A Complete Photography Degree (As Guided by ChatGPT)

Lauren McDonagh-Pereira

Lauren McDonagh-Pereira

Lauren McDonagh-Pereira is a photographer from Massachusetts, USA. She captures the beauty of the world around her, favoring Nikon cameras and lenses. She is drawn to shooting landscapes, wildlife, flowers, and people enjoying time together.

A Complete Photography Degree (As Guided by ChatGPT)


Photography is the passion that guides my life.  

I am a self-taught photographer, and I have been using Nikon DSLRs and Mirrorless camera since 2008. 

I’ve taught myself the art of photography by reading books, taking online courses, watching YouTube videos, and years upon years of practice.

Lately, I have been wondering if I could benefit from some formal training in photography to elevate my skills.  I poked around online looking for photography courses and degrees at the many universities in my area. 

I found that most of these programs would cost at least $60,000 and would require me to commute to a campus for at least 20 hours a week. 

I have two small children, a new portrait photography business, a Twitter empire, and very limited free time.

I wanted to find a way to guide myself towards developing new skills in photography without leaving my living room or spending tens of thousands of dollars. 

An idea struck me! 

What if I asked ChatGPT to teach me everything I needed to know about photography?

What if I used ChatGPT to create lesson plans, find high-quality educational resources, and guide my journey?

So that’s exactly what I did!

My name is Lauren McDonagh-Pereira. I am a photographerartist, art collector, and web3 blogger. I am passionate about emerging technologies and how they can be used to enhance our lives. 

In this post, I will explain my plan to get a full education in photography using the tools provided by the (currently) free version of ChatGPT.

Intrigued? Keep reading after the jump. 


A red stop sign against a blue sky, with a red rocks on either side
ⓒ Lauren McDonagh-Pereira Photography 2013

Before we get into it, please consider a few quick DISCLAIMERS.

  • I am not a financial advisor, an art expert, a lawyer, or an accountant. Do your own research.
  • This post represents my personal opinions and is NOT financial advice.
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What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI. It uses advanced machine learning techniques to generate responses and have interactive conversations with users. It has been trained on a vast amount of text data from the internet to understand and generate human-like responses.

It’s like Google, on steroids. 

If you have a question, you can ask ChatGPT, and instead of serving you websites that might answer your question, it pulls the answers from those websites and writes you a conversational answer.

Its magical and terrifying. Powerful, and potentially devasting. 

A lot of the public chatter about ChatGPT is negative. People worry about jobs that might be eliminated because ChatGPT can write, edit, and create its own content. People worry that eventually ChatGPT will turn all of social media into bot-representations of real people responding to bot-representations of other real people without the need for silly humans and their human ideas. People, myself included, make jokes about Ultron, and how ChatGPT might decide it eventually doesn’t need us messy humans after all

This is a common reaction to change and new technology throughout history.  We fear what we don’t understand, and we resist change. But eventually a new innovation works its way through the technology adoption life cycle, and a technology that we feared or joked about at first becomes something we can’t imagine life without. 

The cat is out of the bag with artificial intelligence. As of June 2023, 1.5 billion people are already regular users of chatbots like ChatGPT. Its not going away, its part of our world now.

We all have two choices, ignore artificial intelligence, until we can’t anymore, or embrace it and figure out how to best use it to enhance our own lives

I am choosing to learn, adapt, and prepare myself to conquer the economy of the next few decades. 

An AI-generated image of a cartoon blonde woman shaking hands with a friendly robot.
Created by Lauren McDonagh-Pereira with Midjourney AI

How Can AI Make Me A Better PHOTOGRAPHER?

I decided to ask ChatGPT to create a lesson plan that would lead me through an entire degree program in photography. 

I first asked for a list of courses that could earn a photography degree, I then asked for a complete syllabus and reading list for each course, and then for a specific lesson plan for each lesson listed on the syllabi. 

The results were surprisingly detailed, and completing this plan would likely dramatically improve my photography abilities. 

A sexy blonde cartoon woman is holding a camera.
Created by Lauren McDonagh-Pereira using Midjourney AI

AN AI-Generated Photography Course List

I asked ChatGPT for a list of courses that would lead to a degree in photography.

Here is my exact prompt: “Acting as a professor of art history and photography, create a list of courses that would lead to a degree in photography, put it in a table.”

ChatGPT produced a list of 14 photography courses in a suggested order of study. 

