Photography is, without a doubt, one of the most popular creative mediums. From portraits, to fashion, to wildlife, to sports, to weddings, to landscapes – photography is prominent just about everywhere you can think of. So, what if you want to get into that industry?
Can you be a photographer without a degree? Yes, you can! Photography is a field where degrees aren’t required. You can become a photographer without a degree by skilling up, investing in photography equipment, attending workshops, building a portfolio, and networking.
In this article, we’ll walk through why you don’t need to be a photographer without a degree, the pros and cons of getting a degree in photography, and ways to become a photographer without a degree. You’ll know all about being a photographer without a degree in a flash!
Can You Be a Photographer Without a Degree? What You Need to Know
If you’re looking to get a start in the photography industry, you may be at point A, wondering how to become a photographer and break into the industry.
One of the questions that frequently comes up from those that want to become a photographer is if they need to have a degree to become a professional.
The answer is yes – you definitely can!
Make no mistake – you can, of course, become a photographer with a degree, too. Many aspiring photographers do choose to go that route before launching their careers.
However, photography is an industry that doesn’t require degrees. Ultimately, aspiring photographers get to choose whether they want to become a photographer with a degree or with no degree. It all depends on what they prefer and what works best for them.
So, why can you be a photographer without a degree? Why do some aspiring photographers choose to get a degree to help them in their careers? What are the pros and cons of getting a photography degree?
Let’s take a look at the answers to all these questions.
Why You Can Be a Photographer Without a Degree
By this point, you know that you can successfully be a photographer without a degree. However, in a society that seems to stress the importance of college degrees – how is it possible to be a photographer without a degree?
No Strict Education or Training Requirements
First, to be a photographer, you don’t need to have any formal education. Nor are there specific training requirements.
Additionally, according to the article How to Become a Photographer by How to Become, becoming a photographer doesn’t require any specific licenses or certifications.
Again, the education and training that an aspiring photographer seeks out is all up to them.
Photography Skills Can Be Learned Through Online Resources
Photography skills can be gained without a degree, and in a myriad of ways. A lot of those ways have to do with the Internet.
Think of all the resources available at our disposal nowadays, thanks to the Internet – online workshops, online forums, video tutorials, eBooks, networking sites, promotional networks, social media — the list goes on.
All of these resources can teach aspiring photographers the information they need to know to go from rookie or hobbyist to professional.
Information that can be learned from today’s online resources like workshops, forums, and tutorials often overlaps with the information that’s taught in college courses for photography degrees. These resources can also help aspiring photographers’ network with other photographers, promote their work, find jobs, and get paid.
One of the best things? A lot of these resources are completely free, or low cost!
Photography Skills Can Be Learned Through Internships and Mentorships
Additionally, as you likely know, photography is a hands-on, experience-based creative discipline.
For that reason, many aspiring photographers choose to engage in internships or find mentors. Why? Oftentimes, learning photography right from an experienced photographer trumps other forms of learning.
For example, experienced photographers often seek interns. Through internships, aspiring photographers can learn the ins and outs of photography firsthand. Experienced photographers may also be open to mentoring aspiring photographers and helping them learn.
Take Clay Cook, an experienced portrait and editorial photographer, for example. In a 2015 article for FStoppers, Cook explains that internships and mentorships are a great way to learn photography without getting a degree.
Cook also says that he hires his own photography interns – sometimes several at a time.
The Pros and Cons of Getting a Degree in Photography
While it’s entirely possible to be a photographer without a degree, some aspiring photographers still may seek to earn a degree before launching their careers.
We’ve compiled the pros and cons of getting a degree in photography right from articles by some of the pros – like Jeremy O’Keefe at Huffpost, Tahlia Svingos at Canva, and Lauren Lim at Photography Concentrate.
Pros of Photography Degrees
Photography degrees do provide quite a few advantages to aspiring photographers and photography students, like:
- A structured learning environment
- A social environment and atmosphere
- Opportunities to meet others in the same field more easily
- Help from instructors and professors when needed
- In some instances, better job prospects
- A degree that you worked hard for!
