You likely just graduated high school; congrats! Maybe you have a camera, and maybe you're not too bad of a photographer. You got accepted into a university or college, and now you need to decide what you want to study. If this sounds similar to your situation; I hope this article finds you well.
As a current student, I hope that I can shed some light on this topic, as I went through this a couple years ago. To give you a background, I just finished my second year at Colorado State University and run my part-time photography business specializing in weddings and action sports (primarily skiing).
In high school, I just wanted to be a photographer for the rest of my life, but I wasn't sure exactly what avenue I wanted to pursue. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have my own photography business, or a job that involved photography, I looked at all of the options, journalism, business, communications, photography as an art; the list goes on. I couldn't quite grasp what it was I wanted to do with my photography, so I entered university as an undeclared major.
I went out on a limb when deciding my major, Journalism and Media Communication. To be honest, my only reasoning behind that decision was because I thought it would be cool to live out of a van, travel the world, and make photojournalism pieces for an outdoors or skiing magazine. I still like the idea, however, I will see where life takes me.
However, I don't think Journalism is the best choice for someone who wants to be a photographer. I don't think there is one choice that is superior to the other. Journalism is what's best for me, but it may not be the best for you.
There are many fields of study that are fitting for someone who wants to be a professional photographer, and I have expanded on each of them below. I hope this article can help you narrow down, and eventually chose a field of study for your love of photography.
Business is one of the most popular fields of study at most major universities, for good reason. A business degree is very versatile and can be used towards a plethora of careers. Many schools offer concentrations within the business schools from the likings of: marketing, management, finance, accounting, human resources, and more.
“It helped me start my photography business by giving me a foundation to work from” said Kirk Bergman, a fellow columnist here on Improve Photography. ” I learned how to create a business plan, learned about different types of businesses, as well as how to take some of the emotion of our starting a business and ground myself in reality.”
A business major will not necessarily make you a better photographer, however, this field of study will give you plenty of knowledge on how to operate a functioning business for yourself. Don't forget to keep improving your photography work along the way; keep shooting!
Photography as an Art
Going to school for photography is great for someone who wants to become an exceptional photographer. When enrolling in any art program, many schools will have the student start at the basics with fundamentals and drawing. After basic art classes, students can then choose a concentration, in this case, photography. Depending on the art program and school, intro photo classes will start students on film or digital. If there is a program available that starts on 35mm film, and works up to digital, do that.
I took Photo Image Making I as an elective this last semester at CSU. Everything about the class revolved around film photography, from photographs we made, to the photographers we studied. Working with film has drastically helped improve my own photography. It really helps you slow down and think, I highly suggest it. If you have never watched a print develop–buckle up–it's magical.
Aside from the magic, there are a few draw backs. There is not much else you can do with a photographic arts degree, besides photography. This leads to more of a chance to be a true starving artist. Are you up for the challenge?
Do you like to travel? Maybe you like to write too. If this sounds like you than maybe journalism is right for you. As a photographer in a journalism major, you will likely land you a job as a photographer, writer or both (photojournalist) with a newspaper, online news outlet or a magazine. These types of jobs could be anything from covering a skateboarding competition for the Fairview Smalltowner to photographing snow leopards in the Himalayas for Life Magazine.
I was a photographer at CSU's school newspaper and quit after two weeks. It's not for me, to say the least. However, many journalism programs are also a media communications degree, all in one. Depending on the classes you take, this major can be whatever you make it. Many of my classes are more focused on social media, online writing and photography, for example.
If you want to add onto your photographic skillset, journalism may be for you. Through programs like this you can learn more skills to build upon you photography, like film making, writing, and communication. This makes students more versatile in the media world, which leads to better resumes and portfolios.
At first, graphic design may seem unrelated to photography; however, photography and graphics often come together in the same piece. Graphic design is often looked at as logo design, but it goes far beyond that with creating advertising pieces, posters, booklets, infographics, etc.
Graduating with a solid portfolio of graphic art, and a solid photography portfolio from side work, you would be a great asset to a company as a graphic artist. Being an in-house, full-time photographer for a company is far and few between. Although, being a full-time digital content creator is becoming a very popular job today. I know a handful of people who are digital content creators, doubling as graphic designer and photographer for businesses. If you are a very creative person, consider learning a new art with your photography.
If the options above do not interest you, or you just have no idea what you want to do with your photography, I would suggest looking into a communications program. Communications is a great option that both improve your skills as a photographer and gives you skills for a bigger job outside of photographer if you so choose. Communications degrees focus on a wide variety of ways that our world communicates with each other (text, visuals, audio, etc.)
“Personally, I found great value in a communication degree,” said founder of Improve Photography, Jim Harmer. “It taught me marketing, graphic design, Photoshop, and other things that are actually helpful for a photographer.”
Aside from being a photographer, communications majors can often land big jobs as executive producers, directors of social media, and marketing managers. All of which, could involve some photography along the way.
Do Not Go To School
You could just graduate highschool and try to be a professional photographer right off the bat. I would not suggest doing this, however, some well-known photographers (Chris Burkard) have done pretty well for themselves with only a high school education. All of that money that you would spend on school could be put towards a nice photography studio, just saying.
I would not suggest it though, having a degree, of any kind can really be a nice foundation, and backup plan if your future photography business falls through.