Complete Guide to an Online Photography Degree
Photography involves the artistic production and manipulation of images. An online photography degree prepares students to work at a high level in the photography industry. In order to be a successful photographer, a great deal of creativity must be combined with a strong technical ability and good equipment. Photography professionals understand the role that lighting, composition, shape, shadow, negative space, and background, among other considerations, play in their discipline.
While there isn't a specific programmatic accreditation agency for photography, there are agencies that award institutional accreditation for schools and distance learning institutions offering photography degrees. These institutions ensure quality standards are met. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a list of accrediting agencies and accredited schools. Those interested in transfering credits or going on to pursue graduate studies should also pay close attention to accreditation status when researching an online photography degree. Read More
Comprehensive List of Schools for an Online Photography Degree (4)
Overview of Available Online Photography Degrees
Education in photography should not only involve the field itself, but also interdisciplinary classes such as business management, art history, communications and journalism, or literature. Photography classes are available in many settings outside of academia, but the majority of employers prefer to hire those who have earned official, formal college degrees in the subject. Liberal arts universities may offer education in the discipline, as do art schools that specialize exclusively in photography.
Online photography programs are available at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, and master's degree level. These programs are typically fine art degrees, which teach students the skills to take compelling photos of diverse subject matter. Students take classes in design, composition, lighting, visual culture, and art history. In studio classes, students shoot photos to hone their skills in particular photographic areas. Associate and bachelor's degree programs offer a broader education than certificates. Alongside the requirements of their major, students must take classes in liberal arts, math, science, and other subjects to get a well-rounded education. Master's degrees in photography require a thesis, a lengthy creative project that requires a year or more of work. Some photography programs also include courses in journalism, communications, photo-editing software, and new media.
Photography is a fast-growing and competitive industry. Creative individuals who love to document events, inform others, and capture human nature through images are likely well-suited for a career as a photographer. Many programs prepare students for entry-level careers in competitive, professional fields like advertising, production, news and media, publishing, and photo labs. Entry-level positions include photographer assistants, studio managers, production assistants, and digital retouchers. Photography graduates may also become fine art photographers, portrait and wedding photographers, or commercial photographers.
Photographers look at life through a distinct lens and create images that convey a wide range of messages to the public. Associate degree programs in this field can give individuals the tools and knowledge needed to cultivate their craft. Most programs require students to commit to two years of full-time study and complete 60 credit hours. High school graduates and GED recipients are eligible for enrollment. Along with tuition, students will have to pay for their own photography supplies and equipment. Supplies include digital cameras, memory cards, backup batteries, lenses, tripods, lighting, an Internet connection, and photo-editing software programs.
It takes more than raw talent to become a successful photographer. Aspiring professionals in this field learn business and technical concepts and develop their artistic skills. Associate degree students learn how to operate photography equipment and capture and adjust images. Core classes include the history of photography, digital photography, photojournalism, commercial photography, basic drawing, studio portraiture, photography for publication, nature and landscape photography, lighting, darkroom techniques, Photoshop, business management, and black-and-white photography. Many photography programs encourage or require students to participate in internships to develop their technical skills.
Associate degree holders in photography often become freelance photographers in the photojournalism and commercial photography industries. Others enter the workforce as photo editors, portrait studio photographers, or assistants to established photographers. Students who are interested in teaching positions or leadership roles at private corporations should continue their education by pursuing a bachelor's degree.
Bachelor's programs in photography cover the visual communication and technical skills to produce compelling photos. Students are given a rigorous education, studying elements of photography and image manipulation where they have the opportunity to work with professional camera and lighting equipment. These programs take four years to complete and about 120 credit hours of coursework. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED. Some may also require the submission of an art or photography portfolio.
The first half of the bachelor's program will include general education requirements, such as math, history, and science. The second half of the program will be devoted to a core photography curriculum covering topics such as photographic foundational principles, black-and-white photography, history of photography, digital photography, and photographic composition. Students learn how to use various types of equipment and work with different types of editing software. Photography programs may come with a particular specialization or allow students to choose a focus area. Possible focuses include visual communication, commercial photography, scientific photography, art photography, or photographic journalism.
Bachelor's graduates can become photographers in a variety of professional settings, including commercial photographic services, newspaper publishing, television production, retail portrait studios, and colleges and universities. About 63 percent of photographers are self-employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts strong job competition for photography positions in the next few years, as many positions do not require any particular educational credential or training. Photographers who are skilled in more than one multimedia area, such as digital picture and film editing, are likely to have better job opportunities.
The master’s degree in photography is designed to train students in the most cutting-edge techniques and allow them to develop a portfolio of high-quality work that reflects their own artistic vision. Students usually complete two to three years of coursework in a master's degree program. Applicants typically need an accredited bachelor’s degree, as well as letters of recommendation and a photography portfolio.
The photography curriculum is unique in that it provides students with ample amounts of time to develop their photography skills in context. Most programs are fine arts programs, meaning that the courses focus on photography practice, rather than the academic study of the art. During studio courses, students take photographs in a variety of environments and settings; graduate seminars provide students with an understanding of the history and future of the photography field. Students often complete a thesis project during the final year of the program, which typically consists of a cohesive and high-quality set of photos.
As a fine arts degree, the master’s degree program in photography is generally not geared toward a particular career track. Current fine art and journalistic photographers can use the program to hone their craft and gain the necessary credential to teach at the university level. In addition to fine arts photography programs, there are also are some professional practice master’s degrees in photography, which can be useful for individuals who need training in the nuts and bolts of the practice, such as image processing, color management, and editorial photography. Master's degrees may also be appropriate for students who desire high-responsibility photojournalist jobs or who would like to be a photographer in the scientific or medical fields.
The certificate in photography provides those new to the field with an understanding of the skills for composing and developing high-quality photographs. These programs require 5 to 10 courses and can be completed in about one year. Photography certificates are available through university extension programs, community colleges, art institutes and online colleges and universities. Most programs have open admissions, meaning that all applicants are invited to apply, regardless of previous education.
The curriculum of the photography certificate is generally based on hands-on skills relating to shooting and developing photos in a variety of contexts. Foundational photography courses discuss digital photography, cameras and equipment, exposure, the use of flash, and other basic skills for taking pictures at different lighting and action levels. Photograph development and manipulation courses discuss manual darkroom development techniques and the use of software such as Photoshop for digital photo editing. Many programs allow students to choose an elective or two in a particular photography area, such as studio, action, wedding, or architectural photography.
Photography is a career area that is typically based on skills and evidence of high-quality work, rather than the attainment of a particular credential. The photography certificate can be a relatively quick, useful introduction to the field for amateur and aspiring professional photographers. The skills learned in the program can help students assemble a portfolio of work in their particular area of photography to help them begin their own business or find employment in settings such as photographic services and newspaper publishing.
Accreditation helps ensure that the school you choose to attend has been thoroughly evaluated by an independent organization and that it meets high academic standards. The US Department of Education (USDE) recognizes several independent accreditation agencies that set high standards of excellence for colleges and universities, many of which offer photography degree programs. The USDE and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation each provide a list of those accredited institutions.
Even though accreditation isn't usually a requirement to become a professional photographer or photographer's assistant, potential employers may prefer to hire people who have graduated from an accredited school, as it indicates that they have a solid foundation in the academic principles of photography. Additionally, if you plan to transfer to another school or continue your education by persuing further education later, the type of accreditation your school has earned (whether it be regional, national, or hybrid) can be of critical importance.
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accessed June 9, 2014. http://www.chea.org/search/default.asp.
- The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. US Department of Education. Accessed June 9, 2014. http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation.
- Photographers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed June 9, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm.