Have you ever wondered, “What degree do you need to be a photographer?”
You want to start taking pictures and maybe, earn a little extra CA$H, but…friends, family, co-workers, and a few others say it’s impossible.
After all, you’re a nobody, right? No experience. No special courses or classes. No formal photography education or degree.
WAIT, HOLD ON THERE!
If you’re hearing this kind of negativity, then YOU need to STOP LISTENING to those people. WHY? Because THEY’RE WRONG! ALL WRONG!
The truth: No one NEEDS, nor REQUIRES, any formal education or knowledge to enjoy, or earn money through photography. The very best way to learn to shoot is on your own.
Sure, getting an on-campus or online photography degree, or learning from books, guides, and mentors can, and does, help along the way. In the end, it’s ALL up to you, whether or not to invest in durable camera gear to capture your best images.
If you’re willing, we can get started. I’ll do my best to show you how you can invest small amounts that will allow you to grow along with your collection of accessories.
Let’s get started discovering the answer to the question, “What degree do you need to be a photographer?”
Importance of Photography in Today’s Visual-Centric World
In the beginning, there were stones, pebbles and rocks, and things. However, one day, a simple man had an idea. An idea to create and preserve a person’s likeness – forever! Skip ahead to the 1800s and VIOLA! the camera was born.
Some years later, SMALLER “handheld” cameras (known as box cameras or brownies), were created and consumer photography was off and running.
Today we have, what seems to be a limitless array of cameras and their ensuing formats. Some people even have phones with cameras. Yes, people. They are PHONES with TINY sensors in them. They can provide “pics” or “snaps.” They’re NOT ‘professional,’ or even ‘consumer grade/quality’ DSLRs, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras. That’s a topic to dive into at a later time. For now, we’ll concentrate on the MYTHS and LIES people use to dissuade others from enjoying such a rewarding form of art.
DaVinci, VanGogh, Rembrandt, and others used paints and brushes. Obtaining just one portrait, or likeness of one’s self, took hours – even days to create. Not true today. Our chosen form of brush looks much like a small box with a tube protruding from the front, much like an elephant, yet much easier to carry.
The very first time you pick one of these digital tools up, and hold it in your hands, you might wonder HOW anyone can truly understand the complexities of all those buttons and controls. In truth, you really don’t! A simple grasp of the basics is all you’ll need to get started.
How to Be a Great Photographer
Jumping forward, we’ll consider you’ve found your DSLR and have read the User Manual thoroughly and you have a firm understanding of just where the important controls are located and how they work to produce a “picture.” Awesome and congrats to you! Now, let’s learn more about my statement of not needing any advanced education or knowledge to obtain some of the best images you’ll ever capture.
Today, our cameras handle most of the calculations for us – UNLESS – you switch to MANUAL MODE and set things yourself. And we’ve seen the film age go the way of the dodo in lieu of digital. From the late 1800s through the early years of the 21st century, film had a very long run. Now, film is purchased and used for special occasions. It’s quite costly and limits images to 10, 12, 24, and 36 exposures per roll.
Not so with digital cameras. We can shoot hundreds to more than 1,000 images on just one card. Swap it, and you’re back in business. Our cameras can include RAW and JPG image formats. RAW captures images in their FULL uncompressed original state, providing MILLIONS of pixel colors, tints, hues, saturation, etc.
The other mode, JPG, is a compressed mode. It strips away most of the data in the image just to make the image smaller and easier to store on a card. However, with the costs of cards dropping, there’s really no reason to be concerned with “space.” What once cost nearly $100, now costs around $15 or $20, stores more, and saves at faster speeds than the old ones.
I use Sandisk 64GB & 128GB SDXC cards rated as UHS-1 and UHS-3 / Class 10. All of this means it saves images fast, and stores a lot of images – in RAW format. I believe I get 900+ images at 24MP per 64GB card. Not really sure as I’ve never been able to fill one! As megapixels (MP), increase image storage decreases. Likewise, RAW uses more space than JPG. I choose HIGHER quality over quantity.
Both formats have their downsides. With JPG, you get way less than you saw in your viewfinder. With RAW, you’ll need to post-process your images.
My grandfather and I, have written numerous guides – all free – to help people learn more about photography, and themselves in the process, and we’re not stopping. Free is the proper price for sharing knowledge that can, and does, benefit others, no matter how small it may seem. Okay, back to the pushers and pundits.
