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Photography Career

Find out how you can jump start your photography career.

Film photographers should either understand how to develop prints themselves or send the film to a lab for processing. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Film photographers should either understand how to develop prints themselves or send the film to a lab for processing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all individuals with a photography career are self-employed, a much higher ratio than most other occupations. This freedom, along with diverse career possibilities, make a career in photography all the more appealing to those with a creative imagination and a technical understanding of the field.

Required Skills and Knowledge

Photography requires the ability to choose a subject and present that subject in a creative and imaginative manner. However, it also requires some level of photography experience and training. Most professional photographers agree that the most important thing an individual needs to start a photography career is experience. Many individuals start their careers as a photography assistant or intern who carries equipment, sets up props and lights, and watches someone else take the photographs. This arrangement is ideal for learning and adds clout to the resume. Depending on the photography career chosen, individuals may need a college degree to supplement their skill and experience. An associate's degree, bachelor's degree or master's degree is available from private and state universities across the United States.

Additionally, photographers must have thorough knowledge and understanding of the technical side of photography. With advancements in technology, most photographers now use digital cameras, edit photographs on the computer and upload those digital images to websites that produce the prints. Digital imagery has also enabled photographers to create electronic portfolios, broadening their exposure to prospective clients. Those photographers who still choose to use film cameras must either understand how to develop prints themselves or send the film to a lab for processing.

Business skills are essential for freelancing photographers. There's a lot of work that goes into running any kind of photography business, including contract preparation, copyright protection and enforcement, business plan preparation and hiring employees, to name a few.

Photojournalism Career

Photojournalism, also known as news photography, involves taking pictures of newsworthy events, people and places for newspapers, informational websites, magazines and books. Typically, these photographers travel to local areas, but some are required to travel long distances to obtain photographs for a particular story. This career may even result in dangerous working conditions for photojournalists covering events like war and natural disasters.

A photojournalism career does require a degree from an accredited college. Individuals interested in course possibilities, including colleges and even additional training seminars, can find that and more information at the National Press Photographers Association. As of 2008, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) has accredited 112 programs nationwide that can help a photographer launch a photojournalism career.

Portrait Photography Career

One of the more common careers in photography is that of a portrait photographer. Portrait photographers often run their own business and, either at their studio or another specified location, take portrait shots of individuals or groups. Some photographers specialize in one particular type of portrait, such as weddings, or provide all-encompassing services that offer family, senior high school, children, engagement and even maternity portraits. There are a variety of options with this career choice, which depend on the individual photographer's particular skill set, preferences and the consumers' needs.

While a degree in photography isn't required for this career choice, a business degree may be helpful with the transactional aspects of business. Portrait photographers will need to know how to establish their business from a legal standpoint, by registering and obtaining the pertinent licenses. Additionally, portrait photographers will need to have management skills to run their business successfully, including the following:

  • Managing accounts payable and receivable
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Clerical abilities (such as maintaining records and scheduling appointments)
  • Knowledge of human resources practices, if employees are necessary

Commercial Photography Career

Commercial photography opens up many possibilities and, while a degree is helpful in advancing these career choices, it's not typically necessary. Some commercial photographers take pictures of merchandise for advertisements. Others are involved in fashion photography, taking portraits of models for magazines and other publications. Some commercial photographers take shots of buildings, artifacts or landscapes for other various media and publication needs. Those interested in industrial photography take pictures of machinery, products, and employees in order to further analyze business practices, market a product or document industry advancements.

Additionally, freelance commercial photographers may choose to make a living by selling stock images. Stock photography is a service that sells downloads of pictures to various consumers who need an image to portray a particular scene, action, behavior or emotion. Stock photographers receive royalties when downloads of their images are purchased.

Typically, stock photography is done through a website in which the photographer submits digital images for approval.

Other Photography Career Options

There are a variety of other careers available to the individual whose passion is photography:

  • Fine arts photographers take photographs in their own style, often providing an interesting perspective, and sell the results in galleries or art shows.
  • Scientific photographers, who need a basic knowledge of scientific procedures, take pictures to document data and phenomenon in science and medical fields.
  • Advanced photographers use their talents to become the photography editor of a publication, or teach photographic skills to others.
  • Police photographers capture crime scenes and photograph individual pieces of evidence. They are often required to be on call so that they can take pictures of fresh crime scenes.
  • Aerial photographers take pictures of landmarks, such as homes, office buildings and hospitals, and natural disasters from the seat of an airplane.
  • Government photographers might photograph important political figures in their daily routines or congress in action.

Regardless of the type of photography career chosen, individuals must maintain a portfolio of their work. Professional photographers also recommend that individuals only start a photography career if they have a passion for it. Furthermore, photographers should expect to meet enthusiastic competition for job openings in this field, since the number of individuals interested is much higher than the career opportunities available.

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