Many aspiring photographers begin their artistic careers with a bachelor’s degree in photography. Suited to creative, patient, and observant students, photography programs cultivate creativity, visual intelligence, and sophisticated technical skills.
To enter college, freshmen applicants usually need official transcripts indicating at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Good schools also typically require above-average grades, test scores, and recommendation letters. Students can eventually apply to the photography program itself by completing associate degree-level coursework satisfactorily and submitting work samples.
A photography degree can support diverse careers in fashion, news media, or forensics. Some graduates work as portrait or wedding photographers, nature photographers, or fine arts photographers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cites a median annual salary of $36,280 for photographers. The BLS also projects a decline in jobs for photographers of 4% during 2019-2029. However, talented, industrious photography graduates may also develop lucrative careers in the arts, graphic design, journalism, or film.
Is a degree in photography worth it?
Some photographers do succeed in this skills-based field without earning an expensive, formal degree. However, photography degree programs provide valuable feedback, internships, and networking that can make them worth the investment.
What kind of degree do you need for photography?
Many freelance photographers do not hold a degree in photography. However, non-freelancers often need degrees to qualify for photography work in fields such as journalism.
Is photography a good career?
Studying photography can lead to very diverse career paths and experiences. Many successful photographers enjoy creative, artistic careers.
Do photographers get paid well?
Photographers earn a median annual salary of $36,280 — over $3,000 less than the $39,810 median annual salary for all occupations. However, salary depends heavily on employer, industry, and credentials.
What Are the Goals of a Photography Degree?
Students interested in a photography degree can choose from bachelor of arts, bachelor of fine arts, and bachelor of science photography programs. Bachelor of science degrees and bachelor of fine arts degrees feature more professional and technical courses in photography. A bachelor of arts degree includes considerable liberal arts coursework. As a more academic and interdisciplinary degree, the BA can prepare graduates for diverse career paths or graduate programs.
Many photography bachelor’s programs emphasize technical equipment skills, visual literacy, and professional knowledge of the photography industry. Core photography coursework usually covers photography principles, digital photography, and photography history. Many programs offer curriculum concentrations in areas such as fine arts photography, professional photography, and film.
Why Get a Photography Degree?
Photography degrees offer many personal and professional advantages, including increased creative expression, technical proficiency, and evaluative skill. Many photography programs also emphasize business knowledge and resources useful to photography entrepreneurs and freelancers.
- Creative Expression
- Photography programs require enrollees to produce original photographs, projects, and artist’s statements. This work helps students creatively express values, interests, and sensibilities.
- Professional Portfolios
- Photography majors graduate with at least one professional portfolio that can help the photographer find jobs. The portfolio contains collections of images and project statements that showcase the student’s capabilities.
- Visual Intelligence and Skill
- Photography bachelor’s programs also cultivate advanced visual intelligence and critical evaluation skills. Enrollees regularly analyze, critique, and thereby improve their own and other students’ work.
- Business Acumen
- Since many photographers work as freelancers, many photography programs emphasize the business of photography, building knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship and marketing.
- Networking Opportunities
- Many photography programs admit cohorts of students that move through the program together. Participants build collaborative and supportive connections that also can help graduates find jobs and collaborators later in their career.
What is Accreditation and Why Does it Matter?
What Are the Requirements for a Photography Degree?
Photography bachelor’s programs typically require applicants to submit official transcripts demonstrating possession of a high school diploma or equivalent. High-quality photography programs often look for students with a 3.0 GPA and good test scores, although not all programs require standardized test scores. For admission into the photography major, applicants usually submit a photography portfolio and positive recommendation letters.
A photography bachelor’s degree typically requires about 60 general education credits and 60 major-related credits, including elective or concentration coursework in an area of interest. Photography programs often feature internships, capstone projects, or portfolios that cultivate technical and creative skills.
Professional Organizations for Photography Students
Photography professionals and students often utilize professional organizations for networking, education, and professional development. Organizations such as the Professional Photographers of America and the American Society of Media Photographers provide resources relevant to both the business and the art of photography.
Professional Photographers of America
Since 1869, PPA has supported photographers' career development. The nonprofit organization advocates for photographers, provides photography business protection, and offers various industry discounts. Members also gain access to online education resources and a database of photography professionals.
