Photographer Definition

To become a Photographer know how to use professional camera and lighting equipment, design compositions, work with their subjects, and edit their work to enhance or remove certain elements. To discover if this career is for you, take one of our free career quizzes.

As with many occupations, salaries for photographers can vary by industry and location. Some photographers earn less than $20,000 a year, while others make close to $70,000 annually. Photography is a competitive field, so be prepared to start small.

Photographer Salary

  • Average Annual Salary: $36,250
  • Projected Lifetime Earnings: $1,502,500

Photographer – Education

Photographers (specifically portrait photographers) are not required to have a post-secondary degree, but photojournalists, news photographers, and scientific and industrial photographers typically are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Many photographers take additional classes because most employers are not only looking for creative candidates who have ‘a good eye’, they also are seeking applicants who have well-developed technical knowledge and a good understanding of photography-related computer software programs. If you want to check if the profession of photographer could be your ticket, you can take a career quiz.

Today, there are quite a few junior colleges, universities, community colleges, and trade or vocational–technical schools that provide courses in professional photography. Photography instruction usually cover topics such as processes, equipment, and techniques, and there are also a few art schools that provide courses in photographic composition and design. In the world of industrial or scientific photography, applicants are usually required to hold a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions.

If a photographer wants to be a scientific photographer, for example, holding a college degree in medicine or biology or chemistry can be useful. Self-employed photographers may additionally benefit from marketing, business, or accounting courses. Often, photographers start out assistants to professional photographers, and this allows them to get experienced, to get in touch with prospective clientele, and to work on their portfolio.

Photographer – The Job

Photographers are producing and/or preserving images that are visually telling or recording a story or an event. These professionals are using their creativity, technical expertise, and composition skills in order to make their productions. Photographers typically analyze and decide on subjects and how to optimally compose their work, and they are using various photographic equipment and professional techniques to reach their goals.

They usually capture subjects in photographs of professional and commercial quality, and can enhance the appearance of the subject with artificial or natural light. Photographers may use photography-enhancing software and they will have to advertise and market their services to attract new clients. They will have to maintain digital portfolios to demonstrate their skills and work, and nowadays, having a well-developed website is a must for them as well.

The digital revolution has changed the world of photography, and now the majority of photographers are using digital cameras that capture images in an electronic way and photographers consequently are able to edit the images on a computer. They can store their images on a portable memory device (for example on flash drives, memory cards, or  compact disks), and when they transfer the raw material to a computer, they may use processing software to modify the images and adjust or improve them by using a variety of special effects such as color correction.

Photographers nowadays are using computers, editing software, and high-quality processing machines and printing equipment. In the world of commercial photography, photographers usually present their photographs digitally to their clients, but in the world of photography for non-commercial clients, such as portrait and wedding photographers, they often present their photographs in albums, and provide framing services as well.

We can distinguish a few main categories of photographers:
– Commercial and industrial photographers (who are for example taking pictures of merchandise, models, buildings, or artifacts)
– Portrait photographers (who take pictures of groups or individuals in their own studios, at weddings, at religious ceremonies, or at schools)
– Photojournalists or news photographers (who take pictures of events or people for television, newspapers, or magazines)
– Aerial photographers (who use helicopters or planes to make pictures of events, landscapes, or buildings)
– Scientific photographers (who are recording medical or scientific data, often using microscopes to photograph subjects)
– Fine arts photographers (usually artistic and creative talents who are selling their photography as artwork).

Where do they work

The work environment of photographers depends mainly on their specialization. Commercial and industrial photographers, just like news photographers and photojournalists, are often required to travel a lot and sometimes work internationally. News photographers and photojournalists frequently have to work long and irregular hours in sometimes dangerous and uncomfortable settings. They often need to be ready to work on short notice, they may be, for example, sent out to a disaster area or a war zone.

Aerial photographers have their own way of working and typically work in helicopters or planes, and portrait photographers will frequently work in their studios, though they also may have to travel to locations to do their work, for example weddings, schools, or company offices. The common factor is that most photographers usually will have to walk or stand long hours and that they have to carry heavy equipment to be able to do their work properly.

Job outlook and income

Over the next decade, the professional perspectives of photographers will be limited, and they will be confronted with pretty strong competition because digital cameras have become so much cheaper and smart phones enable practically everyone to capture pictures. There will be only limited new positions for relatively many qualified applicants. Additionally, full-time jobs are harder to get by because more and more companies are working with freelancers instead of regularly employed photographers.

Most employers will seek applicants who are multi-talented and who can also be used  for other tasks, for example working with digital video or picture editing. The newspaper industry is expected to continue to decline as well, resulting is less demand of these photographers. On the other hand, demand for commercial and industrial photographers as well as for portrait photographers will remain stable. In 2014, the median annual pay for these professionals was around $36,250.


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