CM’s Guide to the Photography Major

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So, you love photography. After years of worshipping amateur Photoshop vlogs and spending every earned penny on the latest gadgets, you’re ready to take your passion for photography and turn it into the full-fledged focus of your studies. Brace yourself. Everyone and their mother (Seriously, moms are the worst) are going to tell you you’re crazy, that you won’t make a cent and that you’ll end up as one of those pathetic birthday party entertainers “capturing memories” for toddlers while wearing a lice-infested clown suit. But forget the haters. Leading an academic path in photography is more fruitful than the Average Joe thinks.

What You’ll Be Doing

As a photography student, you’ll unravel the many layers of artistic expression through a diversity of practices. You’ll be challenged to adopt a vocabulary for illustrating your ideas about your own work, as well as your reactions to others, and you’ll be given assignments that stretch your imagination and help you discover so many photographic possibilities. It will be like a whole new world, no magic carpet included. You won’t be in any grand lecture halls, but in smaller classrooms where you’ll be expected to learn the names of all your classmates. Get ready to be the first to arrive to class every day because you won’t want to miss a second of training in computer editing software, like Adobe Lightroom and iMovie, and experimenting Weird Science-style in the darkroom.

Upsides

1. “Being able to analyze the way a specific photograph is functioning in the world is a skill I would have never expected to gain. I no longer take a photograph at face value–everything about the photograph: the subject matter, the way it was taken, who took it, how it is being used, etc. is all relevant information in creating an understanding.” – Matt Beach, University College London, 2017

2. “If you’re serious about [photography], my advice would be to avoid a certificate program and do it right with a BFA program. It might take longer and be more intense, but I see it as making a long term investment into your craft and in your practice… [Getting a degree in photography] has helped me be a more inquisitive and mindful image maker.  It’s much more than learning how to take better Instagram pics.” – Patrick Smith, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2017

3. “I feel confident in my ability to express my ideas in new and interesting ways. Half of the projects I turned in for my photography classes weren’t even photographs–we had the freedom to choose whatever medium relayed our concept the best. Also, I got to do so many different things–photography is a great “excuse” to do weird stuff. I’ve photographed the governor of the state of Florida in his office, I’ve videoed people in their pajamas in a church sanctuary, I’ve talked to strangers, I’ve lugged a giant large format camera into museums…people are very willing to help you out if you just say you’re a photography student doing a project.” – Becca Negron, University of Florida, 2015

Downsides

1. “There is an entire field of processing, printing, equipment management, etc. You will not know what about photography you enjoy until you try a bit of everything. If your program is not geared towards your specific interest it is likely you may be doing a lot of learning on your own.”- Matt Beach, University College London, 2017

2. The biggest downside for most is that conventional job opportunities are few and far between. You gotta hustle. If you’re okay with not having a conventional job (a bonus for me) and aren’t allergic to hard work then I think you’ll be OK.”- Patrick Smith, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2017

3. “I think getting a degree in photography really developed (pun most certainly intended) me as a person, but left me a little screwed as a member of society. I am currently in the job-finding process and I have absolutely no idea where I fit in corporate America…As much as I’d love to pursue photography as an artist, I’d rather just have a steady job.” – Becca Negron, University of Florida, 2015

Career Opportunities

A future in photography can be more versatile than most people think. It combines artistic inclination with technological finesse. As a photographer, it’s your job to capture the essence of any place, product or person, exploring all of the possible portrayals, atmospheres and editing techniques you can muster. None of the “a picture’s worth a thousand words” crap. Photography is an instinctual and intelligent art form that can make for a fulfilling professional lifestyle.

1. Photojournalist

If you’re always on top of breaking news and love to travel, photojournalism could be your ticket to career paradise. Your camera is your ultimate excuse for world-wide adventure. You could submit images to a newspaper or magazine, bringing the action to life. One of the greatest challenges of photojournalists is conveying visual information objectively. Remember, it’s not just what you include in the frame, it’s also what you leave out.

2. Sports Photographer

Got love for sports and art? A career as a sports photographer is your ultimate mash-up. Get paid to attend live sporting events and record all the action— not to mention meet some hunky athletes. With many on-location shoots, it’s important to prepare for some heavy lifting. All the more reason to buddy up with an NBA star to steal some professional work-out tips, am I right? It will make it all the more easier when lugging around pounds of Cannon zoom lens and tripods. Your luxurious equipment might literally cost you an arm and a leg, but when you capture LeBron’s game-winning bucket, it’ll all be worth it.

3. Fashion Photographer

Front row seats at New York Fashion Week? Yes, please. As a fashion photographer, you will stay at the pulse of all bubbling trends in clothing, makeup, music and art. You could snap the photos found in department store catalogues, which usually unfold by artistic concepts, letting your creativity juices afloat. You could even contribute to fashion blogs by working with local models and designers to advertise looks on Instagram and online sites.

4. Portrait Photographer

The next step above a bathroom selfie is a professionally photographed portrait. Hotels, wedding days, graduations, theme parks, environmental tours; the list doesn’t stop. People will always want their picture taken and they will always want it taken well, so your expertise in lighting and Photoshop will be in high demand in order to make your clients look like celebrities (and they’ll love you for it). If you like taking pictures of people, check out famous portrait photographers throughout history. There’s a lot that goes on between your lens and your subject. Let the old pros show you how to make the best of it.

5. Photography Instructor

They say those who can’t do, teach, but only the Negative Nancys of the world actually believe that. Imagine getting to inspire a class of students with your shared passion for photography, while also fine-tuning your skills every day. The best part of using your photography skills to teach is that there is no pressure to sell a product to a customer anymore. If you love photography for art’s sake, teaching is a great option to make money while preserving the integrity of your passion.

Sofia Harris is a senior at the University of Florida studying English, film and studio art. She enjoys tropical climates, wine BOGO’s and dressing up.

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