Photography Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a photography associate's or bachelor's degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate's and bachelor's degrees and potential careers.
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Study Photography: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

If you have an eye for detail and love capturing the world around you with a camera, an associate's or bachelor's degree in photography can help turn your hobby into a career. Although not all photography jobs require formal education, you'll need to possess technical skills, which you can learn through an associate's or bachelor's degree program. If you've set your sights on a more specialized photography career, such as photojournalism or scientific photography, you'll most likely need to earn a bachelor's degree.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that the overall number of photography jobs would increase at rate of 13% from 2010-2020, which is about as fast as average, but it predicted a 30% decline in newspaper-related photography jobs. Prospects for self-employed photographers are brighter, with a projected job increase of 15%.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to learn the skills necessary to become photographers People who want to work as news, scientific or commercial photographers, or those interested in general photography careers who want to improve their job prospects and skills
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Photographer ($29,000 - required education varies; some jobs require a bachelor's degree, while others require little or no formal education)*
- Production assistant ($28,000)**
For those with the necessary skills, formal education is usually not required for these jobs (salaries are unavailable):
- Portrait photographer
- Photography teacher
- Digital retoucher
- Photography assistant
Same jobs that are available to associate's degree holders, as well as the following:
- Biomedical photographer ($49,000)**
- Photojournalist (salary unavailable)
- Commercial/industrial photographer (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 2 years full-time, although some programs take a bit longer 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60 credits - About 120 credits
- Design/concept project
- Internship
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED (most programs have a minimum GPA requirement) - Same as those for the associate's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes (rare)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011) and **Salary.com (May 2012).

Associate's Degrees in Photography

Associate's degree programs in photography provide you with a comprehensive overview of basic photography techniques and the principles of entrepreneurship. While your coursework will cover the basic skills you'll need to find an entry-level photography job or work as a freelancer, it will not be as advanced as the coursework offered in bachelor's degree programs. You'll learn to identify different styles of photography, market yourself as a photographer and employ proper lighting techniques in the photos you take.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can learn the marketing and technical skills you need to run your own photography business, which is critical because 63% of photographers were self-employed as of 2010*
  • While you're in school or after you graduate, you'll have a better chance of securing an entry-level position as a photography assistant, where you can get hands-on experience and make professional contacts
  • Participating in a formal degree program will give you the opportunity to build your portfolio, which is important when you're looking for a job

Cons

  • An associate's degree is not required for many entry-level photography jobs, so it may be unnecessary if you already have the technical skills you need for these positions
  • Full-time programs typically take up to 2 years to complete, and many students graduate with significant debt
  • This degree won't qualify you for more technical jobs in areas like photojournalism and medical photography

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010).

Courses and Requirements

Associate's degree programs typically include a high proportion of classes that emphasize technical skills, such as lighting design and digital photography. These courses are supplemented by a few business and general education classes, which may include marketing, algebra, English and art history. In addition, some programs require you to enroll in courses that help you build your photography portfolio. Some more specialized photography courses you might take while pursuing your associate's degree include the following:

  • Photography techniques
  • Studio photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Photoshop

Note that programs may require you to purchase a large amount of photography equipment. For example, you may need to have items such as a digital SLR camera, tripods and lighting equipment, memory cards and photography software.

Online Availability

Some online associate's degree programs in photography can be completed via distance learning. The coursework you complete through an associate's degree program will be similar to what's offered on campus, but you'll communicate with your instructor and fellow students remotely. For example, you might participate in class discussions via online discussion boards and turn in your photography assignments by uploading digital images to a class website.

Stand Out with This Degree

According to the BLS, many photographers launch their careers by working as photography assistants. Consider contacting local photographers to see if any of them are interested in hiring you to assist them on a part-time basis. You might even offer to work as an unpaid intern in exchange for the chance to get real-world experience. The BLS also reports that photographers with photo editing and digital video skills will have the best job prospects, so be sure to take courses in these subjects if they're offered. In addition, developing a strong portfolio is important for getting hired, so take advantage of any opportunities your program offers to build one.

Bachelor's Degrees in Photography

Bachelor's degree programs will give you the chance to develop your technical photography skills while also gaining a broader understanding of photography's place in art, history and society. Upon graduating with your Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Photography, you will possess the skills to develop and shoot concepts, promote yourself as an artist, analyze your own work and critique the work of others. You'll also expand your knowledge by taking a wide variety of general education courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can qualify you for more specialized photography careers, like commercial and news photography
  • Programs typically include photo editing courses, and having this skill can improve your job prospects
  • Students will have more time to prepare for the job market by participating in internships and building their portfolios

Cons

  • A bachelor's degree is unnecessary for many photography careers, so you're likely to be competing for jobs with associate's degree and high school diploma holders
  • Some of the jobs this degree prepares you for, like news photography, involve irregular hours, frequent travel and exposure to dangerous conditions
  • You'll spend 4 years in school, which will delay the start of your photography career

Courses and Requirements

While earning your photography bachelor's degree, you'll complete technical photography classes in addition to history and art theory courses. Schools typically require students to take a wide variety of exploratory classes that are designed to introduce them to various types and styles of photography. This will give you a deeper understanding of the evolution of photography and how each style has impacted society. Bachelor's-level photography degree programs also include a few business courses to teach you how to effectively promote your work, and you'll take general education courses in math, communication and the social sciences as well. Here are some sample photography courses you might take while completing your BFA:

  • Composition in art
  • Contemporary photography
  • Black and white photography
  • Design for photography exhibitions

Some bachelor's degree programs also require you to participate in an internship. In addition, most programs stipulate that you must complete a capstone design or concept project.

Online Availability

There are a few online bachelor's degree programs in photography that you may consider if you don't have an appropriate on-campus program nearby. You'll take many of the same courses that on-campus students do, and you'll still be able to receive one-on-one attention from your professors via phone and email. However, if you don't live near your school, you won't have access to any photography facilities or equipment the school might provide. Before enrolling, you should carefully consider how this might impact your education.

Stand Out with This Degree

Since your portfolio can be an important consideration in the hiring process, build it carefully with an eye towards the type of work you'd like to do. You can also take advantage of opportunities your school offers for networking, since contacts you make may turn into potential job leads or clients upon graduation. It's also a good idea to gain on-the-job experience in your field of interest through an internship, even if your program doesn't require it.

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