Cons of Photography Degrees
Getting a degree in photography does pose its own set of disadvantages. These include:
- Tuition costs are high, but annual salaries for photographers are often low
- Equipment costs will often be high as well
- It can take a long time to pay back tuition debts
- There are no employment guarantees just because of having earned a photography degree
- School can take a long time to complete
- Photography school tends to teach more photography than business, and business knowledge is important for photographers
Ways to Become a Photographer Without a Degree
If you’ve read through the pros and cons of getting a photography degree and decided that wasn’t the best course of action for you, or if you want to consider different learning methods, then this section is all for you.
As we previously mentioned, there are a ton of different resources for aspiring photographers to not only learn about photography, but also to network, promote their work, and find jobs.
I'm going to go over those resources in detail – complete with what those resources can teach you, where you can find them, and why they’re important. We’ll also take a look at other ways to become a photographer without a degree.
Invest in Photography Equipment
Think of all the money that you’d have to spend on tuition in order to get a photography degree – the number would likely be in the thousands, or even the tens of thousands.
Now, think of all the quality photography equipment you could purchase with even a fraction of the money it would cost to get a photography degree.
No matter which way you spin it, you’ll need to invest in quality photography equipment in order to learn photography and hone your craft.
In their article Essential Photography Equipment for Beginners, PhotoWorkout has a list of some of the recommended photography equipment needed to get started in photography.
Equipment needed to get started in photography includes:
- A camera (no way!)
- Rechargeable batteries
- A tripod
- Memory cards
- An external hard drive
- Prime lenses
- Polarizing and ND filters
- A speed-lite
- A reflector
- Carrying supplies and protective bags
- Cleaning supplies
It sounds like a lot, but each piece of equipment serves an essential purpose and can help aspiring photographers get ahead in their game.
Online workshops are a huge resource for aspiring photographers that I briefly mentioned earlier in this article.
However, online workshops aren’t the only type of workshops aspiring photographers can attend – there are also a lot of in-person workshops.
While a lot of workshops can be free, many online and in-person photography workshops do cost money. However, these costs are often minimal in comparison to the cost of obtaining a photography degree.
Not only can workshops provide a lot of essential information about photography and running a photography business, but workshops can also provide many networking opportunities.
Interested in finding an online or in-person photography workshop, but don’t know where to start? Format.com has a list in their article The 21 Best Photography Workshops in the World.
PhotographyTalk also has a list of their recommended photography workshops.
When in doubt, hop online and do some research for what's best for you!
Practice and Build Your Portfolio
You’ve probably heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” That phrase most assuredly applies to photography as well. While you may not reach perfection in photography (or your idea of perfection, that is), practice is an essential aspect of becoming a photographer with or without a degree.
Practicing your photography skills can help you build your portfolio – which is also an essential aspect of becoming a photographer.
You can invest in all the photography equipment, attend all the workshops, and do all the research on photography you’d like, but if you don’t get out and actually practice, you won’t be able to develop your skills and style.
Practicing your photography helps lead to building your portfolio. Your portfolio as a photographer is crucial – it’s how you showcase your hard work, get people interested in your business, and it’s even what you can use to pitch to jobs.
Network, Network, Network
Networking is a huge part of just about every profession, but it’s especially huge in photography.
Networking allows you to build skills as a photographer, find more photography resources, get contacts and referrals, make business relationships, and gain clients.
Think of it this way – networking is a form of marketing for your photography career and business, and it’s often free.
So, where can you network as a photographer? Some of the best places are those you wouldn’t have thought of.
|MeetUp.com||There are specific groups for photography.|
There are specific groups for networking.
You can start your own group.
|Your local Chamber of Commerce||Chamber of Commerce is a business network.|
Some Chambers may overlap in your
|Local events – bridal shows, concerts, fashion shows, etc.||You can network with other photographers, show directors, producers, vendors, and models.|
|Talent agencies||Talent agencies have connections with many photographers of many niches.|
|Local artist groups||Great way to network locally.|
Many artists may be in photography or seeking a photographer.
|Local business owner groups||Other business owners can give you tips and even help push business your way.|
You can network as a photographer both online and in-person.
There are other places to network as a photographer, too, like:
|Social media – Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter||Convenient – can be done anywhere, any time.|
More easily grow your circle of people you don’t know yet.
|Facebook groups||Specifically tailored to niches and audiences.|
A large number of groups.
|At workshops and/or classes you attend||Workshops and classes are full of people in your niche and profession.|
|On online photography forums||You can network and also get feedback and answers to questions.|
|Through email||It’s personal.|
People may check email more often than social media.
|Through people that you already know||A personal connection and trust are often already established.|
People you already know can connect you to people they know.
