How to Become a Photographer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a photographer. Learn about job duties, education requirements, and salary potential 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 combine photographic, artistic and creative skills to produce visual images through photography. They may take photographs at a wedding, school, landmark or in their studio. Photographers may be commissioned to work for a client, may produce their own material that they sell, or may work for an employer, such as a newspaper or school photography studio. They need to know how to use lighting to enhance the image they're capturing, and may also need to market their products or services to attract clients or sell photographs. The images they produce can be used for things such as books, newspapers, magazines, cards, calendars and portraits.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent; Bachelor's degree is common
Education Field of Study Photography
Key Skills Photo editing expertise; in-depth knowledge of lighting techniques and camera operation
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Median Salary (May 2015) $31,710*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Photographer Do?

Photographers can choose from a number of specializations, including portraiture, fine art, photojournalism, commercial, fashion, forensic, nature and science photography. No matter your specialty, you must have a creative eye and possess the technical skills to take, process, edit and publish your photographs. You'll use lighting, filters and computer programs to distort and modify images.

Step 1: Consider Photography in High School

Begin your pursuit of a career as a photographer while in high school by taking photographs for your high school newspaper or yearbook, enrolling in photography classes or joining a school- or community-based photography club. These experiences may help you decide which type of photography you would like to pursue and help you develop a portfolio, which is required for admission to a number of colleges, universities and art schools. You can also shadow a professional photographer to see what their normal routine is like.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Through a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography program, you'll learn the technical aspects and history of photography. You'll also examine the ethics surrounding photographic processes in the era of digital media. It is important to study interdisciplinary subjects, such as business law and marketing, because you'll work independently as a studio owner or freelance agent.

Step 3: Develop a Professional Portfolio

While in college, work on a college publication or pursue an internship to build up the images to include in your portfolio. The portfolio will be a collection of photographs that highlight your technical skills and creativity. Many of your courses may produce quality images. To reach a larger pool of potential employers, develop an electronic portfolio and post it online.

Step 4: Consider Additional Education

Many colleges offer post-baccalaureate certificate programs in graphic design. This program is for those who have majored in photography, communications, computers and journalism. This program trains you in common artistic computer design programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.

Step 5: Pursue an Assistantship

Many photographers begin their careers by working as assistants to professional photographers. While these positions often involve menial work, such as carrying equipment, assistantships also allow you to watch an experienced photographer on-the-job and see how he or she interacts with clients. Assistantships also can provide valuable insight into the business side of photography, create networking opportunities and establish business relationships.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Film and video editors and camera operators also need to have a good artistic eye and the ability to operate camera and editing equipment. They are typically required to have a bachelor's degree. Desktop publishers need an associate's degree, and they use their artistic and computer skills to produce the layout of printed items such as magazines, newspapers and advertisements. Graphic designers focus on the visual product, the same way that photographers do; however, they use computer and artistic skills to create images that are typically used to entice consumers. They are required to have a bachelor's degree.

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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