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Portrait Photographer: Career Information and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a portrait photographer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and career outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Portrait photographers need to have a good eye for conceptualizing an image, setting up the appropriate staging, and positioning their subjects effectively to produce the best pictures possible. A career in photography can be pursued with on-the-job training, although a degree in photography may be an advantage when preparing for this competitive career field.

Essential Information

Portrait photographers utilize creative and technical skills to conceptualize, stage, capture and edit photographs of individuals or groups of people. Prospective portrait photographers must have a specialized skill set and adequate equipment to perform this job correctly, so formal education or on-the-job training is necessary.

Required Education On-the-job training at minimum; postsecondary programs available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (all photographers)
Average Salary (2015)* $40,280 (all photographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Portrait photographers may operate out of a studio or work on location, with schedules that vary depending on the types of clients and jobs they take. Artistic ability is as important as technical skill in this field, and portrait photographers face the added challenge of working closely with clients, a feat that requires good interpersonal communication skills. Portrait photography requires specialized equipment such as lighting fixtures, lenses, cameras, tripods and editing software. The majority of photographers are self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), meaning that many photographers have the additional duties of running a business, marketing to reach prospective clients, handling all the billing and sometimes managing a staff.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, portrait photography is a highly competitive field due to the higher percentage of prospective photographers joining the workforce than there are available positions. Between 2014 and 2024, photography positions in general were expected to increase about 3%, which is a slower-than-average rate. The BLS reported an average annual income for photographers of $40,280 as of May 2015.

Education Requirements

On-The-Job Training

Portrait photographers are expected to have certain technical skills and expertise, and these qualifications can sometimes be achieved through on-the-job training instead of through formal education. Some large portrait studio companies offer full training as part of their hiring process. Wedding photographers, who fall under the general title of portrait photographers, often hire assistants and other staff. Internships completed during a degree program also count as on-the-job training for portrait photographers.

Portrait Photography Certificate

Certificate programs or continuing education courses can help potential portrait photographers learn the basics in a short amount of time. While continuing education courses generally run a set number of weeks, certificate programs may involve completing photography classes in sequence over the course of more than one semester. These programs generally include information on using digital and traditional methods to capture photos, basic business practices, digital photo editing, lighting methods, equipment techniques and artistic instruction on composition.

Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor's degree programs in photography provide a more thorough education on the concepts, practices and skills necessary to succeed as a portrait photographer. They include more theoretical courses and focus more on artistic principles than certificate or associate's programs. Coursework could include classes on the history of photography, business and legal practices for photographers, advanced editing techniques and other artistic and technical subjects. Bachelor's degree programs in photography often include hands-on lab experience and internships for real-word experience.

Portrait photographers need to be skilled with people and able to work effectively in a variety of settings. This may mean visiting a school and taking photographs of students, having clients come to their studio for portraits, or attending a wedding to photograph the ceremony and reception.


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