Photographers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images.

Work Environment: Working conditions for photographers vary by specialty. Some photographers travel for photo shoots, working either indoors or outdoors. Others work in studios; still others work in laboratories and use microscopes to photograph subjects.

How to Become One: 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.

Salary: The median hourly wage for photographers is $16.35.

Job Outlook: Employment of photographers is projected to decline 6 percent over the next ten years. Salaried jobs may be more difficult to find as more companies contract with freelancers rather than hire their own photographers.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of photographers with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a photographer with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Photographer Jobs

  • Photographer for Rental Properties - Southaven, MS - PlanOmatic - Southaven, MS

    Photographer for Rental Properties Build your photography skills and portfolio in the ever-expanding rental market with PlanOmatic! Here is an opportunity to join our team and make money doing what ...

  • Photographer - Adecco - Honolulu, HI

    Adecco is assisting a company in Honolulu hire a full-time photographer to take pictures of guests at a major attraction. As a full-time photographer you would be responsible for taking photos ...

  • Photographer - Lifetouch Church Directories & Portraits Inc. - Manassas, VA

    We are now offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus to photographers in Manassas, VA and the surrounding area! Some opportunities are picture-perfect . We are looking for a friendly, service-oriented ...

See all Photographer jobs

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
  • Archive and manage imagery

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.

Some photographers use drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to capture shots. The drones are equipped with an integrated camera to capture 360° imagery of buildings, landscapes, scenery, or events.

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 photographers are self-employed. Photographers who own and operate their own business have additional responsibilities. They must advertise, schedule appointments, set up 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 who take pictures of objects too small to be seen with the naked eye use microscopes to photograph their 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.

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

Photographers hold about 132,100 jobs. The largest employers of photographers are as follows:

Self-employed workers 64%
Photographic services 20%
Broadcasting (except Internet) 3%
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 2%

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.

Photographer Work Schedules

Some 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. For certain types of photographers, workloads may fluctuate with the season. For example, wedding photographers are typically busiest in the summer and fall.

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.

Find a Degree:


Education for Photographers

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. Photographers often start working as an assistant to a professional photographer, learning on the job. This work provides an opportunity to gain experience, build the photographers' portfolios, and gain exposure to prospective clients. In addition, photographers must be trained on how to use picture-editing software.

For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio—a collection or archive of a photographer's or 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 a particular photographer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Photographers

Photographers who commercially operate drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UASs), must obtain certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They must fulfill the following criteria:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as a hearing impairment)
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to operate a small UAS safely
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center

For specific guidelines and information, visit the FAA website on unmanned aircraft systems.

Important Qualities for Photographers

Artistic ability. Photographers capture their subjects in images, and they must 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 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 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 and be flexible when working with clients in order to achieve the desired composition in a photograph.

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

The median hourly wage for photographers is $16.35. 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 $9.54, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $36.71.

The median hourly wages for photographers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Broadcasting (except Internet) $21.89
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers $20.86
Photographic services $14.21

Some 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. For certain types of photographers, workloads may fluctuate with the season. For example, wedding photographers are typically busiest in the summer and fall.

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

Employment of photographers is projected to decline 6 percent over the next ten years. 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. For example, drone photography in the commercial sector enables the capturing of images and information for agricultural land, real estate, and new construction projects. In addition, drone photography enables the photographer to create visuals of tall structures, such as cell towers and bridges, that are in need of repair. Drone photography at weddings or special events also captures scenic aerial portraits.

Employment of self-employed photographers is projected to grow 10 percent over the next ten years. Demand for portrait photographers will remain 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 by about one-third over the next ten years.

Job Prospects for Photographers

Photographers will face strong competition for most jobs. Because of the relative ease with which photographers may enter the occupation, 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 have a strong portfolio and related skills, such as in editing photos and capturing digital video.

Employment projections data for Photographers, 2018-28
Occupational Title Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28
Percent Numeric
Photographers 132,100 123,800 -6 -8,300


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

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