How to Become a Photographer: Job Description, Salary & School


In the famous words of Andre 3000, we want you to get ready to shake it like a Polaroid picture! Why? Well, because today we are going to tell you all about how to become a photographer! Get ready, boys and girls because we are going to give you the angle on this super cool profession.

How to Become a Photographer

How to Become a PhotographerThe photography profession is one in which you will want and need to have a pretty solid understanding of the technical aspects of photography. Having a strong sense of creativity will be super helpful as well and is a big part of getting the perfect shot. Whether you are interested in using digital cameras and computers to create your work or prefer to shoot using film and a darkroom – the choice is yours and the potential to create amazing work is endless.

Some people decide to just pick up a camera and start shooting and leave the rest up to chance in the hopes that their talent will stand up on its own. For those that aren’t too keen on trying to become a photographer this way, no worries because we have another option for you. Let’s find out what the steps are to become a photographer now!

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Getting a formal education is not a requirement for those that want to become a photographer, but you will learn a lot and many successful photogs decide to go for the gusto with a degree. The most common degree that is sought by future photographers is a bachelor’s degree program in photography. It is particularly common for those that are interested in entering into the fields of photojournalism as well as industrial and scientific photography.

During you schooling, you will learn a lot and will eventually be able to implement what is learned in a practical setting. During your bachelor’s degree program you will learn the different areas of technical proficiency that are required as well as being able to hone in on your artistic style and abilities. You can expect your bachelor’s degree to take about four years on the average.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Once you have earned your degree in photography, you will be ready to start gaining some experience in the work place. An excellent way to gain some work experience is to work as an assistant to become a more experienced photographer. While working under this guidance you will earn a ton of extra skills and tricks of the trade. You will be ready to hit the ground running on your own in no time. You may even be able to turn you assistant job into a more full time position if that floats your boat too.

What Does a Photographer Do?

We know what you are thinking! “Well, duh! Photographers take pictures!” Yes, this is definitely true and we may or may not be a total space cadet at times, which would lead you to think that the obvious might elusive. This however, is not one of those times. There is actually a lot more to being a photographer than just pointing and shooting. Here are some of the duties that a photographer is responsible for:

  • Market yourself and your services to generate business and attract potential clients. Social media is a great way to get your name out there and show off your skills
  • Draft creative ideas based upon your subject matter. Once you have an idea of where you want to go creatively, get snapping!
  • Utilize the various technical skills that you learned while you were in school (barring that you decided to attend one) or from your assistant photographer position
  • Take photographs of your subject using various lighting sources in either natural or artificial form. Use your lighting tools to the best of your ability to enhance the appearance of your subject
  • The use of photo enhancing software will be a very helpful part of your job. You will be able to edit the photos in a variety of ways that can make huge improvements as well as completely changing the look of the photo
  • Maintain a portfolio to share with clients and other photographers. You can have a digital portfolio, website displaying your shots or you can kick it old school with actual prints. Whatever floats your boat will work as long as you have something to show off

Special Qualities

We all want to do our jobs well and to become successful in whatever our niche area of expertise is. There are some special skills that will give you a leg up over some of the other professionals out there that may not be as awesome as you are. There are a few things that will make you an extra special snowflake, so let’s find out what these special qualities are so that you can get to work!

