Visual Communications Majors: Salary and Career Facts

A major in visual communications can provide you with the skills you need to work in graphic design, photography or another related field. Learn about degree programs, career options and potential earnings for aspiring visual communicators. Schools offering Communication Design & Interactive Media degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Visual Communications Major?

A visual communications major is an undergraduate student who declares a specific academic focus in a visual communications subject area. These subject areas include graphic design and photography. Visual communications majors learn about how to use color, lights and shapes to convey an impression to their audience. They also learn how to use editing and design software so that they can modify photographs or create visual images on computers. Graphic design majors may take courses in principles of design, website design, computerized design and printing techniques. Photography majors may take courses covering photographic equipment, photographic techniques and photographic design.

Career Title PhotographerPhotojournalistGraphic Designer
Degree Required N/ABachelor's Degree preferredBachelor's Degree
Key Skills Knowledge of photographic equipment, lighting and image editing softwareSkilled photographer, knowledge of image editing softwareArtistic skills, computer-aided design software knowledge
Key Responsibilities Photographing people or events, producing and editing photosTraveling with reporters, covering news stories, capturing images to support news stories, producing photos, editing photos as neededCreating visual images intended to convey a particular idea or image
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (all photographers) 3% (all photographers)1%
Mean Salary (2015)* $40,280 (all photographers) $45,310 (photographers working for newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers) $51,640

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Can I Expect as a Visual Communications Major?

Visual communication majors are commonly housed within a university's school of journalism and communication or within an art department. Some visual communications programs focus solely on creation of images, while others look at how visual media affects the audience that views it. Visual communication programs include Bachelor of Arts or Science options as well as the Bachelor of Fine Arts. As a visual communication student, you can tailor your studies to topics such as visual arts, graphic design, photojournalism, marketing or commercial photography.

In a program leading to any of these degrees, you can expect to complete classes in typography and website design; it is likely that you'll complete several terms of work in a campus design studio. Other courses may include communications history, image theory and photo editing. Courses in content delivery and ethical guidelines are likely to be included.

What Jobs Can I Pursue?

A commercial photographer may photograph models, merchandise and a variety of other items for inclusion in advertising, reports and other media, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As a commercial photographer, you may work in studios creating portraits. Or you may choose to be self-employed, working in a home office to process photos after on-site photography has taken place.

A photojournalist or news photographer uses camera equipment, digital or 35mm, to capture images to be published, according to the BLS. Monster.com states that a photojournalist may also use electronic video equipment to record news images. Photojournalists may work for specific companies or for a variety of companies on a freelance basis.

A graphic designer is responsible for the creation of visual presentations through selection of graphic elements and selection of text, according to Monster.com. Many graphic designers are self-employed, others work in newspapers and produce other media to create advertisements, layouts and graphics to the specifications of their clients, according to the BLS. Graphic designers often collaborate with copywriters or their individual clients to determine the appropriate text for advertisements (www.bls.gov).

What Could My Potential Earnings Be?

The BLS reports that photographers earned an average of $19.37 per hour, or $40,280 per year, as of 2015. Industries with the highest pay for photographers (including photojournalists and commercial photographers) were the aerospace manufacturing industry, with an annual average salary of $76,610, the motion picture and video industry, with an annual average salary of $70,350, and scientific research and development services, with an annual average salary of $65,940.

As of data from that same year, graphic artists or graphic designers earned an average of $51,640 annually according to the BLS. The highest-paying industries for graphic artists were the federal government, aerospace manufacturing and transportation equipment manufacturing. They paid average annual salaries of $78,200, $74,110 and $66,440 respectively.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Desktop publishers, film and video editors and camera operators and reporters all have aspects of their work relating to visual communications majors. Desktop publishers focus on an overall look for the layout of printed materials such as books or magazines. Film and video editors and camera operators perform tasks that are very similar to the work of photographers; they use video cameras to film images and then use software to edit and organize those images. Reporters may work closely with photojournalists, and need an understanding of the right visual images that will support their story. Desktop publishers need an associate's degree; film and video editors and camera operators and reporters need a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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