What Are the Goals of a Photography Degree?
Landing a photography job requires more than a good eye and passion. Employers often prefer hiring photographers who have the technical training to back their talent. Earning a bachelor’s in photography degree opens the door to creative and technical jobs in commercial photography, marketing, journalism, animation, and film and video production. Graduates also blaze their own trails and work independently as self-employed wedding or portrait photographers.
Photography programs help students build their analog and digital portfolios and knowledge of craft and theory. Learners also build connections and skills through internships and study abroad.
Read on to learn more about the courses students take to earn a photography degree and potential careers and salaries in the field.
Top 10 Photography Degrees for 2020
|1||New York University|
|3||University of Central Florida|
|6||Washington University in St. Louis|
|9||Brigham Young University|
|10||Appalachian State University|
What photography jobs are there?
Photography graduates work in several industries. Many photographers work for publishing houses, newspapers, or broadcasting companies. Photographers also find employment with companies that provide photographic services and stock art.
Are photographers self-employed?
Yes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 64% of photographers are self-employed.
Do you need a license to be a photographer?
Photographers generally do not need a license. However, business owners may need a license or permit, depending on where they live. Additionally, photographers who work in news may need press credentials.
How do photographers make money?
Freelance photographers make money on a project-by-project or monthly basis as independent contractors. Staff photographers who work for a newspaper or broadcast agency may receive regular checks as W-2 employees.
Accreditation for the Best Photography Degrees
Accreditation is a crucial indicator of quality when selecting a photography degree. Schools can earn national or regional accreditation.
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes private accrediting agencies that award institutional accreditation. The department’s website maintains a list of currently approved agencies that undergo internal review at least every five years. Examples of accrediting agencies include the Higher Learning Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Programs and departments also receive accreditation. However, the photography field does not have an accrediting agency.
Regionally accredited schools carry more prestige than nationally accredited colleges in the workforce. During the accreditation process, accreditors evaluate colleges to ensure they meet quality standards and policies. Only schools and programs that hold accreditation from a nationally recognized agency can distribute federal financial aid to students.
Learn more about why accreditation matters.
2020 Best Photography Degrees
The best photography degrees offer a well-rounded curriculum that prepares students for several industries. Students can also pursue concentrations to build specialized skills that appeal to employers. The best photography degrees feature competitive tuition rates, diverse coursework, and hands-on experience that prepare students to excel in photography.
See our rankings methodology page.
New York University
New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts offers a photography degree that teaches students how to find their creative voice. NYU’s photography program blends a broad liberal arts education with an intensive arts focus. The program accepts students working in analog and digital formats. Faculty members help BFA students design individualized curricula that expand technical and conceptual boundaries.
Program graduates work as graphic designers, documentary photographers, art critics, and freelancers for museums and national publications. NYU evaluates undergraduate applicants through a two-part process: an artistic review and the Common Application. Applicants must submit a portfolio that includes 15-20 images, including 10 on a single theme. The program also welcomes submission of interactive and new media, video, and sound art. The portfolio must include a completed questionnaire and several short essays.
The photography program at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, focuses on design and art fundamentals for digital and darkroom photography. Students can earn a bachelor of fine arts with a concentration in photography in four years. A Christian liberal arts and sciences university, Judson features small class sizes, knowledgeable faculty, and a convenient location near Chicago.
Judson’s 79-credit photography degree includes general education, studio core, art and design history and theory, and studio elective courses. Core courses include studio photography, darkroom photography, and an internship/practicum in art. Graduation requirements include a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA. Students must complete at least 40% of all required credits at Judson. At least 40% of major courses must be upper-division courses.
Applicants must submit official high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores.
University of Central Florida
UCF’s bachelor of science in photography degree incorporates creative, technical, and critical skills that prepare students to work as professional photographers. The limited access, 2+2 program admits students who earn an associate degree in photographic technology from Daytona State College or complete equivalent coursework. Admitted students complete their third and fourth years at UCF.