Tips for Networking
It can be tricky to get the hang of networking at first. Here are some tips for networking successfully:
- Start early. Even if you don’t “need” to network, do it anyway! You never know when your connections can come in handy.
- Research who you want to connect with. Connections should add value to you, your photography, and your business – they shouldn’t be just anyone.
- Plan how you add value to connections. What skills and strengths can you offer to them to make yourself valuable?
- Always follow up. Following up can take as little as two minutes – make sure you do it! It expresses your interest, confirms that you see value in your connections, and shows that you’re valuable too.
When in doubt, network it out.
Watch Online Tutorials
When it comes to the Internet, the world is your oyster.
There is so much that can be learned from online resources like tutorials, and these resources are often free. Watching online tutorials is also great for those who don’t love to read or learn best through visuals.
In the article 20 effective ways to learn photography without going to photography school for Canva, author Tahlia Svingos explains that YouTube specifically is filled with great information for aspiring photographers – like tips, reviews, and full-on tutorials.
Seek Out an Internship or Mentor
I mentioned that internships and mentorships are great ways that photography skills can be learned. So, naturally, seeking out an internship or a mentor is a great way to become a photographer without a degree!
It’s important to note that, like all internships, photography internships can be paid or unpaid. Aspiring photographers may need another means of making an income while they participate in an internship.
Darina Kopcok explains that a great way to find an internship or a mentor is to directly contact photographers or photography businesses. Publications that have photography departments are another good way to find internships (source).
You may just be able to score an internship through all your networking or through workshops you participate in, too.
Additionally, when it comes to photography internships, it’s important to find a one in a niche that interests you, or that you plan to go into.
Think of all the types of photography we discussed back in the introduction of this article – portraits, fashion, wildlife, sports, landscape, wedding, bridal, food – it probably wouldn’t serve you to get an internship with a wildlife photographer when you really want to be a sports photographer.
Tahlia Svingos at Canva notes that it’s also important to research who you seek an internship from. The best type of internship will be from someone that really wants to teach photography to someone else and is generous with their knowledge.
It additionally probably wouldn’t serve you to get a photography internship where all you do is answer phones and do filing for a photographer.
When it comes to photography internships, finding one in your preferred niche and with someone who is generous with their knowledge is key.
Join Photography Forums
Like in an internship, one of the best ways to learn about photography is from other photographers. Another great place to find knowledge right from other photographers is through photography forums.
By joining a photography forum, you can ask other photographers questions about your camera and equipment, seek out feedback on your work, learn about other photography styles and methods, and further expand your network. You can even ask about photography business questions. Just be careful about taking advice from stressed out photographers in business. Just like in online freelancing, the business and money making advice could be out dated or just plain horrible.
There are thousands of forums out there, and most are just one Google search away.
Take Digital Photography Review, or DP Review, for example. DP Review is a photography forum with over 40 million posts and more than 4 million threads. Think of all the helpful information you could find there!
Familiarize Yourself with Post-Production Tools
When it comes to photography, half the battle of producing great work is taking the shot. The other half of the battle is editing that shot using post-production tools.
Post-production and editing of images can really bring out the best in them and make them stand out.
Typically, in today’s day and age, in order to become a successful photographer, you’ll need to be familiar with post-production and editing tools. These include software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, GIMP, and Paint.NET.
While software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom come with a price, other software like GIMP and Paint.NET are free. You don’t have to go right for the expensive programs, either – it’s all about what you prefer, what you work best with, and what helps you the most.
If you want to break into the booming and ever-popular photography industry, you’ve probably wondered just how to go about doing so.
It’s important to know that bottom line — you can absolutely be a photographer without a degree!
There are no strict education, training, or certification requirements in order to become a photographer. Not only that, but there is a myriad of ways to learn photography and advance your skills, like using online resources and participating in internships.
Becoming a photographer and launching a successful career will take time, but with enough hard work and determination, you can do it (and even save up to tens of thousands of dollars by not having to pay tuition expenses)!