Whether you’re an experienced photographer or just looking at getting into the business, you’ll probably take photography classes at some point. As you consider taking classes, you might wonder what kind of budget you’ll need to set aside.
How much are photography classes? The cost of photography classes depends on which route you take: college or learning the trade on your own by taking classes to further your knowledge. College costs thousands of dollars a year while taking classes here and there will cost you between $79 and $250 a class.
With such a huge price disparity, it’s important to at least think about the path you want to take. Let’s take a look at both options in this post to consider which is best for you.
Two Paths for Photography Classes
When it comes to answering the question, “How much are photography classes?” it definitely depends on which route you want to take. As this post just briefly mentioned, you can take one of two routes as far as photography classes are concerned. Take a look:
- Earn a college degree in photography
- Learn the trade on your own and take classes along the way
Earn a College Degree in Photography
Similarly to other degrees, you can earn a degree in photography by attending a four-year college.
The world of photography has changed with the digital era. It used to be anyone pursuing a career in photography engaged, at some point, in formal education. There were too many technical concepts to learn, and it was challenging to get experience outside of school.
It's a bit different now since you can learn the trade without formal education. If one off classes are that much cheaper, then why would you enroll in a four-year degree? Here are a few benefits to consider going to college for photography:
- You have a focused environment at school.
- You are surrounded by people with similar interests and passion.
- You have access to college connections/networking.
- If you ever want to teach photography at the college level, getting a degree is absolutely necessary.
- The curriculum is well-rounded.
- The professors can readily offer more direct, professional help when you need it.
- You get access to state of the art equipment.
With those benefits in mind, let’s talk about the cost associated with earning a college degree in photography. You’re most likely paying for more than just your classes. There are quite a few considerations where your tuition dollars won't cover:
- Extra class materials
- Student fees
- Technology fees
- Housing fees
- Meal plans
These costs vary from school to school and whether you’re attending a private school or state school. Of course, most of the top schools for those seeking a degree in photography are art institutes, which are private and cost quite a bit more. Here are some of those top schools:
- University of New Mexico
- Rhode Island School of Design
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- California Institute of the Arts
Now, let’s take a look at what is available at each of these schools and, more importantly, the annual cost of tuition for each of these options. Amounts subject to change, please check their websites for up to date information.
University of New Mexico
Since the University of New Mexico is a state school, you’ll find it’s quite a bit more affordable than the private art institutes. The photography degree at the University of New Mexico covers a number of different areas, and as part of your student fees, you’ll be able to access state of the art darkrooms for film processing as well as other equipment.
Annual tuition for a resident of New Mexico is $7,556 and $23,292 for a non-resident. This doesn’t account for other fees like room and board or books.
Rhode Island Institute of Design
Students at the Rhode Island Institute of Design begin their degree by learning about the social, cultural, and historical aspects of photography before moving onto a more hands-on approach in their junior year.
At that time, students learn digital printing, web projects, and video, and then finish their program by setting up their own exhibits at on-campus galleries.
The cost to attend the Rhode Island Institute of Design is $51,800 a year, not accounting for additional fees.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago considers itself a leader in the medium of photography. Students here will explore both the theory of photography and the practice of photography all while getting to use state of the art equipment and being in close proximity to “world-class” resources like the Art Institute of Chicago museum.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago charges students per credit hour rather than a set full-time tuition rate. Undergraduates pay $1,666 per credit hour in addition to other fees like housing and technology. That’s about $52,000 per academic year.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology is different than a number of other photography programs because it offers a number of specific areas a student can choose to study under the photography major. These are some of the areas included:
- Advertising photography
- Fine art photography
- Biomedical photographic communications
The cost of tuition for one year of classes at the Rochester Institute of Technology is $50,564. As with the others, that doesn’t account for additional fees.
California Institute of the Arts
The photography program at the California Institute of the Arts is focused on developing artists’ work and encouraging conversations on how images shape culture. Students will also fine-tune their technical and formal skills.
The cost of tuition at the California Institute of the Arts is $52,850 a year, not accounting for additional fees.
