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What Are the Different Types of Photography Degree Programs?

By Bobby R. Goldsmith
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several types of photography degree programs available at colleges and universities all over the world. Though most people think of photography as simply taking pictures, the study of photography involves many subjects, and most institutions offer degree programs for each one. As technology has grown, photography has shifted from a medium based on film to one that is based on digital computing. Photojournalism, photography as art, commercial photography, fashion photography and photo processing are all degree programs offered at colleges and universities, or at vocational trade schools dedicated to the craft of photography. Some photography degree programs are basic, covering only the essentials for beginners, while other photography degree programs go into considerable depth during the course of study.

Though the rise in the prominence of digital photography has diminished the popularity and utility of film photography, most first-time students begin their photography education using film single lens reflex (SLR) cameras. These non-digital SLR cameras give photography students a tool that cannot be easily set to auto, requiring that they learn the fundamentals of setting the aperture, the f/stop and the shutter speed in various lighting conditions. From there, a photography student can enter into one of several types of photography degree programs.

The most common of the photography degree programs is the basic photography certificate that a student can earn through a community college or through a vocational or adult learning center. The basic coursework expands somewhat on the fundamentals of exposure, then moves into image composition, the rule of thirds, staged lighting, the proper use of reflectors and filters, as well as the disappearing skill of developing film in a darkroom. The requirements to obtain a certificate in photography differ depending upon the program, but each typically involves the successful completion of a basic, intermediate, and advanced photography course, then the completion of studio portraiture, photojournalism, or photography technology courses. The number of credit hours varies, but generally consists of no more than 15 credit hours.

Several private institutes, such as the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California, offer a complete, four-year bachelor's degree program in photography that guides students from the basics all the way through every possible facet of the medium. As with other universities, a photography student at one of these private institutes selects an emphasis early on in the program, such as commercial photography, artistic photography, fashion photography or photojournalism. Usually admission to such an institute is highly competitive, and a prospective student must already possess a basic familiarity with photography. Brooks, along with several other similar schools, offers job placement services to the graduates of its photography degree programs.

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