  • Artistic Ability: Photography is a true art form and in order to capture the best images possible you will need to have artistic abilities to hone in on certain things. Photographers often look at photos and ask themselves what can be done to enhance the artistic quality of the shot. Having a “good eye” for how colors, shadows, shades, light and different camera lenses can be used to achieve a  stunning photo is super important
  • Business Skills: For the most part, photographers are self employed and run their own businesses. This obviously requires a good amount of business savvy in order to remain on top of clients, appointments, marketing, financials and other employees if you have them. There is also that little issue of editing and preparing the photos in time for deadlines to keep your customers happy
  • Computer Skills: Your main tool with definitely be your camera, but you will more than likely use a computer to work on postproduction work by using photo editing software. You will probably also want to use social media and a website to promote yourself and that’s clearly not possible with some computer know-how. If you are a business owner, a computer will again be a necessity to function as best you can and to keep yourself organized
  • Customer Service Skills: You are pretty much in charge of your own fate as a photographer. You serve as the sole representation of your skills and business. These reasons are exactly why having customer service skills is so important. There will be times when your clients will stretch your patience to the limit and make you want to cut their contract in half. If you are able to move passed that with a smile on your face and still turn out excellent work, then they will tell their friends and family about the great photog that took pictures for them. Grin and bear it, my friends because it will pay off in the end.
  • Detail Oriented: During your postproduction editing work you will have to keep a sharp eye out for even the smallest details that may make or break the quality of your photos. It’s pretty important to be careful and thorough when reviewing and editing your shots.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Sure, you don’t always have to photograph people, but there will be many times (especially in the early days of your career) when you will be required to shoot human subjects. Fostering a good relationship with an easy rapport with make you job easier and the client will be happier and easier to work with too. You will also need interpersonal skills to drum up business and network in your community. People aren’t really going to want to do business with someone that could pose as a stand in for Oscar The Grouch, so slap a smile on your face and shake some hands

Different Types of Photography

There are several different types of photography that you can specialize in once you’ve mastered using a camera and are comfortable in your new photographer’s skin. We want to tell you all about the options you have so that you can explore each one during your own time to see which one (or ones) strike your fancy.

Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is great for those that enjoy the beautiful backdrop that nature has to offer. There will be tons of amazing scenery to shoot in a wide variety of places. You will be able to freeze nature at its most beautiful.

Wildlife Photography

Possible one of the coolest types of photography is definitely of the wildlife variety. You are able to get out into the wild with amazing animals and capture them in their natural habitats. How cool is that?! A lot of wildlife photographers work with journals, exhibitions or wildlife conservation groups, so if you’re interested in snapping some pictures of lions, tiger and bears (oh, my!) definitely check for jobs in those place.

Aerial Photography

If you are a fan of heights, aerial photography may just be the thing for you. This shooting style is meant to capture amazing scenes and events from high altitudes. Many aerial photographers use airplanes, air balloons, parachutes and skyscrapers to score the best shots.

Sports Photography

Just as the name suggests, sports photographers photographer sporting events right there on the field, in the ring, on the rink or on the court. This is actually a difficult niche to photograph because your subjects are always on the move. You will need to have special equipment to obtain a picture that is anything but a blur.

Portrait Photography

Possibly one the style of the field is portrait photography. You will have subjects that are human and if your client is a pet lover, they may hire you to capture their furry friend in a portrait. This is also one of the more popular forms of photographer, so the market may be a bit saturated and the competition is  a bit higher as a result.

Architectural Photography

All of those really cool structural shots of buildings and homes that you see in magazines are shot by architectural photographers. These are a field that requires the artist to have a keen eye for detail and the ability to think outside of the box a bit. The better the quality of the shots are, the more it showcases the structure. Real estate agents and home building contractors like to hire this type of photography to market their businesses.

Wedding and Event Photography

This again is kind of a no brainer, but we will still explain it to you anyway. Wedding and event photographers take pictures of…wait for it…weddings and events! Shocking, isn’t it? This is actually a great area for newcomers to slide into, not because you don’t have to have skills, but because it provides a great learning ground. You will be able to master you picturing taking skills as well as fine tune you postproduction editing.

Fashion Photography

If high end designer clothes and models that are in need of a sandwich (probably more than one sandwich is needed) then working as a fashion photographer may just be the thing for you. You will use a lot of creative lighting tricks to showcase the models, clothing and accessories.

Macro Photography

If you are ready for your close up, then you may also be ready to try your hand at macro photography. These shots are taken at super close range in an attempt to show off the finer details of your subject. Many macro photographers like to snap pictures of flowers, insects, textures or interwoven fabrics and even animal life.

