How to Become a Photographer

Don't go anywhere without your camera? You might want to consider this career.

Female photographer

Have you always been snap happy, taking unique photos of different locations but have never had the guts to take the leap and make a career out of your passion? Starting off as a self-employed photographer can be challenging, but if you believe in yourself, you could just be the next Annie Leibovitz. If you don’t want to take a huge risk, though, you can simply opt to join a business as an assistant photographer.

From weddings to graduations and babies to portraits and fashion, your choice of industry is immense – the possibilities are truly endless. To find out the full details of the career path of a photographer, including salary, working hours and qualifications, continue reading below.

1. Research the Profession

To ensure that a career in photography is right for you, it’s essential to fully research the profession and get a clear understanding of what is involved, including daily duties, skills, working conditions and salary information.

Job Description

Photographers usually tend to specialise in a particular area of photography (for example, photojournalism, fashion and scientific or medical shooting). Their day-to-day tasks usually involve:

  • Using an extensive range of technical equipment, including cameras, lenses, lighting and specialist software
  • Taking pictures of their models, landscape or objects, and arranging props for the shoot
  • Communicating with clients, putting them at ease, encouraging them and directing them
  • Editing and retouching images if necessary
  • Finding unique locations and setting them up to ensure they have the perfect backdrop for the shoot
  • Managing the dispensation and use of images, checking for quality and dealing with clients' concerns
  • Preparing proofs, albums, framed prints, videos and electronic versions of the images
  • Keeping up to date with trends, industry news and developing new techniques
  • Liaising with other professionals if they are part of a business
  • Promoting business and networking to build a solid portfolio
  • Preparing invoices, arranging appointments and schedules, and performing general administration tasks to keep the business operating

Essential Skills and Qualities

  • Artistic ability: This is, without a doubt, the most important skill any photographer should have. You’ll need a good eye for creating a memorable image. The ability to use colour, shadow, shade light and distance to compose an amazing image is second to none.
  • Business skills: Photographers must be good entrepreneurs; although their talent can ‘speak for itself’, with so much competition they need to be able to market themselves effectively and attract prospective clients to keep their profits high and their business running.
  • Computer skills: Most photographers do their own postproduction work and must be skilled at using photo editing software. For instance, Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Creative Suite are great programs that allow snappers to alter lighting, blemishes and other imperfections.
  • Interpersonal skills: You have to be a ‘people person’ to succeed in this demanding industry. You’ll be dealing with a number of different personality types on a daily basis and will need the skill and patience to handle difficult clients.
  • Attention to detail: To be successful in this profession, you need to deliver pure perfection, meaning that everything before, during and after the shot has to be flawless.

Working Hours and Conditions

Hours can be long and unpredictable, and will be led by busy periods and seasons. Wedding photographers, for example, will be at their busiest during spring/summer when it’s the peak wedding season. They’re also be expected to work long hours and on weekends.

On the other hand, as a fashion photographer for a magazine, you can expect to work between 35-40 hours a week, and your working hours will be a lot more reasonable.

Freelance photographers may have periods of working day and night to keep up with their appointments, followed by phases of little or no work at all.

The nature of this profession is unpredictable; photojournalists could be called for a last-minute assignment and will need to drop everything to travel overnight to the location. The time spent on the job could also be unknown and you may end up staying away from home for long periods of time.

Salary Prospects

Working as a photographer can be a very rewarding career. The median annual salary for photographers in the US ranges between $49,284 and $70,083. In the UK, salaries for set contracts can range from £17,000 to £35,000, whereas freelance can make £19,000-£65,000, depending on demand.

2. Get the Qualifications

Although you can work as a photographer without any formal qualification, entry-level positions in the industry usually require a bachelor’s degree, especially in the field of photojournalism and scientific photography. Depending on where you are studying, you can either obtain a full degree in photography or study a related subject in arts.

An alternative option if you don’t want to complete a three-year degree is a variety of different courses. These programmes generally cover basic photography techniques, as well as the business and marketing side of photography.

Snappers that are interested in further developing their skills can enrol on a master’s of fine arts in photography. If you do select this option, you will be able to teach in educational institutions if you wish to in the future.

3. Land Your First Job

Depending on what route you want to take, landing your first job as a photographer might be tricky. There are a number of job boards that have listings of full-time and freelance employment opportunities which could be a great way to help you build up a solid portfolio before you decide to get out there on your own.

Alternatively, you can start by taking photos of your friends and family, asking them to share your work and begin networking. You could even shoot a few events for free; if organisers like your work, you’ll start getting clients through ‘word of mouth’ advertising.

Meanwhile, it’s important to set up a website and launch a social media presence to stay current and to continue building a strong personal brand.

4. Develop Your Career

With so many different types of photography, there’s no clear and set route for progression. How you choose to develop your career will rely entirely on your skills, passion and dedication to your job.

Most freelance photographers aspire to setting up their own business and eventually having employees working for them, while others dream of working for big publications, laboratories or TV stations. As you work and discover new professional skills, you’ll determine what route you want your career to take.

Your chances of making it big as a photographer purely rely on your commitment to your career path. And if you are willing to travel, as well as work late nights and weekends, you’ll achieve greater success…

Do you feel like photography is the only job option for you? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Salary information is based on data compiled and published by and Glassdoor.