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Scientific Photographer: Career Summary & Job Description

Scientific photographers explore hidden aspects of the world around us. They take pictures of varied subject matter, using such techniques as aerial, close-up and high-speed photography. Learn about the salary and employment outlook for this profession, in addition to the training and skill requirements, to decide if this job is appealing.

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Career Definition for a Scientific Photographer

Scientific photographers use photo imaging techniques, such as infrared, ultraviolet or thermal imaging, to take pictures that illustrate or record scientific or medical data. Scientific photographers usually have background knowledge in biology, chemistry, engineering or medicine. They often work on scientific teams and are employed by government departments, universities or research facilities.

Education Postsecondary education isn't required, but recommended to improve skills
Job Skills Strong interest in science, attention to detail, creativity, photographic techniques, and knowledge of physics, optics, and photographic principles
Average Salary (May 2017)* $38,710 (for all Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services Photographers)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* -6% (for all Photographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Required Education

Scientific photographers usually have an associate's, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree in scientific photography or a related field, typically taking 2-4 years to complete. Basic courses may include principles of photography, image manipulation and location photography.

Skills Required

Scientific photographers should have a strong interest in science and knowledge of physics, optics and photographic principles. This type of work also requires dedication, care, patience and close attention to detail. Related work experience, familiarity with photographic principles and techniques, and creativity may help a scientific photographer stand out from the competition.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the photography field was expected to decrease 6% from 2016-2026. The average annual salary for photographers working in the professional, scientific and technical services industry as of May 2017 was about $38,710, according to BLS figures. Salaried photography positions may be difficult to find, since more companies are using freelance photographers.

Alternate Career Options

Medical and Scientific Illustrator

These artists combine their knowledge of the sciences with drawing skills to illustrate medical and scientific publications. Those with innate artistic skills may enter the general art profession without formal education; however, these specialty illustrators need coursework in biology and other sciences. They may also benefit from postsecondary education in illustrating or other fine arts. Employment growth from 2016-2026 for fine artists in general was estimated at 6% by the BLS, which is about average. In 2017, fine artists, including illustrators, earned an average annual wage of $57,520, according to the BLS, with those employed by specialized design services, such as the scientific fields, earning $52,930 on average per year.

Film and Video Editors

Those interested in catching scientific subject matter 'on the move' might consider this career by earning a bachelor's degree and getting on-the-job training as an assistant. Fast employment growth of 17% was anticipated by the BLS for the 2016-2026 decade. This profession offered an average annual wage of $83,950 in 2017, per the BLS.

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