Selecting the Right Photography School

by Alicia Spates
Selecting the Right Photography School

Picture this -- photography students today will see a much different portrait of photography education than students have in the past.

Photography schools from coast to coast have grown in quantity, as well as increased their enrollment and course selections to include additional emphases on technologies for this field.

Photography school information is just a snap and click away. The internet is a font of information on photography school courses, tuition and financial aid, the school's mission, what type of careers courses can lead to, and contact details to ask for more information.

Many universities and colleges offer courses in photography under their respective liberal arts, communications and fine arts program. For listings of four-year programs which include photography courses, visit our partner site

But many students, particularly those searching for a fulfilling second career or part-time job, find that specialized photography schools better suit their needs.

In the Trade

Based in New York City, The New York Institute of Photography holds claim to being the oldest and largest photography school in the world. "We not only teach you how to make beautiful photos, but we also teach you how to make a career out of it," says Chuck Delaney, NYI dean.

In a recent survey of NYI students polling educational goals, a third want to become part-time freelancers, another third want to be part-time professionals and the last third want to become amateur photographers, Delaney notes.

The school serves more than 20,000 active students from the United States and from over 50 countries abroad. It offers certification in various areas and year-round enrollment, with a student body comprised mostly of adults in the 30- to 40-year-old age range, Delaney says. The NYI admission process requires neither portfolio nor samples, but students must comprehend the English language (written and spoken), Delaney notes.

In contrast, the Oklahoma School of Photography, in Moore, Okla., is smaller than NYI and offers training and diplomas in photography and digital imaging. The admission process is simple: students can not be colorblind and they must have a high school diploma, G.E.D., or a satisfactory score on the ATB test.

Students attending OSOP can expect intensive hands-on training from a dedicated professional staff, notes Kristi Cockrell, OSOP school manager. "We maintain small class sizes to best serve the student," she says, adding that OSOP keeps class sizes small by maintaining a student to instructor ratio of typically less than 20 to 1.

The school's mission is to make training available in the field of photography and/or digital imaging, enabling people to enter the field as a freelance photographer or graphic designer, a studio owner, a publisher or to work for employers in the field. "Our instructors are all working professionals in their fields with many years of experience who offer insight, working knowledge and accurate mentoring to our students," Cockrell says.

Course Requirements

Photography schools offer the opportunity to gain the credentials to either launch a demanding career or simply to increase student confidence in capturing memorable moments.

Course requirements for the OSOP photography program require students to take notes of lectures and complete assignments utilizing the camera, studio and darkroom equipment, while the digital imaging program requires use of computer, scanner and various software programs technology provided by the school. Both OSOP programs offer a combination of theory and practical hands-on experience, and additionally help students prepare a portfolio that demonstrates the student's capabilities in photography and digital imaging, Cockrell says. The tuition for the OSOP program runs about $9,500.

"We stay in touch with the fields of photography and digital imaging in order to ensure that our curriculum is constantly updated. This allows us to prepare the students for the field with the most up-to-date, comprehensive and reliable information possible," Cockrell notes.

NYI likewise offers photography and digital imaging tracks; students receive certification upon completion. The average cost of an NYI education varies, but typically runs $798 per class when tuition is paid in advance; monthly payment plans are also available, but bump the cost to $998 per class.

The Complete Course of Professional Photography teaches portrait lighting, how to open a studio and run a business, camera formats, and darkroom procedures. These skills are particularly important for those who want to become wedding photographers or photojournalists. The digital photography course teaches use of photography for business, sales or website purposes, and additionally offers Photoshop program training. "Students can expect the best education in the field of photography at NYI," Delaney says.

Prospective students should keep in mind that the cost of an education in photography will vary greatly -- the figures presented here are specific to the programs at OSOP and NYI and are not necessarily the "average" of all top schools.

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