Did You just graduate high school, have a camera and are interested in Photography? If Your goal is to become a professional photographer and make money off of Your hobby, then going for a Photography Major might help You in Your career goals.
On the other hand, there are a lot of photographers who didn’t go to college to major in photography but simply turned their hobby into a profession by educating themselves about that subject.
Therefore I want to present what it means to go college and work towards a photography major, including the job prospects and presenting online photography courses.
The Photography Major Degree
A common misconception is, that a professional photographer’s main job is to take pictures and that most of his focus should go into this task and therefore a photography major is mostly about becoming a better photographer. In reality, a photography major covers a lot of tasks and taking better pictures is just a very very small part. Often, there aren’t even a lot of hours invested in the craft of photography, but spend learning the theory of photography.
While pursuing a photography major, it is expected from You, that You invest these necessary hours into becoming a better photographer in Your free time.
The Photography Degree is mostly there to give You the knowledge and tools that make You better in the long-run.
As photography is a creative art, You can not expect Your tutors to “instruct” You how to do photography, but You have to find Your one way and style.
A Photography degree includes courses like the history of art, compositional theory, photojournalism and sometimes even darkroom classes.
Some more practical courses usually teach You about lighting subjects, editing techniques and characteristics of digital photography.
During Your study, You might have the chance to specialize further in one area, for example, photojournalism if that is more interesting to You, but if You start in a general photography major, You will get a broad overview about the field of Photography.
In case You already know, that You are more passionate about Documentary Photography, for example, there might be better choices, like going for a photojournalism degree from the start.
Online Photography Courses
Of course, You can also pursue Your photography major online. There are a lot of programs out there, where You have to complete the courses and at the end of the program, can graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Online Photography Courses might be interesting for You if You wish to pursue own photography projects already and don’t feel that You have the time to attend courses physically.
Completing a photography degree online requires a lot of will-force and discipline. Often times students drag out online courses because they don’t feel the same pressure at the comfort of their home, than when living near campus.
Another disadvantage is, that You aren’t able to meet all the other photography students and get inspired by discussions or by viewing their work.
Studying is not all about the subject, but also a lot about social interaction and already building a network that can be beneficial after graduation.
An online photography course can’t offer that, therefore You should be very careful in Your choice whether to graduate via an online photography course or by attending physically.
Another disadvantage is, that You have to buy all of the equipment Yourself. While Colleges usually have some equipment that You can use, online photography courses, don’t have these options.
Options after The Bachelor
You are in the middle of Your completing Your photography degree, or have already acquired Your bachelor and don’t have an idea what comes next?
Well, after completing the bachelor’s program, there are multiple career paths possible for You.
The most obvious one is working as a photographer. I will be explaining this option more detailed later on.
The bachelor degree mostly conveys very basic information about photography. As I told earlier, everyone starts at the same point, regardless of their focus of interest. Students that are interested in portrait photography study together with those that are more passionate about journalism.
If You feel, that the bachelor’s degree wasn’t really enough and You would like to know more about a specialized field, then going for a master’s degree in photography might be a viable option for You.
These programs feature smaller groups of students and more interaction with the tutors, which can help You to develop Your personal photography vision.
Not only if You want to work in a more specialized field, can going for the master’s degree be useful, but also if You are interested in teaching photography Yourself.
Colleges & Universities With a Photography Major
There are many different ways to becoming a professional photographer. Below is a list of Colleges & Universities You can attend for Your Photography Major.
These Colleges & Universities differ heavily in their focus for the photography program, their tuition fees and the equipment that they are offering.
This list is just a very basic overview, that can give You a first impression of the Colleges & Universities that offer a Photography Major program.
California Institute of the Arts
“With its roots in still photography, the BFA and MFA tracks support students in a broad range of media and approaches, including still and moving images, installation, new media, sound, performance, and publication. All grounded in conversations about the histories of photography and media, the politics of representation, the changing role of cameras and photography in our daily lives, social documentary and activism.”
Rochester Institute of Technology
“The School of Photographic Arts and Sciences prepares students for a wide range of exciting careers in photography and the ever-changing field of imaging. Bachelor of Science degree graduates realizes a 94.1 job success rate upon graduation. While Photographic Arts (BFA) degree graduates see a 93.4 job success rate. Image making is taught through courses investigating methods and aesthetics required in pictorial and information-based images, videos, websites, and publications. In 2014, Resource Magazine, a quarterly photo and video publication for image makers worldwide, ranked RIT Photography # 2 in its ranking of “15 Great College and University Photography Programs in the U.S.” The MFA program in Imaging Art, Photography and Related Media was nationally ranked #6 by US News and World Report.”
