How to Become a Photographer

LearnHowToBecome Team
Michelle Honeyager
November 9, 2021

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Photography is a rapidly-growing field — the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 17% growth by 2030. (Compare that to just 4% for all occupations).

Photography is a technically demanding profession, so those interested in becoming photographers must consider the training they'll need before committing to this career path. This guide on how to become a photographer provides in-depth information that can help readers decide if a photography degree can put them on the right career path.

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What Does a Photographer Do?

Photography Career Basics

On the most basic level, photographers use cameras to capture images. However, there are various types of photography, including scientific and aerial photography, and photographers work in many settings, ranging from photographic studios to newspaper publishing companies. Some photographers work in the field, and others are studio-based. While some photographers work full time, many work part-time, and their workload may vary depending on the season.

Steps to Becoming a Photographer

Step 1
Choose the Right Education

The first step to becoming a professional photographer is to find an education program that fits your goals. There are photography programs designed to match each student's career goals and level of educational commitment. Photography programs are available from the certificate to the master's level. Costs can vary from around $200 for certification to tens of thousands of dollars for college programs.

How long does it take to become a photographer? Photography certificate programs vary by school — they can be entry-level programs requiring anywhere from six to 10 classes or four-year programs. Associate degrees in photography usually take two years to finish and are roughly 90 credit hours. They provide a stronger photography and arts background than certificate programs and are more technical.

Bachelor's degrees take four years, but they provide more in-depth knowledge and can give job candidates a competitive edge in the marketplace. A master's degree program is typically a two-year program that includes 36 credit hours. It is an advanced program that can lead to management positions such as art director or senior photographer.

Step 2
Choose a Focus

There are several photography specialties to choose from as you figure out how to be a photographer. Students usually choose to focus on one area, such as:

  • Portrait photography
  • Commercial photography
  • Scientific and industrial photography
  • Aerial photography
  • Fine art photography
Step 3
Internships

Internships provide students an opportunity to engage in photographic workshops and fieldwork to explore the technical, creative, and logistical aspects of photography both in a studio and on location. They may be paid or unpaid and typically run for a few months.

Step 4
Take Exams for Certificates

There are numerous certifications available for photographers, some of which the Professional Photographers Association offers. Application fees are usually around a couple hundred dollars. Examples of certifications include:

  • Certified Professional Photographer
  • Certified Forensic Photographer
  • Registered Biological Photographer
Step 5
Land an Entry-Level Job

Most schools have a career center that can assist with job interview tips and help students write effective resumes and cover letters. Students should leverage this resource to find a job.

Step 6
Return to School for Continuing Education or an Advanced Degree

Each educational level provides more academic training and instruction, which can make you more desirable to potential employers or possible clients. You can also benefit from non-degree continuing education options.

Photographer Salaries and Job Growth

State

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Projections Central, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored website.

Top 10 States/Territories with the Highest Job Growth

  1. Utah: 44.8%
  2. Idaho: 9.5%
  3. Louisiana: 9.4%
  4. California: 5.4%
  5. Washington: 3.4%
  6. Colorado: 3.3%
  7. Puerto Rico: 1.6%
  8. Mississippi: 1.3%
  9. Arizona: 1.1%
  10. Florida: 0.9%

Career Paths for Photographers

Fine art photographers take photographs as an art form. They make money by selling their work and displaying it in galleries. A master's degree with a fine art photography specialization can help.

Photojournalists capture live events as a form of storytelling for newspapers, magazines, and other publications. Associate degrees often cover courses in photojournalism.

Those who wish to become wedding photographers take photos of ceremonies, wedding parties, and receptions. You might consider getting certified as a wedding photographer.

Corporations employ commercial photographers to take photos of buildings, models, landscapes, merchandise, and other subjects. Companies use these photos for materials like brochures, ads, or internal communication. A master's degree with an advertising/photo illustration specialization could help.

Courses in Photography Programs

Fundamentals of Photography
Students learn to use image-making techniques and applications.
Color Photography I
Students learn how to use transparency and negative film materials.
History of Photography
Students learn the creative and commercial evolution of photography.
Photojournalism
Students learn how to utilize lenses, film, and digital media in visual communication.

Components of a Successful Photography Career

Skills

Photographers need artistic ability — a "good eye" for judging what would make a good photograph. Computer skills are essential since most photographers use digital cameras. The photos are transferred to computers for storage and edited using various software programs.

Traits

Those working on becoming a photographer must also be detail-oriented. The ability to be careful and thorough is essential when taking photographs and editing them. Finally, most photographers, even those who work alone, must deal with clients. It is important to maintain good relationships with clients and to understand their needs and wants.

Tools
Camera flash and lighting Camera flash attachments, focus assists, softboxes, studio strobe flashes
Camera lens Macro lenses, telephoto lenses, zoom lenses
Camera lens filter Graduated neutral density GND filters, haze filters, white balancing lens filters, wide-angle lenses
Photography light reflector Board reflectors, lamp reflectors, snoots
Scanner Film scanners, flatbed scanners
Technology
Graphic or photo-imaging software Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop
Accounting software Blinkbid, Intuit QuickBooks software
Database user software Cradoc fotoBiz, Microsoft Access, SuccessWare, Tave Studio Manager
Spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel
Web page creation and editing software WordPress

Related Career Options

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers might help create logos, merchandise, and advertisements to sell a product. They might also work in editorial graphic design, designing pages for a newspaper or magazine.

  • Job Growth: 3%
  • Median Salary: $53,380
  • Education and Training: Bachelor's degree

Film and Video Editors

Film and video editors can work in the commercial sector, on movie and television sets, for news organizations, and other areas.

  • Job Growth: 29%
  • Median Salary: $67,250
  • Education and Training: Bachelor's degree

Producers and Directors

Producers and directors often have a film or cinematography degree. They can work for production companies, film studios, and even in the commercial sector.

  • Job Growth: 24%
  • Median Salary: $76,400
  • Education and Training: Bachelor's degree

Become Team
Michelle Honeyager
Contributing Writer

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