Frequently Asked Questions

Below are many of the most commonly asked questions about the Photography + Media program.

About the Program in General

What is the difference between the AFA degree in Visual Art and the AAS degree in Photography + Media?

The AAS in Photography and Media is designed to prepare students to enter the current and future workplace as photographer’s assistants or to be employed or self-employed in photographic services, such as product and architectural photography, event and portrait photography, studio lighting, postproduction and retouching, and custom printing. Many who take this degree hope to start their own freelance practice. AAS in Photography and Media degree plan

The AFA in Visual Art is designed for students who would like to transfer to a BFA program at an art school or four-year undergraduate program. It mimics what you would study in the first two years at current art schools meaning foundations studies in 2D and 3D visual art plus Art History and theory. There is no AFA in Photography, but students interested in photography and media studies may take up to six courses in PHT to complete the AFA in Visual Art. Doing so would prepare you to transfer to a B.F.A program in Photography. AFA degree plan

The AFA and AAS degrees also include Art History studies and drawing and/or design courses. Both degrees require general education course work in English Composition, practical math, lab science, and humanities and social sciences. Students who already have a degree in another discipline can often get transfer credit to satisfy those general education requirements.

Some students complete both degrees, as a number of the required studies are the same for both degrees.

I read all that but how do I choose? I want to become a professional photographer.

There are many ways to become a professional photographer. If your goal is to be self-employed locally, doing for example retail portrait photography or local commercial photography, the AAS would be a good choice. If you hope to get a fulltime staff position, a bachelor’s degree may be required, though not necessarily in Fine Arts. If you want to do high-end advertising or fashion photography, you should also consider getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography.

I already have a four-year degree. Do I have to be placed for a degree?

No. You are welcome to enroll in classes without choosing a degree. Please note, though, that you may be able to transfer many of your credits from your four-year degree to fulfill several of the general education requirements for the AAS, and you may also find that the remaining PHT credits are all courses you’d like to take. We encourage you to consider placement for the AAS.

I would like to complete a Photography degree, but I have a fulltime job. I see that some of the classes are scheduled when I have to be at work. Will the required courses be offered at different times of day?

Yes, we rotate the schedule as much as possible, so a required course offered at one time of day this coming semester is normally offered at another time of day the next semester. We cannot promise you will finish the degree in two years, though.

What would you say is your program’s overall approach to teaching photography and video? Do you teach a specific style of photography?

Lens-based media, including still and motion imagery, are incredibly versatile and evolving all the time. There are many reasons to make photographs, and many styles. We hope to introduce you to a wide range of possibilities and ways of thinking about visual imagery, and let you choose your own direction in an informed way. We do not give you recipes to follow and we do not provide tips and tricks. Instead, we invite you to think critically about all you look at and all you produce. In other words, our approach is descriptive, not prescriptive.

This approach gives students space to express their own ideas and tastes and explore new ones.

About Equipment + Supplies

What kind of camera will I need if I want to complete the PHT degree?

You will need a fully-adjustable digital camera such as a dSLR or a mirrorless camera for most PHT courses. This means you should be able to choose camera settings and focus manually. Please contact your instructor for more information.

Requirements for the AAS degree can be completed with one digital camera. For some electives, other cameras are used:

For 103-104 BW Darkroom photography students will need a 35mm film camera.

For 206 Large Format Photography, we provide 4x5 cameras.

For the required PHT 130 Video 1, students use cameras provided on campus.

You do not need a camera for some PHT courses: 110 History of Photography, 130-131 Video I-II, 227 Photographic Careers, and 270-271 Digital Imaging I-II.

I see that a computer is required for many PHT classes. What exactly do I need?

You will need a computer with a reliable internet connection for general communication and participation in myNOVA and Canvas, same as for any class. Our labs are equipped with desktop Apple Macintosh computers, because Macs are used by most creative working professionals. But a Macintosh isn’t required. You can use a Windows device. You will also learn to use software such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. For these you can use a Mac or a Windows PC if it meets the system requirements. Please check system requirements if you have an older device:




DaVinci Resolve:

I do not have a computer. Do you have one I can use?

