Should You Attend College If You Want to Be a Professional Photographer?

These days it seems like you need little more than a smartphone to take professional photos, thanks to high-megapixel lenses, built-in filters, and simple editing options. However, posting the best photos to Instagram doesn’t necessarily make you Ansel Adams or qualify you to cover weddings or newsworthy events.

If you want to become a professional photographer, you need to take your craft seriously. This means finding institutions of higher learning that offer the training you need to compose beautiful shots, utilize professional equipment, and create prints both digitally and in a traditional darkroom setting.

Those who dream of a career in photography should learn all they can about this history of the medium, as well as time-tested techniques and modern changes thanks to the advent of digital methods. You should definitely look into programs at Yale, the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia, or even the interdisciplinary art school at the University of Cincinnati. Here are a few benefits you’ll gain in the process.

Professional Tutelage

You can learn a lot about photography on your own from reading books and shooting and developing or editing photos. However, you’ll probably expedite the process and learn a lot more when you enter a college degree program designed to train you for a career in photography.

Experimental Opportunities

Many students want to explore the artistic side of photography, and college is a great time to do so. Even as you’re learning the skills required to be a professional photographer, class projects will allow you to dabble with composition, color, light and shadow, and different development and editing techniques.

These lessons will not only shape your technical proficiency behind the camera lens, but also help you to determine how best to use this artistic form of expression. Without projects and feedback, you’ll end up blindly groping at how to adopt an interesting and appealing artistic point of view.


Taking classes is not the same as experiencing the daily demands of working as a professional photographer. That said, your time in college may include internship opportunities that help you determine exactly how you want to progress with your photography career.


Who you know is often as important as what you know. College is a great place to meet others in your industry and adjacent fields. This, in turn, can allow you to foster relationships that lead to job opportunities, collaborations, and other professional pursuits after graduation. This is an important part of starting down any career path.

Business Courses

Chances are you don’t want to spend your career carting around camera equipment for another professional at a photo studio. Unfortunately, you’re going to find yourself playing second fiddle if you don’t have some talent and/or a degree.

When you decide to get a degree from UCLA or the University of Texas, you could also take some business classes or even undertake a double major, developing the knowledge and skills needed not only for a career in photography, but to start and manage your own successful business venture.