Photographers

Summary

photographers image
Some photographers travel for photo shoots, and others work in their own studios.
Quick Facts: Photographers
2012 Median Pay $28,490 per year
$13.70 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 136,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 5,900

What Photographers Do

Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that visually tell a story or record an event.

Work Environment

Working conditions for photographers vary considerably depending on their specialty. Some travel for photoshoots; others work in their own studios. Still others work in laboratories and use microscopes to photograph subjects.

How to Become a Photographer

Although postsecondary education is not required for portrait photographers, many take classes since employers usually seek applicants with a “good eye” and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of photography. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree.

Pay

The median hourly wage for photographers was $13.70 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of photographers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Salaried jobs in particular may be more difficult to find as more companies contract with freelancers rather than hire their own photographers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of photographers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about photographers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Photographers Do About this section

Photographers
Photographers capture subjects in commercial-quality photographs.

Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that visually tell a story or record an event.

Duties

Photographers typically do the following:

  • Market and advertise services to attract clients
  • Analyze and decide how to compose a subject
  • Use various photographic techniques and equipment
  • Capture subjects in commercial-quality photographs
  • Enhance the subject’s appearance with natural or artificial light
  • Use photo enhancing software
  • Maintain a digital portfolio, often on a website, to demonstrate work

Today, most photographers use digital cameras instead of the traditional silver-halide film cameras. Digital cameras capture images electronically, so the photographer can edit the image on a computer. Images can be stored on portable memory devices, such as compact disks, memory cards, and flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use processing software to crop or modify the image and enhance it through color correction and other specialized effects. Photographers who edit their own pictures use computers, high-quality printers, and editing software. For information on workers who specialize in developing and processing photographic images from film or digital media, see photographic process workers and processing machine operators included in occupations not covered in detail.

Photographers who work for commercial clients will often present finalized photographs in a digital format to the client. However, wedding and portrait photographers, who primarily serve noncommercial clients, often also provide framing services and present the photographs they capture in albums.

Many wedding and portrait photographers are self-employed. Photographers who own and operate their own business have additional responsibilities. They must advertise, schedule appointments, set and adjust equipment, purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, pay bills, and—if they have employees—hire, train, and direct their workers.

In addition, some photographers teach photography classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios.

The following are examples of types of photographers:

Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and usually work in their own studios. Photographers who specialize in weddings, religious ceremonies, or school photographs may work on location.

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of various subjects, such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. These photographs are used for a variety of purposes, including magazine covers and images to supplement analysis of engineering projects. These photographs are frequently taken on location.

Aerial photographers use planes or helicopters to capture photographs of buildings and landscapes. They often use gyrostabilizers to counteract the movement of the aircraft and ensure high-quality images.

Scientific photographers focus on the accurate visual representation of subjects and limit the use of image manipulation software for clarifying an image. Scientific photographs record scientific or medical data or phenomena. Scientific photographers typically use microscopes to photograph subjects.

News photographers, also called photojournalists, photograph people, places, and events for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. In addition to taking still photos, photojournalists often work with digital video.

Fine arts photographers sell their photographs as artwork. In addition to technical knowledge, such as lighting and use of lenses, fine arts photographers need artistic talent and creativity. Most use traditional silver-halide film instead of digital cameras.

University photographers serve as general photographers for academic institutions. They may be required to take portraits, document an event, or take photographs for press releases. University photographers are found primarily in larger academic institutions, because smaller institutions often contract with freelancers to do their photography work.

Work Environment About this section

Photographers
Most photographers stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment.

Photographers held about 136,300 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most photographers in 2012 were as follows:

Photographic services27%
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers3
Television broadcasting3
Arts, entertainment, and recreation2
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools;
state, local, and private
1

In 2012, about 60 percent of photographers were self-employed.

The work environment for photographers can vary considerably, depending on their specialty.

Portrait photographers may work in studios, but they also often travel to take photographs at a client’s location, such as a school, a company office, or a private home.

News and commercial photographers may travel locally or internationally. News photographers often work long, irregular hours in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings and must be available to work on short notice. For example, a news photographer may be sent to a war zone to capture images.

Aerial photographers often work in planes or helicopters.

Most photographers stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment.

Work Schedules

About 1 in 3 photographers worked part time in 2012. Hours often are flexible so they can meet with current and potential clients or visit the sites where they will work. Demand for certain types of photographers may fluctuate with the season. For example, the demand for wedding photographers typically increases in the spring and summer.

How to Become a Photographer About this section

Photographers
Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and usually work in their own studios.

Although postsecondary education is not required for portrait photographers, many take classes since employers usually seek applicants with a “good eye” and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of photography. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree.

Education

Although postsecondary education is not required for most photographers, many take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which can improve their skills and employment prospects.

Many universities, community and junior colleges, vocational–technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer classes in photography. Basic courses in photography cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Art schools may offer useful training in photographic design and composition.