We do not provide computers for students to take home, but we have multiple labs equipped with Apple Macintosh desktop computers, available for use during open labs. At the Alexandria campus open lab hours are in the afternoons and evenings Monday - Thursday.

At Woodbridge campus also has open lab hours that vary each semester.

Other labs on campus have some Adobe software and are open on Friday and Saturday.

If you receive financial aid, you may be able to use it to purchase a computer. See these guidelines on how to purchase books, supplies, and laptops with financial aid:

Any additional accessories or supplies I should plan to buy?

You will probably also need additional devices depending on what kind of camera and computer you have.

  • A portable USB hard drive is required to back up your catalog of images for use with Adobe Lightroom and for video editing. These cost about $60-100. Students do have Google storage space available for a second back up but isn’t a substitute for a portable hard drive.
  • To go with your camera, a card reader is required to transfer images from camera to storage, unless your camera has a wireless transmitter, or your computer has a card reader. Simple card readers cost about $15. We recommend you have a spare battery, too.
  • For video work, it is a good idea to have a pair of over-the-ear studio headphones (not noise-cancelling). These are also inexpensive, about $25.

For printing, you will need to supply your own specific kinds of inkjet printing paper. For darkroom electives (103-104 and 206) you will need to buy film and photographic printing paper. These are not inexpensive, in the range of $200 for one semester. Enquire early about bookstore purchases with financial aid. Read your syllabus for details on what you will need for a specific course. Students can borrow some supplies from the program, but not always. Ask your instructor for advice on how to stretch your budget.

Other gear students sometimes invest in include a tripod, additional lenses, an external flash unit or other lighting gear. These are available at various price points and can often be purchased used. We can recommend trustworthy dealers.

Do you have equipment I can borrow to use off campus?

Students enrolled in classes may use the professional equipment owned by the program for coursework on campus. At Alexandria campus, we have some donated equipment that students can sign out for use on campus for coursework. We also have a limited number of older donated cameras and other gear to lend in an emergency for use off campus. You may not borrow gear, or use the labs, for any kind of commercial work.

I hear you have great lab facilities. I am an experienced photographer and have an Art degree, but I don’t have my own lab. What classes can I take to have access to your labs?

Labs are available to students while they are enrolled in related classes, for the production of course work. For example, if you want to do darkroom work, please take PHT 103. For digital printing, you could take 270 Digital Imaging I. Also, we often have classroom volunteers who are given lab access. These volunteers are current and former students in the program who are familiar with our operations.

About Specific Courses

You offer so many courses, it is a little overwhelming. How do I choose?

Yes, we have a lot of courses. If you are placed for an AAS or an AFA degree, please see the standard curriculum to see the required courses, and then look at the Course Content Summaries, which will give you an idea of what a course will and won’t cover.

AFA degree plan

AAS in Photography and Media degree plan

Next, please reach out to your instructors, and to any of the fulltime faculty. Do this before you enroll in classes. If you have particular goals or interests, we can point you to suitable electives. And if you are not sure yet, we can help you consider all the possibilities.

What are the electives?

People study photography for all sorts of reasons and objectives, so our curriculum includes electives that go more deeply into one kind or photography or another. You may choose electives based on your interests and goals, or to try something new.

These include Night + Lowlight Photography, Documentary Photography, Photojournalism, Digital Imaging 2, Studio Lighting 2, Black + White Photography 1 + 2, Large Format Photography, and Alternative Photographic Processes.

If you have a specific career objective already, speak to a faculty advisor early on. Some electives are only offered every two years. Note that most electives have prerequisites, which are courses you will need to complete first to be well equipped for the elective. To put it another way, there may not be time in electives to learn the basics.

If you have a specific career objective already, speak to a faculty advisor early on. Some electives are only offered every two years. Note that most electives have prerequisites, which are courses you will need to complete first to be well equipped for the elective. To put it another way, there may not be time in electives to learn the basics.

I’ve been doing photography for a while and understand how to use a camera. Do I really need to take 101? Can I start with 102?

We recommend taking 101 Photography 1 even if you know how to use a camera. 101 is a foundational course and is a prerequisite for other studio practice courses. It introduces camera operations in depth, including the physics involved, and theory and aesthetics of the medium. Students learn about the many possibilities of photography by looking at historical and contemporary artists.