The 127-credit curriculum includes core courses like photographic lighting techniques, advanced editorial photography, and advanced illustrative photography. The program does not require a capstone. Students must also complete general education and elective courses.
To graduate, students must earn a minimum 2.0 GPA and at least 48 upper-division credits. The program requires at least 30 of the last 39 credits of coursework in residency at UCF. Students can receive up to 45 credits for prior learning experiences, including credit for examinations or military experience.
Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, offers a studio-intensive photography program. Purdue’s BFA in integrated studio arts includes a concentration in arts, culture, and technology that covers photography. The program provides a foundation in traditional arts and explores new technologies and ways of thinking about art across disciplines. BFA students get to design their own major to reflect their personal interests. Graduates pursue careers in photography, creative direction, and film production.
Resources for photography students at Purdue include two computer labs, a darkroom, a digital photography lab, a ceramic decal printer, and a professional photography studio. Students can also check out equipment like video cameras, tripods, lighting kits, and DSLR cameras. The 126-credit, four-year curriculum includes portfolio reviews and BFA exhibition requirements. Students spend most of their time in studio classes working on independent projects.
A liberal arts school founded on a farm in 1946, Marlboro College in Vermont gives students the freedom to design individualized four-year degrees. Students engage in interdisciplinary, self-directed learning while meeting the college’s writing requirement and choosing a concentration or major. At Marlboro, juniors and seniors focus on developing, researching, working on, and revising a major project.
Marlboro offers an undergraduate photography degree that focuses on fine art in nature. The curriculum explores digital and analog photography, visual expression and technique, and alternative photographic procedures. Photography classes include introduction to black and white photography, photography and the body, and the narrative in photography.
To graduate, students must complete 120 credits and defend their final project before a committee. Marlboro graduates gain writing, communication, teamwork, and interdisciplinary skills applicable to any career.
Washington University in St Louis
The 121-credit photography BFA from the Sam Fox School at Washington University in St. Louis integrates multiple approaches and disciplines. Designed for students who want to pursue careers as artists, designers, and illustrators, the BFA focuses on immersive studio courses.
The first year of the photography program requires studio coursework in two-dimensional and three-dimensional design, drawing, digital design, and a weekly lecture course. Starting in their second year, students begin material and culture studio classes with the option to choose photography and one other medium. Junior and senior years include seven art practice courses that equip students with conceptual and technical skills. Art practice courses explore subjects like large format photography, public practice, and material as metaphor.
Photography majors must complete a senior capstone course that culminates in a spring exhibition. The BFA program’s curriculum aligns with the standards set by the College Art Association of American and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Aspiring photographers can pursue a four-year bachelor of arts in photography from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. Affiliated with the Church of Christ, FHU offers the degree in a Christian framework. The university serves nearly 2,000 students from 33 states and 20 countries.
FHU’s 126-credit photography degree requires liberal arts core, major, and elective coursework. All learners at FHU take a biblical course each semester. Photography students take major classes like the history of photography, black and white photography, and alternative processes. The curriculum also explores small business marketing, social media, and studio craft. Photography majors must complete a hands-on internship and a senior photography project or portfolio. Students gain critical thinking and technical skills.
Photography students may qualify for financial aid, grants, scholarships, and loans through FHU’s Office of Financial Services. The university also offers many social clubs, intramural sports, a career center, disability services, and an active spiritual life.
Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers a nationally renowned undergraduate photography program. Program graduates include winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Program alumni also publish in the New York Times Magazine, Italian Vogue, and Architectural Digest.
Drexel’s photography program combines advanced visual literacy with new technology skills to prepare students for photography careers. The curriculum explores all aspects of the medium, including digital techniques, traditional darkroom photography, and video. Students complete a six-month co-op to gain hands-on experience in the field and take three business-focused courses to prepare them for the market.
The 180-credit, four-year curriculum includes general education, visual studies, photography, and elective courses. All students must pass three writing-intensive courses to graduate. Photography requirements include history of photography, advanced studio photography, and photojournalism. Photography majors get access to a variety of cameras, studio equipment, local equipment, digital labs and equipment, darkroom equipment, and a large studio.
