Photographers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Photographers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Photographers

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.

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.

Work Environment for Photographers[About this section] [To Top]

Photographers hold about 124,900 jobs. About 3 in 5 photographers are self-employed.

The work environment for photographers varies considerably with their specialty.

Portrait photographers may work in studios, but they also often travel to take photographs at a client’s location, such as a school, a company office, or a private home.

News photographers and commercial photographers may travel locally or internationally. News photographers often work long, irregular hours in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings and must be available to work on short notice. For example, a news photographer may be sent to a war zone to capture images.

Aerial photographers often work in planes or helicopters.

Most photographers stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment.

Photographer Work Schedules

About 3 in 10 photographers work part time. Hours often are flexible so that photographers can meet with current and potential clients or visit the sites where they will work. Demand for certain types of photographers may fluctuate with the season. For example, the demand for wedding photographers typically increases in the spring and summer.

How to Become a Photographer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Photographers near you!

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.

Photographer 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.

Photographer 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 for Photographers

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.

Photographer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median hourly wage for photographers is $15.24. 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 $9.06, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $34.71.

About 3 in 10 photographers work part time. Hours often are flexible so that photographers can meet with current and potential clients or visit the sites where they will work. Demand for certain types of photographers may fluctuate with the season. For example, the demand for wedding photographers typically increases in the spring and summer.

Job Outlook for Photographers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of photographers is projected to grow 3 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations. Overall growth will be limited because of the decreasing cost of digital cameras and the increasing number of amateur photographers and hobbyists. 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.

Employment of self-employed photographers is projected to grow 9 percent over the next ten years. Demand for portrait photographers will continue as people continue to want new portraits. In addition, corporations will continue to require the services of commercial photographers to develop compelling advertisements to sell products.

Declines in the newspaper industry will reduce demand for news photographers to provide still images for print. Employment of photographers in newspaper publishing is projected to decline 41 percent over the next ten years.

Photographers Job Prospects

Photographers will face strong competition for most jobs. Because of reduced barriers to entry, there will be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions.

In addition, salaried jobs may be more difficult to obtain as companies increasingly contract with freelancers rather than hire their own photographers. Job prospects will be best for candidates who are multitalented and possess related skills, such as editing pictures and capturing digital video.

Employment projections data for Photographers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Photographers 124,900 128,800 3 3,900


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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