  1. Introduction to Photography – Overview of the history, techniques, and aesthetics of photography.
  2. Digital Photography – Exploration of digital camera technologies, image editing software, and digital workflow in photography.
  3. Darkroom Techniques – Introduction to traditional darkroom processes, including film development, printing, and enlarging techniques.
  4. Photographic LightingStudy of different lighting techniques, including natural light, artificial light, studio lighting, and portrait lighting.
  5. History of Photography – Survey of the major movements, artists, and developments in the history of photography.
  6. Documentary Photography – Exploration of the role of photography in capturing real-life events, social issues, and cultures.
  7. Fine Art Photography – Examination of artistic approaches in photography, focusing on composition, concept development, and exhibition practices.
  8. Advanced Photographic Techniques – Advanced topics such as alternative processes, experimental techniques, and specialized genres in photography.
  9. Digital Image Editing and Post-Processing – In-depth study of advanced image editing techniques using industry-standard software.
  10. Photography Business and Marketing – Introduction to the business side of photography, including marketing strategies, portfolio development, and client relations.
  11. Photography Ethics and Copyright – Discussion of ethical considerations in photography, copyright laws, and intellectual property rights.
  12. Portfolio Development – Focus on curating a professional portfolio that showcases the student’s best work and personal style.
  13. Internship or Field Experience – Practical experience working in a professional photography setting or completing a photography-related project.
  14. Senior Capstone Project – Culminating project demonstrating the student’s mastery of photographic techniques, artistic vision, and critical thinking skills.
With my course map in hand, I dove down a layer deeper and asked for syllabi for each course on photography. 
A blonde cartoon student carries a large stack of books with a cup of tea on top.
Created by Lauren McDonagh-Pereira using Midjourney AI

An AI-Generated Photography Course Syllabus

I needed a syllabus and reading list for each course, so I asked ChatGPT to build them for me.

Here is my prompt: Create a syllabus for the course, “Introduction to Photography”, include a reading list.

I went through the list of all 14 courses and asked for a specific syllabi for each one. 

Here is the ChatGPT-generated syllabi for Introduction to Photography

Course Syllabus: Introduction to Photography

Course Description: This course provides an introduction to the history, techniques, and aesthetics of photography. Students will explore the fundamental concepts of photography, including camera operation, composition, lighting, and image editing. Through practical assignments and critical analysis, students will develop a basic understanding of the medium and its potential for creative expression.

Learning Objectives: By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the historical development of photography as an art form and a cultural practice.
  2. Operate a camera effectively, utilizing various settings and controls.
  3. Apply compositional techniques to create visually engaging photographs.
  4. Demonstrate a basic understanding of lighting principles and their impact on the photographic image.
  5. Use basic image editing software to enhance and manipulate photographs.
  6. Analyze and interpret photographs from a technical and aesthetic standpoint.
  7. Communicate ideas and concepts through visual storytelling.

Course Duration: 14 weeks

Week 1: Introduction to Photography

  • Course overview and expectations
  • History of photography: From camera obscura to digital era
  • Discussion: What is photography? Exploring different perspectives

Week 2: Camera Operation and Basic Techniques

  • Understanding camera anatomy and controls
  • Exposure triangle: Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO
  • Practical assignment: Exploring different exposure settings

Week 3: Composition and Visual Elements

  • Rule of thirds and other compositional guidelines
  • Exploring visual elements: line, shape, form, texture, and color
  • Critique session: Analyzing composition in photographs

Week 4: Lighting in Photography

  • Natural light photography techniques
  • Introduction to artificial lighting: on-camera flash and off-camera flash
  • Practical exercise: Capturing different lighting scenarios

Week 5: Image Editing Basics

  • Introduction to image editing software (e.g., Adobe Lightroom)
  • Adjusting exposure, contrast, color balance, and other basic edits
  • Assignment: Editing and enhancing photographs

Week 6: Introduction to Genres and Styles

  • Exploring different genres of photography: landscape, portrait, documentary, etc.
  • Discussion: Influential photographers and their unique styles
  • Analyzing and discussing iconic photographs

Week 7: Visual Storytelling

  • Understanding narrative in photography
  • Constructing a visual story: sequence, series, and photo essays
  • Practical assignment: Creating a photo story

Week 8: Ethics and Copyright in Photography

  • Ethical considerations in photography: consent, privacy, and representation
  • Copyright laws and intellectual property rights
  • Class debate: Ethical dilemmas in photography

Week 9: History of Photography

  • Photography movements and significant artists: from Pictorialism to Street Photography
  • Guest lecture: Influential photographers and their contributions

Week 10: The Digital Age: New Possibilities

  • Digital advancements and their impact on photography
  • Exploring experimental techniques and emerging trends
  • Research project: Investigating a contemporary photographer

