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Photographer Careers

The Rule of Thirds. Exposure. White Balance. What do these have in common? They're used widely by photographers who are just trying to get the most creative and best angle to perserve a specific image.

Photographers work in a variety of spaces. Sometimes they travel. Some work in studios. Others work in laboratories. While it's not necessary for photographers to have a postsecondary education, many take classes so they understand the art of photography.

What Does a Photographer Do

Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that tell a story or record an event.

Duties

Photographers typically do the following:

  • Market and advertise services to attract clients
  • Analyze and plan the composition of photographs
  • Use various photographic techniques and lighting equipment
  • Capture subjects in commercial-quality photographs
  • Enhance the subject’s appearance with natural or artificial light
  • Use photo-enhancing software
  • Maintain a digital portfolio to demonstrate their work

Today, most photographers use digital cameras instead of the traditional film cameras. 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 compact disks, memory cards, and flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use 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, high-quality printers, and editing software. For information on workers who specialize in developing and processing photographic images from film or digital media, see photographic process workers and processing machine operators included in occupations not covered in detail.

Photographers who work for commercial clients often will present finalized photographs in a digital format to the client. Wedding and portrait photographers, who serve primarily noncommercial clients, frequently also provide framing services and present the photographs they capture in albums.

Many wedding and portrait photographers are self-employed. Photographers who own and operate their own business have additional responsibilities. They must advertise, schedule appointments, set and adjust equipment, purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, pay bills, and—if they have employees—hire, train, and direct their workers.

In addition, some photographers teach photography classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios.

The following are examples of types of photographers:

Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and usually work in their own studios. Photographers who specialize in weddings, religious ceremonies, or school photographs may work on location.

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of various subjects, such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. These photographs, which frequently are taken on location, are used for a variety of purposes, including magazine covers and images to supplement analyses of engineering projects.

Aerial photographers travel in planes or helicopters to capture photographs of buildings and landscapes. They often use cameras with gyrostabilizers to counteract the movement of the aircraft and ensure high-quality images.

Scientific photographers focus on the accurate visual representation of subjects and therefore limit the use of image manipulation software to clarify an image. Scientific photographs record scientific or medical data or phenomena. Scientific photographers typically use microscopes to photograph subjects.

News photographers, also called photojournalists, photograph people, places, and events for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. In addition to taking still photos, photojournalists often work with digital video.

Fine arts photographers sell their photographs as artwork. In addition to having technical knowledge of subjects such as lighting and the use of lenses, fine arts photographers need artistic talent and creativity. Most use traditional film instead of digital cameras.

University photographers serve as general photographers for academic institutions. They may be required to take portraits, document events, or take photographs for press releases. University photographers are found primarily in larger academic institutions, because smaller institutions often contract with freelancers to do their photography work.

How To Become a Photographer

Although postsecondary education is not required for portrait photographers, many take classes because employers usually seek applicants with a “good eye” and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of photography. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree.

Education

Although postsecondary education is not required for most photographers, many take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field because such an education can improve their skills and employment prospects.

Many universities, community and junior colleges, vocational–technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer classes in photography. Basic courses in photography cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Art schools may offer useful training in photographic design and composition.

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 useful for scientific photographers.

Business, marketing, and accounting classes can be helpful for self-employed photographers.

Training

Photographers have a talent or natural ability for taking good photos, and this talent is typically cultivated over years of practice. For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities—is essential. A portfolio is necessary because art directors, clients, and others often want to look at one when deciding whether to hire or contract with the photographer.

Photographers often start working as an assistant to a professional photographer. This work provides an opportunity to gain experience, build the photographers’ portfolios, and gain exposure to prospective clients.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Photographers capture their subjects in images, and they must be able to evaluate the artistic quality of a photograph. Photographers need a “good eye”—the ability to use colors, shadows, shades, light, and distance to compose good photographs.

Business skills. Photographers must be able to plan marketing strategies, reach out to prospective clients, and anticipate seasonal employment.

Computer skills. Most photographers do their own postproduction work and must be familiar with photo-editing software. They also use computers to maintain a digital portfolio.

Customer-service skills. Photographers must be able to understand the needs of their clients and propose solutions to any problems that arise.

Detail oriented. Photographers who do their own postproduction work must be careful not to overlook details and must be thorough when editing photographs. In addition, photographers accumulate many photographs and must maintain them in an orderly fashion.

Interpersonal skills. Photographers often photograph people. They must communicate effectively to achieve a certain composition in a photograph.

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the right jobs to get there.

