Online Photography Degree and Certification Information

Get info about online programs in photography. Read about program requirements, course topics and degree levels, and check out career and continuing education options.

Essential Information

Individuals beginning their training in photography may want to seek an online certificate or associate's degree program. Online courses allow students to view lectures and complete class assignments at any time, although there are established due dates for assignments. Students will need a digital camera and photo editing software that meet school standards. Programs are also available in a blended format for interested students.

A photography certificate program usually consists of only several courses and teaches fundamental skills, such as composition, lighting and photo editing. An associate's degree program generally requires two years of study and provides students with more advanced training in the fundamentals of the craft. Students in either program may learn about graphics, digital editing software, and Web design, but the depth of study varies between program types. Applicants to these programs may need to provide a photography portfolio in some cases.

Photography Certificate

In online photography certificate programs, students learn introductory skills in photography, such as presentation, digital shooting, lighting and design. Some schools offer dual concentration certificate programs that combine photography with studies in areas of illustration, graphic design, Web design or game art. The courses may be transferable into an associate's degree program.

Program Information and Requirements

These online certificate programs consist of anywhere from 3-13 courses, depending on areas of concentration and school requirements. Most do not require any in-person work. There may be specific timeframes required to complete assignments, tests, lessons and modules. Students interact with faculty and participate in online discussions on forums and by e-mail. Access to a personal computer and the Internet are required to participate. Participants also need a digital camera with a minimum capture requirement. For certain classes, students may need specific graphics editing software, such as Photoshop.

Course Topics

Coursework in these certificate programs focuses on basic skills in black and white, color and digital photography. Techniques for using editing software, such as Photoshop, may also be covered. Some of the common courses and descriptions are below.

Digital Photography

Students of this class learn to capture quality images using digital photography equipment. The class teaches basic skills in camera operations, uses and controls, along with skills like storage, printing, framing and workflow.

Black and White and Color Photography

This class studies color theory and composition in digital photography, along with black and white photography issues in balancing functions, operations, focus and settings. Some areas of focus include exposure, light, print, pre-visualization and planning.

Photo Editing

Students learn to use graphics software to edit digital photos. Design, enhancement and cropping are some of the functions explored. The class also strengthens photography visual communication and problem-solving skills.

Photography Associate's Degree

Online associate's degree programs in photography focus on building digital design skills, and may include industry-related studies in communications, web design and marketing. Prospective students must provide an official, sealed high school transcript or its equivalent. Although a portfolio is not generally required for undergraduate admittance, some schools will review them for possible course requirement waivers. Graduates are awarded an Associate of Arts (AA) degree.

Program Information and Requirements

Associate's degree programs in photography take approximately two years to complete and include about 110 credit hour requirements. Some of these programs are offered entirely online, while others combine distance education with on-campus classes. Contact with instructors and other students is done via e-mail, phone, fax or online discussions. Some schools use conferencing software that allows live interaction in classes.

Students may need specific camera equipment or computer software to participate in certain courses. Books and materials are normally ordered online, sometimes using a school-specific website. Some schools also require a specific operating system, such as Mac OS or Windows, and up-to-date versions of an Internet browser, such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Safari.

Course Topics

Associate's degree-level coursework in photography focuses on fundamentals, design, history, concepts and lighting. Listed below are some typical courses and their descriptions.

Fundamentals of Photography and Design

This class emphasizes light, composition and camera operation fundamentals in photography. Students also learn the tools for creating and editing web graphics, working with layers, organizing web pages and using interactive media software.


Students learn techniques for lighting shots and for photographing under various lighting conditions. They may also study light as it relates to surface quality, shape and structure. Other areas of concentration include the basic products used in commercial product photography, as well as how to design settings personalized to subjects.

Color Photography

This class explores theory, pre-visualization and composition of color photography. The principles and techniques of shot planning, exposure consideration and processing are other topics of study.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), freelance or portrait photographers generally need technical proficiency or vocational training for entry-level positions, and photographers may start out as an assistant to experienced photographers. The BLS also reported that the number of photography positions was expected to grow by 3% between 2014-2024, and that, as of 2014, positions in photojournalism, industrial photography or scientific photography generally required a bachelor's degree. Also, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for photographers in May of 2015 was $31,710 (

Continuing Education and Certification Information

For photographers who wish to further their education, online programs are available in a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree specializing in photography. Also, professional certification is available through the Professional Photographers of America. Photographers must pass a written, technical examination and have their work reviewed by a panel of judges to achieve the designation of Certified Professional Photographer. To maintain certification, photographers must abide by a code of ethics and re-certify every five years.

Aspiring photographers can enroll in online certificate or associate's degree programs in photography to develop their skills in lighting, photo editing, digital photography and more. Bachelor's and master's degree programs are available, as well as professional certification, for graduates wishing to advance their careers and knowledge of the field.

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