What you need to know
Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that tell a story or record an event.
Working conditions for photographers vary considerably with their specialty. Some travel for photo shoots; others work in their own studios. Still, others work in laboratories and use microscopes to photograph subjects.
Some of the things a photographer might do:
- 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 a natural or artificial light
- Use photo-enhancing software
- Maintain a digital portfolio to demonstrate their work
- Archive and manage imagery
- 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 post-production 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 post production 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.
The average pay for photographers in the United States ranges from $9.54 an hour to $36.71 an hour as of May 2018.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of photographers is projected to decline 6 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Salaried jobs may be more difficult to find as more companies contract with freelancers rather than hire their own 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.