In his time, you had to really know about photography, lighting, posing, sunlight, daylight, shadows, and so many other factors to get the shot correct. After all you can’t delete film. Once it’s exposed to light, it’s all over, there’s no going back. With film, you never get to SEE your images IN CAMERA first.
In the digital age, it’s easy to get the image you want because you can simply delete the ones you don’t like and claim no mistakes were made.
The cool part is the fact there are many levels of editing software programs to help produce awe-inspiring, wall-mountable images anyone would be proud to hang in any room or building.
Some are free. Some cost. And, others demand a “subscription.” Or, as we here, call it, “extortion-ware.” Seriously! Subscription-based software is ONLY available while you’re online and if you have Internet access.
Should you be a person to suffer a typhoon, monsoon, hurricane, tornado, or ordinary telephone pole-to-car accident, or be somewhere with no iNet service, etc. – you’re screwed. But you do get to keep paying for services you can’t reach!
Like photography, you can learn how to edit images more efficiently with time and practice. No one ever gets an image right the first time. NO ONE! Anyone that says they DO, or can, is telling a very tall tale and should be avoided if possible. Any advice offered by them should be considered as having less value than a grain of salt. Salt has actual value. That brings me to the pundits that push college degrees and “special” (costly), never-ending courses that turn you into a “pro.” No such thing!
Real-world photography is about 90% preparation, editing, maintenance, and paperwork. Only about 10% is actual shooting. If your numbers are different, you’re not doing your best.
When I started, I got to see how it was done using film, chemicals, developing, darkrooms, and long hours. My grandfather is a Master Photographer (almost 60 YEARS), but he won’t tell you that, and he still shares his knowledge freely with others.
I’m what is known as an Eclectic Photographer. I’ve shot: Commercial; Beauty; Glamour; Boudoir; Fashion; Portrait; Comps; Portfolio; Sports; School; Seniors; In-Home; News; Nature; Wildlife; Animals & Pets; Engagements; Weddings, and more that include some my grandpa created or modified. I’ve sold and GIVEN AWAY a lot of my work. After nearly two decades, I’m still learning and sharing with others, cool new stuff as I learn it, test it, set it to my style, and work it into my business model.
I’ve held free photography clinics in parks, on beaches, and near lakes & oceans, in parking lots, at schools, universities, and more. Big deal! None of that proves my work will meet ‘your’ needs.
My true passion lies in nature, landscape & wildlife photography. It’s what I grew up learning to shoot with my grandpa as my mentor and guide.
Nearly all of my colleagues have some form of tech or college education. No one has a degree in photography. Their education has never helped me bring them aboard (I use Swiss philosophy). Does it mean something – anything – to someone else? It shouldn’t. Everything I’ve said up to now, never ‘showed’ you what kind of photographers we are.
The Education of a Photographer
College & University “classes” are precursors to a person’s potential career choices after high school. They’re in no way related to actual “LIFE” or “DEATH” situations or decisions.
This is only one of the great lies sold for profit. Colleges, Universities, Vo-Tech, and so-called “advanced certificate programs” or courses will NEVER be able to teach you how to SEE creatively. That comes naturally, from within yourself. One awesome thing about it, you can teach yourself to SEE with a creative view.
No college or university is a do-all, tell-all institution. That’s a myth if not a borderline lie. It’s about theory, preparation, opinion, and conclusion. Additionally, the amount of experience you have in photography might help you – it doesn’t guarantee success. More like a promise, accompanied by disappointment.
If you can’t ‘SEE’ the how, what, who, or where to compose an image correctly, all of the education and experience in the world won’t help. It means absolutely nothing.
College is about baby steps to prepare people to work for others using theories and tests, not hands-on real-world applications to show you how to employ yourself. It’s about being confined to boxes, straight lines, immutable rules, and hours or times of the day to shoot or not – combined with the outmoded belief: “It’s the way it’s always been done.” Well, that’s all just – crap!
College classes and special courses will never SHOW your true limits as a photographer. That happens when you put your hands on a camera and begin to learn by doing it yourself.
Traveling coast to coast with a horse and buggy was the way it was always done. That is until someone began thinking outside of the box. VIOLA! We have automobiles, planes, trains, jets, and UFOs! (I couldn’t resist).
