Commercial Photographer: Employment Info & Career Requirements

Mar 06, 2019

Learn about the education and training required for a career as a commercial photographer. See what the job entails and what the job prospects are to find out if this is the right career for you.

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Career Definition for a Commercial Photographer

A commercial photographer takes photos that effectively capture the needs and communicate the ideas of her clients. Commercial photographers often specialize in one field, such as portrait, fashion, wedding, wildlife or editorial photography. Commercial photographers may work in advertising or design firms; however, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than half of commercial photographers are freelance.

Education An associate's or bachelor's in photography may be helpful; students can also seek an apprenticeship with a professional photographer.
Job Skills Creative ability, communication skills, business-savviness, ability to use photography equipment and various software
Median Salary (2017)* $32,490 (all photographers)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* -6% (all photographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A bachelor's or associate's degree in photography may be helpful to start a career as a commercial photographer, but is not necessary in most fields. Degree programs teach students the technical elements of photography, such as sharpness, lighting and composition, but this knowledge also can be gained apprenticing with an established commercial photographer. Classes in photography degree programs include drawing, art history and intermediate and advanced photography.

Skills Required

Besides technical knowledge of photography, the most important skills for a commercial photographer are a creative eye and the ability to translate an artistic vision into a memorable image. Commercial photographers must have excellent communication skills and must be business-savvy if they freelance. Mastery of digital and analog photography equipment and photography-related computer programs, as well as the ability to develop a unique style, also are necessary.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the BLS, the number of jobs for photographers is expected to decline 6% from 2016-2026. However, competition for photography jobs is expected to be high, since digital technology makes the tools used by photographers more widely available. Businesses will continue to advertise their products and services and therefore continue to hire commercial photographers. Median annual earnings for photographers were $32,490 in 2017.

Alternate Career Options

Similar career options within this field include:

Desktop Publisher

A desktop publisher creates the layout of art and text for printed materials, like posters, brochures, booklets and more. He collects the text and pictures to be used, making edits - such as for size or orientation - as needed, and then uses computer software to create a draft of how the final printed material will look in preparation for publication. There's no single education path to becoming a desktop publisher, but a minimum of an associate's degree in a field like graphic design is common. The BLS predicts that jobs for desktop publishers will decline 14% from 2016-2026, because many of the duties performed by desktop publishers can be completed by other occupations, due to the widespread availability of software capable of desktop publishing tasks. The BLS reports that desktop publishers earned median pay of $42,350 in 2017.

Camera Operator

Camera operators use film and video cameras to record broadcast news programming, television shows, film or stage productions, music videos or live events. They may work with directors and editors to get the desired look. Camera operators typically specialize, such as in television, film or live news reporting from the field. Camera operators usually have a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject and complete on-the-job training. Entry-level work may be as an assistant to an experienced camera operator. Camera operators working in TV, video and movies are expected to see 7% job growth from 2016-2026, per the BLS. This occupation paid a median salary of $53,550 in 2017, per the BLS.

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