Also, 101 students learn to engage in productive group critiques, and to solve creative and practical problems while completing individual projects. Digital asset management is also introduced.

Many students enroll in 101 who already have some experience, as serious amateurs, working photographers, and teachers. Students who try to take more advanced courses without the preparation of 101 may find themselves unprepared for the level of discourse and expectations in upper-level courses.

So, what does one learn in 102?

In 102 students learn to use Lightroom and to make color managed prints in a professional manner. Making prints of your work can be a revelation to those who have only seen their work on devices. 102 is also a chance to practice skills introduced in 101 including camera operation, conceptual thinking, and individual projects with group critiques. In 102, students supply their own specified printing paper.

What is the difference between Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Lightroom Classic?

Photoshop and Lightroom both run on the same code, but have different interfaces. Both can be used for image correction and retouching, and Photoshop CC allows one to work in layers to do complex work such as compositing. Lightroom does not offer layers (at least not yet) but it allows you to store your work in a catalog. Photoshop tends to be used for complex and/or creative work on smaller numbers of images, while Lightroom is optimized for volume postproduction.

Your History of Photography course is required. Is there any way around that or can I substitute something else? I am only interested in learning photography hands-on, not some history or liberal arts course.

We do understand that some photography students are not eager to take a history course, which is why we make sure this is an exciting one. Photography is a relatively new medium, but one that has changed rapidly and will continue to change over time. 110 History of Photography looks at many kinds of photography from around the world and across nearly two centuries. This can give you new ways of understanding your medium, and inspiration for your own work. The course also looks at some of the ongoing debates about photographs and their function in society.

What is 103-104 “Black & White Darkroom” photography? Is that a sort of ‘film’ photography?

Yes, in 103-104 students learn to expose black & white film, to process it in chemistry to make negatives, and then to make black & white enlargements (prints) from those negatives, in a darkroom. It is a traditional analog process that takes time and is very hands-on. Traditional 35mm film cameras are used, which do not let you preview the images. You will not see your results until you’ve done quite a bit of work in the labs.

This ‘slow’ photography appeals to artists and others who are looking for an alternative to digital photography. It can be quite refreshing to get away from an electronic screen, and some find the silver-based print results very beautiful. We have new and fully-equipped darkrooms that students work in during class and in open lab hours.

For 206, what is ‘large format’ photography?

This is an even older form of photography than 35mm, by about a century. You may have seen images of people using large cameras on tripods with a cloth over their heads. That is usually a large-format camera. Large format or “view” cameras are even slower to use than small cameras that take rolls of film. You make one 4x5 inch negative at a time. They allow you to line up or shift your perspective, and to obtain very fine detail. It’s used mostly for portrait, landscape, still life, and architectural photography. We provide the cameras, by the way, and students work in the darkroom during class and open lab hours.

I have been making videos for a while and have learned a lot about filmmaking. Do I need to take Video I before I take Video II?

Yes. 130 Video I assumes you have little or no experience with video production, though there are often several students in a class that have significant video production experience. The course introduces recording with professional 3CCD cameras and external microphones, and planning and post production (editing).

You learn by working on a team with other students to complete creative projects with group critiques. You will learn to use professional video editing software (Blackmagic Davinci Resolve at Alexandria, or Adobe Premiere at Woodbridge.)


131 Video 2 Assumes you know how to use our camera gear and editing software and are familiar with teamwork to complete video projects with group critiques. 131 is an opportunity to practice skills introduced in 130 Video I, more independently.

Please note that Video 1 and 2 are not filmmaking classes. Scriptwriting, staging, directing, scoring, motion graphics, and other content related to dramatic narrative is offered by other programs at NOVA. If you are interested in filmmaking and film studies, please consider NOVA’s Cinema AFA degree program.

What will I get out of 201-202 “Advanced’ Photography? I hear it is more like an art class than a practical course. I plan to be a portrait photographer. Will I get any practical experience in 201-202?

We certainly hope so. Many of our students plan to do retail photography, or some other photography for which there is plenty of demand and competition. In PHT 201-202 Advanced Photography I and II, you will learn to think critically to develop your own approach to the kind of photography you want to do, and you will learn to make decisions and solve problems creatively. This can position you to compete in the marketplace with sophisticated or even unique work.

