Photography degree programs teach students how to capture life's moments using traditional film and digital media. While 2-year associate degree programs introduce students to the basics of photography, such as lighting and camera operation, bachelor's and master's programs offer more advanced courses in photojournalism, digital photography and photo editing. Bachelor's and master's degree programs can also provide hands-on experiences in on-campus or off-campus settings, such as studios or newspaper offices.
Prerequisites include a high school diploma or GED for undergraduate programs and a bachelor's degree for master's-level training. Experiential learning may include internships and practical experience at a school's newspaper or magazine publication. A photography project is typically required for graduation.
Associate's Degree in Photography
Students in a photography associate's degree program gain basic knowledge about photographic elements and techniques. They learn about photo composition, camera use and maintenance, darkroom procedures and digital editing and processing. Students graduate from this degree program understanding how to compose portraits, manipulate photos with photo editing software and analyze settings for proper lighting and subject placement. Students learn how to manipulate the setting with lighting techniques and props in order to capture the essence of the moment. The following courses are often offered in a photography associate's degree programs:
- Film and plate development
- History of photography
- Camera operation and maintenance
- Special effects techniques
- Lighting effects
- Photo editing
Bachelor's Degree in Photography
A bachelor's degree program in photography delves into advanced photography concepts and techniques. Students learn about state-of-the-art digital technology, advanced composition techniques and photojournalism. This degree program teaches students about commercial, scientific, advertising and multimedia photography. Some degree programs offer students practical, hands-on internships with local photographers and portrait studios or even the school's newspaper or alumni magazine. A bachelor's degree program in photography lays a solid foundation in photographic art and history as well as advanced photographic techniques. Students hone their own professional skills in traditional and digital formats by completing the following courses:
- Analog and digital camera operation
- Photo editing
- Studio management
- Still and motion photography
Master's Degree in Photography
A master's degree program in photography usually is part of a broader film and photography degree program, building on a student's prior experience and knowledge. Students master advanced photographic concepts and techniques and are often required to produce a photographic graduate project and defend its purpose or stance. Applicants to these programs provide official transcripts to demonstrate a 3.0 or higher grade point average. Students in a master's degree program in photography study color theory, documentary film and photography, and advanced digital photography. Students also learn advanced techniques in photojournalism. Other courses may include:
- Advanced digital printing
- Communication law
- Photojournalism ethics
- News editing
An associate's degree program in photography prepares students for portrait and commercial photography. Graduates with an associate's degree in photography may find entry-level employment at newspapers, magazines or portrait studios. Many become entrepreneurs and open their own freelance photography businesses catering to portrait and wedding clientele. Graduates with a Master of Arts in Photography are prepared to lead photography departments at newspaper and magazine companies, as well as creative departments within advertising agencies. Many work as digital animators or illustrators for publishing companies. The following are common employment positions for graduates:
- Freelance photographer
- Portrait photographer
- Special events photographer
- Creative photography director
- Landscape photographer
- Documentary photographer or producer
- Scientific photographer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), over half of all photographers in the U.S. are self-employed. Many secure contracts with advertising agencies, publishers or stock photography businesses. Others operate their own photography studios. Salaried photographers often work for newspapers, magazines, online news outlets and advertising firms. These professionals earned an annual median salary of $31,710 in 2015.
Employment for photographers is predicted to grow 3% from 2014-2024. Portrait photography will experience much of this growth as the U.S. population increases. Digital photographers are expected to be in high demand as online newspapers, magazines and other forums seek digital photographs for their expanding outlets.
Continuing Education Information
Photographers are not held to licensing or certification requirements. Upon graduation from an associate's degree program, many spend their time and resources on building their portfolios and public credibility. Photographers may join professional organizations, such as Professional Photographers of America (PPA), which offers members a professional forum for educational development, advocacy and management services. Others may choose to pursue a bachelor's degree in photography. Photographers many attend conferences or seminars to stay abreast of changing technology and trends. Photographers interested in directorial positions at newspaper, magazine or other multimedia outlets may choose to pursue a master's degree in photography.
Aspiring photographers can consider degree programs at the associate's, bachelor's, or master's levels. These programs provide education in numerous aspects of the art of photography, including lighting, storyboarding, photo editing, and more, preparing students to enter the photographic field they're most interested in.