When you are setting your sights (or maybe we should say focus, since we are talking photography) on photography as a career, the right education is a must. It is essential to thoroughly research your options before just jumping into the first opportunity that you find – or choosing the school closest to home. You’ll be making an investment in yourself that will last a lifetime so it is worth taking more than a cursory glance at your options.
There are a wide variety of schools out there that are willing to teach you photography, all with varying degrees of quality – and with different approaches to the art and technical skills required. You don’t want to invest thousands of dollars and countless hours of study and then not receive a worthwhile education. How can you find the school or program that is right for you and your future career goals? There are a variety of things you need to consider for when searching for a photography school.
Your Starting Point
We all start somewhere, so knowing your own starting level of ability can help you choose the right program. No matter your current skill level with a camera take the time to reflect upon yourself and determine what your weaknesses and strengths are as a photographer. You might be really good at getting everything in focus close up, but not so good at night shots. Maybe you struggle a bit with composition or your photos lack that professional or artistic touch you crave.
Once you have a baseline and an idea of what you would like to improve upon, you can start to do some research to find a photography class, or college course that can help you improve your current skillset, and take you to the next level.
Your Goals Matter
Any photography class with a skilled teacher will improve your skills, but knowing what area you want to focus (again, sorry for the pun) on can help you target the right class. Do you want to improve your basic technical skills? Most beginner and local classes will do, particularly if you are new to the craft or self-taught. Looking to take your portraits and candid shots to the next level? A class with an experienced and accomplished portrait/commercial photographer may be your best bet.
If you want to hone your photojournalism skills, then a photography class at a school known for its Journalism program is likely your best bet; you’ll have access to a variety of professors working in the field an learn how to tell a story without saying a single word. Identifying and understanding what you want to get out of the program and visualizing that end result can help you identify the right learning opportunity.
Where to Find Classes
You might be surprised at the number of local photography classes offered in your area. If you are new to photography or want to hone your basic skills, starting locally can help you save money as you learn. Most medium to large cities have photography clubs, technical college classes or individual photographers that offer to train people. These settings are more laid back than a typical college but can help you develop some basic skills.
Next, check to see if you have any colleges in your area that offer photography programs. A local school with a good photography program can help you learn the basic skills you’ll need to build on later. This type of program will improve your knowledge of all the technical details of photography, and also improve upon your creative thinking skills. If you already have some background and want a solid education in the field, your state or local college will be able to help you get started.
If are serious about photography as a career and want the best available education, opting for one of the nation’s top photography colleges can help you hone your craft and meet your goals. Programs at this level are in-depth and often have a specific approach to photography as a medium. Some will be better for niches like architecture or modern arts, while others will give you a better understanding of photojournalism and the additional commercial aspects of sustaining a career within the field. If you are able to obtain the funds for any type of school and location is not a problem, one of the schools below can help you reach your goals.
Best Colleges and Programs for Photography in the US
Yale School of Fine Art – Considered by many to be the best college for photography, Yale offers a very intense program that requires you to have an undergraduate degree as an application requirement. Every spot in this in-demand program gets nearly two dozen applicants. While getting in and completing the program is a challenge, the instant name recognition opens doors and career possibilities for even new graduates. A degree from this well-known photography school demands immediate respect from anyone in the field.
Brooks Institute – If you are the kind of person who likes to learn from people who can inspire you with their own success you will love Brooks Institute. The school is known for hiring those who have been successful within the commercial photography industry. You will find yourself learning from working professionals in the field, including photogs with credits from commercial giants like Nike, and a former senior photo editor for National Geographic.
Drexel University: Located in the heart of Philadelphia, Drexel is known for its math and engineering programs, but their intensive 6 month photography classes offer locals a chance to hone their skills and rack up some impressive credentials in a short amount of time.
Syracuse University: With a strong focus on art photography, this well-known liberal arts school offers students the chance to capture photos at home and abroad. Recent excursions include study abroad semesters in Australia, Ireland, Chile, Egypt and Namibia
University of California –LA: US News and World Report consistently ranks this campus as one of the top 10 schools in the nation for photography. The campus is also considered one of the best schools in the US for fine art, so if you are interested in Photography as art, the sunny UCLA campus might be your best bet on the west coast.
New York Film Academy: Known for intensive and gritty programming for those students interested in photography as a story telling medium, this college offers hands-on and field study in New York and in cities across the US. Well known photographers Melvin Sokolsky and Stephane Sednaoui are both graduates, and this relatively new offering is seen as a fast rising and visible place to learn.
Washington University St. Louis: Students here spend a full year of intensive study in the studio, making the school an excellent option for those wishing to pursue a commercial photography career. The school is known for grads with high technical ability and professional caliber skills at graduation.