Brigham Young University-Provo
The BFA photography program at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, focuses on professional development and career preparation. The program also explores photographic history, theory, and trends; technical expertise; ideation; and a commitment to the Mormon Church. BYU also offers BFAs in animation, graphic design, and illustration.
BYU’s 72-credit photography curriculum requires classes like introduction to digital veiling, introduction to black and white photography and darkroom techniques, and professional practices for photographers. Students must complete a capstone project and a professional internship. The curriculum also requires three career-focused classes in entrepreneurship, marketing, and career strategies.
The limited enrollment program only accepts 40 students per year and requires departmental approval. Students must declare photography as a pre-major, complete the introduction to photography and digital workflow class, and submit an online portfolio of photographic work. The program accepts new students each June.
Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, is one of the few schools in the country to offer a photography degree that focuses on commercial photography. The curriculum covers technical and visual literacy skills, and photographic theory and practice. The program includes evening lectures from renowned photographers like Dixie Dixon and John Fedelle.
The curriculum explores topics like commercial digital imaging, studio lighting, lab and studio management, and digital workflow. Students work on assignments that deal with narrative construction, portraiture, advertising, location lighting, and HDSLR video production. Although not required, many photography majors add a minor in business, communications, or entrepreneurial studies.
Graduates work as photographers, videographers, photo editors, and producers. Appalachian’s bachelor of science in commercial photography is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
University of Houston
The University of Houston’s undergraduate digital media and photography program focuses on technical classroom instruction. The curriculum covers skills like studio lighting, large format photography, and traditional photographic forms. Many graduates pursue a master of fine arts. Others pursue careers in education, museums, the nonprofit sector, and art handling.
UH’s 120-credit BFA in photography and digital media includes university core, elective, and major requirements. Students take foundational courses like fundamentals of digital media, fundamentals of video art, and traditional photography. UH provides well-equipped video and digital photography labs, a light studio, and a wet photography lab.
In their junior and senior years, BFA students enroll in a series of intensive studio classes that require them to attend on-campus sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These classes focus on experimentation and technical mastery and give students time to develop their individual practice.
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Minneapolis College of Art and Design offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography that incorporates both traditional and contemporary tools and techniques. The curriculum focuses on professional practices, photographic history and theory, and photographic techniques and tools. Photography majors gain access to MCAD’s state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, experienced faculty, and student clubs and activities.
MCAD’s 120-credit photography degree requires liberal arts, humanities and sciences, foundational, studio elective, and major coursework. Photography majors take classes like digital photography studio, introduction to art and design history, and advanced photography studio. The four-year program includes a hands-on internship, an opportunity to study abroad or elsewhere in the U.S., and the chance to participate in the school’s annual emerging talent showcase.
The final year of the program requires a semester-long culminating project. Potential careers include fine art photographer, freelance photographer, photojournalist, and studio owner.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The U of I’s 122-credit BFA in photography program helps emerging artists adopt a global perspective. The curriculum explores photography’s narrative potential, photographic practice and theory, and research. Faculty members have earned recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts and bring expertise in areas like fine black and white printing, installation art, critical theory, studio lighting, and the history of photography.
Graduates work as commercial photographers, fine artists, gallery professionals, and designers. Prospective students can apply to the photography program at the same time they apply to the university. Applicants must submit ACT or SAT scores, high school transcripts, and answers to essay questions. The program also requires students to submit a portfolio that includes 10 examples of recent creative work.
The U of I’s School of Art and Design is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
The interdisciplinary BFA in photography program from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, allows students to explore photography and visual images using traditional and new technologies. The program features expert faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, and job and internship opportunities.
Before declaring a photography major, students must earn acceptance to the university and complete photo I, photo II, and digital imaging with a GPA of 1.7 or better. Temple’s 126-credit photography degree requires major courses like advanced photo workshop, color photography, and darkroom photography.
Students must also complete a senior seminar in photography and can take an optional field internship to meet the requirement for a specialized photo course. The four-year degree also requires general education coursework in areas like analytical reading and writing and intellectual heritage.