Baby and Family Photography

If you ever trolled around Pinterest, then you are likely to have seen cute ideas for family photos, pregnancy announcements and baby photo shoots. This is a pretty fun area of photography to work in and there is a pretty big market for it. Plus, just think of all of those chubby cheeked little babies that you’ll get to play with…uh we mean that you’ll get to take pictures of.

Photographer Salary

In the wise words of Puff Daddy,  Diddy,  Diddy or whatever the heck he calls himself these days, “It’s all about the Benjamins!”. Let’s get down to business and talk about money, honey! You’ll need to be able to buy all of those fancy pieces of camera equipments, so let’s see if you’ll earn enough clams to do so or if you’ll have to sell your plasma to make some extra cash,

We called upon our homies at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what kind of salary is expected for photographers. Before we tell you that information, we’d like to remind you that there will be differences in your pay based upon what city and state that you work in, what type of photographer you are, if you own your own business and a myriad of other factors. So, with that in mind, let’s find out the dirty details.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on their website that the median yearly salary of a photographer is $29,280. Since we are nice and like you guys so much, we are going to even tell you about what you may earn as a newbie right out the gate. For those of you that may be a little green, you may earn a salary is $17,770 a year. For those of you that are masters of your craft, you may be able to earn a salary $66,360 a year. We are starting to think that you may be able to buy some of that fancy equipment after all and keep your plasma in your body where it belongs.

Photographer Salary

Photographers to Know

The world of photography is loaded with some super talented people and we are pretty excited to tell you about them. Make sure that you click on each of the photographer’s names as well so that you can see a sample of their awesome shots too!

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams is probably a name that you know and recognize and for good reason. His photographic skills are amazing to say the least. He is able to capture nature at its most beautiful and enhanced is with his work in the darkroom. Reading about him and his thoughts on photography is also a great way to improve your own skills and we suggest giving that a try if you decide to step behind the lens.

Yousuf Karsh

Pictures can be used to tell a story and not many photographers tell a story without words as well as Yousuf Karsh. He is a very talented portrait photographer that is able to give you incredible insight on his subjects from behind his camera. Karsh says that his portraits are meant to communicate with people and that he looks for shots of his subjects that show them in a natural and vulnerable state so that you can see who they really are.

Robert Capa

Here is a bit of interesting information that most do not know. Robert Capa isn’t actually a real person, it is actually a random name that photographer Endre Friedman attached to his photographs. Friedman is very talented and respected war photography with a career that saw him shooting 5 wars and countless soldiers. He was so dedicated to his craft that he could often be found among the soldiers in the trenches. He felt that in order to get a truly amazing photograph, you had to know and get close to your subject.

Photography Schools

Learning at Full Sail University has always centered around interaction and the exchange of ideas. Our online curriculum fully embraces this philosophy. We have developed our own online learning environment with the aim of being the most people-focused education experience on the web.

Programs:

  • Graphic Design, Bachelor of Science (Online)

Your creativity is a big part of who you are and where you're going. To take it, and your future, as far as you want, you need an education that's focused on developing your talents and putting you on the path toward the creative career that stirs your imagination.

Programs:

  • Interior Design (BFA)
Locations: Durham

Photography Tips for Newbie’s

We are kind of like the Army in the sense that we want you to “be the best that you can be” at your job as a photographer. Whether you are just learning how to use a camera or already have mad skills – there are always things that you can learn that will improve the quality of your shots. It is with this in mind that we scoured the internet for tips and tricks, spoke to our friends in the field and read a book or two on the subject. We found some great tips that should prove to be pretty helpful and we are so excited to share them with you now. Grab a pen and get ready to take some notes!