As you look at the fees for these five schools, you probably think they are pretty steep. Keep in mind; since they are four-year schools, financial aid is available. You may qualify for state or federal financial aid or aid from the school itself to help offset costs.
If a four-year school isn’t the way to go for you, you might choose just to load up on classes here and there to tune your photography skills. This is personally how I started learning about photography besides raw experience. Let’s take a look at that option.
Learn the Trade on Your Own
Learning photography on your own through the Internet, videos, book research, and practice is a more affordable option that a four-year school. It’s probably the route most aspiring photographers choose today. Here are the benefits of this route:
- It's affordable.
- You can quickly choose an area of specialty.
- You can be flexible to experiment and switch niches as necessary.
As you can see, the list of benefits for learning photography on your own is short, but don’t read too much into that because the benefits are pretty huge, namely you are able to get into the workforce faster. Let’s take a look at them.
Affordability is probably the biggest benefit of learning the trade on your own. You’ll save on tuition, books, housing, technology fees, meal plans, etc. The list goes on and on. Yes, you’ll have to do some work by tracking down the information yourself, but for many photographers, the time investment is worth the savings in money.
After you’ve done your research and learned some basic information about photography, there are plenty of options for photography classes ranging from beginning to advanced and everything in between. Take a look at some of the best places to find photography classes:
- Online classes (massively open online courses)
- Junior college classes
- Local photographers
- Local studios
You can expect to pay between $79 and $99 for standard classes without much extra but up to $250 for classes with lots of perks. These perks might include swag bags with various photography gear, catered food, snacks, more one-on-one time with the instructor, etc.
You can also frequently find deals on daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social. A quick search of those sites offers dozens of returns in the bigger cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. You’ll also pay quite a bit less if you book through one of these deal sites.
One of the biggest discounts you can get is through an online learning platform called Udemy. The frequently offer $9.99 discounts across their entire library of courses.
Choose an Area of Specialty
While achieving a four-year degree means you end up with a very well-rounded education on photography, some might consider this a waste of time if you never use that information.
When you learn the trade on your own, you can pick and choose which photography classes you take. So, if there’s a specific specialty you’re interested in, you can focus on just those classes. Here are some specialties you might consider:
- Wedding photography
- Maternity photography
- Family photography
- Corporate photography
- Church photography
- Landscape photography
- Real estate photography
- Wildlife photography
- Culinary photography
- Product photography
- Fashion photography
- Sports photography
- and more!
In addition to choosing an area of specialty, it’s also easy to pick up a class if you want to focus on a specific type of shooting or some other new technical aspect.
Maybe you want to work on honing your skills for shooting in black and white or learn more about editing. Whatever it is, rather than learning through a four-year course, you can learn it in one workshop.
The flexibility of learning photography on your own and through various classes goes hand in hand with choosing an area of specialty. You can pick and choose when you want to take classes. There are no required classes to attend or papers to turn in or projects to complete.
This path also offers the flexibility of keeping up with the constantly changing world of photography. It’s a medium that is continuously changing, and it would be impossible for a college to completely revamp a program quickly enough to keep up with these changes.
That means by choosing the classes you need when you need them, you can stay on top of all the latest trends and advancements.
While you ponder which path is best, it also helps to think about getting your photography business started if you haven’t already. Why start a photography business (or at least a side hustle)? It's the best way to apply what you have learned with full freedom. Yes, you can work at a studio or another company, but you'll mostly be tasked with functions of a different inspiration.
Starting a Photography Business
While photography is a great hobby to have and a lot of fun, starting a photography business is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of competition out there, and it may take some time to get your feet off the ground as a new photographer.
Before you even get started, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of getting into the photography business to decide if it’s the right direction for you. Take a look at the pros and cons of the photography business in this table:
If, after looking over this table, you still feel like the photography business is a good place for you, let’s talk about what’s needed to start your business. First, besides having a talent for photography, you also need to be really good at marketing. You’ll have to market, market, market to get your business going. No one is going to do this for you in the beginning, unless you find an amazing partner to work with (which isn't a bad idea).
In addition to marketing, these steps will help get your photography business up and going.
- Consider startup costs
- Decide on your specialty
- Develop a business name/plan/brand
- Figure out your pricing
Let’s take a more detailed look at each of these steps.
Consider Startup Costs
Hopefully, you’ve already taken some photography classes or at least have had practice on your own. Depending on the type of work you want to do, your basic camera may not cut it. That doesn’t mean you need the most expensive camera out there, especially when you’re just starting out, but you’ll need to make sure it will take quality pictures.
There are a lot of other startup costs you’ll need to consider in addition to a quality camera or two. Take a look at some of the other items you need to think about:
- Multiple lenses
- Memory cards
- External drives
- Computer with plenty of memory
- Website to post pictures
- Business license
- Contracts (free ones are available online)
- Business cards
As you can see, there is quite a bit of cost involved with starting a photography business. In addition to these costs, you’ll need to consider taking classes throughout your career to stay up to date on the current trends in photography. I’ve already discussed those costs above.
Now that I've scared the pants off you, I'm going to bring it back a little. You don't need all this to start. Just start by networking and freelancing. You can worry about future costs as you begin to make some money. The important thing is that you consider your future costs and make a plan to acquire what you need.
Can you make money without the best gear? Of course. I've made money with photography in three different ways without spending a bunch of money. One of those, product photography, was with a smartphone. I'll get into more of those specifics in a future post.
Decide on Your Specialty
Before you start advertising your business, you need to decide which area of photography you’ll focus on. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a photographer that focuses on more than one area. Plus, focusing on one area really allows you to expand and grow your skills in that specialty.
I wrote about the different specialties above, so you already have a good idea about some of those. Remember, you don’t have to focus on individual people for your clients. You might consider taking photos for businesses for their products or pictures for news articles.
There are so many different options out there when it comes to choosing a specialty; you’ll need to really focus where your interests are and direct your training there.
Develop a Business Name/Plan/Brand
Developing a business name, plan, and brand is super important. When people think of your business, this is what they’ll think of, so you want it to be the very best you can create.
When it comes to your business name, consider the type of photography you plan to focus on. You’ll want to have your business name reflect that.
For example, if you’re doing family or kid photography, you can have a more lighthearted, witty business name. If you’re doing wedding photography, you’ll want a more sophisticated business name, and if you’re focusing on more business photography, it should be professional but memorable.
A business plan isn’t necessarily something anyone else is going to see, but it will help you keep things on track and give some direction for your business.
This will help you account for those future costs mentioned above. Here are some of the details your business plan should include:
- Details of your business
- Services you’ll offer
- How to set yourself apart from the competition
- Financial goals
- Marketing strategies
You’ll also need to decide on your business structure. The easiest and most affordable option is for you to be the sole proprietor. A limited liability company or LLC will take a bit more time and money to set up, but it will offer you greater protection over your personal assets if any clients ever try to sue you. To explore more about setting up a company structure as a photographer, check out my post on the topic.
When it comes to photography, you basically are your brand. What you carry, the equipment you use, and your personality all factor into how people view your business and what they think of when it comes to your photography business.
With that in mind, you always need to present yourself in a professional manner. Dress professionally, speak professionally, and keep all your equipment and resources clean and organized.
Make sure you show up to shoots on time and provide your edited images and products to customers when promised. Keep up with communication in a timely manner and keep your online presence professional as well.
Figure Out Your Pricing
The final step in setting up your photography business is to figure out your pricing. This is a bit of a gray area in the business. A lot of pricing depends on your location, experience, and specialty. It also depends on what kind of income you want to bring home.
When you’re considering your pricing, you need to take into account time to drive to any shoots as well as shooting time and editing. Think about other costs you should factor in, such as the following:
- Website maintenance
- Business printings
You can’t just price your services, so they’re the cheapest on the market; you need to make sure you’re actually bringing money home.
A good starting point for figuring out pricing is to decide how much you want to bring home for the year and how many shoots you can do in the year. Divide the amount you want to bring home by the number of shoots, and that will give you a ballpark figure of what you need to earn per shoot.
As you can see, the question, “How much are photography classes?” is just the start of a photography career. There’s much more to consider, but with a little planning and due diligence, you’ll be successful.