There are no requirements to become a wildlife photographer. You do need to take amazing and sellable pictures though. How you learn to do that is up to you. So that gives you a few options.
You can be a self-taught photographer, which means learning online, through photography books, playing around with your camera, lighting, gadgets, and overall exploring on your own. It might also mean learning from someone you know or work with, who already knows what they are doing. The other obvious option is taking photography classes. This can be done to complement your self-teaching process, as a college certificate or diploma, or for a full degree from a university or college.
There are pros and cons to every path. Of course, university is very expensive and might not actually be necessary for you to become a great photographer. However, it does give you the opportunity for networking and allows you to take a minor in biology or animal behavior, which will help you in your work. On the other hand, having less structured education and more time to practice could be better for some, especially those of us who do not do as well in formal education.
If you do choose to go to a photography school, but already know you would like to specialize in wildlife photography, then take a look at the location and professors. Is there anyone there who specializes in this? Also, does the location allow you to do wildlife shoots on the weekends or in the mornings before class?
WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER?
If you are looking to become a wildlife photographer, the university location is almost as important as the quality of the program, since you will need opportunity for shooting in nature. We chose our sample list of top schools with this in mind.
- University of Arizona
This school in Tucson, Arizona offers students a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art program with an emphasis on Photography, teaching theory as well as techniques. Students also have the choice of taking a non-emphasis program to get a more general outlook on studio arts. In-state tuition is $4,788 per year plus fees and an average of $12,551 for out-of-state.
- Virginia Commonwealth University
Located in Richmond, Virginia, VCU is well-known for many of its programs, including photography. It offers students a well-rounded education on the subject, as well as hands-on experience through a Capstone project to be completed during graduating year. Average tuition here is $9,877 per year for in-state students and $26,736 for out-of-state.
- California Institute of the Arts
Offering a BFA and an MFA in Photography and Media, the California Institute of the Arts focuses their education on exploring different aspects of photography, especially when it comes to artistic expression. The school is located in Valencia, CA. Tuition here is $43,400 per year plus fees.
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Right on the Great Lakes and opening a door to the America´s midwest, SAIC offers students a BFA and an MFA in Photography. Students are taught in a progressive manner, starting with the basics and having more independent and hands-on courses in senior years. Tuition is an average of $41,430 per year plus fees.
- Rhode Island School of Design
This relatively small program, with about 30 undergraduates and 15 graduate students, gives a wide spectrum of photography-related education. It starts with history and theory, moves on to technical aspects, and includes seminars, portfolio projects and internship opportunities in the final years of study. Tuition is $44,284 per year for undergrads.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
Wildlife photography is not the easiest industry to get into. There is a lot of competition and a lot of material that is already available, so your work has to be outstanding to become successful in the field. Patience and perseverance are the two qualities you are likely to need, and most photographers in the field recommend having a supplementary income until you are sure you are able to support yourself with photography only.
You will need to take a lot of pictures, and it will probably take some investment to create a portfolio, since you must have proper equipment in order to even get one started. You might also have to do some traveling and cover that yourself, if that is a possibility or the niche you want to get into.
Once you have a portfolio, the first steps would be to send your pictures to agencies and magazines that could be interested in them. One of the main tips from the experts in the field is to participate in competitions for wildlife photographers. Winning an award can give you a lot of visibility, as well as networking opportunities. Also, just by going to the conferences and events associated with the competition, you can tap into a great network of professionals, who can guide you on your way into the industry.
Remember to use online tools that are out there, such as having a website, a Twitter account, Facebook and Instagram, where you can create a following and feature your photos.