Wildlife Photographer: Job Description, Salary and Requirements

Working as a wildlife photographer requires little to no formal education. Learn about the knowledge required, job duties and education of such photographers to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Wildlife photographers provide publications with images of animals, plants and environments from across the globe, although some self-publish as independent artists. In addition to understanding photographic techniques and methods, they must also comprehend the subjects of their images.

Because photographers often work on a freelance basis, there are no strict educational standards in the field since clients purchase rights to the photographs themselves. Although post-secondary education in the field may be preferred, possessing hands-on skills with a camera, being able to develop and edit pictures, and possessing raw vision and talent may easily substitute for formal education.

Required Education None mandatory; certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in photography may be preferred
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 4% for all photographers*
Median Salary (2013) $29,280 for all photographers*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Wildlife Photographer

Wildlife photographers produce images of animals or plants in their natural environments. These portraits often convey a larger picture of life in the wild. In order to do so, wildlife photographers may enhance the photographs or the image through natural or artificial means. From altering the light to utilizing various cameras and lenses, wildlife photographers understand how to produce compelling images through the tools and techniques at their disposal. Finally, wildlife photographers understand how to coax the best images out of a variety of environments and conditions, using equipment that might counteract difficulties or enhance the focus in any natural setting.

Wildlife photographers must also understand the importance of designing and displaying the images to best convey the message of their photographs. Photographers may employ digital techniques to enhance their images in print, and they may also work on printing the images on the type of surface that best allows the images captured to appear lifelike and natural. Depending on the type and stock of film used, photographers can develop their own prints or outsource development to a separate company or individual.

Additional Requirements

Depending on the nature of the employment, wildlife photographers who work for a company or publication may need a college degree. For those interested in freelance work, a number of community colleges, organizations and even wildlife photography magazines offer courses and workshops. Prospective wildlife photographers are often encouraged to pursue positions as assistants to photographers as a form of on-the-job training.

Wildlife photographers are encouraged to understand the environments in and creatures with which they work. They must not interfere with the subjects of their photographs, nor should they put themselves or their subjects in danger. A grasp on cultural context, geography, history and customs is essential. Environmentally, they should have minimal impact, taking care to try to maintain their surroundings as they found them.

Salary of a Wildlife Photographer

Since many wildlife photographers are self-employed and work on a freelance basis, their salaries vary widely by year and individual. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage of all photographers was $36,330 per year or $17.47 per hour as of May 2012 (www.bls.gov).

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