Entry-level positions in photojournalism or in industrial or scientific photography generally require a college degree in photography or in a field related to the industry in which the photographer seeks employment. For example, classes in biology, medicine, or chemistry may be useful for scientific photographers.

Business, marketing, and accounting classes can be helpful for self-employed photographers.

Training

Photographers have a talent or natural ability for taking good photos and this talent is typically cultivated over years of practice. For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities—is essential. This portfolio is necessary because art directors, clients, and others look at an artist’s portfolio when deciding whether to hire or contract with the photographer.

Photographers often start working as an assistant to a professional photographer. This work provides an opportunity to gain experience, build their portfolio, and gain exposure to prospective clients.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Photographers capture their subjects in images, and they must be able to evaluate the artistic quality of a photograph. Photographers need "a good eye"—the ability to use colors, shadows, shades, light, and distance to compose good photographs.

Business skills. Photographers must be able to plan marketing strategies, reach out to prospective clients, and anticipate seasonal employment.

Computer skills. Most photographers do their own postproduction work and must be familiar with photo editing software. They also use computers to keep a digital portfolio and communicate with clients.

Customer-service skills. Photographers must be able to understand the needs of their clients and propose solutions.

Detail oriented. Photographers who do their own postproduction work must be careful not to overlook details and must be thorough when editing photographs. In addition, photographers accumulate many photographs and must maintain them in an orderly fashion.

Interpersonal skills. Photographers often photograph people. They must communicate effectively to achieve a certain composition in a photograph.

Pay About this section

Photographers

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations

$21.12

Total, all occupations

$16.71

Photographers

$13.70

 

The median hourly wage for photographers was $13.70 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.42, and the top 10 percent earned more than $32.21.

Photographers in the District of Columbia earned the highest hourly median wage, earning $33.15 in May 2012.

About 1 in 3 photographers worked part time in 2012. Hours often are flexible so they can meet with current and potential clients or visit the sites where they will work. Demand for certain types of photographers may fluctuate with the season. For example, the demand for wedding photographers typically increases in the spring and summer.

Job Outlook About this section

Photographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations

7%

Photographers

4%

 

Employment of photographers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Overall growth will be limited because of the decreasing cost of digital cameras and the increasing number of amateur photographers and hobbyists. Improvements in digital technology reduce barriers of entry into this profession and allow more individual consumers and businesses to produce, store, and access photographic images on their own.

Employment of self-employed photographers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022. Demand for portrait photographers will continue as people continue to need new portraits. In addition, corporations will continue to require the services of commercial photographers to develop compelling advertisements to sell products.

Declines in the newspaper industry will reduce demand for news photographers to provide still images for print. Employment of photographers in newspaper publishing is projected to decline 36 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Job Prospects

Photographers will face strong competition for most jobs. Because of reduced barriers to entry, there will be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions.

In addition, salaried jobs may be more difficult to obtain as companies increasingly contract with freelancers rather than hire their own photographers. Job prospects will be best for candidates who are multitalented and possess related skills such as picture editing and capturing digital video.

Employment projections data for photographers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Photographers

27-4021 136,300 142,200 4 5,900 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of photographers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Architects

Architects

Architects plan and design houses, office buildings, and other structures.

Bachelor’s degree $73,090
Craft and fine artists

Craft and Fine Artists

Craft and fine artists use a variety of materials and techniques to create art for sale and exhibition. Craft artists create handmade objects, such as pottery, glassware, textiles or other objects that are designed to be functional. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, create original works of art for their aesthetic value, rather than for a functional one.

High school diploma or equivalent $44,380
Desktop publishers

Desktop Publishers

Desktop publishers use computer software to design page layouts for newspapers, books, brochures, and other items that are printed or put online. They collect the text, graphics, and other materials they will need and format them into a finished product.

Associate’s degree $37,040
Fashion designers

Fashion Designers

Fashion designers create original clothing, accessories, and footwear. They sketch designs, select fabrics and patterns, and give instructions on how to make the products they designed.

Bachelor’s degree $62,860
Film and video editors and camera operators

Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators

Film and video editors and camera operators manipulate images that entertain or inform an audience.

Bachelor’s degree $46,280
Graphic designers

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers. They develop the overall layout and production design for advertisements, brochures, magazines, and corporate reports.

Bachelor’s degree $44,150
Industrial designers

Industrial Designers

Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products, such as cars, home appliances, and toys. They combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day. Industrial designers focus on the user experience in creating style and function for a particular gadget or appliance.

Bachelor’s degree $59,610
Printing workers

Printing Workers

Printing workers produce print material in three stages: prepress, press, and binding and finishing. They review specifications, calibrate color settings on printers, identify and fix problems with printing equipment, and assemble pages.

See How to Become One $34,100
Reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts

Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts

Reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts inform the public about news and events happening internationally, nationally, and locally. They report the news for newspapers, magazines, websites, television, and radio.

Bachelor’s degree $37,090
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Photographers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm (visited April 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014