Although all photographers have an artistic eye and a strong understanding of composition and photography equipment, professional photographers tend to specialize in a certain area. Some go into sports photography or photojournalism, while others concentrate on fashion, portraits, weddings, science or fine arts. There are also outdoor or wildlife photographers, architectural or industrial photographers and forensic photographers. Each of these areas demand certain skills and many require specialized equipment.
Although there are no strict photography education requirements, an education in photography can help polish a budding photographer's skills and provide vital contacts that can serve as a gateway to work as a paid professional.
There are no specific prerequisites for photographers, but those entering the field have often been taking pictures for years as a serious hobby. High school students can gain valuable experience taking journalism classes and working for their student newspaper or yearbook, where they can get acquainted with the latest equipment, computer software, and layout techniques.
Photography course typically focus on two areas: traditional studio and darkroom techniques and digital photography. Programs also teach history of the craft, as well as practical use of film and digital cameras. The vast majority of work today is produced with digital images.
Associate degree: While many photographers work professionally without having a degree in the field or meeting specific photography education requirements, students can nevertheless hone their craft with a two-year degree. Many of these associate programs focus on photo technology, giving students a background in the equipment and software used by professional photographers. Other classes include:
Bachelor's degree: Four-year degrees are required for photographers who want to work for media companies, such as newspapers and magazines. Their courses will take them beyond equipment and technology and explore communication, ethics and journalism. Photographers can also earn bachelor degrees in fine art photography, fashion photography and industrial photography. Science photographers learn to record images using microscopes and often study biology, medicine, chemistry and other sciences.
Master's degree: Earning an advanced degree in fine arts or similar area of study usually is not necessary to find gainful employment as a photographer, but it is an important career milestone for those who desire to teach photography, especially at the college level.
Some of the many professional groups and organizations that deal solely with photography and professional photojournalists include: the American Society of Media Photographers; Women in Photography International; Professional Photographers of America (PPA); National Press Photographers Association; Wedding and Portrait Photographers International; and the Society for Photographic Education.
The PPA offers a rigorous certification process that identifies those who qualify as professionals who have the consistency, artistry and technical skills clients are looking for in a free-lance photographer.
There are many more professional and trade groups that deal with the different photography education requirements for different careers in the field. Membership can provide continuing education and other valuable resources.