25 Best Photography Schools in 2021
Photography schools are some of the most acclaimed and renowned institutions in the world.
Some are standalone colleges that teach nothing but photography – analogue and film. Others are art and design institutions that teach a broad range of visual and creative arts.
Then there are some that are a single element of a much larger university that teaches everything from Veterinary Science to Bee Keeping.
In this article, we take a look at the very best photography schools around the world in 2021.
While there are countless learning institutes globally (not to mention online photography classes/courses), I have chosen renowned, highly acclaimed or ones that simply offer the best and most unique program.
Let’s get into it and look at the best photography schools worldwide – region by region.
Table of Contents
Photography Schools in North America
🇺🇸 United States
Rhode Island School of Design
Rhode Island School of Design is one of the best photography schools on the planet.
The school was founded in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1877, making it one of the first art and design schools in North America. The school’s name converts to the acronym RISD which is more commonly pronounced as ‘rizdee’.
Rhode Island School of Design is a private college with approximately 2,500 students enrolled in studio-based bachelors and masters degrees.
The college’s photography program focuses on the global changes in the art’s technical, conceptual and aesthetic applications. The course allows students to explore image-making through the presentation and interpretation of photography.
The RISD photography programs include a 2-year graduate (MFA) and a 4-year undergraduate (BFA). The programs include the fundamentals of photography with hands-on experiences in a wide range of applications including film, darkroom, video, digital and large scale works.
Parsons School of Design
The Parsons School of Design is one of the highest-ranking design schools in the world.
They provide students with a broad spectrum of design and art curriculum. With a focus on developing the future generation of artistic leaders, Parsons offers academic programs in NYC and Paris. The school has a long history with over a century of academic excellence.
Like many art and design schools, students at Parsons undergo a first-year program to learn a range of mediums and art styles. From there, the graduate programs open up.
The undergraduate photography program at Parsons aims to impart technical and conceptual knowledge in both the analogue and digital space. The program focuses on commercial, editorial, fashion and fine art photography.
The Parsons School of Design also offers a graduate program in Photography. The course aims to develop students’ understanding and use of the language of photography.
New York Institute of Photography
The New York Institute of Photography is one of the best photography schools globally – but with a difference. The NYIP is an online photography school providing a range of course and workshops.
The courses range from supporting the hobbyist to developing a fully-fledged photography career in the commercial space.
What’s neat about the New York Institute of Photography is that different genres define the courses. If you wish to expand your photography skills and build your wedding photography business, then NYIP provides a Wedding Photography specific course.
The school also offers courses in Graphic Design, Landscape and Photojournalism as part of their ten courses on offer.
The New York Institute of Photography delivers a comprehensive Professional Photography course covering end-to-end photography tutorials.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
School of the Art Institute of Chicago is a highly respected school founded as the Chicago Academy of Design in 1866.
SAIC provides degrees at undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and graduate levels from their Chicago campus. Plus, the school is home to a museum, considered one of the finest and largest school-museums in the country.
The art and design school offers many tailored courses in all streams, from Art History, Theory and Criticism to Fiber and Material Studies.
The Photography Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago focuses on redefining the medium of photography through exploration and experimentation.
The undergrad program is the Bachelor of Fine Arts and explores the works of historical and contemporary photographers. The school encourages self-directed learning and group projects.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago‘s graduate photography program is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Studio Photography. This course delivers conceptual learning and hands-on application beyond the technical aspects of the medium.
Columbia College Chicago
Columbia College Chicago is another brilliant photography school founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory.
The college delivers undergraduate and graduate programs aimed to provide a comprehensive education in the liberal arts.
The Photography undergraduate program is a Bachelors Degree with a flexible folio of disciplines from generalised tuition to a specialised focus in Fashion, Commercial, or Fine Art Photography.
Regardless of your existing knowledge or experience in photography, the first-year program aims to identify your needs and steer you in the right direction. Plus, students have access to a state-of-the-art inkjet print lab and studio, as well as a darkroom for analogue exploration.
