Finding your place in the photography industry is hard. Some people suggest trying everything until you naturally fall into your niche. Others advocate starting with something specific, like family portraits, and then branching out over time.
Many photographers will tell you that they didn’t even know there was a market for their area of photography until they were in it. They often spend years working in areas that don’t bring them joy or the income they desire. Some photographers never find a way to break into the photography style of their dreams.
Don’t let that statistic scare you. There is a way to avoid following in those struggling footsteps before you.
Get a degree in photography.
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Before you write the idea off, consider this: many degrees and certificates are available entirely online. It’s possible to earn an online degree in photography that will help you stand out and empower you with the technical skills to thrive in the photography industry on your schedule from wherever you live.
Keep reading for more information on why photography degrees are a great idea, what’s available, and top programs to consider.
Why Get a Degree in Photography Online?
Everywhere you go, it’s easy to find amateur photographers trying to piece together a full-time livelihood and market themselves as professional photographers. They’ve bought the fancy camera and may have taken a few online classes on the rule of thirds and consider themselves good enough to go. Some of these individuals succeed.
However, many are not so lucky.
The field of photography is much broader than deciding between taking pictures of weddings, families, infants, or all the above. There is product and commercial photography, fine art photography, and even photography for science and forensics fields. These areas hold vast career opportunities, but few people have the right skills or knowledge on where to find these jobs.
To become a professional photographer, you must know how to do more than snap a photo using the automatic settings on your camera. You need to understand lighting and retouching techniques, colors, composition, and design. On top of that, you’ll need a foundation in business management and marketing as well.
A degree requires you to learn, or at least touch on, all of the different elements for these more specialized photography careers. You’ll stand out from all other job applicants and photographers in your area because of the experiences you had while earning your degree. Plus, having that piece of paper on your wall feels incredible.
What Degrees Can You Get Online?
The short answer is that all levels of degrees in almost all subfields of photography have educational programs available online. Photography is a field that requires a lot of hands-on practice, which you can achieve anywhere. By reading about the techniques or watching video lectures, you can be equipped to learn far from a classroom.
You can earn every degree type from a certificate to a master’s degrees. Certificate courses are beneficial in helping you to narrow down your areas of interest. While associate’s and bachelor’s degrees build a strong foundation.
All of the coursework involved in these programs adds to your portfolio. The stronger your portfolio, the more you will stand out from the crowded field of your competition. It’s not always easy to force yourself to take pictures outside of your interest area, but this will help you to improve and make you appear much more experienced and skilled.
Photography master’s courses provide access to the best individuals and teachers in the industry to push you over the edge in becoming a true professional in your subfield. It’s no longer necessary to move to a big, artistic city like New York or Los Angeles to make it in the photography world. You can bring the experts to your living room.
What Is There to Study?
Ask someone to describe options for a career in photography and the list is often short and straightforward. People will suggest trying to make a career taking family pictures, newborn shots, or wedding pictures. Maybe they’ll recommend fashion photography, school photos, or nature scenes.
There is so much more to photography than those areas. Some photographers take pictures at crime scenes to help solve cases. Some photographers follow celebrities to document their every move. Photographers assist in autopsies, school marketing campaigns, and political movements.
“Education is not just about going to school and getting a degree. It’s about widening your knowledge and absorbing the truth about life.” – Shakuntala Devi
Not only that, but there’s also more to a career in photography than just taking pictures.
Photography involves enhancing pictures using digital tools. Researching which styles of photos evoke the strongest emotions from the target audience. Studying different ways to place products and make the viewer feel part of the scene.
Photography businesses also require knowledge of managing and marketing a business. You have to keep your finances organized and your books balanced. You must have a website or digital portfolio to show prospective clients. You have to find clients to take pictures for in the first place.
A successful photographer needs a killer Instagram page and to use all of the trending hashtags. They need to know where to look to find inspiration from the leading minds in their field. Working in the photography industry is not for the faint of heart.
There’s a certificate or degree program for every aspect photographers need to learn.
Many of the degrees described below include courses on all of the critical topics for a photography career – from business to posing clients for sexy bedroom photos. Even the most specific, niche degrees involve comprehensive, foundational knowledge that applies to your future, whichever direction or subfield of photography you choose to pursue.
Which Places Offer the Best Online Degrees in Photography?
With institutions worldwide transitioning to more online education opportunities, the number of photography degrees and certificates available continues to increase. Most programs include direct access to faculty that creates an environment and degree equivalent to in-person coursework. Particularly true for the following ten programs, an online photography education is just as valuable as any other degree.
