qualifications for a Masters in Photography

Discussion in 'Education' started by kimberly_ross, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. I'm a mid-level professional in her mid-30s, who is considering a career change in order to pursue my lifelong passion of photography more seriously. I took some courses back in high school and college (undergrad), worked in a dark room, won a couple photo competitions, done an exhibit as part of a photography co-op, have worked a bit in the field of public relations/graphics design/documentation, and have traveled extensively and taken thousands of photos as a hobby (including a couple weddings for friends and photo shoots for family/neighbors).
    I think I have a natural talent and definitely have lots of interest/motiviation in photography -- but don't have an actual fine arts degree/certificate or any professional experience. In order to enhance my technical skills, learn more about the business aspects, establish a portfolio, and make some industry connections, I intend to go to school for photography starting this Fall.
    It seems that most Masters degrees in Photography require extensive professional experience or a Bachelors in Fine Arts background -- is that a correct assumption or would my interest/motivation and a basic portfolio be enough to qualify me for admission? Would it be more realistic to aim for completing a Professional Certificate Program first, and then using that to qualify for a Masters in a year from now (assuming I've further built up my portfolio and skills by then)?
    Would appreciate your advice/opinions!
  2. MFA programs are not (should not be) training schools, they are finishing schools. You need to have a solid, sometimes even stellar portfolio to get in. If you are lacking some background classes you might be required to make up the delinquent credits to get in the program. A few superstar up and coming photographers may get into an MFA program without the proper background credits, but that is extremely rare. Also, most MFA programs do nothing for a commercial photography career-especially if you are just starting out.
  3. I think masters degrees in photography are almost always required for art photographers. People that intend to exhibit in New York galleries lets say, make sales to collectors, have critics in the media review their shows, sell prints to major institutions and museum, etc. Like artists. Many end up also having teaching positions, and that's another reason to get a masters like that. Some schools just seem to dominate in this area, like Yale, where you see people that have graduated and made stellar careers and now are back teaching there.
  4. A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is very different from a master's degree in photography. Different schools have different requirements to get into their programs. What program you should pursue is dependent upon your reasons for going after a photography degree at a university. It wouldn't hurt to talk with a few school counselors to help you decide what you should do. It is important to know how, or even if, a university degree will help you obtain your goals. There are many ways to learn photograph. A university program is just one.
    When I went for my master's degree in photograph all that was required to get into the program was a bachelor's degree (in anything), a portfolio of photographs to show I some knowledge of photography and an interview with some of the photography professors. I really think the interview was more important to being accepted into the program than the portfolio. They were very interested in why I wanted to go for a masters in photography and my future goals that pertained to photography.
    Good luck to you.
  5. There are also a alot of workshops, with many kinds of photographers, from someone like Mary Ellen Mark, a great established photographer, to many practical workshops. It seems that the field is so vast that it can be approached from many different angles.

    I would only go to school for an MFA or as Mark said a master's degree in photography, if I would actually think I would like the experience itself. It's such a competitive field. If you wanted to photograph weddings or do engagement photographs, I wouldn't go to school for that. It's just craft combined with business sense and marketing. If you see yourself as a fashion photographer, that requires a lot of experience, the ability to work under real pressure and big budgets with a team of people and creatives and business types breathing down your neck. Certain stock photographers, in an ideal situation, make photographs, from lifestyle to travel etc. and have an agency market them. Architectural photography is a specialty in itself.

    Sorry, I don't know if this is really advice.
  6. I don't know why I didn't mention an MA or MS in photography since I got an MA. I had to do it because I was going for an MFA, but I didn't have any college art background (I received my BA in History), but had a lot of professional experience. Looking around, I realized that none of the MFA programs I was interested in, would accept me due to the deficiencies in my educational background. I essentially had to earn a BFA and MA concurrently. Eventually, I did earn my MFA.
    But my goals were to move away from commercial photography, where you are interested in heading that way. Masters programs are really not normally set up to teach you the basics of commercial photography. Sometimes you can take workshops, which might (or might not) teach you the tricks of the trade. Other times you can self learn. But self learning (if you want to stand out from the masses that just declare to be professional) is long, difficult, and for most people never really gets them over the hump. Some will attend schools that specialize in preparing you for the business-Art Academy, Art Center, Brooks, Hallmark, Harrington, Ringling, RISD, RIT, etc. all can do a good job with these skills. Some of these schools have pipelines to industry, while others teach the skills, but don't have the connections to careers that others do. Hallmark, for instance has such short program, that students, while they learn some skills don't seem to gain the real experience necessary to stand out from all the other. (Exceptional students can make it happen despite this shortcoming)
    If you are in California, San Diego City College, Orange Coast College Foothill Community College and Santa Monica City College are among the best of the JC's that offer professional photography curriculum. They tend to be feeder schools for the above expensive schools.
  7. What most people don't realize is that a BFA is a terminal/professional degree. It is designed to be the last degree you need to practice, like a MBA, a BSE or a M. Architecture.
    A MFA on the other hand is a post-professional degree. It is designed for teaching and "advanced" professionals. It's equal to a Ph.D, a DBA, or a M.S. in Architecture.
  8. Hey Mark, I think "most people don't realize" that because it bears no resemblance to reality.
  9. What did I say false?
    lets look at what the AICAD has to say:
    The BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) is an undergraduate college degree offered in all areas of the fine and applied arts. Since World War II it has become THE standard degree for students seeking a professional education in art and design.
    The National Association of School of Art & Design (NASAD, Reston, VA), is the nationally recognized accrediting agency for programs in art and design. It delineates two types of undergraduate degrees: "professional" programs, usually granting the BFA; and "liberal arts" programs, usually granting the BA. These two types of programs differ noticeably in their goals and objectives. In NASAD's own words "the professional degree focuses on intensive work in the visual arts supported by a program of general studies," whereas "the liberal arts degree focuses on art and design in the context of a broad program of general studies."​
    The AICAD are who accredits art schools.
    And here is what the AICAD says about MFAs:
    The MFA (Master of Fine Arts) is a specialized, terminal degree available on the graduate level in both fine arts and design.
    The same aspects that distinguish a BFA from a BA, distinguish an MFA from an MA. The MFA is a concentrated "professional" degree for students seeking advanced education prior to becoming practicing artists or designers. The MA, on the other hand, is usually a "liberal arts" degree with less emphasis on practice. A further distinction is that the MFA must be a two year, 60 credit program, whereas the MA need only be a one year, 30 credit program. Finally, the MFA requires between 65% and 85% of the course work to be in art or design practice, whereas the MA requires approximately 50% in studio areas.
    In virtually every state in the country, the MFA is considered a "terminal" degree in fine and applied arts majors. That is, there is no higher level degree available or required for the practice oriented student.​
    So I misspoke a little. A BFA is not a terminal degree, just a professional degree, while the MFA - a post professional degree - is the terminal degree. There is no doctor's of fine arts.
  10. Thanks, everyone, for the wide range of responses and helpful info. I should clarify that my initial request was about a Masters in Photography specifically, not an MFA with photography focus.
    I currently hold both a Bachelors and a Master's degree but in nothing related to fine arts or photography or graphics design... and being in my mid-30s am not interersted in going back to get my Bachelors degree for photography.
    So could any of you recommend the most reputable programs or schools for a Professional Photography Certificate (preferably in NYC... but other locations that are options for me are Washington DC and San Diego). Thanks!
  11. Hi Kim, I am currently in the same situation you were a few years ago, looking for a masters in photography in the US. I am considering the ICP in New York or the Ai of California. I would like to know what did you decide in the end?

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