Photography vs. Graphic Design: An Overview

When you were researching photography degree programs, you may have noticed that graphic design degree programs also pop up in your search results. It’s true, graphic design and photography do go hand-in-hand. Composition, layout, and color are all principles that apply to both fields, yet applied through different mediums. As a result, many schools offer a program that combines photography and graphic design into one curriculum.

Even if you prefer a program that focuses solely on photography, it’s still important to know how the two skill-sets play into each other. While they are indeed two separate practices, one is often reliant on the other. Below are jump links to each section:

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is the art of combining text and graphics into a visual message in the design of logos, banners, graphics, brochures, etc. Graphic designers also develop material for the Internet. Their job is to ensure that communication projects have a clear and effective message, making it both a creative and a technical job.

Professional graphic designers have learned how to use a variety of software programs such as Adobe, InDesign, Corel, and other applications that allow image editing and graphic creation. Students in a graphic design program also learn about printing, image quality, and other assorted bells and whistles related to the field.

There are quite a few responsibilities that a professional graphic designer must fulfill. Graduating from an online accredited graphic design degree program will ensure that you have the skills needed to succeed in your career. The following include some of the tasks that you will learn how to complete in the degree program, and go on to conduct in the workforce.

  • Creating sample layouts based on design concepts.
  • Determining size and arrangement of illustrative material and copy.
  • Reviewing final graphic layouts.
  • Maintaining an archive of professional images and materials.
  • Preparing notes and instructions for printers.
  • Using computer software to develop new images and illustrations.

As a graphic designer, you must also be able to respectfully interact with clients and meet their needs to the best of your ability. Part of this is done through keeping clients informed of the project process, and showing them the rough images that you have prepared to use during your discussions with the clients. The rough drafts of what you plan to produce allows the client to get a visual idea for your thought process. This enhances the communication process and saves time by making sure that you and the client are on the same page without having wasted a significant amount of labor-hours on a potentially inaccurate design.

Once you have proven to have mastered these skills and graduate from the degree program, you can choose to pursue any one of the careers listed below.

  • Art Director
  • Creative Director
  • Graphic Designer
  • Illustrator
  • Layout Artist
  • Package Designer
  • Senior Designer
  • Web Designer

Graphic designers can also enjoy being their own boss by doing freelance work. While freelancing allows you to have more creative control, the income is not always consistent. Frequently, graphic designers will have a full-time position with a company, and create freelance work on the side for a supplemental income. This can create a pleasant balance between steady work and artistic freedom.

What is Photography?

Photography can be considered “old school,” since it has been around for well over a century. While technology has modernized the art form and enhanced the industry’s standards, the basic premise of producing images that communicate a desired message or feeling is still the same.

Photography’s uniqueness comes from its wide variety of subject matter and the approaches used by photographers today. Camera capabilities are more advanced than ever, and they continue to improve at an astounding rate. An online photography degree program gives students access to learn how to properly use a variety of cameras, lenses, equipment, and photo-editing software. As a student in this degree program, you will be encouraged to physically practice your craft, and submit it for a grade online.

Many of the online colleges and universities give students the opportunity to engage in one-on-one or small group coaching, to help them become successful professional photographers. Their main goal is to help you become a successful professional upon graduation, by being able to confidently accomplish the responsibilities that will be expected of you in the workforce. The skills that you will develop in an accredited photography degree program and conduct on a regular basis as a professional include:

  • Using traditional and digital cameras.
  • Properly using camera-related equipment such as tripods, filters, flash attachments, and screens.
  • Determining picture composition and adjusting lighting to match.
  • Adjusting apertures, shutter speeds, and focus.
  • Creating artificial light.
  • Manipulating and enhancing scanned or digital images to create desired effects.
  • Reviewing photographs to ensure quality.

Similar to a graphic designer, a photographer must also work with their employer/clients to determine the project goals. Photographers use their portfolio of their previous work to showcase to potential clients and employers what styles they are comfortable with and capable of achieving. When you graduate from a photography program, you will be able to use your previous assignments in your portfolio to help you land your first several projects. A professional photographer should try to expand their scope of work in order to attain a diversified portfolio, which may garner a broader clientele base.

Once these skills are mastered, graduates can improve their portfolio through a variety of careers. Some of these careers include:

  • Advertising Photographer
  • Digital Retoucher
  • Fashion Photographer
  • Forensic Photographer
  • Photojournalist
  • Studio Manager
  • Commercial Photographer
  • Travel Photographer

There are photographers who chose to freelance, and (like graphic designers) it can be their sole or their supplemental income. While photographers and graphic designers use the same visual and design principals, their day-to-day work looks vastly different.

Bringing Photography and Graphic Design Together

Photography and graphic design are also connecting through their importance in branding. Graphic designers can manipulate professionally taken photographs to communicate a desired idea. Some employers/clients may look for graphic designers with a photography background and vice-versa.

Just by having a degree in photogrpahy or graphic design, you will become more marketable in that industry. You can choose to double major, or pursue a program that already includes both fields. By doing so, you may graduate with a more advanced set of skills set that are more in-line with current demands of the job market.

Our list of schools will help you find a program in either photography, graphic design, or a combination or the two. Finding the right program for you depends on your career aspirations, budget, and personal interests. If you are already working as a photographer or graphic designer, earning a degree in one or both fields would boost your resume and lead to more lucrative career options. Whichever degree program you choose, it’s important to find one that encompasses coursework that will benefit your long-term professional goals.

What are my degree options for a career in photography?

You have a few options to consider when it comes to pursuing a photography degree. Which one you choose depends on your college and career goals. If you’re just starting out, an associate degree might a good option or perhaps a bachelor’s degree if you can commit three or four years to your education. If you’re interested in learning more about specific photography programs, we’ve created a list of popular options below.


University of Hartford

  • CIHE

Sacred Heart University

  • CIHE

View more programs in Art and Design.

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