American Society of Media Photographers
This premier photography trade organization offers business guidance and resources, including marketing tools, web design templates, and professional discounts. ASMP also provides networking opportunities and connects photographers to a photography assistant database.
Scholarships for Photography Students
Some qualifying college students reduce their educational expenses through scholarships. Usually awarded competitively based on merit, financial need, field of study, or identity group, scholarships do not require repayment. Several scholarships serve photography students specifically. See below to learn about some photography degree scholarships.
Who Can Apply: The National Press Photographers Foundation (NPPF) offers the financial award to undergraduate students in journalism, photography, or multimedia. Eligible candidates demonstrate dedication to and talent in television photojournalism or video multimedia. Applicants submit a recommendation letter, portfolio, essays, and transcripts.
Who Can Apply: NPFF administers this Sony scholarship that supports undergraduate or graduate photojournalism students enrolled at four-year colleges or universities. Application requirements include a recommendation letter, essays, official transcripts, and a portfolio.
Amount: $500-$1000, plus a Sony camera
Who Can Apply: Qualified candidates demonstrate an interest in historically Black universities and colleges and a focus on visual or multimedia storytelling. Applicants submit essays, transcripts, a portfolio, and a recommendation letter.
Amount: $2,000, plus an X-T4 silver kit with an XF18-55mm lens
2021 Best Photography Degrees
A Mormon university located in Provo, Utah, BYU offers a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) with a major in photography. Students study both the history and practice of the art form.
In addition to education core courses, students take photography courses such as introduction to photography and digital workflow, introduction to lighting, and interpretative portraiture. Students also learn different photography and development processes, as well as develop portfolios to showcase their skills. A capstone project and internship allow students to dive into the practice and form of photography, gaining real-world experience for a career.
Students first apply to the school with ACT or SAT scores. Students then apply to the limited admission photography program using portfolio work. Students enter into pre-BFA courses before full admission. All students must belong to the church or adhere to the campus faith guidelines.
BYU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
A historically Black women's college based in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman College offers a bachelor of arts in photography. Students study the practice of photography as a contemporary medium and explore ethical questions surrounding the creation and alteration of images. The major also offers interdisciplinary opportunities with other art focuses on campus.
Students take general education courses and photography courses like fictive photography, basic lighting techniques, creative careers, and the history of photography. The major requires a portfolio display and criticism as well as an internship to gain vital skills for careers in the field. Students take part in art exhibitions both on and off campus and enjoy guest speakers and experts.
Students in the class of 2025 do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores to apply. Students with test scores may still submit them to strengthen an application.
Spelman College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
State University of New York at New Paltz
Part of the SUNY system of colleges and universities, New Paltz offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography. Students engage in critical discourse and develop both technical skills and entrepreneurial skills for future careers.
Students begin with general education requirements and must take one basic photography course before beginning the photography major. Course topics include the large format image, contemporary issues in photography, and advanced digital color photography. Students participate in a senior studio in photography series of courses to apply learned skills and showcase work to the public.
Applicants must submit SAT or ACT scores (waived through spring 2022). The school does not specify a minimum GPA but admitted students possess an average GPA between 3.5 and 4.0. Students must also submit a portfolio for admission into the program.
New Paltz is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Rhode Island School of Design
Based in Providence, RISD offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography. The program offers opportunities for undergraduate students to work with graduate student mentors to master studio skills.
The program introduces the history of photography during the first year of study, giving students a foundation in the medium's past. Junior students move on to practical skills applications, learning a variety of techniques and best practices through courses such as advanced digital imaging and studio electives. During the students' final term, they create a portfolio and complete a thesis.
Students apply to the school as either test applicants or test-optional applicants. Students must respond to a portfolio assignment as part of their bid to declare a photography major, whether at the time of application or when officially declaring the major.
RISD is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Part of the SUNY system of colleges and universities and located in Purchase, Purchase Colleges offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography. Students study both traditional film processes as well as newer digital processes.
Students begin the program with darkroom basics and progress to a wide array of practical and technical electives. Students explore silver and nonsilver, digital, and both printing and editing techniques. Students hone their craft in one of 20 darkrooms, a silver darkroom, and digital facilities that allow students to experiment with many different methods. Students work on a term-length project during their senior year and engage in critiquing seminars for both exposure and feedback.
Students do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores, but visual arts students need to submit a work portfolio as part of their admissions packet.
Purchase College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.