The OLD way of thinking is just a self-imposed barrier, crutch or excuse, to which I’ll never be bound, nor will any of my colleagues. We’re free to create any images we wish, through our eyes and minds – we have no limits.
If a photographer’s main focus is on his or her, years of experience or tons of education, and not about the quality of the resultant images, you’ve failed before you began. It all boils down to: ‘SHOW ME THE PROOF!’ Photography is about images, not bragging.
What’s that saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words….” Yeah, I’ve never really been a fan of that cliché. Why? Well, if it takes a thousand words to explain one of my images, it’s far too many. Nope! I prefer the better, simpler, subtler approach.
Photography is for ‘EVERYONE’ with dreams, aspirations, and desires of successfully learning about, and enjoying, photography as a hobby, interest, and perhaps, a way to provide extra income. Whether it’s just for you, your family, or some other reason, makes no difference.
Education and experience ‘might’ help, but they’re not the perfect answer, and you certainly don’t need it to be successful. College offers one small path, from many. That path likely, won’t be the one that takes you on a lifelong journey and adventure into the never-ending world of YOUR IMAGINATIONS.
Find you’re your true interest. Find your niche, then run with it! If you can’t SEE an image in your mind, no education and no amount of experience will ever help you. Dare to dream and keep your imagination ALIVE!
As for outside negative influences – I encourage you to ignore naysayers that still believe “years” of experience or college degrees and certification magically turn you into a super photographer. They really DON’T. You don’t need any of it. I believe I’ve offered information to at least premise these OLD beliefs are closer to myth/lie than the truth. I also believe I’ve shown that YOU – CAN – DO – IT! You just have to want it enough to believe it really is possible.
Editing is a career on its own. Today editing is easier than ever before. The newest software now includes AI or Artificial Intelligence editing algorithms. Load in any image, even RAW files, and let the AI do the major work for you.
Or, you can edit images individually, like I do. Any edit can take mere seconds to an hour to process depending on the type, style, client, need, and other factors. The one-hour limit I set is based on time and effort. It’s also based on the philosophy: “You can’t edit a bad picture to make it great, you can only make it LESS BAD.” (Grandpa’s wise words).
Let’s revisit the question, “What degree do you need to be a photographer?
To rely on ‘formal’ education, or ‘special’ courses, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars bears no weight or credence toward your abilities as a photographer. College, and other formal education, can be a starting point, but nothing more. It certainly won’t turn you into a professional, no matter how much money you spend.
I detest talking about myself. It’s the one thing I dread in any conversation. Unlike me, there are many that boast of their superiority, rather than choose to SHOW their qualification and remove all doubt. Any formal education, knowledge, theories, reports, tests, papers, degrees, etc. are just things to hang on a wall. They mean nothing if you can’t actually capture images by using the camera correctly.
My education, through life’s experiences, is way more than I’ll ever be able to share before I’m gone. Don’t be like so many others flaunting education or certificates to justify or validate your work. Just show the work and wait.
There are thousands of people with more years in photography than I possess. That doesn’t mean they’re better than I am. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop learning, changing, or adapting my methods or style, as I continue to grow as a photographer and a person. In spite of my education – business, not photography – I’ve learned much from school. Most of it on how NOT to do something because their methods are, well, wrong – for me.
I show clients my images and what I can do, then I wait for it. Those awesome sounds that truly tell the story about the quality of my work. Words that are short and sound like: WOW! WHOA! GORGEOUS! AWESOME! BEAUTIFUL! Simple, elegant, and to the point. No words wasted. It’s confirmation. It’s neutral, objective, impartial validation through someone else’s eyes. No further proof is needed.
What degree do you need to be a photographer?
I’m proof positive you don’t need a degree or special certification in photography to become a successful photographer. I was successful long before I obtained a degree. My gramps was running his own photo biz – at FIFTEEN!
I don’t run around claiming I’m better because of my education status either. That’s just ridiculous. I’ve never mentioned my college education to any client, nor have they ever asked. I show them my images and let them decide.
If you search: ‘FRANEY MILLER,’ you’ll see just how untrue any claims of degrees or years of experience make you a better photographer. Her photography is awesome and cutting-edge. She is self-taught, got started, and was discovered, at 17, and in high school!
