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I am looking to get into photography as a career and was wondering if you had to have a degree or not?

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    Can anyone work in photography as a career when no one wants to pay a reasonable amount for photographic services anymore? That's the question you should be asking. Yes, that's a bit of hyperbole, but it isn't near as far from the truth as most of us would prefer. It's gotten kind of like farming: these days you need to work a day job to support your farming/photography habit. – Michael C May 23 '18 at 17:22
  • There might be countries where you actually need a degree/training in photography so you can do it professionally (e.g. open a business, earn money with it,...), while in other countries, it might not be necessary to have any training. – flolilo May 23 '18 at 18:27
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    @MichaelClark hits the nail on the head. From my experience there are very few full-time photographers left, if you're serious about it i suggest researching as much as you can about your local industry. – Crazy Dino May 23 '18 at 19:46
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    Anecdotally I know quite a lot of photographers, but almost none of them have a degree, and those that have have one that is totally unrelated, like biochemistry. – PlasmaHH May 23 '18 at 20:33
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    General advice: 1) find a work that you love 2) determine if getting a degree would help your career 3) get that degree. Not the other way around. – Agent_L May 24 '18 at 11:59
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I would guess that most photographers do not have any formal training in photography these days (whether by school or apprenticeship)...camera and lens technology is cheaper than ever and post-processing skill is almost irrelevant as the tools themselves get smarter and pre-packed action-sets or filters are used.

What this means is, there are an absolute ton of hobbyists that have flooded the profession with good images and they'll take little money for them. See the death of photojournalism and nature photography for good examples.

What this leaves you with, if you want a career in photography, is playing to people's need for photographs of themselves. Weddings and portraits are the best types of photography to run your business on. For these types, a portfolio means more to your future clients than your degree.

That being said - the ability to control light is what makes a good photographer great. There are an absolute plethora of shooters out there that don't know the first thing about flash, studio lighting, or mixed lighting. Almost ironically, these are exactly the things you'll learn during a photography program.

So, while it is absolutely possible to shoot professionally without a degree - I would say it's highly advisable to make sure that you self-teach all of the topics that you would find in a class syllabus.


As an aside: I began working in a studio in high school and started college as a photo student. I quickly switched to business marketing, having realized that I was getting more tutelage at the studio than I would get in school. Having run a photo biz - I can absolutely advise going down this path. There's a whole lot about running a business...finding leads, writing contracts, accounting, etc...a whole lot more to it than you'll know no matter how much you prep.

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A portfolio is always better than a degree, but it can depend on what areas of photography you want to work in. If you're working for private clients and individuals, then nobody is going to ask you for a degree, they just want to see your work. If you're working as a photographer in a higher-end studio or for a major fashion magazine, then it might help.

If you're wanting to work freelance or own your own studio, I think a business degree will be much more valuable, and you can fill your electives with photography classes.

  • You don't actually need the degree if you don't plan to work for anyone else. All you need is the knowledge thereof. – can-ned_food May 25 '18 at 4:05
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Yes, you surely can have a career without a photography degree. just build up a good portfolio and read books...basically, just keep learning.

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David Hurn is the grandfather of photography education and a member of the Magnum cooperative. He devised and ran the now legendary School of Documentary Photography in Newport. Despite his pedagogical background, I saw David speak about a month ago at the Photographers' Gallery in London. His advice now is to apprentice yourself to the best photographer in your chosen field you can convince to take you on, or attend their workshops and teach yourself. He thought the benefit of a photography degree was not now worth its cost, unless you specifically need a degree for some reason. And, if you don't know what field you want to work in, he advises self-funding an extended round-the-world tour, shoot lots and lots of photographs and at the end see what you enjoyed shooting the most and go with that. I'd say it is good advice. You can find more-or-less everything David said at the Photographers Gallery in this interview with Huck magazine

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I've done my fair share of photography and had no formal training - I was able to comfortably shoot catalogue items for customers, then moved into shooting real estate imagines for extra money on weekends and after hours.

I would also say it depends on your equipment, It's like any skilled profession, if you are passionate about it it will show in the end result, in saying that I then took a corporate shoot for a customer I was working with and the end result showed as the shots were beautiful, but definitely not at a truly professional standard.

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Reductio ad absurdum:

Consider the following scenario. Suppose you need to have a degree but you violate that law and go on to become an illegal photographer who is very successful, who has won many prizes. Then you are found out, you never actually got a degree allowing you to practice photography. All of your photography works suddenly become worthless, and you are sent to jail for having illegally practiced photography and defrauded the legal photographers. After all, unlike the other legal photographers, you won many contests on the basis of only your photography skills, not on the skills needed to pass the exams needed to get your degree.

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    I think you don't quite realise how realistic your scenario actually is in other professions. Taking architecture as an example: there's nothing to stop anyone from doing graphic design of buildings and winning architecture awards, true; but it is illegal to call yourself an "architect" if you haven't got the qualification. – AndyT May 24 '18 at 8:35
  • @AndyT In general, it's not lack of a degree that prevents you from calling yourself an architect (or engineer, doctor, etc.); it's lack of a license. A degree from an accredited school may be necessary to get a license, but it's not sufficient. – Caleb May 24 '18 at 11:55
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    @Caleb that, again, depends on the country. In my country (EU), licenses for certain professions will only be given to people with a degree in this profession. And the degree will by law be regulated to be only given to you if you know all that is required. And yes, until recently (2016), this also was true for photography (not an academic degree, though, but 3 years of full-time, almost unpaid training) here. – flolilo May 24 '18 at 14:13
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    @flolilolilo - while I disagree about the unpaid part (all work has value so c'mon, pay the poor kid) - I do wish apprenticeships hadn't gone out of style. Seems like, at least in the US here, we've done a good job of outsourcing that thing to the colleges. – Hueco May 24 '18 at 15:58
  • Agreed. Over here, at least practical labor still uses apprenticeships. However, the photography training always has been a questionable thing: Photographers used their trainees as cheap laborers, while they did not want to create any competition. Most of the ex-apprentices I know say that it was an utter waste of time. Couple that with a payment of < 900€ tops (in the last year of training; in the years before, it usually is < 500€. Flats over here start at 300€ net. and a loaf of bread is > 2.5€, just for perspective) and you have the reason why I always hoped they would end this misery. – flolilo May 24 '18 at 16:17
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Outside of law, medicine and (non-programming) stem fields, no career needs a college degree.

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    What about statics? What about teaching? What about psychology (no, this is not medicine)? What about pharmacology (still not medicine)? Also, it is possible for certain professions that special training is needed, which in some of those countries results in a (non-academic) degree. – flolilo May 24 '18 at 11:36
  • Static: E in STEM is engineering. Static is in engineering. Teaching - may often require, but there are plenty of teachers that have no degree. Also, he talks specifically about college degrees. – TomTom May 25 '18 at 7:51
  • I used a broad definition of medicine and omitted teachers/academics. – Jamie Clinton May 25 '18 at 14:57
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Several of these posts mention getting a good portfolio and then you are ready to go to work and this may be true, but I would suggest finding a sub field of photography and getting good at that. 10 Years ago virtual photography (full 360 panos) was a field where you could write your own ticket. Now it is getting harder as there are apps that make it something that can be done on at least on a basic level by hobbyist. Still can make a living with it though.

I am confident there are other such sub fields, you just have to find them. While having a degree may help with basics, often these fields are going to be so specialized a general photography degree would not help much vs knowing the basics and then studying your particular part of photography.

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