Two-year associate's and four-year bachelor's degree programs in digital photography offer foundational skills through courses that cover lighting, the photography business, digital photo editing and types of cameras. Students may also study photography history and other aspects of the field that remain unchanging, such as photocomposition. To enter an associate's or bachelor's program, students need a high school diploma or equivalent. Applicants to a bachelor's program may also have to submit a digital portfolio as a prerequisite.
Master's degree programs are aimed at more experienced students and focus on advanced techniques and photo criticism. Many master's programs require the completion of an internship, as well as a thesis or final photo project before graduation. Most master's degree programs take about two years to complete. Students applying to a master's program are required to have an undergraduate degree, as well as a portfolio.
Associate's Degree in Digital Photography
Associate's degree programs in digital photography introduce students to photography fundamentals and typically offer Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Arts degrees. Coursework includes introductory study of traditional photography and prepares students for a variety of professional photography career paths. Students learn essential computer skills and camera techniques and begin to develop a digital portfolio that showcases their skills and style. Common topics of study include:
- Photography history
- Color vs. black and white photography
- Lighting techniques
- Photography as a business
Bachelor's Degree in Digital Photography
Bachelor's degree programs typically offer Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. These programs develop a student's photography skills by studying advanced camera and computer applications. Advanced courses examine the professional photography field. Students explore ways to develop business prowess and craft a unique and creative style. Photography theory and computer editing are major emphases in these programs. Professional portfolios are further developed through courses in:
- Advanced digital photography
- Pop culture photography
- Website and Web photo design
- Sports photography
- Color theory and photo essays
- Digital publishing
Master's Degree in Digital Photography
Master's degree programs in digital photography offer Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts degrees for students and professional photographers looking to gain higher credentials and become an expert in digital photography. Graduate study is considered the terminal degree for digital photography. Students may take advanced theory and criticism courses and are often required to write a graduate thesis. Student photographers may also have to opportunity to intern with photography agencies and studios. Graduate programs cover advanced study in:
- Photographic arts
- Advanced digital, camera and studio craft
- Digital printing
- Art criticism
- Professional portfolio development
- Black and white craft
Popular Career Options
Graduates with an associate's degree can apply for entry-level jobs in the field. Beginning photographers may work in a variety of professional industries, operate their own studios or freelance. With constantly developing technologies, it's important for a photographer to have expertise in digital platforms. While advanced degrees may qualify photographers for higher paying jobs, a solid professional network and a creative website for digital portfolio presentation are equally important factors to acquire new clients and further develop a reputation. Other possible career paths for a digital photographer include:
- Architectural, forensic or commercial photographer
- Digital photo editor
- Photography teacher
- Freelance fine art photographer
- Portrait, wedding and event photographer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), photographers can expect 6% decline in employment opportunities from 2018 to 2028, which is slower than average. The BLS also reported that the median annual wage for photographers in 2018 was $34,000.
Some organizations offer photographer certification that is typically achieved through written tests and portfolio submission. Certification may be required for certain occupations, such as forensic photography. Certification exams test students in multiple areas of photography and may evaluate student photos.
To summarize, associate's degree programs offer an introduction to the field of photography, bachelor's degree programs provide more advanced coursework and master's degree programs provide high-level training for photography experts.