Financial Considerations and Affordability
Getting started shouldn’t cause a panic attack, nor drain your wallet of visible funds. Start small. Buy USED gear from recognized sources such as: MPB.com, KEH.com, Adorama.com, UsedPhotoPro.com, HoustonCameraExchange.com, and B&H Photo, to list a few. These sellers rate, test, and grade their used products. Then, they show their findings in the listings: New, Like New, Excellent, Ex++, Ex+, Very Good, right on down the list to ‘Parts Only.’ Of course, they’re priced according to the quality of the item as well.
Purchase only what you can afford. Build slowly and teach yourself how to use what you have with precision. The rest will come in time. We’ve purchased lenses in the Very Good+ and up categories and haven’t been disappointed. Likewise, for camera bodies, Ex+ on up to Like New, not disappointed. We still have a couple of old EOS T3i cameras that capture brilliant images to this day. No issues in image quality from these 10+-year-old USED cameras/lenses, purchased in Ex+ condition. And those cameras have traveled far and often!
My first purchase included a Canon “KIT” camera setup. It came with the body, an 18-55mm and 55-250mm lens set, a carry strap, a battery, and a charger. Nothing more, for around $300.00 USD.
Over the years, I’ve added, off-camera flash units, wireless RF remote triggers, dual battery grips, tripods, carry bags, filters, extension tubes for macro photography, and a host of other items. I do my very best to NEVER pay retail. I search for the best deals on Amazon, eBay, Overstock, and even Walmart. Many times, the best deals are online, not in-store. This ‘collecting’ has taken YEARS to put together.
When starting out, kits like these are the best bargain money can buy. More BANG FOR YOUR BUCK as Grandpa puts it. You’ll hear lots of people tell you KITS and KIT lenses are no good. LIE! One of the first awards I received (from Google, yes, those guys), was shot on an EOS T3i, ISO 100, RAW, using a simple 18-55mm KIT lens, tripod, and wireless remote.
The f-stop was set to f/8.0, manual mode, AWB, auto-focus (I was 8 feet away), no filters, no lens stabilization, and only natural lighting. Anyone can reproduce what I did. That was around 12 years ago.
I’m still adding pieces, and still learning. Oh, and excellent “older” model camera bodies/kits can be bought for as little as $100-250 USD. You just need to be patient and do your research. That’s how I was taught. It’s how I show others. It’s how I save, and pass those savings on to my clients – all of them, from the single mom/dad, to the big-money commercial clients.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Photographer: FAQ
Do you really need a degree in photography?
No. The best education is real-world experience and self-study.
What degree should I take for photography?
The truth is that you don’t need a degree to be a successful photographer. You need passion, affordable equipment, and real-world education. You can always self-study. You don’t need a formal degree to be a successful photographer.
Wrapping Up: What Degree Do You Need to Be a Photographer?
After reading this A to Z guide, you see why the answer to “What degree do you need to be a photographer?” is no degree at all.
Despite what friends, family, or institutions want you to believe, photography is for EVERYONE with a passion, desire, skill, deep interest, creativity, and ability to SEE and SHOW rather than say. No degree is required to be a success. Photography is about IMAGINATION. The last time I looked; institutions didn’t offer that as a class.
You can possess all of the knowledge in the world and never use it. You can hold it close to your heart, lacking the imagination to apply it or share it. That’s when you miss out on the amazing world that surrounds you.
Albert Einstein said this about knowledge and imagination:
“IMAGINATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWLEDGE. FOR KNOWLEDGE IS LIMITED, WHEREAS IMAGINATION EMBRACES THE ENTIRE WORLD, STIMULATING PROGRESS, GIVING BIRTH TO EVOLUTION”
“THE TRUE SIGN OF INTELLIGENCE IS NOT KNOWLEDGE BUT IMAGINATION.”
and about EDUCATION he said:
“EDUCATION IS WHAT REMAINS AFTER ONE HAS FORGOTTEN WHAT ONE HAS LEARNED IN SCHOOL.”
Wise words from a wise man.
Readers, please share so budding photographers discover the answer to, “What degree do you need to be a photographer?”
Author: Writing & research by Alexa Shaw, Just A Simple Photographer
This writing reflects my opinions only. No one else is included.
Editing & correcting by Craig Alexander, Ph.D. (aka – my grandpa!)
All Image Copyrights To Respective Owners