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Photographers: Job Description & Career Information

Photographers use digital or film cameras to produce original prints. Find out about the required skills, training, salary and employment outlook, to make an informed career decision.

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Career Definition for Photographers

A photographer uses various techniques, such as enhancing lighting or using specialized filters or lenses, to set the scene for film or digital photographs. Photographers who shoot digital images then upload them to a computer, while those who use film cameras outsource their film for processing or develop it themselves. Photographers also use computer software to modify images, such as cropping them or correcting their color. Photographers may focus their work on a particular specialty, like portrait photography, wedding photography, artistic photography, scientific photography or industrial photography.

Education No college education is necessary, but undergraduate degrees are beneficial for gaining experience and employment; some specialized photography careers may require a bachelor's degree
Job Skills Business and marketing, knowledge of camera functions, using editing software, darkroom and development skills, lighting and composition
Median Salary $32,490 (2017)
Career Outlook -6% (2016-2026)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A college education is not necessary to become a photographer, although it can be beneficial. An associate or bachelor's degree in photographic arts will provide the best opportunities for advancement in the field. Some specialty photography careers, like photojournalism and scientific photography, do usually require a bachelor's degree. It typically takes two to four years to complete an associate or bachelor's degree in photographic arts. Coursework may include basic photography, color photography and the history of art.

Skills Required

Photographers must have a solid understanding of camera functions, lighting and composition. They also must be able to use image manipulation software and have fundamental knowledge of darkroom equipment and procedures. Since the majority of photographers are self-employed, some background in business and marketing also is valuable.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for photographers was $32,490 in May 2017. Employment in photographic arts was expected to decrease at an average rate of -6% from 2016 to 2026, according to BLS figures.

Alternate Career Options

Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators

These editors and camera operators record and construct images for information or entertainment purposes. Similar to the pursuit of photographer jobs, these professionals will have the best employment prospects with bachelor's degrees, and they will also benefit from on-the-job training and experience. An average employment growth of 7% was forecast from 2016-2026 by the BLS for the camera operators, and 17% was predicted for the editors. In 2017, the BLS reported an annual median salary of $61,180 for film and video editors, while camera operators earned $53,550.

Graphic Designers

Normally a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a connected field is required to enter this profession, in which artists formulate visual creations either by hand or with computers. The BLS projected a 4% increase in jobs, from 2016-2026, which is slower than the average occupation. According to the Bureau's 2017 statistics, graphic designers earned an annual median wage of $48,700.

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