Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images.
What they do
Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that tell a story or record an event.
Photographers typically do the following:
- Market or advertise services to attract clients
- Analyze and plan the composition of photographs
- Use various photographic techniques and lighting equipment
- Capture subjects in professional-quality photographs
- Enhance the subject’s appearance with natural or artificial light
- Use photo-enhancing software
- Maintain a digital portfolio to demonstrate their work
- Archive and manage imagery
Nowadays, most photographers use digital cameras instead of traditional film cameras, although some photographers use both. Digital cameras capture images electronically, so the photographer can edit the image on a computer. Images can be stored on portable memory devices, such as flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use image processing software to crop or modify the image and enhance it through color correction and other specialized effects. Photographers who edit their own pictures use computers, editing software, and high-quality printers.
Some photographers use unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, to capture shots. The drones are equipped with an integrated camera to capture 360-degree imagery of buildings, landscapes, scenery, or events.
Working conditions for photographers vary by specialty. Photographers may work indoors or outdoors.
Portrait photographers may work in studios, but they also travel to take photographs at a client’s location, such as a school or a home.
News photographers may travel locally or internationally and must be prepared to work in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings. For example, a news photographer may be sent to a war zone to capture images. News photographers often work irregular schedules and must be available on short notice.
Aerial photographers work in planes or helicopters to capture a scene, event, or location from an overhead perspective.
Most photographers stand or walk for long periods. They may need to carry heavy equipment.
How to become a Photographer
Although portrait photographers are not required to have postsecondary education, many take classes because employers usually seek applicants with creativity and a "good eye," as well as a good technical understanding of photography. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree.
Postsecondary education is not required for most photographers. However, many photographers take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree to improve their skills and employment prospects.
Many universities, community colleges, vocational–technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer classes in photography. Basic photography courses cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Art school training in photographic design and composition also may be useful.
Entry-level positions in photojournalism or in industrial or scientific photography generally require a college degree in photography or in a field related to the industry in which the photographer seeks employment. For example, classes in biology, medicine, or chemistry may be important for scientific photographers.
The median hourly wage for photographers was $17.44 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.92, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $38.19.
Employment of photographers is projected to decline 4 percent from 2019 to 2029. The decreasing cost of digital cameras and the increasing number of amateur photographers and hobbyists will reduce the need for professional photographers. In addition, stock photographic services available online give individuals and businesses access to stock photographs for a fee or subscription, possibly dampening demand for photographers.
However, the application of newer technologies, such as drone photography, may contribute to increased demand for these workers.
Similar Job Titles
Advertising Photographer, Commercial Photographer, Newspaper Photographer, Owner/Photographer, Photo Editor, Photographer, Photojournalist, Portrait Photographer, Sports Photographer, Studio Owner, Drone Photographer, Fine Arts Photographer
Self-Enrichment Education Teachers; Camera Operators, Television, Video and Motion Picture; Tour Guides and Escorts; Retail Salesperson; Prepress Technicians and Workers
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Photographic Artists - APA offers inspiration, education and advocacy. Our membership structure gives every photographer an affordable way to belong to a community of like-minded professionals.
- American Society of Media Photographers - ASMP is the leader in promoting photographers’ rights, providing education in better business practices, producing business publications for photographers, and helping to connect clients with professional photographers. ASMP, founded in 1944, has nearly 5,000 members and 38 chapters.
- American Society of Photographers - The goal of this organization is to promote education, foster fellowship and perpetuate the ideals of photography as a science and an art. Of special interest to students may be the Advisor Program.
- National Press Photographers Association - NPPA is an active advocate for the legal rights of visual journalists. Their work includes issues connected to First Amendment access, drone regulations, copyright, access and credentialing, cameras in court, “ag-gag” laws, unlawful assault on visual journalists and cases that affect the ability to record events and issues of public interest. Student chapter applications are accepted year-round.
- North American Nature Photography Association - This organization provides information, education, inspiration, and opportunity for all persons interested in nature photography. Students, check out their online learning opportunities and student programs.
- Professional Photographers of America - PPA is the world’s largest nonprofit photography association organized for professional photographers, by professional photographers, with 30,000 creative members in more than 50 countries. Its mission is to create a vibrant community of successful professional photographers by providing education, resources and industry standards of excellence. For students or those interested in the field, PPA offers an education platform that empowers you to track your progress and reach new milestones, all at your own pace.
Magazines and Publications
- American Society of Photographers Magazine
- NANPA online blog (extensive)
- Professional Photographer (PPA)
- Photographer Magazine
- Professional Photographer Magazine
- Digital Photo Magazine
Today a camera in your pocket is the norm, but it takes a skilled photographer, with technical knowledge and artistic vision, to capture poetry in a visual image. These professional artists use technical equipment and software to create quality photographs. Expertise with digital cameras and photo-editing software is a must, whether they shoot weddings, portraits, or breaking news stories. About 60% of photographers are self-employed. These photographers often need to advertise and attract new clients. This makes networking and maintaining an online portfolio essential for marketing their work. Independent photographers are also responsible for recordkeeping as well as purchasing and maintaining equipment. Photographers work in news, portrait studios, and commercial studios. They may specialize, for example, in scientific, aerial, or industrial photography. Working for a news outlet can mean long and irregular hours, exposure to dangerous surroundings, and frequent travel. Most photographers stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment. Many positions require only the skill and expertise needed to capture the images an employer wants, although a bachelor's degree in photography or a related field may be required for work in photojournalism, or specialized fields. While a career in photography takes commitment to the craft and artistic discipline... it's worth it to get the perfect shot.
College Major in Photography. A program that focuses on the use of still and motion photography in journalism and prepares individuals to function as news photographers and photographic editors. Includes instruction in photography, journalism, studio procedures and techniques, camera and equipment operation and technique, news editing, print and film editing, news scene composition, subject surveillance, media law and policy, news team field operations, and professional standards and ethics.