-on learning opportunities. Graduates may pursue professional certification or hold a number of different job titles, including photo lab technicians or photo editors.

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