Kansas City Art Institute
Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, offers an undergraduate photography program that covers digital and traditional darkroom photography while exploring the aesthetic, conceptual, and cultural aspects of the medium. Students gain skills in lighting, professional camera controls, and fine printing.
KCAI encourages photography majors to design their own degree plan and incorporate elective classes from filmmaking, animation, and interactive arts. Required courses include the history of photography and contemporary practice, applied photographic imaging, and photography and contemporary art. Photography majors must also complete an internship or practicum and a senior thesis that culminates in an off-campus exhibition and oral presentation.
Each year, KCAI’s Department of Converging Media hosts world-renowned visiting artists, professionals, and scholars who share their knowledge in workshops and lectures. Program graduates work as artists, educators, and professors at art institutes, museums, and galleries throughout the U.S.
The four-year bachelor of fine arts in photography from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, requires classes like advanced black and white photography, advanced advertising and illustrative photography, and photography as a means of self-expression. Students complete portfolio reviews in each year of the program and participate in an exhibition as the degree’s culminating experience.
Marywood’s photography program combines fine arts training with career-relevant skills that prepare students for professional success as working photographers. The curriculum explores technical applications like chromogenic and gelatin silver processes and digital imaging. Students also delve into an examination of aesthetics and the relationship between photography and other disciplines.
Marywood’s state-of-the-art facilities include two black and white darkrooms; a private darkroom for printing large projection images; a color darkroom; and a computer lab with image-editing software, a large format printer, and scanners. Students also receive access to lighting studios, 4×5 view cameras, and an alternative processes room for historic printmaking methods.
Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, offers the longest-running Adventist photography program. The university’s 124-credit photography BFA requires courses in color theory and use, alternative photographic processes, and advanced digital imaging. The program also requires art history, communication, design, and visual art classes. Students must complete at least one internship and a portfolio and participate in a senior exhibition. Andrews requires a minimum 3.0 GPA in all major coursework.
Admission requirements include a high school diploma with a minimum 2.5 GPA or a GED score in the 50th percentile or higher. Applicants must also submit satisfactory ACT or SAT scores. For formal acceptance into the photography program, students must complete 15-21 credits and pass the BFA review, which includes a formal interview and submission of selected creative work.
Kansas Wesleyan University
The photography degree from Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina prepares students for careers as commercial photographers or visual artists. The curriculum explores fine art photography, studio lighting, commercial photography, and editorial techniques. Students learn to communicate visually, develop their creative expression, and understand the intersection of spiritual life and creativity.
Photography majors at KWU participate in Salina’s art community, with local businesses hiring them as interns and student workers. The university also operates its own on-campus art gallery, with rotating shows featuring work from students and local and regional artists. The gallery participates in Salina’s First Friday Art Rush, giving students the chance to network with and learn from working artists.
KWU’s photography program includes core coursework in studio lighting, media production, graphic applications, and drawing. Students must also complete an internship. Graduates work in galleries and museums, film and television, and art foundations.
George Washington University
GW’s 120-credit fine art photography degree starts with four foundation courses that explore the fundamental aspects of art and design. Later semesters feature studio art classes and a thesis requirement. Students develop their artistic styles and direction through a combination of studio practices, academic study, guidance from experienced faculty, and participation in the local art community in Washington, D.C.
GW’s full-time photography program features small class sizes, the opportunity to work with galleries and museums, and access to diverse materials and workspaces. Photography majors take classes like professional practices for artists, photography and photojournalism, and introduction to digital color photography. GW also allows students to concurrently pursue an art history degree.
BFA applicants must submit a portfolio that tells a story and should include 12-20 pieces of their strongest recent creative work.
Kent State University at Kent
KSU offers a four-year bachelor of fine arts in photography that prepares students for diverse career paths in advertising, editorial photography, fashion, commercial photography, and portraiture. The digital photography-focused program combines a broad liberal arts education with a focus on photographic theory, processes, skills, and practices. Students gain the skills to pursue successful professional/commercial photography careers.
