The educational requirements for professional photographers can vary widely. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, techniques, skill and a professional portfolio can be more important to budding photographers than a degree program. However, photojournalists and scientific photographers are often required to have at least a bachelor's degree. A certificate or undergraduate degree program in photographic imaging or photography can provide students with the skills necessary to create their own portfolio of work or to work as a photographer's assistant, dark room technician or computer imaging specialist.
Prerequisites can include a high school diploma or equivalent, transcript, placement test, preliminary art and photography courses. Other requirements may also include an internship, portfolio project, or work/study depending on the program. Most programs generally last 2-4 years.
Certificate in Photographic Imaging
Students in a certificate program in photographic imaging learn the basics of portrait, still life and commercial photography, including shooting, developing, editing and printing photos. Many programs also include marketing and portfolio development for those seeking to sell their work. Students can learn specialized skills including camera mechanics, digital imaging, photo composition and lighting, photo development and photo preservation. Courses include a significant amount of studio learning and assignments, necessary for a student to attain competence in a variety of photographic techniques. Students with demonstrable experience may be able to have some introductory courses waived upon a review of their portfolio. Some common classes are:
- Photography history
- Black and white photography
- Digital imaging
- Portrait photography
- Retouching images
Associate Degree in Photographic Imaging
Several community colleges offer 2-year programs in photographic imaging. The A.A.S program generally focuses more on technical skills, such as photography equipment expertise, computer imaging and digital photograph management. The A.A. degree program generally emphasizes liberal arts studies. Students become proficient in manipulating cameras and laboratory equipment to achieve specific effects and in assembling photographs in montages, videos, portfolios or other presentation methods. Extensive training in historical and contemporary photography, aesthetics, professionalism and business is included. Students must complete general education courses such as math, science and English. In addition to visual communications and photojournalism, classes that many students take include:
- Color photography
- Lighting techniques
- Darkroom procedures
- Commercial photography
- Professional photography
- Portfolio photography
Bachelor's Degree in Photographic Imaging
Colleges and universities offer 4-year bachelor's degree programs in photographic imaging. In the bachelor's degree program, students enroll in rigorous photography classes in order to attain comprehensive skill sets. Intensive studio courses assure that students have plenty of time to experiment with equipment, photography techniques and their own creative skills in order to refine their individual specializations and produce original works. Students create portfolios that showcase their talents. While enrolled, students must fulfill general education requirements like composition, English, math and science. In addition to core classes in the technical and aesthetic components of photography, development, editing and printing, science courses such as physics, chemistry and color science help students understand the fundamentals of the photography process. Along with advanced photography and lighting techniques, courses offered generally include:
- Photographic expression
- Photography materials
- Digital image manipulation
- Commercial photography
- Photographic chemistry
- Technical writing
Because both amateurs and established professionals may earn a certificate in photographic imaging, careers for graduates vary and some of these careers may require additional education or training. Career possibilities include:
- Freelance photographer
- Assistant to experienced photographer
Upon graduating from an associate degree program in photographic imaging, students are prepared to find entry-level employment in an array of fields. Some common job titles are:
- Professional photographer
- Computer imaging specialist
- Photograph framer
- Photo studio assistant
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in photographic imaging are prepared to work in photography or a related visual field. Although freelance and professional photographer remain common job titles, individuals with a bachelor's degree can also find commercial, scientific or technical photography jobs. A recent graduate might obtain a job as a(n):
- Photographic archivist
- Custom-image printer
- Commercial photographer
Continuing Education Information
Some individuals who complete certificate programs are already employed as professional photographers or in related careers, so they continue taking classes throughout their career to satisfy job requirements or keep up their technical and professional skills. Other graduates opt to formalize their further education and obtain an associate or bachelor's degree in order to advance in their careers.
Although there are career options available to those who hold an associate degree in photographic imaging, students may continue their education at the bachelor's degree level. Some students decide to major in fields such as marketing or business administration if their career goals include working in the photographic imaging business. Other students seek to continue working on their technical and aesthetic skills and earn a higher degree in photographic imaging.
Upon graduating with a bachelor's degree in photographic imaging, some students choose to attend graduate school to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Photography, Master of Professional Studies in Photography or a similar degree. Completion can take 1-3 years depending on the degree pursued. An advanced degree program in photography expands the talents and knowledge that a photographer already possesses, fosters individual style and creativity, enhances the student's awareness of contemporary photography issues and may increase a photographer's marketable skills.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, photographers employed in aerospace product and parts manufacturing earned the highest average salary (www.bls.gov). Self-employed photographers may complete projects for companies for a set fee or manage their own studios. Their wages can vary significantly but the majority of self-employed photographers earn less than salaried photographers. The BLS reported that employment growth for photographers was expected to decrease 6% between 2018 and 2028. According to the BLS, the middle half of salaried photographers earned between $23,970 and $53,520 as of May 2018.
Certificate or undergraduate degree photography programs prepare interested individuals for a number of different environments in the field and usually result in a portfolio. In these programs, students will complete courses about topics like color photography, portfolio photography, and digital image manipulation.