Please tell me more about your studio lighting courses. What kind of lighting would I learn?

221-222 Studio Lighting 1 - 2 introduce concepts in controlled lighting, using strobe and continuous lighting gear. You are encouraged to explore many ways lighting can be used to present your subject, and then to use lighting creatively.

The lighting studios are fully equipped with professional-grade lights, stands, modifiers, backdrops, and accessories, and can accommodate multiple students at a time. Student also learn location lighting for work anywhere outside a studio setting.

At the Alexandria Campus, lighting students may sign up for studio time in three-hour blocks in the afternoons and evenings Monday - Thursday, and we have some lighting equipment that students may sign out for use off campus on weekends.

What is the difference between PHT 270 and 271? (Digital Imaging I and II)? I have been using Photoshop for years. Can I start with 271?

270 Digital Imaging I assumes you have little or no experience with Photoshop, though students often have prior experience. It introduces professional non-destructive workflows for image adjustment, compositing, image manipulation, and printing, along with some history, aesthetics, and ethics of the practice. You learn by completing exercises and individual creative projects with group critiques to strengthen your grasp of the tools and techniques. You will learn to use scanners, and no camera is required. There is a quiz.


271 Digital Imaging II is a chance to practice skills, theory, and aesthetics taught in 270 and to engage in more advanced and creative projects with group critiques. It assumes that you know how make your own photographs. Compared to 270, there is more open lab time for independent work, and no written quiz.

I see that you have a course called 227 ‘Photographic Careers’ but it is confusing. The Description seems to be mostly business topics, but the objectives include other things. What is the point of the course? Is it really required? I just want to do some gig work on the side.

Yes, the official description of 227 Photographic Careers is confusing. And yes, we know students often just want to go into business for themselves on the side. For that reason, we also offer a professional practices course that includes the nuts and bolts of running a small business. The Careers course is a survey of the many ways to earn a living as a professional photographer, either staff or self-employed, for students who are not sure what they want to do yet. Both courses include standards of professional practice, copyright, and marketing.

I see that many of your course descriptions mention ‘individual project’ and ‘group critique’. What are those? I am a little nervous about working in groups.

Individual projects are normally assigned toward the end of a course to allow you to apply all you have learned in an original and creative way. This is your chance to explore your own ideas and express yourself. The group critiques are a way to get feedback and to help you understand your own work, solve problems, and make decisions.

Group critiques are intended to be positive and constructive. Most courses encourage students to learn from each other, not just from an instructor, and talking about one another’s work can be an exciting process.

In video classes, students work in teams because we have a limited number of cameras, and teamwork is a normal part of professional video production.

Please tell your instructor if you struggle to work in groups.

This is very helpful but I still do not know what I want to do. Is there someone I can talk to about the degrees and classes?

Yes! We encourage you to talk to full time faculty! If you are placed for a degree, you can have one of us as your advisor. Please reach out to us.

Page Carr      Liz Donadio      Aya Takashima

About that Information on the NOVA Webpage

I saw the career and employment data on the college webpage for your program. I love photography, but those numbers did not look good. Only 48 job postings for photographers in Virginia in the last year? Average salary less than $40,000?

That information should be taken in context. Most photographers are self-employed or work as independent contractors, full time or part time. Other photographers earn extra income doing professional photography on the side or in their spare time. Some official government data for income from photography average in the earnings of people who work for themselves part time.

There are full-time staff positions for photographers, but not many. Fulltime staff photography positions with the highest salaries require a BFA degree. If this interests you, please look into the Visual Art AFA degree and talk to us about transfer to a four-year program.

That College webpage about your program mentions Credit for Prior Learning. I have been working for years as a photographer and I have completed an online certificate. May I get credit for that?

If your certificate is based on academic credits, you may ask if they will transfer. The Photography program does not offer credit for prior learning through practice, though.

I don’t see much information about what goes on or the work students do on that webpage. Is there anything else I can look at?

Yes! Please visit our blog and look under Featured Work and Latest News. You will also find information about our curriculum, faculty, and facilities.