Career Information for a Degree in Photojournalism

Apr 23, 2021

A degree in photojournalism is ideal preparation for a career as a photojournalist, a freelance photographer or a commercial photographer. Photojournalists learn about film and editing, lighting, and technical photography skills, while also learning about how to capture images related to newsworthy stories. Other subject areas include media ethics and news writing.

Essential Information

Photojournalism is different from other branches of photography, because of the important roles played by timeliness, objectivity and narrative. Photojournalists must have not only a keen sense of visual appeal but also an eye for compelling and newsworthy stories. Photojournalism degree programs provide instruction in the techniques and theoretical concepts of news photography, such as courses in film and digital photography, editing, news writing and media ethics. While the obvious path is a career in photojournalism, students who study this major may apply their skills in a variety of ways. They might work as freelance photographers and distribute their work among an assortment of industries, or they may find employment as commercial photographers.

Career Titles Photojournalist Freelance Photographer Commercial Photographer
Education Requirements Associate's or bachelor's degree No formal requirements Associate's or bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 4% decline for all photographers 4% decline for all photographers 4% decline for all photographers
_ Median Salary (2021)** $38,000 per year $44,000 per year $48,000 per year

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Career Options


Photojournalists photograph newsworthy people or events as they happen. This may entail traveling across the country or to foreign destinations at a moment's notice. On locations, photojournalists need to quickly size up situations, set up equipment, gauge light levels, adjust exposure and select film speed. They may face physical danger in war zones or disaster areas. Most are employed by newspapers or other media outlets, but some may be self-employed. The majority of employers prefer photojournalists who have college degrees in related fields.

Freelance Photographer

Freelance photographers sell their work to greeting card or calendar manufacturers, book publishers, private collectors, poster companies and a variety of other clients. They may specialize in photographing subjects like wildlife, architecture, famous people or landscapes. Freelance photographers must have shrewd business sense in order to find new buyers, maintain workflow, advertise their work and determine prices. There is no educational requirements for freelance photographers. Professionals who have training in business may be more prepared to run their own businesses as freelance contractors, though. Additionally, advanced training in photography technologies and software programs may help freelancers build more impressive portfolios to attract potential clients.

Commercial Photographer

Commercial photographers work for advertisement agencies, commercial photography studios, manufacturers and other businesses, taking pictures of products and models. Their photographs might be used in catalogues, promotional materials or stockholder reports, among other possibilities. Commercial photographers may shoot on location or in studios. Since these photographers work for businesses, employers may prefer to hire professionals who hold associate's or bachelor's degrees related to photography or marketing. Commercial photographers also need to build portfolios to display their artistic style and experience.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

These professionals and other photographers were expected to see a 4% decline in employment from 2018-2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Such a decline might be a result of digital photography equipment becoming more accessible to the masses, and therefore businesses may have their own employees use cameras instead of hiring professional photographers, per the BLS.

In 2021, reported that photojournalists earned a median salary of $38,000, freelance photographers earned an average hourly rate of $25.05, and commercial photographers earned a median salary of $48,000. Salary data from the BLS indicated that photographers in general earned a median annual salary of $41,280 in 2020. Records from that same year showed that certain industries paid photographers better than other industries. For example, photographers employed by aerospace products and parts manufacturing companies earned average annual salaries of $91,830 in 2020, and motion picture and video industries paid photographers on average $78,470 during that same year, per the BLS.

Although a bachelor's degree is not required to begin a career, a photojournalism degree is ideal preparation for a career in photography. In addition to working for a publication, photojournalism graduates can work as freelance photographers or commercial photographers. Jobs for all types of photographers were expected to decline by 4% from 2019 to 2029, and salaries varied depending on the type of work and the employer.

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