What Do I Need to Know to Be a Picture Editor?

Picture editors - also known as photo editors - may start out as photographers who then rise through the ranks of traditional print magazines and news organizations. However, new technologies have spurred interest in visual storytelling; some aspiring photo editors are now finding work with Web-based companies as well. Read on to learn more about the career of a picture editor. Schools offering Digital Media Production degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Picture editors make decisions about the creation, selection, and publication of images. To work in this field, you'll need a through understanding of photography and photography principles, which can be gained through a photography education. Photo editors also need a strong eye for detail and experience in the photography field.

Important Facts About Picture Editors

Job Outlook (2016-2026) 6% decline (for all photographers)
Key Skills Artistic ability; attention to detail; customer focused; computer competency; social nuance
Professional Certification Voluntary, but recommended; Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) available
Similar Occupations Craft and fine artists; film and video editors; camera operators; graphic designers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), you'll need to complete a degree program and gain some experience as a professional photographer before becoming a photo editor. You could pursue a four-year bachelor's program in photography, photojournalism, visual communications, or journalism with a photojournalism concentration.

If you have a bachelor's degree in photography or another field, you might consider earning a master's degree in photojournalism or journalism with a photojournalism concentration. Some aspiring photo editors gain experience by working as freelance photographers.

Photography and Visual Communications Programs

In most bachelor's programs, you'll learn basic photography skills, like how to use a manual-exposure camera, how to process film in a traditional black-and-white darkroom, and how light can be used to change the appearance of different subjects. Some programs may focus on digital imaging techniques, like how to use a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) or how to edit photos using software applications like Photoshop.

Perhaps most important, however, is learning how to take pictures that convey thought and emotion - a skill often developed through several courses in a photography or visual communications curriculum. Some of these courses might include Web design, color composition techniques, portrait photography, or film processing. Some programs also include courses in publication layout and design.

Specialized Skills

Photo editors are experts in the picture-making process; they also understand the demands placed on photographers with whom they work. In particular, photo editors can distinguish good shots from great ones, writes John Loengard in an article adapted for Nieman Reports, Harvard University's journalism magazine (www.niemanreports.org).

Photo quality, Loengard explains, is often not about beauty. Sometimes, it's either the subject's oddness or the photographer's unique way of approaching it that grabs the viewer's eye and conveys meaning. Photo editors can flesh out facts by choosing photos that show human reactions to the day's events.

Picture editors must be as daring as photojournalists, notes Marcia Prouse in an article posted by the International Journalists' Network (www.ijnet.org). Instead of waiting for assignments, she points out, photo editors should use their news sense to propose stories.

Career Opportunities

As a photo editor, you may find work at daily newspapers, news agencies, trade magazines, or photo archives. However, you might need to relocate in order to find a job in the field; there's intense competition for most photography-related jobs, according to the BLS.

Limited data is available on the average earnings of picture editors. According to Salary.com, Web photo editors earned a median annual salary of $65,581 as of June 2019. The site reports that the majority of Web photo editors have two to four years of experience in editing or related fields.

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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