Columbia College Chicago also offers photography as a minor with foundations in the teachings and experiences of photography.
Kent State University
Kent State University was founded in 1910 and considers itself a premier Ohio university driving economic, cultural, and workforce development.
Kent State University is a vast school spanning campuses across Ohio, the greater USA and several campuses worldwide.
Visual arts rank high at Kent, and budding photographers have several options available to them. While Studio Media, Journalism and Digital Media Production all have photography elements, the school also offers photography specific course.
The Photography Minor course delivers the foundations of photography, including camera use, composition, lighting, digital technologies, and photography in print and online publications.
Kent’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography is a comprehensive degree effectively combining liberal arts with hands-on studio experience in digital mediums. This major focuses on developing the professional photographers of the future via experiential opportunities in photography, graphic design and multimedia.
Ryerson University School of Image Arts
Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts is a community-focused arts school with diverse artistic studies.
Based in Toronto, the School of Image Arts is dedicating to creating future image-makers with a core focus on photography and videography. The Photography BFA combines with an Integrated Digital program to support students wishing to explore more technical fields within the industry.
Ryerson’s photography course is the oldest of its kind running in Canada and one of the world’s best. It focuses on intensive hands-on experience to build upon skillsets in both analogue and digital photography.
The School of Image Arts sets itself apart by introducing the Integrated Digital elements in the third year. The ID option expands upon the creative skills well beyond the borders of conventional film and photography
Ontario College of Art and Design University
Initially founded in 1876 by the Ontario Society of Artists, OCAD has a rich history of art, design, illustration, film and photography education.
Ontario College of Art and Design University offers a progressive and highly respected undergraduate course in Photography. The school approaches photography as a fine-art medium that aims to develop an artistic vision through a range of practical approaches.
Camera use, film, darkroom and digital processes are all covered in addition to the available electives such as Integrated Media, Printmaking and Drawing & Painting. The aim of this is to broaden students minds in the concepts and theories.
At the higher levels, students undertake a Thesis option to support their research, process and the presentation of a professional level exhibition. Also, a Direct Studio option is available to provide greater flexibility to students in their final year.
Vancouver Institute of Media Arts
Vancouver Institue of Media Arts is one of the highest-ranked education sites among relevant career sites.
That’s due to their focus on developing the very best new visual creatives with a global and inclusive attitude. Compared to many of the photography schools listed here, VIMA is relatively young, founded in 1995.
But without the shackles of institutional heritage, the school strives to deliver diploma programs that prepare students for the real world.
Their disciplines include visual effects, game design, animation, acting, web development, broadcasting and of course, professional photography.
To account for the sudden and radical shifts in education, the Vancouver Institue of Media Arts provided a blended system of on-site and online learning.
Photography Schools in Europe
Royal College of Art
Royal College of Art in London, UK is a prestigious postgraduate college with an impressive 180-year history of education and has been ranked as the world’s number one art and design university for seven consecutive years.
The Royal College of Art provides students with a wide range of opportunities to support individuals, businesses, and organisations seeking art and design education. The college is split into four distinct schools to cover the School of Architecture, School of Arts & Humanities, School of Communication and the School of Design spread across three campuses.
The college delivers a world-renowned Master of Arts in Photography – a two-year course with interdisciplinary approaches to the arts.
With a focus on the traditions of photography and visual fine arts, the MA in Photography is more than just a ‘course’ on the medium. It’s more an art education covering the history, theory, representation and culture of the photographic principles we appreciate today.
The final year of the Master of Arts in Photography at RCA involves a personal research project with a selected tutor’s aid.
Goldsmiths University of London
Goldsmiths University of London combines academic excellence with creative and innovative pursuits.
The university provides education across 20 departments encompassing everything from computing to law. But Goldsmiths – a member institution of the University of London since 1904 – is world-renowned in the creative arts.
The University includes the Centre for Contemporary Art, a gallery housed in a repurposed Victorian bath-house. Goldsmiths offers two Masters degrees focused on photography, both of which meld theory and practice.
The one-year MA Photography: The Image & Electronic Arts examines the meaning, production, and distribution of images in their present and historical contexts. Students can specialise in interactive, durational and internet work.
The MA Photography & Urban Cultures, which is taught in the Department of Sociology, can be taken full-time in one year or part-time over two years. You can develop photographic practice while examining cutting-edge debates in the cultural and social theory.
University of Westminster
Founded in 1838, the University of Westminster was the first polytechnic in London and one of the first in the UK. And it’s not a small school with almost 19,000 students enrolled in undergraduate, postgraduate and other professional courses.
The Art, Design and Visual Culture program at the University of Westminster offers a range of creative visual studies.
The undergraduate courses include a Photography BA Honours and a Photography with Foundation BA Honours in terms of photography. The first is a three-year course covering everything from photography in critical periods throughout history to major student projects in the third year.
The Foundation course is a 4-year program with the first year tailored to teaching the foundations of photography.
For postgraduate education, the University of Westminster offers a full time, 1-year Documentary Photography and Photojournalism MA. Plus, it provides a full-time, 1-year or part-time 2-year Photography Arts MA.
There’s no doubt that the University of Westminster is one of the finest education facilities in the UK and certainly one of the best offering photography education.
Paris College of Art
Across the English Channel sits the Paris College of Art – an institution that has delivered carefully curate art and design programs since the early 1980s.
The schools aim is to transform students into exceptional artists, photographers and designers through artistic and intellectual maturation.
The Paris College of Art offers a broad range of programs through undergraduate, graduate and short courses. The courses cover everything from Interior Design through to the Graduate Program in Design for Social Impact.
There are several photography-related courses at PCA, beginning with the undergraduate Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. This degree balances analog and digital photography to create a solid understanding of the image-making processes.
Students at the Paris College of Art have the choice of completing a Masters of Art (MA) or a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Photography and Image Making. Both courses deliver the same content in the first year with the Master of Fine arts to provide a second year of relevant tuition.
Spéos has been delivering a globally recognised program in image education for over 35 years.
While they’re known to be a school located in Paris, France, they also have a campus in London.
Spéos is not a large school with only 200 new students each year – making this a select entry photography school.
The school delivers hand-crafted education programs that include photography workshops, online education, 5-month courses and the more expanded one and 2-year professional photography programs.
The 2-year program splits into three unique courses – Professional Photography in 2 Years, Title of photographer RNCP level 7 in 2 years and European Master of Professional Photography in 2 years.
Each course provides an exceptional standard of education in all things photography.
Accademia Italiana is an art and design school established in 1984 and located in Florence and Rome.
The school focuses primarily on university-level fashion, design and photography across various workshops and summer schools with several photographic courses.
The Accademia Italiana also delivers what they position as professional courses, including one in Fashion Photography.
At higher levels, the school provides a Bachelor’s Degree in Photography and New Media. This 3-year program aims to provide students with the required training to working within a global video production and photography market.
The AI also offers an academic diploma in the Master’s Program of Professional Photography. The 2-year course provides a more in-depth look at the specialised requirements within the image-making professions.
Köln International School of Design
With a core focus on design study, the Köln International School of Design has been in operation since 1971.
KISD offers twelve critical areas of expertise, including Design for Manufacturing, Production Technologies and Image & Motion. It is within the Image & Motion pillar that the school’s photography education exists.
The school’s photography offerings focus on what photography can do for design. Students have the opportunity to master digital photography, object photography, composition and the concepts of promotional photography.
The Köln International School of Design has a full photography studio for all aspects of digital and analogue processes.
Vevey Vocational Education Center
The Vevey Vocational Education Centre is located in Switzerland and brings together several unique training centres to provide a unified education facility.
