Become a Magazine Photo Editor: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 03, 2020

Research the requirements to become a magazine photo editor. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in magazine photo editing.

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Should I Be a Magazine Photo Editor?

Magazine photo editors manage the selection, placement, context, editing, and overall use of photographs in publications. They may also assign projects to photographers, direct photo shoots, and write captions. These professionals should have a strong understanding of photography, as well as strong management skills. This sought-after career allows for individuals to express creativity. However, as with many upper-level editorial jobs, the position can involve long hours, overtime work, and high stress under deadlines.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Photography, photojournalism or a related field
Experience Work experience for advancement; professional portfolio
Key Skills Creativity, attention to detail, ability to work within a team, strong communication skills, proficiency with Adobe Photoshop and other photo editing software, ability to work long hours, nights and weekends
Salary (2018) $59,480 per year (Median wage for all editors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Creativity is a hallmark of magazine photo editors. Like other editorial jobs, this position requires attention to detail, the ability to work with a team, and strong communication skills, as well as the physical and mental stamina to work long hours, including nights and weekends. Magazine photo editors are comfortable using Photoshop and other photo editing software programs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2018 that the median salary for editors was $59,480.

Steps to Be a Magazine Photo Editor

Becoming a magazine photo editor requires a combination of formal education and hands-on learning.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Photo editing jobs typically require candidates to know how to match images to text in magazines. Degree programs in photography and photojournalism teach students how to capture subjects on film and use photo editing software. Photojournalism programs may include courses in reporting, multimedia, and staff management, while photography programs might cover the technical aspects of photography and how to shoot different subjects.

  • Gain practical experience. Students can learn about the magazine industry through internships at local, national or online publications. Interns may work with photographers and writers, assist with shoots, and revise images. Working as a photographer's apprentice or assistant allows for direct experience taking and editing photos. College newspapers typically have openings for photographers or photo editors as well.
  • Develop Web skills. Photo editors may be expected to work on both the print and online versions of a magazine. Students should use their time in school to build skills in online publishing and social media.

Step 2: Create a Portfolio

Photographers use portfolios to showcase their strongest work and give prospective employers an idea of their ability and skill level. Magazine photo editors may be assigned tasks in various fields, so demonstrating an understanding of different types of photography, such as news and sports, is crucial. Candidates may also include work that shows their proficiency in image editing and layout.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Aspiring photo editors can start out as photographers or assistant photo editors at newspapers or magazines. The duties of an assistant editor may include scheduling photographers, finding appropriate stock or commissioned photos, managing photo libraries, and pitching story ideas. Photographers may freelance or work part-time before advancing to a full-time position.

  • Join a professional organization. Professional organizations such as the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) provide mentorship, continuing education and job listings for photographers. Prospective photo editors can use these organizations to strengthen their industry knowledge and build contacts.

Magazine photo editors learn about the creative and technical aspects of photography for print and online publications through bachelor's degree programs in photography or photojournalism, coupled with internship and entry-level work experience, as demonstrated by a portfolio.

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