The 2018-2019 State of Photographic Education Survey was conducted by the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) in partnership with the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

Business education for fine art photographers, paired with participation in the photography community can have an effect on the success or failure of a photography career. PhotoWorkflo was at the 2019 SPE National Conference in March, 2019 in Cleveland where the results of the 2019 State of Photographic Education survey were first presented. There were some really interesting survey results to talk about and the audience full of students, educators and professionals had great ideas in response. In this blog post we’ll highlight the important results that have a direct effect on the business education of new photographers. You can see the full survey here.

Starving Artists

What the survey reveals about the lack of business training students receive as a part of their higher education curriculum has serious consequences for their careers. Especially when you look at programs that are focused on fine art, graduating students are not prepared to manage a photography business and are not well-versed in the skills related to pricing photography, writing an image license, model releases and copyright registration.
Earning a degree in photography is an admirable achievement, yet, it’s not hard to find forums online – full of graduates – musing over their inability to pay the rent. Just take this article for example to see which publications are still paying their photographers and how much. For fine artists, even with gallery representation, it’s also really difficult to expect to support yourself. A recent study finds almost half of visual artists make $30,000 a year or less and are making between 0-10% of their income from their artwork. It’s not a life for the faint of heart.
This means that even more emphasis should be placed on preparing our students to effectively make photographs not only for the purpose of their art practice, but to be able to shoot, market, and license their photography into other markets so that they have more than one revenue stream.

Missing Business Basics

According to the SPE/ASMP survey, 84% of photography students receive little to no training in business or marketing, with 61% of curriculums requiring no such classes at all. While it may be lack of time preventing some programs from squeezing business into their curriculum, it’s also, in part, likely due to the fact that 50% of instructors have 0-5 years worth of experience in a non-academic photography environment or even outside of academia in general.

Practice What you Preach

There is an unusual lag in curriculum requirements for students to learn to create and maintain their own photography website. Interestingly, the photography programs themselves are more business savvy in 2019, with 65% maintaining an online presence – a 47% increase since 2012. Conversely, only 30% see the value in students presenting a website in the culmination of their degree program.

Instead, 84% of programs still either require or strongly encourage a printed final portfolio in the culmination of their degree program, usually accompanied by a bound portfolio book presented in a final exhibition. This requirement is tied to fine art photography programs and the emphasis on exhibiting work, but there is the potential to incorporate web and mobile/branding presentations as a component of the final degree presentation.

Community Resources

To have a thriving art practice and another revenue stream shooting editorial, commercial or retail photography, photographers need to know how to find reliable resources to help them when they have questions after graduation. Surprisingly, 52% of the survey respondents said that their programs do not participate with any professional photographic organization. Encouraging students to join organizations like ASMP and SPE as well as local organizations, as students, will give them access to information about the business of photography and help them join a community of photographers that will encourage and support them as they graduate and become professionals.

Programs Pay the Price?

Though the survey does not delve into the reasons, one thing is clear; photography programs are getting smaller. 46% of respondents said they have fewer than 50 undergrads in their programs, as opposed to 26% in 2012. More extensive programs, boasting 101 to 1000 students per semester, have seen a 10% decrease since 2012.
Even online programs, once the most exciting frontier for delivering courses in the “flipped classroom” model, have seen a steady decline dropping from 25% in 2012 to only 16% of instructors now teaching classes online.

The survey also revealed enrollment trending downward for the past five years with 46% of instructors saying they have noticed the decline. Most educators will tell you that enrollment increases when the economy declines, so our current strong economic cycle could be partially responsible for the shrinking programs.

Some significant figures linking a lack of business training to a decline in program enrollment, come after graduation. The daunting truth is – nearly 85% of photography businesses do not make it to year three.


There is no doubt that photography students need business training to survive after graduation. Understanding copyright and registering their work, licensing photography to increase revenue streams, acquiring insurance, marketing their work – all imperative to success – none of this can be learned from behind the lens or in the darkroom. It’s a function of education, the support of a thriving community of photography colleagues, and a commitment to continuing that education throughout their careers as professionals. PhotoWorkflo is deeply committed to helping photographers at all stages of their career to navigate the business side of a successful photography career. Please follow our blog for regular articles to keep you informed.
We will be creating new posts to highlight what some of the photography programs around the country are doing to help bridge this business education gap. Do you have a story you can share with us about ways your program is cultivating creative and business-savvy photographers? We want to hear from you! Email us!