KSU’s photography degree requires major courses like advanced digital imaging; visual design for media; and design principles, practices, and processes. The curriculum also explores subjects like visual ethics, typography, photo technology, and fashion photography. Students complete two internships and a professional photography portfolio in the final two years of the program. The 120-credit curriculum also requires general education coursework and a minimum overall 2.0 GPA to graduate.
KSU’s photography program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Bard College at Simon's Rock
The photography program at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, features digital and darkroom photographic techniques. The curriculum explores documentary, portraiture, and experimental photography and students gain technical skills like printing in Photoshop. Photography majors also gain critical thinking, analytical, visual literacy, and technical skills. Graduates pursue careers in education, photography, graphic design, and art therapy.
Photography students must complete three foundation courses, two intermediate photography courses, two intermediate studio arts courses, and two advanced photography classes. The program also requires at least one interdisciplinary critique class and a senior thesis. Simon’s Rock supports students through a career development center, study abroad and internship opportunities, and a visiting artist program.
Admission requirements include a high school diploma, four letters of recommendation, two written essays, high school transcripts, and an interview with a counselor. Applicants can also submit a sample piece of creative or academic work. Simon’s Rock does not require ACT or SAT scores.
Louisiana Tech University
Louisiana Tech University in Ruston offers a four-year photography program that covers diverse styles and processes. The program’s 120-credit curriculum emphasizes concept and technique, encouraging students to create thought-provoking and well-executed images. The program also develops professional speaking, writing, and self-promotion skills. Louisiana Tech gives students the freedom to personalize their degree plan based on their creative interests.
The core BFA curriculum requires classes like color design, introduction to materials, the history of art, and photo/video. In the junior and senior years of the photography program, students take multiple studio courses, complete a senior portfolio, and participate in a senior exhibition. Louisiana Tech encourages experimentation, hybrid processes, and an inclusive approach. Students learn to see critically, get access to state-of-the-art facilities and an experienced faculty, and participate in the local arts community.
Rhode Island School of Design
The four-year bachelor of fine arts in photography from Rhode Island School of Design in Providence explores film processing, darkroom printing, installation work, video, and digital photography. Students develop visual literacy, technical, and conceptual skills and learn to consider the cultural, social, and historical contexts of the medium. The curriculum includes guided discussions, close observation, critiques, and studio practice.
Required courses include histories of photography, digital photography, and the genius of photography seminar. Students also complete a hands-on internship that provides professional experience and networking opportunities with potential employers.
RISD’s photography program brings together 30 undergraduate and 15 graduate students who share darkrooms and workspaces but use separate studios. RISD’s Red Eye Gallery offers many opportunities to engage with local artists, and the T.C. Colley Lecture Series brings a diverse selection of guest photographers to campus each semester. The program emphasizes fine arts, but also covers conceptual and technical skills applicable to commercial, fashion, advertising, and editorial photography.
The New School
The New School’s Parsons School of Art, Media, and Technology in New York City offers a bachelor of fine arts photography program that prepares students for successful creative careers. The program’s 120-credit curriculum includes classes like objects as history, professional practices, and an advanced research seminar. Photography majors spend significant time in photography studio and lab courses. Students complete a photography thesis project in their senior year.
The New School’s photography program offers access to darkroom labs, five shooting studios, and digital facilities. An equipment resource center houses 35mm cameras, medium-format cameras, Canon and SonyHD camcorders, and a variety of camera lenses. Students can work on traditional black-and-white, alternative, and non-silver processes. The New School accepts up to 60 transfer credits toward the degree.
Required application materials include high school transcripts, a portfolio submitted in Slideroom, a 500-word essay, and letters of recommendation. ACT or SAT scores are optional.
Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion
A Christian liberal arts institution, Indiana Wesleyan University is the largest private university in Indiana. IWU’s Christ-centered photography program offers either a BA or a more rigorous BFA in photography. Students learn basic design theory and discover their personal visions and creative practices as professional photographers. The program takes a postmodern approach to image creation.