  • Don’t Go Overboard: We know that it is easy to get excited about all the newest and greatest cameras, lenses, editing software and lighting apertures. We think all of this stuff is really cool too…but don’t go crazy buying stuff that you may not need or ever use, especially if you are just starting out. You can actually get some pretty amazing pictures from inexpensive point and shoot cameras with the right lighting and editing. You don’t have to have the best of everything, just the best of some things. Add to your equipment collection slowly and after much careful consideration.
  • Tripod Time: This is a photography accessory that you can rob your bank account for. Cheaper tripods are often shaky and don’t do much better than someone with a shaky hand holding the camera. Go ahead and purchase a more expensive tripod and make sure you put it to good use. Hopefully your pictures will be great and you will make the money you put out for it back quickly. Then you’re winning all around!
  • Treat Your Camera Like Your Amex Card: What we are saying is: don’t leave home without it. Keep that bad boy with you at all times along with a small bag with lighting equipment and a tripod. Trust us, just do it. You never know when a great photo opp may happen and it would really be a huge bummer to miss out on some amazing shots because you were unprepared. So, always be prepared!

Shot Time…

That got your attention, didn’t it?! We aren’t talking about those kinds of shots, silly! We are talking about camera shots, jeez! Take a quick look at this video from talented photographer Phillip McCordall. He talks in depth about how to become a photographer and provides some great tips of the trade. Watch and learn!

Final Grade

We always like to take a little bit of time to break down the more important elements that go into pursuing a specific career, so that’s what we are going to do for you now.

Degree vs. Debt: B

You don’t have to get a degree to become a photographer. Earning a degree will definitely help you develop your photography skills, however. If you decide to go to school for photography a bachelor’s degree will be sufficient. Four years of schooling can cost a nice chunk of change for sure, but your annual income isn’t too shabby and can be seen as an investment in your future business.

Difficulty of Degree: B+

The degree programs available for photographers are really not that difficult. There are a lot of art related classes and not many that require technical skills. The classes available will certainly bush your creative boundaries, but this is a good thing even though it may become frustrating at times.

Happiness Quotient: A

What could possibly make you happier than pursuing something that you love and have a passion for? Not much, right? You may also act as your own boss, which means that you make your own schedule and have complete creative control. Sounds pretty great to us.

Job Outlook: D

Yeah, we are big fat meanies and gave the job outlook a D. There is a good reason for this low grade and it all comes down to the fact that the expected job growth is only 4% between 2012 and 2022. This is much slower than the average for other occupations and is cause for concern to us. We don’t want you putting all your eggs in one camera bag only to be left empty handed and unable to find work. We imagine that the slow growth is due to the lower costs of camera equipment and the increasing amount of people that fancy themselves amateur photographers. These two factors can really hurt a business, so just keep that in mind before making any decisions.

Other Career Possibilities

Want to get a feel for what people do in this field?

Perspective Fine Art Photography

The Perspective Fine Art Photography gallery in Evanston, IL is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting photography as fine art. The gallery has guest speakers, monthly talks from featured artists, annual juried photo exhibitions and annual exhibitions of work from high school students.

Dan’s Camera City

Dan’s Camera City in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania has served photographers since 1977 and was recognized by the New York Times as “one of the most innovative camera stores in the country”. In addition to film processing and equipment sales, Dan’s Camera City offers classes and special events.

Richard Corman

Photographer Richard Corman is a native New Yorker who has spent decades “capturing poignant moments of human triumph”. He has photographed such famous figures as Madonna, Nelson Mandela and Robert De Niro. Check out his portfolio here.

Harold Davis

Harold Davis‘ work is characterized by his creative combination of photography and digital manipulation to create a new medium. He specializes in High Dynamic Range photography to allow the lens to capture more than is visible to the human eye, as well as night photography.

Sources and Recommended Reading

For starters, thanks for reading today! It is much appreciated! We hope that you found some useful information in here today and that you’ll come back to visit us again. If you’d like more information on how to become a photographer, feel free to click on these links!

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