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Photographer Career Guide

Do you have outstanding interpersonal skills? If you have a strong sense of artistic design, color, and composition, a photographer could be an excellent career choice for you.

Photographers capture images and videos for a wide range of clients. They might work in a studio capturing portraits, outdoors shooting landscapes, or taking fashion pictures on location. Other photographers work in advertising creating awareness for a product, doing sports photography, or wildlife photography. To excel as a photographer, you need to be able to expertly frame your subjects to convey a specific point or message to the viewer.

Photographers need to have advanced knowledge of cameras, lenses, filters, shutter speeds, and more. They need to be keenly aware of lighting and how to use reflector cards. Many use tripods and other equipment to stabilize cameras. Proficiency in using photo editing software is essential. They need excellent verbal communication skills and people skills when working with human subjects to gauge needs and expectations and direct subjects for the best possible shots. Becoming a successful photographer means keeping up-to-date on the latest cameras, equipment, and editing software. 

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is in search of a talented photographer. This candidate will be responsible for taking clear, dynamic photos according to client specifications. Duties include setting up backdrops, directing models and subjects, editing, communicating with clients to set up a time and place to take pictures, maintaining and managing photography equipment, submitting photos to appropriate persons, and managing sessions. This candidate will be able to work well with a team, be organized, self-motivated, and a critical thinker. Attention to detail is a must, and knowledge of photography and photography equipment is essential. This candidate must have one or two years of experience as a photographer, and the ability to work a camera, direct subjects, and edit photos as needed for print and digital publishing. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Work with the Art Director to determine the necessary images
  • Scout locations and contact subjects or clients before shooting
  • Set up the proper photographic equipment
  • Compose and frame the subject
  • Adjust apertures, shutter speed, and camera focus
  • Retouch and edit image files
  • Conduct reshoots, if necessary

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma or a GED; preferable is an associate or bachelor’s degree from a college or university.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong knowledge of visual design principles
  • A keen eye for detail
  • Expertise in camera operation
  • Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Exceptional creative-thinking skills
  • Proficiency in photo-editing and retouching software
  • Patience and flexibility
  • Excellent communication and research skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Ability to work independently with strong time management and organizational skills
  • Ability to work various holidays throughout the year
  • Reliable transportation
  • Ability to lift equipment (up to 40 lbs) with frequent sitting, standing, and moderate physical activity

Typical work environment

Photographers typically work at a designated space with their photography equipment, and a computer or tablet, but some will travel depending on if they are freelance, contracted with multiple companies, or have to travel to specific filming locations. 

Typical hours

Typical hours for this position are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in a factory setting. 

Available certifications

Photographers require extensive experience in camera use, editing software, subject posing, and several years of experience. Receiving certifications is typical if a photographer wants to get hired professionally. Here are some popular certifications:

  • Certified Professional Photographer (CPP). This certification is offered through the Professional Photographers of America, and is an online program that helps you master your craft while gaining the knowledge you will need to succeed in this competitive field. 
  • Digital Photographer Certificate Program. eCornell offered a Digital Photography Certificate online through Cornell University. This program will certify you as a professional photographer, while teaching you the fundamentals, mechanics, and digital aspects needed to succeed as a professional photographer.

Career path

The path to becoming a professional photographer can take many different directions.

A photographer’s creative portfolio is the most important criteria for getting hired. An exceptional body of work will more than compensate for lack of formal education. To build their portfolios and on-the-job experience, photographers will often market their services as freelancers. That being said, many professional photographers do earn a bachelor’s degree in fine art or visual media to shore up their knowledge and expand their skill sets. Many also have earned the Certified Professional Photographer designation from the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 27-4021

2020 Employment110,500
Projected Employment in 2030129,400
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 17% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift18,900 increase

The rise of smartphones and social media — placing a powerful camera and internet connection in millions of people’s hands — was supposed to end the modern photographer’s career. All it did was further specialize photographers’ skill set.

Learning how to best use social media platforms, such as learning to write micro-copy and network online, will continue to add value to photographers’ services. Mastering new photo-editing software will also be crucial to staying relevant in our ever-changing, technology-driven world.