Is Studying Photography In College A Good Idea?

Posted on 8/10/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

It is that time of year when students are getting ready to head off to college. Most will go there because it sounds like more fun than going out and getting a job and because they have been told that a “higher education” will give them a better chance at future career advancement and eventually earning more money.

A lot of them have no idea what they want to do in life. They hope they will figure that out while they are in college. When it comes time to select a major some may choose photography or photojournalism because it sounds like a fun, exciting way to earn a living and because they have always liked taking pictures.

A photography professor told me, “the original intent of the university was to provide a general education, not to be a career training ground. For many students the photojournalism major is like any other... philosophy, history, English, or humanities. They don't necessarily see themselves becoming photojournalists in the traditional sense as they don't see themselves becoming a philosopher, novelist or historian. Rather they see the photojournalism major as a more interesting option than the other choices.”

It may be a more interesting option, but given what a university education cost today, it is not play time.

A few things for students to keep in mind.
    (1) A college education doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good job. There are lots of recent graduates that have been unable to find a good job.
    (2) Your parents may be paying for this, but if you have to take out loans you need to carefully consider the future burden of paying them back. Many recent college grads are struggling to get established in the rest of their life given the debt burden they have incurred.
    (3) You are getting closer and closer to the time when you’re going to have to support yourself.

A Few Suggestions

If you think you might want a career as a photographer, or a photojournalist, then start talking to people in the business and reading about what’s happening. Don’t just look at the few successful stars and dream of eventually becoming one of them. Their number is dwindling rapidly and fewer and fewer will earn a living as photographers in the decades ahead.

Check out the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual newsroom census ( ) and see what has been happening to newspaper jobs in the last decade. Things will get worse. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on photography jobs ( ) There are very few staff jobs in business where you do nothing but take pictures. The question is what other skills will employers require and do you have them. Will your employer expect you to be an expert in something else and do photography for the company as a sideline?

The situation for freelance photographers is even worse. Go to the Microstockgroup blog ( ) and check out what other photographers are saying about the state of the business. Photography student might also want to sign up for Selling-Stock’s free weekly service ( ) that provides brief summaries of important stories related to trends in the stock photography business.  

If you’ve taken some great pictures, then start trying to sell them. It’s fairly easy to get your work into the market. Go to and sign up to be a contributor. Getting accepted may be a little difficult, but keep at it. Once accepted, post as much new work as you can.  

After a few months, or a year, consider how much you’ve earned. If it is 1/100th of what it is costing your parents to send you to college for a year; I will be surprised. Can you earn 100 times more if you worked at it full time instead of going to college? If you just learn to take better pictures will that make that much of a difference?

Then consider whether there is some other line of work, or career, that would offer more opportunity?

Good luck.


Readers should feel free to copy and pass this story and send it along to any student, or parent of student, who is considering photography as a profession.

Copyright © 2016 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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