How to Be a Photographer: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a photographer. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in photography.

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Do I Want to Be a Photographer?

Photographers produce images using cameras. The profession requires strong technical understanding and creativity. Some photographers use digital cameras and edit photos on a computer, but many continue to shoot film and develop photos in a lab or darkroom. Portrait, commercial, industrial, scientific, news or fine arts photography are just a few of the areas in which a photographer can specialize. Travel might be required, and freelance jobs may be quite competitive.

Job Requirements

Though a formal education isn't always required, some photographers may choose to earn a bachelor's degree. A portfolio of work to show potential customers is crucial. The following table summarizes the core requirements for photographers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Generally none required beyond a high school diploma or equivalent, though some photographers may be required to earn bachelor's degrees*
Degree Field Photography or a field related to a photographer's area of employment*
Experience None needed to enter the profession; photographers can develop their portfolios with experience, which can improve job prospects*
Key Skills Artistic ability, business skills, customer service skills, attention to detail, interpersonal skills*
Computer Skills Many photographers use photo-editing software, like Adobe Photoshop*
Technical Skills Expertise with traditional and digital cameras, as well as tripods, flash attachments and filters**
Additional Requirements Some travel may be required*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Though a formal education may not be required, some photographers, particularly photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers, need to complete bachelor's degree programs in photography. For those whose interests lean more toward art photography, technical proficiency and artistic ability is typically all that's required; however, many art and liberal arts colleges and universities offer courses in photographic design and composition. Aspiring photographers may want to consider completing a photography program in order to learn the necessary technical skills. These programs typically take 4 years to complete.

Success Tips:

  • Develop a portfolio. A portfolio showcasing a selection of work is a necessary marketing tool for any aspiring photographer. Students in photography programs should use their best and most impressive work to start creating a professional portfolio.
  • Complete an internship to gain practical experience. Some schools offer internship opportunities for students in photography programs; interns may work for newspapers, museums or galleries. These experiences typically take place in the last semester of school and may require a portfolio presentation or submission of work in a public viewing, such as through a student gallery.
  • Build technical skills.Given the use of digital cameras, photographers need to know how to manipulate images using technical software. Most photography programs teach students how to use photo-editing software such as Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. Final Cut Studio and iMovie are examples of video editing programs that schools may offer to teach photographers how to upload their images and translate them into videos.
  • Take advantage of school facilities to practice photography skills. Galleries, darkrooms and digital laboratories are some of the facilities available to prospective photographers completing a bachelor's degree program. While the options vary by school, most are equipped with PC and MAC computer labs containing scanners, printers and editing decks as well as professional photography studios with lighting and props.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

A photographer can begin his or her career by working as an assistant to an experienced photographer. Under such tutelage, a beginner develops technical skills and learns how to run a photography business. Assistants could also acquire exposure to potential clients.

Success Tips:

  • Network with other professionals. A photographer just starting out may want to pursue opportunities to meet and make connections with others in the profession. Joining camera clubs and working part-time at a camera store, newspaper or photo lab are ways to get involved in the photography field, gain experience and interact with other professionals.
  • Consider additional education. Because many photographers work independently or run their own businesses, strong business skills can mean the difference between success and failure. Business classes can help freelance photographers learn how to prepare a business plan, bid for jobs and keep financial accounting. Due to technological advancements within the field, photographers can take classes throughout their careers in order to stay abreast of the latest programs and photo editing techniques.
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  • School locations:
    • Florida (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Miami include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Film and Cinema Studies
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    Areas of study you may find at Syracuse University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Photography
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    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at New York University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Cinematography and Film Production
        • Photography
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    Areas of study you may find at Temple University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Film and Cinema Studies
        • Photography
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    Areas of study you may find at George Washington University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Photography
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    • Oregon (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Oregon include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Film and Cinema Studies
        • Photography
  • School locations:
    • Ohio (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Dayton include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Photography
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    • Washington (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Western Washington University include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
        • Photography

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