Bureau of Labor Statistics

Photographers

photographers image
Some photographers travel for photo shoots, and others work in their own studios.
Quick Facts: Photographers
2020 Median Pay $41,280 per year
$19.85 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2020 110,500
Job Outlook, 2020-30 17% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 18,900

Summary

What Photographers Do

Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images.

Work Environment

Working conditions for photographers vary by specialty. Some photographers travel for photo shoots, working either indoors or outdoors. Others work in studios; still others work in laboratories and use microscopes to photograph subjects.

How to Become a Photographer

Although portrait photographers are not required to have postsecondary education, many take classes because employers usually seek applicants with creativity and a "good eye," 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 $19.85 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Employment of photographers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 12,700 openings for photographers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for 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

Photographers
Photographers capture subjects in commercial-quality photographs.

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

Duties

Photographers typically do the following:

  • Market or advertise services to attract clients
  • Analyze and plan the composition of photographs
  • Use various photographic techniques and lighting equipment
  • Capture subjects in professional-quality photographs
  • Enhance the subject’s appearance with natural or artificial light
  • Use photo-enhancing software
  • Maintain a digital portfolio to demonstrate their work
  • Archive and manage imagery

Nowadays, most photographers use digital cameras instead of traditional film cameras, although some photographers use both. 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 flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use image 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, editing software, and high-quality printers.

Some photographers use unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, to capture shots. The drones are equipped with an integrated camera to capture 360-degree imagery of buildings, landscapes, scenery, or events.

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

Many photographers are self-employed. Photographers who own and operate their own business have additional responsibilities. They must advertise, schedule appointments, set up and adjust equipment, buy supplies, keep records, charge 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:

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

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of subjects such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. They usually go on location to take pictures for magazine covers, engineering projects, or other purposes.

Drone photographers operate unmanned aerial vehicles with an integrated camera to capture 360-degree imagery of buildings, landscapes, scenery, or events. 

Fine arts photographers sell their photographs as artwork. In addition to their knowledge of techniques such as lighting and the use of lenses, fine arts photographers need to have creativity and artistic talent.

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.

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

Scientific photographers capture scientific or medical data or phenomena. Because they focus on accurately representing subjects visually, these photographers limit the use of software to clarify an image. Scientific photographers who take pictures of objects too small to be seen with the naked eye use microscopes to photograph their subjects.

Work Environment

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

Photographers held about 110,500 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of photographers were as follows:

Self-employed workers 64%
Photographic services 18
Broadcasting (except Internet) 3
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 1

Working conditions for photographers vary by specialty. Photographers may work indoors or outdoors.

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

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

Aerial photographers work in planes or helicopters to capture a scene, event, or location from an overhead perspective.

Most photographers stand or walk for long periods. They may need to carry heavy equipment.

Work Schedules

Some photographers work part time. Hours often are flexible so that photographers can meet with current and potential clients or visit the sites where they will work. For certain types of photographers, workloads may fluctuate with the season. For example, wedding photographers are typically busiest in the summer and fall.

How to Become a Photographer

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

Although portrait photographers are not required to have postsecondary education, many take classes because employers usually seek applicants with creativity and a "good eye," as well as a good technical understanding of photography. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree.

Education

Postsecondary education is not required for most photographers. However, many photographers take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree to improve their skills and employment prospects.

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

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 important for scientific photographers.

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

Training

Photographers’ skill or ability for taking good photos is typically cultivated over years of practice. Photographers often start working as an assistant to a professional photographer, learning on the job. This work provides an opportunity to gain experience, build the photographers’ portfolios, and gain exposure to prospective clients. In addition, photographers must learn to use photo-editing software.

For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio—a collection of their work that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential. Art directors, clients, and others often review portfolios when deciding whether to hire a particular photographer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Photographers who commercially operate drones, commonly known as unmanned aerial vehicles, must obtain certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They must fulfill the following criteria:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as a hearing impairment)
  • Be in good physical and mental condition to operate a small drone safely
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center

For specific guidelines and information, visit the FAA website’s section on unmanned aircraft systems.

Important Qualities

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

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

Computer skills. Most photographers do their own postproduction work and must be adept at using photo-editing software. They also use computers to maintain a digital portfolio.

Customer-service skills. Photographers must understand the types of shots their clients want and agree on suitable alternatives for ideas that may be unworkable.

Detail oriented. Photographers must focus on details, especially in postproduction. In addition, photographers accumulate many photographs and must maintain them in an orderly fashion.

Interpersonal skills. Photographers often take pictures of people. They must communicate and be flexible when working with clients in order to achieve the desired composition in a photograph.

Pay

Photographers

Median hourly wages, May 2020

Media and communication equipment workers

$24.46

Total, all occupations

$20.17

Photographers

$19.85

 

The median hourly wage for photographers was $19.85 in May 2020. 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 $10.78, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $41.76.

In May 2020, the median hourly wages for photographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Broadcasting (except Internet) $24.18
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 23.06
Photographic services 17.73

Some photographers work part time. Hours often are flexible so that photographers can meet with current and potential clients or visit the sites where they will work. For certain types of photographers, workloads may fluctuate with the season. For example, wedding photographers are typically busiest in the summer and fall.

Job Outlook

Photographers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Media and communication equipment workers

21%

Photographers

17%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of photographers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 12,700 openings for photographers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020 and is likely to occur early in the decade.

Employment of self-employed photographers is projected to grow throughout the decade. Demand for portrait photographers will remain as people continue to want new portraits. In addition, corporations will continue to require the services of commercial photographers to develop compelling advertisements to sell products.

The decreasing cost of digital cameras and the increasing number of amateur photographers and hobbyists may reduce the need for professional photographers. In addition, stock photographic services available online give individuals and businesses access to stock photographs for a fee or subscription, possibly dampening demand for photographers.

Employment projections data for photographers, 2020-30

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

Occupational Title

Photographers

SOC Code27-4021
Employment, 2020110,500
Projected Employment, 2030129,400
Percent Change, 2020-3017
Numeric Change, 2020-3018,900
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Architects Architects

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

Bachelor's degree $82,320
Art directors Art Directors

Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions.

Bachelor's degree $97,270
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.

See How to Become One $49,120
Desktop publishers Desktop Publishers

Desktop publishers use computer software to design page layouts for items that are printed or published online.

Associate's degree $47,560
Fashion designers Fashion Designers

Fashion designers create clothing, accessories, and footwear.

Bachelor's degree $75,810
Film and video editors and camera operators Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators

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

Bachelor's degree $61,900
Graphic designers Graphic Designers

Graphic designers create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers.

Bachelor's degree $53,380
Industrial designers Industrial Designers

Industrial designers combine art, business, and engineering to develop the concepts for manufactured products.

Bachelor's degree $71,640
Models Models

Models pose for artists, photographers, and other clients to help advertise products.

No formal educational credential $31,910
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.

Bachelor's degree $49,300

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Photographers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm (visited October 05, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

Permanently disable mobile site