Rhode Island School of Design
“RISD approaches photography as an ever-changing set of technical, conceptual and aesthetic conditions that exist within a broad social and cultural context. Students delve into the making, presentation and interpretation of photographic images, exploring photography as both a language and a craft. Ultimately, they learn how to use cultural signifiers, symbols and metaphors in the content and structure of image making.”
School of Visual Art
“With everyone having cameras on their smartphones and Instagram accounts, it can be forgotten that truly great photography requires talent and skill that involves aesthetic ability coupled with some technical know-how. Our program is armed with professional photographers and artists who can help make your work stand out from the barrage of images around us.
We have many courses to respond to the diverse fields of photography, covering fashion, journalism, documentary, commercial, advertising, sports, fine art photography and more.
Our faculty can give you insight into the various commercial channels of photography, including fashion, advertising, and fine art photography.”
University of California (Los Angeles)
“Focusing on the interrelation of photography and art, study in this area is directed toward works of art made using photographs. Ability to understand and discuss photography’s unique historical, material, and narrative potential is emphasized over technical considerations. Work in installation art and video in conjunction with photography is encouraged.”
Photography Major Jobs
A major in photography is no job guarantee after graduation, nor should You expect to work in regular employment. A photojournalism degree, for example, means that You are mostly responsible for Yourself in finding assignments.
Most of the graduates work as freelance photographers or are self-employed.
To not be surprised by this situation, You should already try to find some work during Your time at the college. Another factor that helps You to find work is by networking any establishing already some client base.
Whether You want to work as a freelancer in photography or find an employee who wants to hire You to hire You full-time, these are only two possible career paths.
The photography degree prepares You to be more than a “simple” photographer but often does include courses in graphic design, or video editing.
So if You realize that photography itself isn’t what You want to pursue for the rest of Your life, the degree still helps You to find jobs in neighboring fields.
Within the realm of photography, there are also a lot of different directions You can go.
Here are some areas where You can work with a major in photography.
Fine Arts Photographer
As You can see there are more styles of photography than doing portraits.
Even fields like scientific photography, where creativity isn’t really necessary but the craftsmanship is more in focus can be interesting to pursue, because of their good job perspectives and the higher salary.
Photography Major Salary
Making money in a creative field like photography is very difficult. Income is very unstable and in general, photography isn’t a 9 to 5 job where You go to work and at the end of the day, You get Your paycheck.
There are times, where You can’t find clients that are willing to pay Your price and then there may be stressful phases where You have to decline customers because You are already fully booked.
As a lot of photographers are working as freelancers, comparing the salary isn’t really fair, as it depends a lot on the individual person.
Nonetheless, I want to give You a very rough estimate of the earning of photographers according to U.S. statistics.
First of all, You should be aware, that photography isn’t a career path to become rich quickly. Your motivation to become a photographer should come from within and because You are passionate about that field.
The median photography salary in the U.S. is at around $43,000.
This number comes with heavy fluctuations and at the lower end photographers make less than $25,000 while the upper end is at around $75,000.
To break it down, the average hourly rate for a photographer is at around $15 in the United States according to the job platform indeed.
Should You pursue a Photography Major?
At the end of this overview, I want to ask You, if the photography major is really necessary for You to become either a professional photographer or just more prolific in Photography overall.
First of all, turning a hobby into a profession is not always easy. In fact, most of the time, when thinking about “going pro”, You should be aware that there will be times where photography will be absolutely no fun at all.
While, as an amateur photographer You can simply do other things and wait until the motivation arises again, as a professional photographer the same attitude means, that You don’t have any income.
You have to force Yourself to work and still have to deliver a high quality to make Your clients happy. In a field that requires a lot of creativity, this can be even harder.
A photography major also isn’t a requirement to become a professional photographer.
If You believe, that You already have the needed photography skills and are confident that You can learn the business with specific courses, then You can also try Your luck as a freelance photographer without a photography degree.
Additionally, the photography business and everything that surrounds it, is highly dependent on the right marketing. Often times it may be more beneficial for You to pursue an economics degree and try to apply the knowledge that You learn there in Your photography business.
On the other hand, there are a lot of photographers who didn’t go to college to major in photography but simply turned their hobby into a profession by educating themselves about that subject and often diversifying earnings through the best ideas for investing money.
Another advantage would be, that You wouldn’t be forced to work in the photography field, but have a very broad knowledge base.
So rather than going all-in on a photography major, going for a degree that can supplement Your business afterward might be the better idea. An economics degree might, therefore, be a real alternative.
All things aside, if You are certain that photography is Your passion and You are absolutely hungry to learn more about – go for it.
The photography major might not make You rich immediately, but You can work in a field, that You are really passionate about and long-term You are Your own boss.