Understanding the Big Picture: An introduction to Photography School



“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce” – Karl Lagerfeld, fashion designer, artist and photographer


Photography is the art and the science behind capturing people, objects and places with a camera. Whether you are someone who have been involved in your high school’s photography club and yearbook production team or you are someone who is interested in turning your passion of storytelling through pictures into a career, photography school is a good springboard to a career in the industry.


Have you already set your sights on a program? If not, here are a few factors to consider before submitting an application to a photography program:


Format of program: Students who wish to pursue an education in photography have the option to enroll in a two-year or a four-year (bachelor’s) degree programs in approximately 700 schools across the United States.1 While specific training is essential to become a professional photographer, formal education is optional. However, many photographers pursue a degree program either to distinguish themselves from the competition within the industry or to further their education in graduate school.2


On the other hand, students can also enroll in online photography programs such as those offered at New York Institute of Photography and Academy of Art University rather than going to a traditional school. However, students who are thinking of applying to an online program should find out the types of academic resources available (such as lab time, discussion groups, access to teaching assistants, etc.) as well as opportunities to communicate, interact and network with their peers and internships in order to make the most out of their experience in the program.


Regardless of your choice in an associate or bachelors degree program in an online or traditional school setting, prospective students should do thorough research in the schools to which they are thinking of applying to ensure that the program offers the specialization that they are seeking as well as the school’s reputation in the industry.


Specialization: There are a number of specializations that span across the photography industry. Specializations vary by subject (i.e.: portraits, commercial photographs, photojournalism and visual art) as well as the technical skills involved (i.e.: photo editing and cinematography). While most diploma and undergraduate photography programs generally cover a range of topics in their curriculum to provide students with a broad view of the industry, some schools have a reputation in specific areas depending on the skills and experience of their faculty members as well as their alumni and industry connections.


Unlike high schools within a state, post-secondary institutions do not have to follow a standardized curriculum, so not all schools offer the same specializations. For example: Brooks Institute and Art Center College of Design in California are known for areas of commercial, product and fashion photography while School of Visual Arts in New York is known for digital photography due to its focus on cutting-edge digital technologies.3 Students who already have an interest in pursuing a specific area of photography should consider applying to those schools have develop coursework and internships around those specializations. They should also contact the programs’ administrators to learn more about the programs before they consider submitting an application.


Cost: As a result of increasing number of college graduates and the competitiveness in today’s job market – more often than not – students find themselves questioning the return on investment of their post-secondary education. According to www.costowl.com, tuition for a photography program in the US can range from US$10,000 to over US$34,550, depending on the length and the type of the program. Keep in mind that these figures do not include costs related to room and board (if you are applying to a school outside of your hometown) or camera equipment required for coursework. However, a number of schools offer grants and scholarships to qualified students to assist with their tuition and education expenses. Be sure to ask your high school counselor for more information on these opportunities.


If you are passionate about a career as a photographer, then you should consider applying for a post-secondary program in photography. In the Internet age where photo sharing has become a form of visual communication, professional photography will continue to play a huge role in capturing people’s milestones as well as illustrating company’s products and services.



  1. Photography Degree. Guide to Photography Programs.

2. Education Portal. Education Requirements for Photographer.

3. Photo.net. Five Top U.S. Photography Schools to Consider

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest