If you are creative, patient, and enjoy capturing that perfect image, studying photography in college may be for you. With the right combination of artistic ability and technical skills, photography majors can seek professional careers in industries, such as fine arts, photojournalism, commercial photography, and more.
You may be wondering, “What are the best degrees for becoming a photographer?” Look no further—we will give you not only top bachelor’s in photography but everything else you need to know about this exciting field.
What are the Best Bachelor’s Degrees in Photography?
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Related: Best Creative/Design Degree Programs
A member of the State University of New York system, Purchase College is known as the “dreamers” and the “DIYers” and “the future of arts and culture.” Purchase College is known as one of the Top 20 Best Values in the Nation (Fiske Guide to College Best Buys of 2022) and is our top bachelor’s degree in photography.
Through Purchase College, you can earn a high-value Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography that focuses on both traditional film and new digital processes. To complete this photography program, you will take:
- Foundational courses: 16-17 credits
- Art history courses: 12 credits
- Photography studio courses: 24 credits
- Visual arts studio electives: 15-16 credits
- Synthesis courses: 18 credits
You will enjoy in-depth, hands-on courses in the School of Art + Design’s 160,000 square feet visual arts building, one of the largest of its kind! Your senior year will be devoted to creating and sharing your photography projects.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Founded in 1829, Rochester Institute of Technology boasts a rich history of creativity and innovation. RIT is incredibly diverse, too, with nearly 19,000 students and more than 135,000 graduates. Students come to RIT from all 50 states and 100 countries, and you may be one of those students after you check out the BFA in photographic and imaging arts.
RIT’s photographic and imaging arts degree will prepare you for careers as:
- Visual artists
- Photo educators
- Editorial photographers
- Multimedia specialists
- Freelance artists
The program includes an interdisciplinary curriculum, meaning you will explore related fields like painting, graphic design, and computer graphics. You will also study both art theory and develop practical skills to create “thought-provoking and meaningful images.”
An exciting part of RIT’s photography degree is that you gain hands-on experience through internships in some of the country’s most respected art galleries and museums. If you are interested in all RIT offers, check out the admissions and financial aid information here.
Since 1881, Spelman College has served as a historically Black women’s college dedicated to academic excellence, leadership, and creativity. Today more than 2,1000 students from 43 states and 10 nations call Spelman home. Spelman’s bachelor’s in photography focuses on how photography is both an art and a reflection of culture.
As a photography major at Spelman, you will begin by taking courses in digital and photographic foundations. During your second year, you will explore the history of art and photography while also learning techniques. Your third and fourth years will be spent practicing what you have learned through internships and building your portfolio.
Naturally, photography intersects with other subjects, like history, culture, and society. This is why Spelman allows you to combine this degree with others, such as creative writing, social justice, or education, to name a few. You may also consider customizing your degree by adding a minor in:
- art history
- curatorial studies
- documentary film-making
Rhode Island School of Design
Founded in 1977, Rhode Island School of Design is one of the country’s very first arts and design schools! RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) is a private, nonprofit school with more than 22 majors to choose from, including one of the best bachelor’s degree in photography. RISD’s photography program provides an inspiring community where you will work alongside both undergraduate and graduate students.
The goal of RISD’s BFA in photography is to teach its students how to “engage with, interpret and represent the world in meaningful ways.” You will study the history of photography, the fundamentals, and take courses that focus on:
- Film-based media
- Camera formats
- Darkroom techniques
- Exposure and development controls
- Lighting basics
- Image and film scanning
As a junior, you will study more advanced photography techniques while working toward your final portfolio project. If you are interested in applying to RISD, you can do so through the Common Application. You will need to provide academic transcripts, an admission essay, recommendation letters, and a portfolio of your current photography.
University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
The University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign is one of the most impactful universities in the country regarding research, innovation, and academics. Creations are always emerging from this school, and UIUC’s School of Art & Design is one of the best places to earn a BFA in studio art with a photography emphasis.
The goal of this program is to help serious photographers become “cultural leaders of the 21st century” through studios and seminars that explore historical traditions as well as modern techniques and innovations. While you will gain knowledge of history and culture, you will also practice what you learn through resources in cutting-edge facilities.
UIUC photography faculty are internationally recognized professionals who have won awards, national reviews, and grants. Graduates are well-prepared to apply their expertise to various art careers, such as photographers, designers, gallery and museum professionals, and more.
University of California-Los Angeles
“A Century of Optimism” is what sets the University of California – Los Angeles apart. UCLA has produced Nobel Prizes winners, faculty MacArthur Fellows, NCAA titles, and currently 261 Olympics medals. Some of the most talented artists in the world come through UCLA’s Department of Art, and you may be one of them!
UCLA’s Department of Art features many creative degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts in photography. Through this degree, you will gain expertise in various forms of art like:
- Painting and drawing
- Art theory
- Performance art
And, of course, photography. While UCLA’s degree is a multidisciplinary program, you will focus on photography and learn through both coursework and studio work.
UCLA faculty are internationally known professional artists who have their work showcased in museums and galleries in Los Angeles, New York, and worldwide. UCLA’s photography program is competitive, so you must be proactive if you are interested in applying. The application period for the fall semester takes place the previous November 1-30.
Ohio’s first public university opened in 1804 and is thriving over 200 years later. Ohio University is described as “unique” and “transformative,” with nearly 30,000 students enrolled across eight campuses. Through OHIO, you will find a remarkable photography degree—a Bachelor of Science in visual communication-commercial photography.
Specifically, a commercial photography degree program focuses on advertising photography. You will study areas like:
- Still-life photography
- Fashion photography
- Portrait photography
- Architecture and interior design photography
- Business aspects
In addition to coursework and studio work, you will complete a paid 400 hour internship to graduate. However, many students have more than one internship and graduate with photography experience in various settings.
OHIO’s commercial photography graduates have a unique advantage and find careers as studio owners, magazine photo editors, and advertising photographers.
Bowling Green State University
Another excellent school in Ohio is Bowling Green State University. In fact, the U.S. News & World Report awards BGSU among the top public universities with strong commitments to first-year programs that open doors to success. For example, BGSU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography is a well-rounded degree that focuses on analog and digital production.
As a photography major at BGSU, you will study printing fundamentals and photographic history during your first year. Then you will increase technical skills through areas like:
- Color film
- Digital output
- Medium and large format film cameras
- Alternative processes
- Contemporary photography
You will get involved right away through weekly discussions, critiques, lectures, and field trips. Associations such as the 2-DAA and Society for Photographic Education are also ways to strengthen your experiences.
Your time at BGSU will all lead to a capstone project, the BFA Senior Thesis Exhibition. Graduates are ready to become professional photographers in the commercial market, pursue careers in higher education, or apply to graduate school.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Founded in 1838, Virginia Commonwealth University is known for its creativity, innovation, and rich history. Among 200 academic programs is one you won’t want to miss—a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and filmmaking with a concentration in photography. VCU’s photography program, which focuses on both theory and hands-on experience, is filled with exciting opportunities.
VCU’s BFA in photography also focuses on filmmaking. You can expect to take classes like:
- Digital Imaging
- Sound and Color
- Writing for the Screen
- Professional Practice
- Visual Communication
In addition, you will have 24/7 access to cutting-edge technology, including the largest darkroom in the Mid-Atlantic area.
VCU photography and filmmaking graduates are ready to take their expertise anywhere! With this degree, you may become:
- Commercial photographer
- Video and branded content producer
- Art educator
- Art administrator
- Independent artist or filmmaker
- Film editor or technician
Arizona State University
For the past six years, Arizona State University has held a unique distinction of #1 in the U.S. for innovation (U.S. News & World Report). At ASU, you will find prestigious faculty, elite programs, and an average of 27,000 graduates each year. Additionally, ASU’s Herberger Institute School of Arts offers photography degrees that are ranked #6 in the nation by U.S. News.
At ASU, you can choose a BFA in either digital or traditional photography. The digital photography program is actually the first online program from a research 1 university that offers a studio-based degree. The BFA in traditional photography is offered from the Tempe location and focuses on a wide range of areas like:
- 19th-century processes
- Traditional black-and-white photography
- State-of-the-art digital output
Both photography programs lead to successful careers in galleries, museums, studios, nonprofit organizations, or university teaching. ASU is also known for its affordability, so if you’re wondering how you will pay for college, be assured that you have financial aid options. ASU states that “everyone, regardless of income, can qualify for some sort of financial aid.”
Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University is a private research university that prepares students for lifelong learning and service. The Wall Street Journal ranks BYU #1 College in the West for Student Engagement as well as #1 among Colleges Worth the Cost. BYU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in photo and lens-based design emphasizes history, theory, trends, and technical expertise.
This BFA requires 71-72 credit hours of courses like:
- Introduction to Photography and Digital Workflow
- Moving Image
- Interdisciplinary Motion
- Photographic Language
- Visual Storytelling
You will also take courses in history, theory, and entrepreneurship. BYU photography students are also required to complete an internship and a capstone project before graduation.
BYU graduates jump into careers both nationally and internationally. Some go into advertising, while others begin freelance photography careers. Potential BYU photography students should complete the pre-major application and take prerequisite courses. Application deadlines are April 13, June 10, and December 8, and applications are open one month prior to these dates.
Tisch School of Arts
New York University’s Tisch School of Arts is truly one of a kind. Founded in 1965, Tisch has evolved into a world-renowned college that offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the arts. At Tisch, you will find a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and imaging that teaches its students how to “see, think, and take risks while finding their own creative voice.”
Tisch’s diverse photography and imaging program focuses on creating and understanding images from multiple perspectives. Specifically, you will take both traditional and studio-based courses like the following:
- Photo-based imagery
- Personal and cultural expression
- Analog and digital-based image making
- New media
- 3D simulation technologies
- Darkroom and digital printing
- Visual literacy
During your senior year, you will complete an internship as you work on your final portfolio. Many seniors also take a Business of Art course and an Advanced History seminar. Tisch photography and imaging graduates have a professional advantage because of the exceptional school and the fact that it is in New York City—an excellent combination!
State University of New York at New Paltz
The State University of New York at New Paltz is a creative, diverse, and affordable institution with an ideal location in New York City! SUNY New Paltz is ranked as one of the nation’s “Best Value” colleges/universities by The Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. If you are looking for an affordable BFA in photography, check this one out.
SUNY New Paltz’s photography program is rigorous and hands-on. You will study art history and contemporary photography through courses like:
- Basic Digital Photography
- Advanced Digital Color Photography
- The Large Format Image
- Digital Video
- Contemporary Issues in Photography
You will take two Senior Seminar courses during your senior year. The program entails 120 credits with 45 upper-division credits.
SUNY New Paltz’s low-cost Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography is supplemented through guest lectures, professional conferences, and field trips. Some graduates decide to stay at SUNY New Paltz for two more years to earn a Master of Fine Arts in photography and related media. If you’re interested in SUNY New Paltz, you can apply for the BFA in photography after completing the required foundation courses and submitting a portfolio.
Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, AKA MassArt, opened its doors in 1873 with a mission to provide an “inclusive, academically excellent, rigorous curriculum” that leads students professionals in their field. Today, MassArt stands by its mission and offers a world-class education in art and design. MassArt’s BFA in photography is worth checking out!
At MassArt, you will learn in collaborative workspaces with a new lighting studio, darkrooms, and three digital labs with the latest photographic technology. You will gain extensive skills in:
- Visual and aesthetics
- Black and white printing
- Color theory
- Digital media
- Contemporary trends
- Professional practice
- Critical analysis
MassArt’s program includes a combination of credits in liberal arts, art history, foundation courses, and studio electives. You will complete a senior thesis project during your final year. In addition to coursework, you will learn from guest artists, historians, editors, and curators. MassArt graduates are innovators, educators, industrial designers, entrepreneurs, and much more.
Bard College is a private liberal arts college with a mission to inspire curiosity and a love of learning. Bard College is committed to providing “the link between higher education and civic participation” through multidisciplinary programs like the Bachelor of Arts in photography. Bard College’s BA in photography emphasizes visual language, technique, and developing the student’s sense of self.
Each semester Bard College photography students take a combination of photography history and studio courses. Specific coursework includes:
- Photographic Seeing
- The View Camera
- Color Photography
- Advanced Photography
- Digital Imaging
During your sophomore year, you will undergo what Bard College calls the Moderation, where you transition from the lower college to the upper college.
You will begin working on a Senior Project during your junior year, which involves seminars, studio work, research, or field/laboratory work. You will have access to cutting-edge facilities such as the Woods Studio Building, darkrooms, and digital imaging labs.
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona boasts a handful of rankings, including a Top 40 Public University (U.S. News & World Report) and the Best Value University (Forbes). Among the 300+ majors at Arizona is a Bachelor of Fine Arts: photography, video, and imaging emphasis. This multidisciplinary program combines business, communication, culture, and photography.
Arizona’s School of Art is one of the top in the nation and accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). As an Arizona photography student, you will study areas like:
- Traditional black-and-white darkroom
- Digital/image-forming technologies
- Color processes
- Large-scale photography
- Video and performance
Arizona graduates are ready to jump into careers in photography, videography, film, marketing, and more. To apply to Arizona’s BFA in studio art, you should first apply to the College of Fine Arts and include a portfolio of eight examples of your studio work.
Founded in 1891, Drexel University is a comprehensive global research institution with nearly 24,000 students and 200+ degree programs. Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design is where you will find one of the best photography programs in the nation. Drexel graduates have won Pulitzer Prizes and had their work featured in notable publications like New York Times Magazine and Time.
Drexel’s BFA in photography entails 181 total credits, which is more than most programs. You will complete photography courses such as:
- Digital Photographic Post Production
- Color Photography
- Advanced Studio Photography
- Print and Web Portfolio Development
You will also complete nine credits in Senior Thesis in Photography during your senior year.
Drexel’s photography major is unique because it blends rigorous courses in visual literacy with technology. Students are required to complete a six-month Co-op in the photography industry which adds hands-on learning to the curriculum. Drexel graduates are known for having a high placement rate after graduation.
Columbia College of Chicago
Columbia College of Chicago is a private, nonprofit college to find more than 60 creative, media arts, liberal arts, and business programs. Columbia is incredibly diverse, with more than 7,000 students from all 50 states and over 60 countries. Additionally, Columbia is known for being among the most affordable all private arts and media colleges in the United States.
Columbia’s Bachelor of Arts in photography is taught by faculty who are award-winning photographers. You will either choose a concentration in fashion, commercial, fine art photography, or general. The general concentration is a multi-disciplinary track that allows you to study courses in all three emphasis areas.
Along with coursework in history and techniques, you will work on a capstone project that will be displayed at Manifest, Columbia’s urban arts festival. Columbia’s location in Chicago is ideal since you will have access to some of the world’s most innovative art in the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP). You will also complete an internship and have access to study abroad opportunities.
Another best bachelor’s degree in photography comes from Syracuse University, a top-ranking private research university in Syracuse, New York. Nearly 22,000 students from all over the globe call Syracuse home and take part in clubs, athletics, and of course, dynamic learning experiences. The photography major comes with two concentration options: commercial and advertising photography or photojournalism.
Syracuse’s Bachelor of Science in photography is rooted in a strong liberal arts background. Sample courses include:
- Communication and Society
- Multimedia Storytelling
- Introduction to Photography for Multimedia
- Video and Photography
- Advanced Projects
Both tracks develop expertise in video and creative use of lighting. You will also complete courses in communications, entrepreneurship, and graphic design.
Your time as a photography student at Syracuse is not all about coursework. You will have access to the latest digital tools and state-of-the-art photography methods. Additionally, there are 18 student-run campus publications that photography majors frequently contribute to. Many students also take advantage of Syracuse Abroad—more than 100 programs in 60 countries!
Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis is a private research university that was founded in 1853. Among WashU’s ten colleges and divisions is Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, a leader in art and design education. From Sam Fox, you will find a customizable BFA in studio art with a photography emphasis.
While your emphasis area is photography, you can also add a second major in another art like printmaking, sculpture, painting, or new media. You can also choose a minor in one of the following:
- Creative practice for social change
- Human-computer interaction
- Studio art
While Sam Fox’s BFA is customizable, this program includes 65 credits of studio credits, which is approximately half of the coursework total. Expect to study topics like:
- Collage: History and Practice
- Visualizing Otherness: Race, Gender, and Class
- Architecture through the Photographic Lens
- Contemporary Portraiture
- Digital Technology
University of New Mexico
Founded in 1889, the University of New Mexico is the state’s flagship institution with more than 200 degree programs to choose from. Through UNM’s Fine Arts department, you will find a Bachelor of Arts in art studio with a concentration in photography. This program could lead to the MFA in photography, which is ranked #5 in the country by U.S. News & World Report!
While UMN’s studio art bachelor’s degree focuses on photography, you will receive training in a variety of other media like:
- Electronic arts
You will complete 27 credit hours in photography courses like Black and White Photography, Visualizing Ideas, and Digital Imaging Techniques.
UMN art studio graduates typically find careers in art or design organizations. Some become art educators, while others use this program as a pathway to graduate school. If you’re interested in UMN’s art studio program, you need at least 26 credits of earned credits, including the prerequisite courses Art Practices I and II. Likewise, you should have at least a 2.50 GPA.
California Institute of the Arts
Here’s an interesting fact: California Institute of the Arts was founded in 1961 by Walt Disney! CalArts is known internationally as “a game-changer in the education of professional artists” and offers more than 70 visual, performing, media, and literary arts degrees. CalArts’ Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and media is one you won’t want to miss.
While Cal Arts’ BFA program centers on photography, you will also learn a broad range of media, including:
- Still and moving images
- New media
You can also choose an optional minor in digital arts to further customize the degree. Faculty and mentors provide guidance throughout the BFA program and help students gain the creative skills they need to excel.
CalArts alumni generally become successful photographers, artists, and filmmakers. Some become educators, editorial and commercial photographers, or entrepreneurs. Others continue their education. CalArts holds a selective admissions process, so if you’re interested, be proactive!
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago embraces “proactive thinking and making,” earning it the title of one of the most influential art colleges in the nation. Between the award-winning faculty and the fact that it is in one of the world’s most vibrant cities, you will see why SAIC’s BFA in photography made our list!
SAIC’s BFA in photography holds many perks. For example, you will:
- Learn from award-winning artists
- Collaborate with graduate students
- Participate in a six-credit senior seminar
- Develop an outstanding photography portfolio
What makes SAIC’s photography program unique is its multifaceted approach to image-making. You will have the freedom to sharpen your talents while working alongside classmates with state-of-the-art equipment.
Some SAIC graduates use this bachelor’s degree as a pathway to graduate school. We also must mention that SAIC’s master’s in photography is ranked #2 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report!
Surely you have heard of Yale—a private Ivy league research university that has been around since 1701! With over three centuries of history and traditions, Yale University has perfected its academic programs. As you can see from the 6% acceptance rate, Yale is also highly selective. Yale offers a Bachelor of Arts in art with a photography emphasis.
Yale’s BA in art is truly well-rounded. You will take 14 credits of required courses, including Critical Theory in the Studio and Visual Thinking and Basic Drawing. You then will choose from an array of undergraduate studio courses to either work towards a photography emphasis or gain interdisciplinary expertise.
Expect to take courses such as:
- Capturing Light with Black-and-White Photography
- Modeling for Creative Practice
- Digital Photography
- Critical Theory In and Out of the Studio
Undergraduate art students participate in the thesis show during their senior year.
Maryland Institute College of Arts
Located in Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of Art is known as a leading institute in art and design education. Founded in 1826, MICA (pronounced “my-ka”) is also the oldest degree-seeking college of art and design in the nation. MICA’s photography major provides students with expertise in traditional and digital photography.
