The Art Institute Turns Photography Enthusiasts into Professionals


There are lots of different ways to learn photography, from Flickr groups and meet-ups to evening classes and books.

But you can also go to college, study in a classroom and turn your hours with a textbook into credits towards a degree.

It’s a choice that usually requires a huge commitment – both of time and finances – so it pays to choose a photography school that will deliver the knowledge you want and the opportunities you need to turn your education into a career.

One of the leading places to learn photography is The Art Institute.

A collection of private art colleges located across the United States and Canada, The Art Insitute has  41 campuses, 25 of which teach photography to a total of 2,600 bachelors and associates degree students. The number of photography students at each location ranges from 337 at the Art Institute of Colorado to a cozy four at the Art Institute of Vancouver. Graduates have included Carol Guzy and Martha Rial, the only women to have won a Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism.

The Institute’s range of photography courses is broad and may include Large-Format Photography and Location Shooting, as well as business classes such as Advanced Communications, Composition and Language, and Business of Photography. The actual classes offered though will vary from site to site. Each campus has its own website where applicants can review the classes available. Faculty members usually have backgrounds as photographers and real-world experience in photography branches from fine art to event to photojournalism.

Interested in Photography? You’re in!

In general, the courses are open to just about anyone with “a high school diploma and an interest in the subject,” says Suzanne Cibotti, an Art Institute spokesperson. But requirements may be higher depending on whether the student wishes to receive a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. More restrictive perhaps, is the pricing. Total tuition for an associate’s degree in photography at the Colorado campus, for example, is $52,734. While financial aid may be available and the cost can be seen as an investment in a future career, that’s still an eye-watering amount of money – especially when starting salaries for new photographers and photography assistants are so low. These are intended as professional expenses rather than the cost of improving an enthusiast’s knowledge.

That’s reflected though in the courses’ results. According to Suzanne Cibotti, around 84 percent of 2007’s associate degree photography graduates were working in a “a field related to their program of study within six months of graduation.” That number rises to an impressive 90.4 percent for bachelor’s degree graduates.

“Graduates of The Art Institutes’ Photography programs enter the field in a variety of entry-level positions; including photographers, assistants to photographers or digital photographers,” said Cibotti. “Areas of employment can include advertising, photojournalism, digital image manipulation, editorial, fashion, portraiture and wedding.”

It will be interesting to see how those figures hold up as the economy continues to tighten and  would be nice to know too how quickly photographers are able to move up from entry-level positions to winning commissions, opening their own studios and earning enough to pay off their student loans. But the fact that such a large number of new photographers are able to get started in a profession that’s been under such pressure in the last few years is at least encouraging.

Take a Photography Degree Online

Even more encouraging is the flexibility that allows those who already have day jobs to study photography as well. In addition to the traditional evening classes, which can still take a big chunk out of someone’s day and be problematic for students with families, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh also has an online division which allows students to study whenever they want. Students can print out lectures to read at their leisure, upload their work to receive comments from teachers and discuss projects with other students online. The interface is attractive and easy to use so you won’t need to study programming before you can start studying photography. Subjects available include Principles of Digital Photography, Advertising Photography, Portraiture and Portfolio Exploration.

“[The course’s] goal is to provide students with a rigorous study of the elements of image production and manipulation, as well as a wide range of professional camera and lighting equipment,” said Cibotti. “Some things like color management may still be easier to learn in a regular classroom setting.”

The requirements for the online course though are relatively simple. Bachelors students need only be high school graduates with a GPA of 2.0, or hold a General Education Development (GED) Certificate with a score of 225 or higher, or possess an associate’s degree or higher. That might sound like too broad an acceptance criterion. After all, becoming a professional photographer requires more than the ability to listen to (or read) lectures and understand how to handle equipment. It requires creativity and talent, skills that aren’t easily taught in a classroom. The Art Institute didn’t have figures available for drop-out rates so it’s possible that those without a photographic eye end up leaving before graduation.

It’s also possible though that The Art Institute’s courses are capable of turning almost anyone with an eye for composition into the kind of photographer who can earn a living from their camera.

“I would encourage someone interested in becoming a student of our Photography program not to worry about what they have done before, but to leap right in,” said Karen Antonelli, photography faculty member at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “You need to be the kind of person that spends a lot of time observing the world around you and have the ability to derive meaning from what you see.”

That’s not a bad place for any photographer to start. The question is how much The Art Institute can help a photographer translate that meaning into an image, how far it can take them – and whether it’s worth paying for.


4 comments for this post.

  1. Charles Jones Said:

    This raises the obvious next question, what about places like the New York Institute of Photography? Assuming cost=quality, then I imagine that the $1,000 NYIP course isn't going to hold a candle to the $50k Art Institute one; but how close can it come?

  2. Tom Fullman Said:

    “a field related to their program of study within six months of graduation.”

    This can also mean they're just working in a related job, not necessarily making any money. Blockbuster, for example, is considered "working in the industry" for a motion graphics or 3D degree.

    Everything is what you make of it. No school is going to give you talent, manage your contacts, give you people skills, or pay your bills.

  3. Curtis Said:

    Thanks for the insight. I was considering to return to school for more in-depth learning. this has given me something to mull over!

    Thanks!

    Curtis

  4. GB Said:

    "around 84 percent of 2007’s associate degree photography graduates were working in a “a field related to their program of study within six months of graduation.” That number rises to an impressive 90.4 percent for bachelor’s degree graduates."

    "The Art Institute didn’t have figures available for drop-out rates so it’s possible that those without a photographic eye end up leaving before graduation."

    It's particularly important to focus on these points. The drop out rate is high at the AI and it isn't due to a lack of talent. Typically it's money and the untalented with money tend to make it through easier than the extremely talented without money. Besides that it'd be important to consider the drop out rate since placing 90% of 10 graduates out of 200 enrolled would be considerably less impressive than placing 90% of 180 graduates out of 200 enrolled.

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