Vevey comprises a vocation school for apprenticeship training and a full-time applied arts school offering two and 4-year education. The Vevey Vocational Education Centre accommodates up to 600 apprenticeship students at varying staged in their education and employment.
A dual corporate photography training course allows apprentices to study on campus and within the workplace. The film and digital photography course is taken over four years and teaches all fundamental elements of the profession.
The Full-Time Photographer training is a two or 4-year full-time program that includes a 6-month internship in the latter. This course covers the whole spectrum of photography training, from mastery of shooting techniques to intellectual property enrichment.
Gerrit Rietveld Academie
The Gerrit Rietveld Academie is an international university of applied science in Amsterdam. The international school offers education in Fine Arts and Design with a community-minded approach.
Gerrit Rietveld Academie focuses not on knowing all the answers but on encouraging students to ask the right questions.
All first-year students undertake a generalised first year of the four-year Bachelor’s degree programme in Fine Arts and Design. This general and formative year cover a broad range of art and design education to allow students to become aware of altering views, concepts and working methods.
The following three years steer towards speciality areas with Fashion, Ceramics and Graphic Design amongst the options.
The Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and Design: Photography is the most interesting pathway to this degree. The course aims to educate the fundamentals of the medium and encourage critical attitudes to challenge photography conventions.
Krakowsie Szkoty Artystyczne – School of Creative Photography
The Krakowsie Szkoty Artystyczne, in Krakow, Poland, is broken into core disciplines, including Fashion, Interior Design, Visual Merchandising, Drama, Choreography, Pattern Making and Photography.
What’s unique about KSA is that the photography course is run in limited numbers and exclusively taught in English, with an understanding of the Polish language not required.
The Diploma in Fine Art Photography is a two-year program conducted on campus in Poland or online for those unable to travel.
The School of Creative Photography focuses not on filling students with information and sending them out into the world. Instead, they’re focused on releasing creative potential through enquiry based learning.
The diploma covers a range of genres, from wedding photography to fashion.
Photography Schools in Australia
Photography Studies College
Photography Studies College is one of the best photography schools on the planet and certainly one of Australia’s best.
PSC is a tertiary institution to deliver high-quality teaching and learning experiences. The school provides educational opportunities to develop intellectual inquiry and reflection on the application of processes.
Photography Studies College offers a comprehensive catalogue of courses, including workshops, online seminars, short courses, part-time and full-time courses.
But the options don’t stop there as PSC provides full-time education for Master of Arts Photography, Undergraduate Certificate in Photography, Bachelor of Photography, Certificate IV in Photography and Photo Imaging and a Diploma in Photography and Photo Imaging.
The Master of Arts Photography is an 18-month course designed to prepare students for professional careers in photography and the visual arts industries. The course is available both on-campus and via online modules.
Royal Melbourne Institue of Technology
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is an Australian based tertiary education provider with a long history. The school is a multi-discipline university covering every education manner from nursing to agriculture – my daughter begins her degree at RMIT this year.
RMIT and its photography course, founded in 1887, is considered one of the oldest and most established in the world.
The Bachelor of Arts (Photography) integrates theoretical, conceptual, and industry-based photography ideas and how they apply to modern media. Students are involved in project-based learning within studio environments to develop critical competencies of the craft.
The three-year Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology course also encourages students to make connections with industry leaders through the universities many longstanding associations.
Other Top Photography Schools Around The World
Tokyo Zokei University
The Tokyo Zokei University is in Tokyo’s heart and founded in 1954 as the Kuwasawa Design School.
The school splits in two, with the Department of Design overlooking the disciplines of Graphic Design, Film & Moving Image, Animation, Media Design, Furniture, Interior & Architecture, Industrial and Textile Design. Photography also sits within this department.
The second element is the Department of Fine Arts, with Painting and Sculpture forming the fundamental teachings.
Tokyo Zokei University offers a Photography Major that covers many different genres, including the study of photography as a visual expression with documentation, art and sociality. The Photography Major focuses on documentary and creative photography to explore the relationship between the visual medium and society.
As a lover of photography and all things Japan, I would love to study at the Tokyo Zokei University.
National Institute of Design
The National Institute of Design, established in 1961 at the height of an Indian cultural and educational evolution, is a brilliant school.
As seen with other photography schools, NID provides a foundation course before selecting their speciality areas. The Graduate Diploma Programme in Design is a one-year comprehensive introduction to all key art and design principles.
The National Institute of Design offers a Master of Design in PhotographyDesign. This 2.5-year course encourages students to explore a diverse range of styles with multi-disciplinary approaches.
The Photography Design program provides students opportunities to connect with the school’s international partners in UK, Germany, Bangladesh, Japan, and Canada.
Sir J. J. Institute of Applied Art
The Sir J J Institute of Applied Art commenced operations in 1935 and was awarded independent institute status in 1961.
The institute’s core aim is to provide facilities and education for the training in visual communications. For budding photography students, Sir J J provides a well-equipped photography studio,
The school offers two main courses, with the first being the Degree Course of Bachelor of Fine Arts. This four-year course covers a broad range of art and design disciplines, with photography being a core element throughout.
Sir J J Institute of Applied Art also offers a two-year Post Graduate Course in Master of Fine Arts with photography on five main focus areas.
Finally, the institute provides a one-year part-time Apprentice Training Course that includes photography and interior design as its core elements.
🇿🇦 South Africa
Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography
The Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography is a relatively new photography school that commenced in 2003. This South African school has grown quickly to become a leading and high awarded institution.
The school is committed to staying relevant and in line with the communications industry and developing the best creatives in Africa.
Stellenbosch offers several programs, including the Bachelor of Arts Honours in Visual Communication. This honours degree includes Illustration, Art Direction, Graphic Design, Multimedia and Photography as majors.
But the opportunities don’t stop there. Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication, Higher Certificate in Corporate Photography and a dozen photography short courses.
Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia
The Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia, otherwise referred to as the Rodchenko Art School, was established in 2006. The school houses the Moscow House of Photography as well as the Multimedia Art Museum of Moscow.
The school, heavily influenced by leading international photography schools, is equally inspired by the famous Russian Avant-garde Art and Technical School.
The school’s focus is on building students’ experience and knowledge in both analogue and digital photography. In addition to this, video, post-production and editing techniques receive significant attention.
What’s most impressive about the Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia is that it only takes 40 students per intake, and the tuition is free.
On top of the 3-year main program, the school offers a range of photography workshops to people of all ages.
Photography Schools FAQs
What should I major in to become a photographer?
To become a photographer, you should major in Art/Art Studies, Commercial Photography, Digital Arts, Photography, Photojournalism, and Visual and Performing Arts.
Is going to school for photography worth it?
Going to photography school is well worth the time, given the level of professional education you receive in all aspects of photography. Plus, having the experience and backing of a photography school can go a long way to enhancing your career.
Is photography a good career?
Photography is a great career! The rewards of doing what you love as a creative pursuit is preferred over daily drudgery. With the right education, determination and skills, you can make a photography career work.
Is photography a hard major?
Photography as a major is no different from any other major. It all comes down to getting out of it what you put into it.
Can you be a professional photographer without a degree?
Of course, you can. A qualification is not essential to become a photographer as there’s no special licence to carry a camera. But, quality education will make a massive difference to your level of knowledge and ability to capture clients.
Becoming a professional photographer takes a lot of focus and determination. With a quality education from one of the best photography schools in the world, your opportunities and potential for success expand.
I went to an art school to study a broad range of art topics before university. Pottery, jewellery, graphic design, film photography, illustration and screen printing were a part of my experience.
While 90% of my time was not strictly photography related, it helped me build my understanding of art and design – an essential photography element. It all helped me to become the photographer, visual-creative and writer I am today.
How about you? Do you have a formal qualification in photography? What school did you attend, and what are your thoughts on the need for formal training?