Along with photography history courses, you will explore topics like:
- Black-and-white printing
- Non-traditional processes
- Large format cameras
- Digital photography
- Contemporary photography
All students will take Contemporary Directions in Photography, the seminar that examines photo media in the past 50 years. Likewise, all students will complete an internship to gain real-world experience in the photography field.
MICA photography graduates thrive in media arts careers! They have landed competitive careers with the following companies:
- DC Comics
- Dreamworks Animation
- National Geographic
- The New York Times
MICA tells future students, “ ‘Someday’ is not a day of the week. Picture yourself at MICA today.”
Frequently Asked Questions
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in photography is an undergraduate program that provides students with a comprehensive understanding of photographic techniques, visual storytelling, and artistic expression. It covers areas such as composition, lighting, digital imaging, and historical perspectives, preparing graduates for careers in photography and related fields.
You guessed it! Photography! It is the most common degree for photographers. But a BA or BFA is fine, as long as you take plenty of photography courses. Some photographers pursue specialized certifications to go along with their degree.
The value of a photography degree depends on individual goals and circumstances. A degree can offer structured learning, access to mentors, and networking opportunities. But success in photography also relies on practical skills, a strong portfolio, and industry connections. As far as demand goes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 4% growth in jobs for photographers through 2032.
A bachelor’s in photography takes full-time students four years to complete. Most programs require 120 credits, which means you take between 12 and 15 credits each semester to graduate within four years. Online programs can shorten time by 12-18 months.
There are many jobs you can get with a photography degree. Some options include:
• Art Director
• Commercial Photographer
• Digital Imaging Specialist
• Event Photographer
• Fashion Photographer
• Photo Editor
• Portrait Photographer
• Product Photographer
• Wedding Photographer
It depends on your career goals. A BA offers a broader education with room for diverse coursework, while a BFA focuses on artistic practice. Consider your interests—whether you prefer a more comprehensive or specialized approach to your education—to make an informed decision.
For the right student, photography should challenge you.It involves mastering technical skills, artistic vision, and understanding of equipment. It requires you stay updated with evolving technologies. Your success depends on your dedication, creativity, and a willingness to learn. If you’re passionate about photography it can be a good major.
You don’t go into photography to get rich. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that photographers make $19.31/hour, on average. The lowest 10% make less than $13.00/hour and the highest 10% make more than $39.64/hour. The top-paying industry for photographers is photographic services, where you can make an average of $17.57/hour.
Yes, photography can be a legit career. Many photographers pursue careers in areas such as portrait photography, photojournalism, and commercial photography. Success depends on skill development, a strong portfolio, networking, and business acumen. Professional photographers can work independently or be employed by studios, media organizations, or businesses.
Top Searched Colleges
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University offers a convenient online Bachelor of Arts in digital photography. SNHU is known for its affordability by regularly freezing tuition and granting scholarships and financial aid to students who qualify. SNHU’s affordable B.A. in photography is worth checking out.
Thomas Edison State University
At Thomas Edison State University, you will find a Bachelor of Arts in photography that provides a traditional liberal arts background with the ability to explore concentrations. Areas of emphasis include fine arts photography, professional photography, and film production.
New York Film Academy
New York Film Academy features several photography degrees including a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography. This BFA is an intensive, hands-on program that emphasizes commercial, fine art, and documentary photography.
University of the Arts
With a mission to advance human creativity, University of the Arts offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography with a handful of concentration areas. UArts photography students find their niches in fine art, editorial, fashion, documentary, commercial, or another studio focus.
Temple University is the largest university in Philadelphia, known as an “international powerhouse in higher education.” Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture offers both a BFA in photography and a BFA in photography with entrepreneurial studies.
SCAD: the University for Creative Careers
The Savannah College of Art and Design is known as the university for creative careers. SCAD’s BFA in photography can be completed on campus or online. Students can concentrate in commercial photography, documentary photography, or fine art photography.