Week 11: Critique and Feedback

  • Peer critique session: Presenting and discussing student work
  • Providing constructive feedback and incorporating it into future projects

Week 12: Photography Exhibition

  • Planning and organizing a class photography exhibition
  • Preparing prints and curating the display
  • Public exhibition of student work

Week 13: Career Paths in Photography

  • Exploring diverse career options in photography
  • Guest speaker: Professional photographer sharing their experiences
  • Q&A session: Navigating the photography industry

Week 14: Final Portfolio Review and Reflection

  • Final portfolio submission and review
  • Reflecting on personal growth and progress throughout the course
  • Course recap and farewell

Reading List:

  1. “The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present” by Beaumont Newhall
  2. “On Photography” by Susan Sontag
  3. “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography” by Roland Barthes
  4. “The Photographer’s Eye” by John Szarkowski
  5. “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger
  6. “Photography: A Cultural History” by Mary Warner Marien
  7. “The Genius of Photography: How Photography Has Changed Our Lives” by Gerry Badger
  8. “The Photograph as Contemporary Art” by Charlotte Cotton
  9. “The Digital Photography Book” by Scott Kelby
  10. “Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera” by Bryan Peterson

Now that I had a syllabi and reading list for all 14 of my AI-generated courses on photography, I needed some specific lessons plans.

An AI0generated image of a blonde woman walking to class on a college campus.
Created by Lauren McDonagh-Pereira using Midjourney AI

An AI-Generated Photography Lesson Plan

During my undergrad and grad school experiences, classes met for three hours per-week.

I decided to ask ChatGPT for specific lesson plans for each of the weeks listed on each course syllabus. 

Here is my prompt: Acting as a college professor, create a specific 3-hour lesson plan for week 1 of this syllabus that includes a lecture outline, discussion topics, and a specific reading assignment:<insert entire copy and pasted syllabus here>

ChatGPT produced the following lesson plan for week 1 of Introduction to Photography:

Lesson Plan: Introduction to Photography – Week 1

Duration: 3 hours

Lecture Outline:

A. Course overview and expectations (15 minutes)

  • Introduce the course syllabus, objectives, and learning outcomes.
  • Discuss the importance of photography in contemporary society.

b. History of photography: From camera obscura to digital era (45 minutes)

  • Provide a historical overview of the development of photography.
  • Highlight significant milestones, inventions, and key figures.
  • Showcase influential photographs from different eras.

c. What is photography? Exploring different perspectives (30 minutes)

  • Engage students in a discussion on the definition and purpose of photography.
  • Explore how photography is used for artistic expression, documentation, storytelling, and more.
  • Encourage students to share their thoughts and experiences related to photography.

d. Introduction to the basic technical aspects of photography (30 minutes)

    • Discuss the role of camera settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
    • Explain how these settings affect exposure, depth of field, and motion blur.
    • Show examples and visuals to illustrate the concepts.

Discussion Topics:

  •  What are your expectations and goals for this course?
  • How has photography evolved over time, and what impact has it had on society?
  • What do you consider to be the primary purpose of photography?
  • How can understanding the technical aspects of photography enhance your creative possibilities?

Reading Assignment:

Activities and Exercises:

  • Show a slideshow of significant photographs throughout history and discuss their impact.
  •  Conduct a hands-on demonstration of basic camera settings and their effects.
  • Ask students to bring in a photograph they find interesting and discuss why it resonates with them.


  • Reflect on the reading assignment and prepare a short written response discussing the significance of the invention of photography.
An AI-image of a blonde student taking notes in a textbook with a flower pen.
Created by Lauren McDonagh-Pereira using Midjourney AI

The Plan

I am going to work my way through these lessons. 

I will find copies of all the books on the reading list to keep up with the ChatGPT-generated reading assignments. 

I will find highly ranked YouTube videos covering each of the lecture topics.

I will try to start a discussion on Twitter on each of the discussion topics.

As I go along, I will post all of the resources that I used to complete each 3-hour lesson.

Interested? Join my mailing list to stay informed about each new post so that you can follow along on this ChatGPT photography degree with me!


A title slide for a video course called "How to Use ChatGPT to Create a Course" by Lauren McDonagh-Pereira.

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Thank you for reading!

Join my mailing list to follow along with my AI-guided education journey!

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Lauren McDonagh-Pereira

More to explore

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MEET Lauren McDonagh-Pereira

Lauren McDonagh-Pereira is a photographer from Massachusetts, USA. She captures the beauty of the world around her, favoring Nikon cameras and lenses. She is drawn to shooting landscapes, wildlife, nature, and people authentically enjoying life.