Portrait Photographer: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for portrait photographers. Get the facts about salary information, job duties, and potential job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Photography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Portrait Photographer?

A portrait photographer is a professional photographer who specializes in taking pictures of people. They know how to use photographic equipment to produce an optimal image and may use lights and filters to enhance the images. Portrait photographers may work in studios or on location. They may opt to specialize in wedding photography, school photography or photographing religious ceremonies. Wedding photographers may frame photographs and present their work in an album. The table below offers more information on becoming a portrait photographer.

Education Required High school diploma; postsecondary training is optional
Key Skills Keen observation, interpersonal skills, strong technical skills, business management
Job Growth (2018-2028) -6% decline (for all photographers)*
Average Salary (2018) $42,770 (for all photographers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education or Training Are Needed to Work as a Portrait Photographer?

Obtaining a degree is not necessarily required to work as a portrait photographer. However, some professionals earn a degree or gain knowledge through a certificate or vocational training program.

You might consider a certificate program in photography and digital imaging that includes courses in developing images and editing photos. You could also earn an Associate of Science in Photographic Studies or a similar degree. These programs teach you dark room techniques, digital imaging and basic lighting. To gain advanced knowledge in these subjects, you may complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography program.

Vocational or on-the-job training is usually offered through a portrait studio. You may start out as a photographer's assistant and work your way up to a portrait photographer position. Typically, no prior related work experience or education is needed to receive vocational training.

What Skills Do I Need?

A portrait photographer's primary duty is to capturing quality still images. To do this, you need to have good interpersonal and instructional skills. For example, your work may involve small children who often don't want to remain still and smile. To get these portraits, you might engage your subjects, helping them relax in front of the camera. You may also give advice on how your subject positions her or his body.

Being creative and having keen observation skills can help you with developing a concept for a photo shoot, getting images from different angles and knowing the precise moment to take a picture. Strong technical skills can help you perform functions such as editing and retouching images, using various professional cameras and adding images to websites. If you're a self-employed portrait photographer, you need good business management and administration skills to handle finances, write contracts and copyright your work.

Do I Need A Portfolio?

Having a professional portfolio is not necessary, but is strongly recommended for freelance portrait photographers. Creating a portfolio can help expose your best work to clients. Your portfolio can be in print, online or both.

Some important tips in creating a photography portfolio include only using finished prints, organizing pictures by themes and using different size images. Your work should also be labeled, dated, signed and endorsed with your business name.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that photographers in general earned a mean annual wage of $42,770 in May 2018 (www.bls.gov), although photographers' salaries varied depending on industry. For example, photographers performing services for the aerospace industry earned a mean annual salary of $81,090 in May 2018.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Illustrators and fine artists, such as painters, are similar to photographers. Illustrators and fine artists need a good eye for how to present the content of the image in their picture. Photographers also need that skill so that their portraits aren't off center. Illustrators and fine artists produce two-dimensional visual images, which is what photographers also do. All of these professionals benefit from understanding how lighting affects an image and the feeling of the image, and they all use tools to enhance their work. Illustrators and fine artists may select a different medium, such as choosing charcoal instead of ink or working with watercolors instead of acrylic paint, while photographers may use different lenses or backdrops to enhance a desired mood or tone. Illustrators and fine artists typically do not need to have any formal postsecondary training.

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