How Long Do You Have to Go to College to Be a Photographer?

Is it necessary to spend years in a formal institution to master the art of photography? What role does college education play in moulding an exceptional photographer? Many individuals aspire to become photographers, whether as a hobbyist or as a professional career. One common question that arises for those considering this path is: How long do you have to go to college to be a photographer? The answer to this question depends on various factors, including your career goals, the type of photography you want to pursue, and your personal preferences. In this article, we will explore the different educational paths available to aspiring photographers and help you make an informed decision.

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How Long Do You Have to Go to College to Be a Photographer?

The duration of education to become a photographer varies based on your goals and chosen path. You can start with a high school diploma and then decide between a 2-year associate’s degree, a 4-year bachelor’s degree, or a 2-3-year master’s degree in photography for more comprehensive formal education. Alternatively, you can opt for self-education, online courses, and workshops, which offer flexible timelines. Ultimately, the time it takes to become a photographer depends on your commitment, interests, and career aspirations, ranging from as little as a few months of self-study to several years of formal education.

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The Journey to Becoming a Photographer: College Education and Beyond

1. The Traditional Educational Pathway

In South Africa, as in many countries worldwide, there is no strict requirement to attend college to become a photographer. However, pursuing a formal education can provide a foundational understanding of the craft.

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Many institutions in South Africa offer courses in photography. Typically, a diploma in photography can be obtained within two years, while a bachelor’s degree may require three to four years of study. These courses cover a range of subjects from technical aspects, such as lighting and equipment, to the artistic elements, like composition and theme.

2. Benefits of a College Education

While it’s possible to learn photography without attending a college, a formal education can offer several advantages:

  • Structured Learning: College courses follow a structured curriculum, ensuring that students get a comprehensive understanding of photography.
  • Networking: Institutions often provide opportunities for students to connect with industry professionals, which can be invaluable for budding photographers.
  • Access to Equipment: Many colleges have state-of-the-art equipment and studios available for students.
  • Portfolio Development: Colleges usually assist students in building a professional portfolio, which is crucial when seeking employment or freelance opportunities.

3. The Self-Taught Route

Many successful photographers have chosen the self-taught route. This approach often involves a combination of online tutorials, workshops, and hands-on experience. The internet is a rich resource, brimming with courses, blogs, and forums dedicated to photography.

The key to success, whether self-taught or college-educated, lies in practice, dedication, and a passion for the craft.

Fascinating and stimulating questions arise: How can one harness the power of self-teaching to excel in photography? What steps are crucial to navigate the vast online resources available? Let’s break down the journey of becoming a self-taught photographer step by step:

1. Set Clear Goals

Before diving into the world of photography, define what you want to achieve. Do you want to capture landscapes, focus on wildlife, or perhaps dive into portrait photography? Your goals will guide your learning process.

2. Start with the Basics

Even if you’re just using a smartphone, understand the basic principles of photography:

  • Composition: Learn the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing.
  • Lighting: Understand the golden hour, soft versus hard light, and how to manipulate light sources.
  • Camera Settings: If using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, familiarise yourself with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

3. Engage with Online Resources

There’s a plethora of tutorials, courses, and blogs available:

  • Platforms like YouTube offer countless tutorials.
  • Websites dedicated to photography offer in-depth articles and guides.
  • For those in South Africa, local online communities can provide context-specific tips and insights.

4. Practice Regularly

Nothing beats hands-on experience. Take your camera everywhere, experiment with different settings, and capture a variety of subjects. Regular practice helps in refining your skills and finding your unique style.

5. Seek Feedback

Join photography forums or social media groups where you can share your work and receive constructive feedback. Fellow photographers can offer invaluable insights and tips that you might not have considered.

6. Attend Workshops or Webinars

While being self-taught, it’s beneficial to sometimes learn directly from experts. Look out for local workshops or online webinars that align with your photography interests.

7. Build a Portfolio

As you progress, select your best work and compile it. This not only showcases your growth but also helps when presenting your skills to potential clients or employers.

8. Stay Updated

Photography, like any other field, evolves. New techniques, equipment, and trends emerge. Stay updated by regularly engaging with photography news sources or communities.

9. Network

Connect with other photographers, both locally and internationally. They can provide fresh perspectives, collaboration opportunities, and even potential job leads.

10. Stay Passionate and Curious

Lastly, remember that passion fuels progress. Stay curious, keep exploring, and always look for new perspectives and techniques to try.

In conclusion, the journey of a self-taught photographer is one of continuous learning and exploration. With dedication, passion, and the right resources, anyone can excel in this craft, irrespective of their location or background.

4. The Importance of Experience

While formal education is beneficial, experience remains the best teacher in the world of photography. Building a portfolio, participating in internships, and working on diverse projects are essential steps for every photographer.


The duration of your education to become a photographer depends on your goals, interests, and commitment to the craft. While a high school diploma is the minimum requirement, you can choose from various educational paths, including associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, as well as self-education and online courses. Ultimately, the best path for you will depend on your aspirations and how you prefer to learn. Regardless of the route you choose, remember that photography is an art form that requires constant practice and a passion for storytelling through images.