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What Photographers Do About this section

Photographers
Photographers capture subjects in commercial-quality photographs.

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 or advertise services to attract clients
  • Analyze and plan the composition of photographs
  • Use various photographic techniques and lighting equipment
  • Capture subjects in professional-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

Nowadays, most photographers use digital cameras instead of traditional film cameras, although some photographers use both. 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 flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use image 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, editing software, and high-quality printers.

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

Photographers who work for commercial clients often present photographs in a digital format to the client. Wedding and portrait photographers, who serve primarily noncommercial clients, also may 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, buy supplies, keep records, charge 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:

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

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of subjects such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. They usually go on location to take pictures for magazine covers, engineering projects, or other purposes.

Drone photographers operate unmanned aerial vehicles with an integrated camera to capture 360-degree imagery of buildings, landscapes, scenery, or events. 

Fine arts photographers sell their photographs as artwork. In addition to their knowledge of techniques such as lighting and the use of lenses, fine arts photographers need to have creativity and artistic talent.

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.

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

Scientific photographers capture scientific or medical data or phenomena. Because they focus on accurately representing subjects visually, these photographers limit the use of software to clarify an image. Scientific photographers who take pictures of objects too small to be seen with the naked eye use microscopes to photograph their subjects.

Work Environment About this section

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

Photographers held about 133,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of photographers were as follows:

Self-employed workers 64%
Photographic services 20
Broadcasting (except Internet) 3
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 1

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.

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

Photographers
Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and usually work in their own studios.

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.

Education

Postsecondary education is not required for most photographers. However, many photographers take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree to improve their skills and employment prospects.

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

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 important for scientific photographers.

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

Training

Photographers’ skill or ability for taking good photos 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 learn to use photo-editing software.

For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio—a collection of their work that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential. Art directors, clients, and others often review portfolios when deciding whether to hire a particular photographer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Photographers who commercially operate drones, commonly known as unmanned aerial vehicles, 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 good physical and mental condition to operate a small drone safely
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center

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

Important Qualities

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 aesthetically pleasing photographs.

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

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

Customer-service skills. Photographers must understand the types of shots their clients want and agree on suitable alternatives for ideas that may be unworkable.

Detail oriented. Photographers must focus on details, especially in postproduction. In addition, photographers accumulate many photographs and must maintain them in an orderly fashion.

Interpersonal skills. Photographers often take pictures of people. They must communicate and be flexible when working with clients in order to achieve the desired composition in a photograph.

Pay About this section

Photographers

Median hourly wages, May 2019

Media and communication equipment workers

$23.21

Total, all occupations

$19.14

Photographers

$17.44

 

The median hourly wage for photographers was $17.44 in May 2019. 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 $9.92, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $38.19.

In May 2019, the median hourly wages for photographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Broadcasting (except Internet) $22.83
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 21.74
Photographic services 15.15

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 About this section

Photographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Media and communication equipment workers

6%

Total, all occupations

4%

Photographers

-4%

 

Employment of photographers is projected to decline 4 percent from 2019 to 2029. 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. 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.

Job Prospects

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, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Photographers

27-4021 133,500 128,700 -4 -4,800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about careers in photography, visit

American Society of Media Photographers

For more information about testing and obtaining certification to operate commercial drones or unmanned aerial systems (UASs), visit

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

For more information about university photographers, visit

University Photographers’ Association of America

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