Average Salary
$49,482
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
-6%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
4,520
Job Openings

Photographer Career Paths

Top Careers Before Photographer

Cashier
16.5 %

Top Careers After Photographer

Cashier
13.1 %

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Photographer

Photographers in America make an average salary of $49,482 per year or $24 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $60,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $40,000 per year.
Average Salary
$49,482

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
New York, NY
Salary Range32k - 63k$45k$45,435
Boston, MA
Salary Range29k - 58k$41k$41,358
New Haven, CT
Salary Range28k - 55k$40k$39,799
Los Angeles, CA
Salary Range29k - 49k$38k$38,041
Philadelphia, PA
Salary Range24k - 45k$33k$33,374
Washington, DC
Salary Range24k - 44k$33k$32,992
$22k
$63k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Photographer
Student Union, Inc., San Jose State University
Student Union, Inc., San Jose State University
03/28/2021
03/28/2021
$33,39203/28/2021
$33,392
Photographer/Sales Associate
Photographer/Sales Associate
Photogenic, Inc.
Photogenic, Inc.
03/27/2021
03/27/2021
$25,04403/27/2021
$25,044
Photographer
Photographer
Teddy Bear Portraits
Teddy Bear Portraits
03/25/2021
03/25/2021
$32,60903/25/2021
$32,609
Photographer
Photographer
Teddy Bear Portraits
Teddy Bear Portraits
03/25/2021
03/25/2021
$32,60903/25/2021
$32,609
Photographer
Teddy Bear Portraits
Teddy Bear Portraits
03/25/2021
03/25/2021
$32,60903/25/2021
$32,609
See More Recent Salaries

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Photographer Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Photographer. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Photographer Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Photographer resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Photographer Demographics

Gender

female

58.9 %

male

36.8 %

unknown

4.3 %

Ethnicity

White

70.0 %

Hispanic or Latino

15.0 %

Black or African American

6.4 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

59.7 %

French

9.2 %

Chinese

4.0 %
See More Demographics

Photographer Education

Majors

Degrees

Bachelors

42.3 %

Certificate

19.1 %

Associate

17.6 %

Top Colleges for Photographers

1. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

2. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

3. Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,465
Enrollment
6,483

4. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

5. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

6. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

7. University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,610
Enrollment
40,329

8. Northeastern University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,522
Enrollment
13,760

9. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

10. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238
See More Education Info
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Top Skills For a Photographer

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 18.2% of photographers listed photoshop on their resume, but soft skills such as artistic ability and business skills are important as well.

  • Photoshop, 18.2%
  • Customer Service, 14.6%
  • Photography, 12.0%
  • Photographic Equipment, 6.8%
  • Communication, 6.2%
  • Other Skills, 42.2%
  • See All Photographer Skills

Best States For a Photographer

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a photographer. The best states for people in this position are New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Photographers make the most in New York with an average salary of $45,796. Whereas in Maine and New Hampshire, they would average $44,524 and $44,162, respectively. While photographers would only make an average of $42,521 in Rhode Island, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New York

Total Photographer Jobs:
436
Highest 10% Earn:
$84,000
Location Quotient:
2.3
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Connecticut

Total Photographer Jobs:
56
Highest 10% Earn:
$74,000
Location Quotient:
1.14
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. California

Total Photographer Jobs:
596
Highest 10% Earn:
$61,000
Location Quotient:
1.38
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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How Do Photographer Rate Their Jobs?

Zippia Official Logo

4.0

It's great!April 2019

4.0

Zippia Official LogoIt's great!April 2019

What do you like the most about working as Photographer?

I love capturing memories that will last for lifetimes. Show More

What do you NOT like?

I do not like when my customer is not happy. Show More

Zippia Official Logo

5.0

I Love PhotographyMarch 2019

5.0

Zippia Official LogoI Love PhotographyMarch 2019

What do you like the most about working as Photographer?

Meeting new people and the way excellent photography makes the clients feels good Show More

What do you NOT like?

I don't like club party with smoking Show More

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Top Photographer Employers

1. Lifetouch
3.7
Avg. Salary: 
$38,550
Photographers Hired: 
2,559+
2. Sears Holdings
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$45,820
Photographers Hired: 
1,810+
3. Portrait Innovations Holding ...
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$42,027
Photographers Hired: 
1,502+
4. Picture People
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$24,981
Photographers Hired: 
1,186+
5. J. C. Penney
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$45,087
Photographers Hired: 
685+
6. Kiddie Kandids
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$43,885
Photographers Hired: 
326+

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