Prior to the 1960s, American universities taught photography primarily in departments of journalism. The Society for Photographic Education (SPE) emerged at a time when art departments were beginning to offer photography in their curriculum. Nathan Lyons, then Assistant Director and Curator of Photography at the George Eastman House (now George Eastman Museum), recognized the newly emerging academic field. He coordinated and hosted a conference in November 1962 in Rochester, NY, to address the concerns of college educators. There were 28 attendees at this “Invitational Teaching Conference.” These early participants aimed to formulate the goals, future, and improvement of photographic education.
Today, the majority of SPE’s 1,800 members are fine art photographers, artists, educators, students, curators, critics, and historians. SPE influences K-12 education, community service, and outreach. Through its programs and services, the organization promotes the development of its practice, teaching, scholarship, and critical analysis. It appears from their mission statement that SPE believes in advancing your education beyond high school.
You can spend tens of thousands of dollars earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography or take courses online for a fraction of the cost. We will look at both and allow the reader to decide what is best for your career in this field.
Kelbyone is one source providing online courses to learn Photography, Photoshop, and Lightroom from the “best in the industry.” Their extensive list of instructors includes award-winning photographers, Photoshop experts, travel photographers, landscape, and more. They were founded by two husbands Two married couples’ teams started the company in the early 1990’s. Anchored by Scott Kelby, the company dedicates itself to teaching. Mr. Kelby is the #1 bestselling author of books on photography, Lightroom, and Photoshop.
Online courses are a consideration. There are bloggers who condone this route versus the college graduate. Some argue that the college students, pampered with the use of state of the art studios, cannot function as well without access to this equipment. As a result, they flounder, yet call themselves “professional photographers.” In addition, there are self-taught professionals who receive emails from college graduates asking for an internship.
One advantage to selecting the college route is your immersion in the subject. You attend workshops with fellow students who live, eat, and breathe photography. You may receive an education from professors who have attained success in this field. This is one reason to review carefully the qualifications of the faculty.
Qualifications may include a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Photography, a Bachelor of Science in Photographic Technology, or Fine Arts degree in drawing or painting. Have recognized exhibits displayed their work. Some of the venues might include the National Museum of American Art, Museum of Fine Art-Houston, or Detroit Institute of Arts, or many other national and international venues. Each school should provide a bio of the faculty. Their expertise may convince you to seek a college degree.
Photography tends to be an individual occupation. Therefore, you must learn how to establish, market, manage your business. This is where the liberal arts courses in topics such as marketing, finance, and business are beneficial. You need to learn how to create an LLC (limited liability company), understand the cost of doing business, build a marketing plan, and establish a website using technology. Yes, you can find these online for free, but they may not have the same effect as college classes.
Experts in the field argue that photography schools may provide training that goes beyond the basics of photography technique. College can be great places to establish contacts in the industry. Your instructors with industry experience can be valuable resources for establishing connections. Not to mention that many schools have career placement services that may be able to help you find jobs and internships. Judging from the employment data below, this is vital for a career in the field.
Weigh the Costs
However, if photography has been your hobby for years prior to considering a degree, you may forego the expense of college. In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a moderate college budget for an in-state public college for the 2017–2018 academic year averaged $25,290. This includes room, board, and all the ancillary costs. An online degree will be much less without the residency expenses. Even one year at a state school buys a lot of camera equipment. The caveat is: Do you know how to use it in a professional setting?
What are the Employment Prospects?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the occupation of photographers is on the decline. The BLS expects the profession to lose 8,300 jobs through 2026 or a 6% reduction. The reported median income is $32,490 with a high school diploma. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree, states the BLS.