Animal Photographer Career Profile

Man taking photograph of Alpine Marmots
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Animal photographers supply images of animals for use in commercial and artistic endeavors.

Animal Photographer Duties

Animal photographers must have an eye for capturing balanced, interesting images of their animal subjects. They must have knowledge of how to use various lenses, flashes and other equipment to compensate for lighting conditions, weather conditions and animal movement.

While most animal photographers have made the switch to digital photography, some still use traditional film cameras. It is up to the photographer to use the method they prefer. Ultimately, most film images are scanned and transferred to digital format so that they can be utilized by the media.

Most photographers today use specialized computer photo software to crop and manipulate images, so computer and technology skills are generally of high value. Many photographers also choose to maintain a professional online portfolio to showcase their work and advertise to potential clients.

The equipment used for photography can be quite expensive, so photographers must use caution when operating and packing their cameras and accessories.

Career Options

Animal photographers can specialize by photographing one specific species or a category of animals such as wildlife, horses or pets. There may be further specialization as a photographer finds a particular niche in their area of the industry. For example, an equine photographer might specialize in show, racing, conformation or stallion photography.

Pet photographers generally work directly for owners at their request. They may work in a studio or visit clients in a convenient photo shoot location (i.e., their home or a local park). For more on starting a photography business, check out How to Start a Pet Photography Business.

Some animal photographers focus on supplying images to stock photo agencies. The photographer earns a commission when the stock agency licenses a client to use the image for a fee. Photographers may also choose to bypass stock agencies entirely and sell their own pictures directly for use in advertisements, magazines or websites.

Some animal photographers, especially those involved in wildlife photography, work in the field and travel across the globe in pursuit of their animal subjects. Others, especially pet photographers, maintain a studio location or take photos in a single city or region.

Another option is pursuing photography part-time while holding a full-time position in another industry. Many photographers start out in this fashion, pursuing photography as a hobby on nights and weekends until they build up an adequate portfolio and clientele to begin working full time as a freelancer.

Education & Training

No degree is required to become an animal photographer, but many successful photographers hold a college degree in photography or photojournalism. It is also entirely possible to major in an unrelated area and includes some photography classes as part of the educational experience.

The most important thing for aspiring photographers is to gain experience from those who are experienced in the art of photography, whether this comes from taking formal classes or an apprenticeship with a mentor. Photography is a very technical art, and there are many items of equipment that must be mastered, not to mention the considerations that go into capturing the right shot of an animal that may or may not be a cooperative subject.

Many communities have groups or clubs for photographers. These clubs can connect aspiring photographers and seasoned professionals, as well as provide a forum for discussing new techniques and emerging technology in the field.

Salary

According to payscale.com, photographers had a median salary of $43,000 in 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey does not separate animal photographer salary data from the profession as a whole, but the 2017 median salary for photographers was $32,500 ($15.62 per hour). The lowest 10 percent earned $9.33 per hour, while the highest 10 percent earned $36.09 per hour.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for all photographers will decrease at a 6% rate from 2016 to 2026. Opportunities for animal photographers may do better due to the steadily rising amounts that owners are willing to spend on items related to their pets.

Animal photography will continue to be an accessible career option for freelancers, though there will be keen competition for salaried full-time positions.