Animal Photographer Career Profile
Animal photographers supply images of animals for use in commercial and artistic endeavors.
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.
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, please refer to the article 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, books, 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 include 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.
According to SimplyHired.com, animal photographers earned an average salary of $44,000 in early 2012. Indeed.com cited a similar earnings average of $42,000 for all photographers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey does not separate animal photographer salary data from the profession as a whole, but the 2010 salary survey found that photographers earned a mean annual wage of $35,980 ($17.30 per hour). The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,350 ($8.34 per hour), while the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,400 ($30.48 per hour).
The BLS survey results showed that the top paying states for photographers by annual mean wage in May of 2011 were the District of Columbia ($56,110), Connecticut ($53,810), New York ($48,630), Illinois ($45,220), and Virginia ($43,390).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for all photographers will increase at an average rate through 2018. Opportunities for animal photographers may increase at a slightly higher rate, 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.