Photography majors study digital imagery, traditional techniques and silver gelatin processes, and film-based darkroom activities. Students also gain marketable skills in studio and product lighting classes, where they learn to use professional lighting techniques and systems. The program culminates in a public exhibition of student visual work.
IWU’s photography program requires classes like documentary photography, alternative photographic processes, and contemporary issues in photography. Students must also complete an art internship or an interior design portfolio and a professional practices class. Graduates can find work as photographic process workers, photographers, camera operators, and curators.
Career and Salary Outlook for Photography
Photography offers several career opportunities to ambitious, creative, and tech-savvy professionals. A photographer’s work environment and duties vary depending on the industry. Photographers can work for television stations, newspapers, and magazines. Photojournalists work outside of the office covering news events or feature stories. Real estate photographers capture images of homes on the market.
Photographers can also make a living taking aerial images for government agencies or private companies in airplanes or helicopters. Photographers may work alone or with an assistant during a portrait photography shoot at schools or weddings.
Salaries for professional photographers fluctuate depending on location, experience, and industry. The BLS projects photography jobs to decline 6% between 2018 and 2028. However, new technologies such as drones may help revive employment in the field.
|Bottom 10% Hourly Salary||Median Hourly Salary||Top 10% Hourly Salary|
|Less than $9.54||$17.44||More than $36.71|
Courses in Photography
Photography courses differ depending on the school. Students who enroll in art schools may take four years of photography courses, while traditional colleges usually require students to complete general education credits in their first two years. Programs also feature different course loads. For example, students enrolled in photojournalism degrees take different courses than degree-seekers in fine art programs.
Most photography degrees focus on teaching students photographic skills in technology, lighting, post-processing, color theory and art history. Students can often pursue specialized courses or concentrations in photojournalism, visual media, fashion, commercial art, and film. Photography courses provide students with hands-on experience through internships, workshops, labs, and practica. Learners also leave college with a portfolio to show to employers.
See below for several sample photography courses.
Course Example One
History of Photography
Learners in this course study photography from prehistory to the present through lectures and museum visits. Students gain the ability to recognize the different styles represented throughout history. Learners also develop an understanding of industry terminology to discuss historical images.
Course Example Two
Elements of Visual Media
Students in this course learn how to integrate moving and still images in the pursuit of visual communication. Coursework covers photography, design, animation, and web design. This course also focuses on teaching students to use visual technologies for purposeful storytelling. These techniques help students improve their resumes and find work in graphic design or as social medical professionals.
Course Example Three
Color Theory and Application
After taking a course in design, learners often study color theory and application. Students learn to create harmonious color combinations in their work and analyze how light produces color.
Course Example Four
This course covers the use of light in capturing images. Students learn how to configure sets using studio lighting for portraits. Coursework also covers outdoor lighting techniques and how to use natural lighting. Learners study contemporary theories about lighting techniques.
Course Example Five
The communication skills students gain in this course prepare them to work as photographers in any industry. Learners master digital media techniques useful for photography, the web, and design. Through lectures and projects, students learn about the theoretical and practical uses of digital tools used in communication.
Scholarships for Photography
Undergraduate and graduate students pursuing photography can receive several scholarships, including the following.
AIGA Worldstudio Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Learners studying graphic design, illustration, and photography can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit a portfolio and self-portrait.
Who Can Apply: High school students and college freshmen and sophomores pursuing art can apply for this scholarship. To apply, candidates must submit a 500-word essay.
Janie Moore Green Scholarship Grant
Who Can Apply: The North American Nature Photography Association awards this scholarship. Undergraduate and graduate students attending two-year and four-year colleges can apply for this award even if their photography does not focus on nature.
Krylon Clear Choice Art Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship serves learners studying fine arts. Five students receive scholarships of $1,000 and gift packs of Krylon sprays and adhesive supplies. High school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores can apply. Applicants must submit a mixed media portfolio.
National Press Photographers Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Undergraduate and graduate students pursuing photojournalism can submit an application to apply for a variety of scholarships through the National Press Photographers Foundation. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and submit a portfolio.