CAREER DEVELOPMENT / JAN. 15, 2014
version 6, draft 6

How to Become a Photographer - Career Guide

photographer
istock

Among the most popular creative professions is that of photographer. A photography job can take many different forms, but one thing is certain—the job is about much more than just taking pictures. Photographers can specialise in a certain kind of photography, further customizing their careers to fit their particular interests. From wedding photography to commercial photography to photojournalism, the possibilities are almost endless.

What Photographers do…

Work activities vary according to specialisation but most common activities for most photographers include:

  • Marketing and advertising services to attract clients
  • Analysing and deciding how to compose a subject
  • Using various photographic techniques and equipment
  • Capturing subjects in commercial-quality photographs
  • Enhancing the subject’s appearance with natural or artificial light
  • Using photo enhancing software
  • Maintaining a digital portfolio, often on a website, to demonstrate work

Photographers who work for commercial clients will often present finalised photographs in a digital format to the client. However, wedding and portrait photographers, who primarily serve noncommercial clients, often also provide framing services and present the photographs they capture in albums.

Many wedding and portrait photographers are self-employed. Photographers who own and operate their own business have additional responsibilities. They must advertise, schedule appointments, set and adjust equipment, purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, pay bills, and—if they have employees—hire, train, and direct their workers.

In addition, some photographers teach photography classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios.

Bear in mind that there are different specialisations for photographers such as commercial and industrial photographers, aerial photographers, scientific photographers, news photographers, fine arts photographers, university photographers, etc.

Skills Needed for a Photography Job

Vision – To succeed in photography, you need artistic vision. Clients will hire you for your personal perspective, your unique style and your ability to use those things to communicate their message. Your creativity and style can set you apart from the competition in this field.

Communication – Client relationships are very important in a photography career, especially for those who run their own business or freelance, so good communication skills are essential. You’ll need to work with clients to make sure you understand what they want and need.

Technical Skills – Photography requires a certain level of technical skill in order to operate photography equipment to the best effect. As digital photography technology plays an increasingly important role, technical skill becomes even more crucial.

Business Skills – Whether you freelance or have your own photography business, you’ll need to be able to run the administrative end of the business. You’ll need to handle things like pricing, accounts payable and receivable, and marketing.

Education

Although it is possible to get into this profession without a specific degree, in many instances a degree or an equivalent qualification in any of the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • Photography
  • Art and design
  • Fine art
  • Digital imaging
  • Graphics
  • Media studies

The University of Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Derby, Kingston, De Montfort Universities are just a few tertiary institutions offering Bachelors in Photography in the UK. Photography courses are also offered by the London School of Photography, The Center for Adult Learning, etc.

Training and Development

Photographers have a talent or natural ability for taking good photos and this talent is typically cultivated over years of practice. For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio that demonstrates his styles and abilities is essential. This portfolio is necessary because art directors, clients, and others look at an artist’s portfolio when deciding whether to hire or contract with the photographer.

Photographers often start working as an assistant to a professional photographer. This work provides an opportunity to gain experience, build their portfolio, and gain exposure to prospective clients.

Pay

In the UK, the typical average salaries for photographers are as follows:

Entrants to the profession (assistant photographers):  less than £10,000.

UK starting salaries: £10,500 and £21,250.

Senior photographers: £25,000 to £65,000

Salaries can be much higher for those who become famous or highly sought-after.

As with other creative professions, salaries vary enormously. Many photographers work freelance so what they earn is linked to what they are able to charge and how much work they obtain. For this reason, income is likely to vary from year to year.

Job Outlook for Photographers

Photographers will face strong competition for most jobs. Because of reduced barriers to entry, there will be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions. Overall growth will be limited because of the decreasing cost of digital cameras and the increasing number of amateur photographers and hobbyists.

In addition, salaried jobs may be more difficult to obtain as companies increasingly contract with freelancers rather than hire their own photographers. Job prospects will be best for candidates who are multitalented and possess related skills such as picture editing and capturing digital video.

Demand for portrait photographers will continue as people continue to need new portraits. In addition, corporations will continue to require the services of commercial photographers to develop compelling advertisements to sell products.

Finally, declines in the newspaper industry will reduce demand for news photographers to provide still images for print. Employment of photographers in newspaper publishing is projected to decline 36% from 2012 to 2022.

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