Career Information

Photographer taking a picture
••• images by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

A photographer records events and tells stories using images. He or she takes pictures of people, places, events, and objects. Photographers often specialize in a type of photography. Portrait photographers take pictures of people in studios or on-site at various locations. Some take school portraits or baby pictures. Commercial photographers take pictures that are used in books, advertisements, and catalogs. 

Photojournalists, also known as news photographers, capture images that are usually used to illustrate stories on television news broadcasts or in newspapers or magazines. Aerial photographers take pictures of landscapes and structures from aircraft. Fine arts photographers sell their photographs to the public as pieces of art.

Many people who work in this field are freelancers who operate their own businesses. In addition to taking pictures, their job description includes tasks that business owners must tend to including promoting the businesses to clients, purchasing supplies, hiring and supervising employees, and taking care of financial matters related to operating a business.

Quick Facts

  • Photographers earn a median annual salary of $32,490 or $15.62 hourly (2017).
  • Over 147,000 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • More than half of all photographers are self-employed as freelancers; others work for companies that provide photographic services, broadcast companies, and publishers.
  • While the job outlook for self-employed photographers is excellent—employment will grow faster than the average of all occupations between 2016 and 2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—others working in the field won't fare nearly as well. Employment for them is expected to decline during the same period.

    Roles and Responsibilities

    These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for photographer positions found on

    • "Capture and edit visual content for multiple platforms"
    • "Produce photography in various methods including printed/digital media and deliver final product to various sources including internal and external customers, media, graphic designers, and corporate communications"
    • "Produce quality images by photographing merchandise and/or people in the studio and/or on location"
    • "Perform retouching and image adjustments after shoots"

    The Truth About Being a Photographer

    If you are considering this career, the first thing you should know is that if you like to stay close to home or work from the same location every day, it may not be for you. Photographers often spend time on the road which may include traveling to far-flung places.

    Portrait and commercial photographers, though they spend a lot of time in studios, have to do on-location photo shoots.  Photojournalists also travel, both domestically and internationally. They sometimes find themselves in dangerous locales in order to record newsworthy events.

    The second thing you should know is that employment is often inconsistent and approximately a third of all jobs are part-time. Some jobs are seasonal, as is the case with those who specialize in photographing weddings or graduations. Finally, this isn't a 9 to 5 job. Expect to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. 

    How to Become a Photographer

    While entry-level photojournalists and commercial and scientific photographers usually need a college degree in photography, portrait photographers need only technical proficiency. However, a degree can make a job candidate more competitive. Classes in business, including accounting and marketing, are beneficial to those who are self-employed.

    A photographer must develop a portfolio to showcase his or her work to potential employers and clients. A portfolio is an accumulation of photographs taken over the years and does not only include an artist's best work but should also include pieces that demonstrate the process he or she went through while creating a final product.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need?

    In addition to technical proficiency, a photographer needs specific soft skills, or personal qualities, whether he or she decides to work for someone else or freelance. 

    • Artistic Ability: Photographers are artists who must have the creativity needed to come up with ways to tell stories using images. They need a good eye for using color, light, and composition.
    • Interpersonal Skills: Whether it's the people you are photographing, your clients, or colleagues, you must be able to understand their needs, read their body language, and coordinate your actions with theirs.
    • Communication Skills: Excellent listening and speaking skills will allow you to grasp what others tell you and help you explain things to them.
    • Customer Service: Freelance photographers, in particular, must provide excellent service to their clients because repeat business and positive word-of-mouth are essential to success.
    • Business Skills: Those who run businesses must know how to market themselves, tend to bookkeeping tasks, and keep track of expenses and profits.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    If you opt not to start your own business but instead seek employment as a photographer, these are the qualities employers say are desirable, according to job announcements found on

    • "Work effectively as part of team with correspondent and producer under intense deadline pressure to create high quality news coverage, news packages, interviews, live shots, and breaking news" (Photojournalist)
    • "Keen eye for details. You don’t let any details slip and consistently produce only the highest quality photos"
    • "Ability to be extremely timely"
    • "Maturity, drive, and confidence"
    • "Must be hard-working, a team player, friendly, and honest"
    • "Ability to perform basic problem solving skills is a must"

      Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

      Individuals who have the following traits typically do well in this occupation. A self assessment can help you learn about your interests, personality, and work-related values.

      Related Occupations

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      Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited October 12, 2018).