Photography Degrees Showcase Your Knowledge and Training in the Field

by Julia Bourque
Photography Degrees Showcase Your Knowledge and Training in the Field

Discovering a life-long career in twelfth grade is not always an easy thing to do.

Most students, at this time in their lives, have not yet decided what their futures will hold. But, for students who are searching out a career in photography, one thing is certain: passion for the art is a necessity.

"When you're searching for a degree, you want to consider something you are passionate about. Especially if you want to enter the field of photography," says Tia McNair, the assistant director of recruitment for the college of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa. "When you come to an expensive, private art school specifically for photography, photography will be your main course of study, and you should be passionate about pursuing it," she says.

Before applying to photography schools, students should have some working knowledge of photography, such as understanding the use of a 35mm single reflex camera, McNair says. Students should take photography classes in high school, if they are available.

"We want to include those students who don't have an art program in high school as well," McNair says. "Through our application process, we allow those students to highlight anything they couldn't communicate through other parts of the application."

Students who may not meet the requirements for private art schools also can consider state schools, such as the University of Kentucky, which has a department of art design.

"Our art program offers a whole gamut of education," says Herb Goodman, chairman of the department of art design at the University of Kentucky in Richmond, Ken. "We require photography students to know the basics of shooting a camera."

"When students join our photography program, they will also be taking foundation classes, such as English and grammar, along with their photography classes, which the students can specialize in as their college career moves on," he says.

Both McNair and Goodman note that developing a portfolio of collected works is important. Most businesses and colleges require individuals to have portfolios before applying for a position or continuing an education, McNair says.

Put the Degree to Work

Once students have a degree in photography, many opportunities are yielded.

If a photography degree is concentrated more on the fine arts aspect of photography, McNair says students have options, including starting their own business and selling their work, teaching the fine arts of photography, or working as a lab assistant.

If a degree in commercial photography is more attractive, students can work toward a career in advertising with magazines, working with museums, or becoming photojournalists for the media.

"These fields are only a few of some of the many jobs photographers can look forward to," McNair says. "Our program offers both the fine arts and commercial aspect of photography."

Goodman says the bulk of the University of Kentucky's photography students go to work for newspapers, the U.S. postal service, studio photographers, and magazines.

The next question that may come to mind is, "How much money can I make?"

With a degree in photography, whether in the fine arts or commercial field, most starting positions pay anywhere from $28,000 to $35,000 per year, McNair says.

"Pay also depends, of course, on the type and size of business or company you work for," McNair says. "If you're working for a smaller organization, your pay will probably be smaller, but these figures are generally accurate for today's photographers."

Having a degree in photography and gaining experience as a college photographer is crucial to the job market.

Receiving hands-on work in the field during college is also a necessity to a photography degree, industry experts agree. All schools encourage students to get their hands on a camera as soon as possible.

Some schools, such as Drexel University, offer and require students to participate in internship positions for six months to prepare the students for "real-life work situations," McNair notes.

"A degree in photography will say you have a full knowledge and understanding in the field," McNair says. "Even with the experience as a college photographer, you will get a broad, strong foundation from photography in theory and hands on photography -- all of this will build a portfolio."

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