These ten programs, listed in no particular ranking order, are considered to be the top institutions through which to continue your photography education. Some programs are not exclusively based on photography, but still provide the requisite skills for students to excel in careers in the industry.
The top ten places for getting an online degree are:
Art Institute of Pittsburgh
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is often touted as the home of the best online photography degree available. They offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in digital photography, along with certificates in digital workflow, portrait photography, and studio photography. The focus of the programs is time management, meeting deadlines, and overcoming obstacles alongside in-depth photography education.
South New Hampshire University
The online photography program at South New Hampshire University provides the same educational opportunities as its in-person classes. Students graduate with skills in all areas of photography from aerial photographs to post-production editing. A degree from South New Hampshire leaves students prepared to excel in a competitive industry.
University of Hartford
The University of Hartford offers a limited residency program for working professionals ready to gain their masters in photography. Students spend two weeks each semester and one week each summer at an international off-campus location. The rest of the year, students communicate with their advisors and professors via the internet, telephone, and other methods. A perfect program choice for those ready to work for a degree while maintaining their existing career.
Savannah College of Art and Design
Bolstered by a vast alumni network, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers bachelor of arts, master of arts, and master of fine arts degrees for photography all online. SCAD students receive comprehensive educations that provide a strong foundation for their future work in the field.
Columbus State Community College
Columbus State offers a variety of specialized associate’s degrees and certificates in specific subfields of the photography world. From advanced Photoshop to the business of photography, students are not disappointed with the technical online photography educations they receive from Columbus State University.
Liberty University programs are designed to create an academic and artistic foundation for bachelor’s degree students planning on moving forward to complete their masters or beyond. Courses build upon history and traditional techniques to prepare students for success in the field. Not only will Liberty challenge your critical thinking and conceptualization skills, but it will also test and improve your general skills as an artist and photographer.
American Intercontinental University
With a robust, foundational emphasis on understanding the elements of photography, American Intercontinental University uniquely prepares students for careers in digital photography, production, and post-production. Students take classes in lighting, editing, and new developments in technology in addition to photography basics and essentials.
Sacred Heart University
Sacred Heart offers a variety of master’s degrees in film and television production, including an MA and MFA. While not only focused on photography, these one-year degrees teach students the art of storytelling and visual production techniques. With an emphasis on internships and hands-on learning, Sacred Heart graduates often go on to work with some of the most artistic production companies in the world.
The Academy of Art University
With a variety of programs from certificates to master’s degrees, the Academy of Art uses innovative teaching techniques to prepare students for their careers with strong portfolios and advanced photography skills. The well-developed artistic perspectives and wide-reaching alumni network leave recent graduates supported and ready for their first jobs.
New York Institute of Photography
Courses such as photojournalism, wedding photography, and landscape photography comprise this intensive photography certificate. Feedback from expert photographers adds to the value students of this program receive. The innovative online program of the New York Institute has created some of the most respected photographers of recent years.
Regardless of the specific programs, you apply for or eventually choose, they all contain similarities in their ability to skyrocket your career. You learn how to edit pictures and meet deadlines. You are taught to shoot outside of your comfort zone or in adverse conditions. You spend more time behind the lens of your camera and get accustom to using it.
Though maybe not an official part of the program, you’ll also learn file organization and digital communication. You’ll have lots of practice uploading pictures to different storage sites, choosing the best to share, and understanding which resolutions are acceptable for which situations. Simply participating in classes will make you a better photographer and business owner.
Not Sure if an Online Degree in Photography Is Right for You?
Many of the programs listed above include the option to enroll in a course or semester to see if it’s right for you. You can try without the full financial or time commitment to the whole process. For individuals on the fence and trying to decide whether or not to enroll, this is a great option.
“It is virtually impossible to compete in today’s global economy without a college degree.” – Bobby Scott
If you know that you aren’t ready to commit to a full associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in photography, but still want to further your education and skills, consider taking some certificate programs or other online training courses to boost your knowledge. Even outside of these schools listed above, many reputable institutions are offering online photo courses, training, and certificates.
What Are You Waiting for?
Start researching today to find the degree programs most aligned with your goals and interests. Reach out to an admissions officer at the school and start gathering your application materials. Commit to doing the work that it takes to push your career forward.
If finances are a concern, look online. Most programs accept federal financial aid programs or offer subsidized tuition programs in-house. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to afford your degree.
Your future and career are worth the effort with some programs as short as a year and all in formats that can be completed while you work other jobs and be with your family. Make your photography career a priority and begin earning your photography degree.