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Become A Professional Photographer

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Working As A Professional Photographer

  • Thinking Creatively
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Selling or Influencing Others
  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
  • Getting Information
  • Stressful

  • $30,669

    Average Salary

What Does A Professional 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.

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How To Become A Professional 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.

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Average Length of Employment
Owner/Photographer 6.4 years
Staff Photographer 3.5 years
Lead Photographer 2.9 years
Photographer 2.0 years
Top Careers Before Professional Photographer
Cashier 5.6%
Manager 5.3%
Owner 5.1%
Internship 4.6%
Server 4.6%
Volunteer 3.9%
Teacher 3.0%
Assistant 3.0%
Top Careers After Professional Photographer
Photographer 15.8%
Owner 8.1%
Teacher 3.9%
Cashier 3.9%
Artist 3.5%
Internship 3.2%
Volunteer 2.8%
Associate 2.8%
Manager 2.8%

Do you work as a Professional Photographer?

Professional Photographer Demographics

Gender

Female

54.4%

Male

43.7%

Unknown

1.9%
Ethnicity

White

63.4%

Hispanic or Latino

15.4%

Black or African American

10.2%

Asian

7.4%

Unknown

3.6%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

40.0%

French

12.7%

Italian

9.1%

Tagalog

7.3%

Chinese

5.5%

Japanese

3.6%

Mandarin

3.6%

Portuguese

1.8%

Filipino

1.8%

German

1.8%

Dakota

1.8%

Hmong

1.8%

Lakota

1.8%

Russian

1.8%

Thai

1.8%

Korean

1.8%

Cebuano

1.8%
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Professional Photographer Education

Schools

University of Phoenix

13.2%

New York Institute of Photography

9.9%

University of California - Irvine

5.5%

Fashion Institute of Technology

5.5%

Appalachian State University

4.4%

Brooks Institute

4.4%

Michigan State University

4.4%

Frostburg State University

4.4%

University of Central Florida

4.4%

Tufts University

4.4%

Hallmark Institute of Photography

4.4%

University of Colorado at Boulder

4.4%

Northern Arizona University

4.4%

Rhode Island School of Design

4.4%

Southern New Hampshire University

4.4%

Central New Mexico Community College

4.4%

Texas State Technical College - Waco

3.3%

Missouri State University

3.3%

University of North Texas

3.3%

Kansas State University

3.3%
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Majors

Photography

26.4%

Business

13.7%

Graphic Design

10.1%

Fine Arts

6.8%

Communication

5.9%

Psychology

4.9%

Computer Science

3.4%

Nursing

3.2%

Liberal Arts

3.0%

Marketing

3.0%

General Education, Specific Areas

2.7%

Public Relations

2.3%

Journalism

2.1%

General Studies

1.9%

English

1.9%

Information Technology

1.9%

Anthropology

1.7%

Management

1.7%

Elementary Education

1.7%

Real Estate

1.7%
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Degrees

Bachelors

39.2%

Other

29.4%

Associate

13.4%

Masters

8.7%

Certificate

7.2%

License

0.8%

Diploma

0.8%

Doctorate

0.5%
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Professional Photographer Videos

Day in the Life: Professional Photographer

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Top Skills for A Professional Photographer

  1. Adobe Photoshop
  2. Pet Portraits
  3. Digital Photography
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Edited final images with Adobe Photoshop to produce prints, canvas art, CD's, DVD's and other products.
  • Provided each customer with exceptional customer service, as a professional and fulfilled photography sessions as scheduled and presented exceptional products.
  • Maintain business website through multi- ple website builders.
  • Hired for weddings, bar/bat mitzvah, birthday parties, retirement parties as well as commercial work.
  • Conceptualized and photographed various photo shoots including fashion, corporate, portrait and commercial photography.

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Top Professional Photographer Employers

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