How Do I Start a Career in Photography?

Research what it takes to become a photographer. Learn about education requirements, key skills and job growth to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Photography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Photographer?

Photographers use cameras to take two-dimensional images of people, places or things. They can work in a variety of settings, ranging from a studio to a live event to a chosen location. Their work can involve transporting their equipment and setting it up on location. For example, portrait photographers who take school or wedding photos may need to work on location. Those who work as news photographers, also known as photojournalists, may have to travel overseas or across country to provide photographs of events relevant to their newspaper's audience. Some photographers may produce material for advertising purposes.

Other types of photographers include aerial photographers, who travel in helicopters or planes and take photographs of buildings and landscapes from the air, and fine arts photographers, who use their equipment to produce photographic art.

Degree Required High school diploma or equivalent for entry level; bachelor's degree for better job potential
Training Required Long-term on-the-job training; development of a portfolio
Key Skills Expertise with lighting and technical camera equipment, as well as photo editing software; communication skills and attention to detail
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Median Salary (2015) $31,710*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Can I Study to Become a Photographer?

You can study photography through a variety of programs, including the Associate of Science in Photography or Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. You may also need specialized training depending on your focus area. For example, a freelance or portrait photography career might require technical skills.

You could pursue an associate's degree program in applied graphics with a concentration in photography to learn both the aesthetic and technical aspects of photography. This program would offer training that prepares you to work with different cameras, adjust composition, control lighting and work in a darkroom.

Bachelor's degree programs in photography can provide study on the theories of photography and technical skills used in the field. You can also learn how to work with black and white or color images, computer imaging and studio lighting. Many programs also offer internship or portfolio courses to help you prepare for your photography career.

What Skills Would I Need?

To become a photographer, you would need technical training and the necessary equipment. Different skills and qualities are needed for each specialty area, such as portrait, news or fine arts photography.

As a portrait photographer, you might work in your own studio or photograph people in ceremonies, special events and schools. If you become a photojournalist, you would capture snapshots of important moments for newspapers and other media while maintaining objectivity. Working as a fine art photographer, you might display visually striking or conceptual photographs in galleries.

How Could I Find Work?

Most employers require a current portfolio of relevant photographs and a background in photographic techniques. Entry-level positions might be found at photography studios, newspapers and camera stores, as well as provide you with networking opportunities. Maintaining a website and online portfolio can also help make your work accessible to potential clients.

You can also pursue a position at a commercial studio, magazine, newspaper, stock photo house or advertising agency. Fine art photographers might be self-employed or work in galleries and studios. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that employment for photographers would grow by 3% between 2014 and 2024, which is slower than the national average for all occupations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Craft and fine artists such as painters and illustrators have some similarities to photographers. Painters and illustrators also create two-dimensional visual representations. They may produce a likeness of a nature scene, a building, an animal or an event. They may also produce a visual representation of a concept.

Their work is different from the work of a photographer because they produce their art with their hands and use different mediums, such as ink, paint or charcoal. Like photographers, though, they need a good eye for how to position the content of their image effectively. Painters and illustrators do not necessarily need any postsecondary training, although they may benefit from pursing a degree program where they can expand their skills and portfolio.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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