What Does an Animal Photographer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Grace Kim © The Balance 2019 

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

Animal Photographer Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Capture professional-quality images of animal subjects
  • Plan the composition of photographs
  • Use professional photography equipment, lighting, and techniques
  • Enhance images with photo-editing software
  • Archive and manage a database of images
  • Maintain a professional portfolio to showcase work and advertise to potential clients

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, such as their home or a local park.

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.

Animal Photographer Salary

An animal photographer's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey does not separate animal photographer salary data from the profession as a whole:

  • Median Hourly Wage: $16.35
  • Top 10% Hourly Wage: $36.71
  • Bottom 10% Hourly Wage: $9.54

Education, Training, & Certification

  • Education: 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.
  • Training and experience: The most important thing for aspiring photographers is to gain training 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.

Animal Photographer Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities:

  • Artistic skills: Animal photographers must have an eye for capturing balanced, interesting images of their animal subjects. 
  • Technical skills: Most photographers use specialized computer photo software to crop and manipulate images, so computer and technology skills are generally of high value.
  • Interpersonal skills: Animal photographers must listen to and work well with their clients or employers to capture the images they want and need.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that employment in the general field of photography will decline 6 percent through 2026. Animal photography will continue to be an accessible career option for freelancers, though there will be keen competition for salaried full-time positions.

Work Environment

Most photographers need to stand or walk for long periods while taking photos.

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.

Work Schedule

The work schedule of animal photographers often depends on whether they work for themselves, as freelancers, or for companies. Often, their hours are flexible—especially if they're working as freelancers.

Some people choose to pursue photography part-time while holding a full-time position in another industry. Three in 10 photographers work part time, according to the BLS.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming animal photographers may also consider other careers with these median salaries:

  • Art director: $92,780
  • Craft or fine artist: $48,960
  • Graphic designer: $50,370

How to Get the Job

Find a Mentor

A good mentor will help you build your animal photography skills and relationships with others in the field.

Build a Portfolio

Creating and maintaining a digital portfolio of your photography will show potential employers what you can do.

Volunteer

Many animal rescue organizations need volunteer photographers to take pictures of their adoptable pets. Taking such an opportunity can help you gain experience and build your portfolio.