Career Information for a Degree in Commercial Photography

Sep 26, 2019

There are several focus areas available within the field of commercial photography. For instance, commercial photographers can specialize in industrial photography, portrait photography or photojournalism, depending on their career goals.

Essential Information

A commercial photography degree program focuses on foundational art concepts and photography techniques. Students take classes in art history, color theory and digital photography. Lab courses teach about darkroom development and film editing as well as special tools, such as filters, specialty lenses and flashes. Students also learn the business and sales aspects of photography work. With a degree in commercial photography, graduates might be able to find work in such fields as industrial photography, portrait photography or photojournalism.

Career Industrial Photographer Portrait Photographer Photojournalist
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Entry-level experience and portfolio Entry-level experience and portfolio Entry-level experience and portfolio
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* -6% (for all photographers) -6% (for all photographers) -6% (for all photographers)
Average Salary (2018)* $39,130 (for photographers working in professional, scientific and technical services) $41,560 (for photographers working in personal services) $49,680 (for photographers working for newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Although photography is a creative profession that requires some natural talent, commercial photography programs also help students develop photography skills, teach students how to cultivate contacts and help them find internships for work experience. Commercial photographers can sell their own work as art or work as a staff photographer for news media outlets and portrait companies. They might specialize in a particular type of photography, like industrial or portrait photography. Photojournalism represents another potential career path.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), photographers, in general, earned an average salary of $42,770 in 2018. Jobs in the field are anticipated to decrease 6% for the years 2018 through 2028, which is slower than the average for all occupations.

Industrial Photography

Industrial photographers take pictures of subjects, such as people, products or landscapes, to be used in promotional media, like advertisements or books. Often, this involves the use of different equipment, such as artificial light, multiple lenses and tools for touching up or enhancing photographs. To attract enough work, photographers need technical know-how, creativity and the ability to adapt rapidly to changes in photographic technology.

Portrait Photography

Portrait photographers photograph of groups or individuals, depending on the situation. They can be self-employed with their own studio or work for an established portrait company or department store's photography department. Portrait photographers can specialize in a particular type of event, such as weddings, graduations or school picture day. They often work on location at the client's request. Portrait photographers might set their own appointments and use their own equipment or work with equipment provided by their employer and work when jobs are scheduled. They might need to retouch, develop and mount pictures for clients.

Photographers who own their own studios must purchase all needed supplies, including those necessary for keeping their camera equipment up-to-date. They need to keep records, bill customers, hire other workers and train employees as they grow their business. Freelance photographers might experience high expenses in order to keep up with new technology and equipment.


Photojournalists typically work for newspapers, magazines or Internet news sources. In a freelance capacity, they could photograph newsworthy events and market their work to one or more publications. They could also obtain staff positions and work with other journalists on assignment.

Individuals who want to become photographers can hone their skills by earning a bachelor's degree in photography, during which time they develop a portfolio of work. They can use this to demonstrate their skills to employers or clients who may hire them for work in industrial photography, portrait photography or photojournalism.

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