How to Become a Photographer
Photographer Careers & Degrees

A photographer makes their living by taking photos of people, places, objects, and events.

If you’re creative, interested in art and photography, and would like a career that involves these skills, then you might like to become a photographer.

There are many different types of photographers.

Some may specialize in landscapes, while others may specialize in portraits.

Some might cater to events like weddings, take photos of celebrities, sports, or simply take artistic photographs that they sell.

Photography is a growing market, and the rise of the internet has made it easier for amateur photographers to get their break in the professional world.

Education Requirements to Become a Photographer

While you don’t need to complete a specific degree to become a photographer, you do need photographic skills, as well as knowledge of equipment and technique.

There are several ways you can go about earning this.

You might like to spend time reading books and websites, or complete a course at a community college.

You could go to a specialist photography or fine arts school.

One of the best ways to improve your photography skills is to practice.

Get out there and take photos of whatever you see.

If you’re at high school or college, join the school paper as a photographer.

Volunteer your time to sporting teams and clubs to be their photographer.

If you’re interested in art photography, join a local art group and exhibit your photos.

You never know who might see them.

The internet has opened up a lot of opportunity for promising photographers.

You can sell photos you take as stock images through many websites, as long as they are quality pictures.

The goal is to build up a strong portfolio of photography that will get you work.

It’s a good idea to have this available both in print form, or on a website.

This will be the key to getting work.

Photographer Job Description

A photographer takes photos, selects lenses and cameras, chooses lighting, selects settings and backdrops, directs models, and arranges objects.

They later develop photos, although more and more are relying purely on digital photography then development at the lab.

Computers have become a large part of photography, have some good photo editing skills has become an integral part of the photographers role.

Many professional photographers stress the important of self-promotion.

Even if you are not self-employed and are working for a magazine or newspaper, you are ultimately your own brand.

Keeping a strong portfolio, website, and industry reputation means that you will always have work in this competitive industry.

Here are some of the tasks a photographer might be responsible for:

  • Taking photos
  • Choosing the right camera
  • Choosing the right lens
  • Developing photos
  • Editing photos on a computer
  • Directing Models
  • Choosing lighting
  • Choosing settings and backdrops
  • Self-promotion and marketing

Photographer Salary and Career Path

While some photographers are self-employed, others work on contracts, and a small amount have a full-time job with a newspaper or similar.

In recent years many media outlets have pressured their journalists to learn photography and take photos themselves, especially freelancers.

Most photographers will be employed on a contract basis and paid per job.

This means when you become a photographer you must be prepared for very busy periods, as well as quiet ones.

Learning stock photography or becoming a landscape or artistic photographer are good ways to fill the gaps between jobs and still make an income.

Most photographers will get a start by working for a local newspaper or magazine.

Some will begin with freelance work right away.

Many go on to specialize in a particular type of photography, for instance weddings, or family portraits.

The median wage of a photographer is $30,000 a year.

The top 10% in the industry earn in excess of $60,000 a year.

Later in their careers, many photographers branch out into different areas.

This might include:

If you love art and want to spend your career expressing your creativity, then you might like to become a photographer.

Although this industry can be competitive, if you have a passion for what you do, and are willing to invest time and effort into doing it well, then you will be able to become successful.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$89,310
New Hampshire$39,210
New Jersey$42,990
New Mexico$54,880
New York$65,070
North Carolina$34,790
North Dakota$40,590
Rhode Island$58,460
South Carolina$42,040
South Dakota$31,840
West Virginia- NA -
Puerto Rico$31,270

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $89,310.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $89,310
New York - $65,070
Minnesota - $60,410
Massachusetts - $59,060
Rhode Island - $58,460
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Photographers, OCC Code 27-4021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a photographer do?

A photographer is someone who takes photographs by using a digital or film camera.

Photographers can be working in a professional studio, on various events, in the city or while exploring nature.

There are different types of photography and, generally, a photographer specializes in one or a couple of niches.

Photographers are responsible not only for taking the actual picture but also for the digital or physical development of the photographs.

Professionals should be able to edit the photos.

Sometimes the editing process might take up even more time than the making of the actual shot.

Depending on the genre of photography, a photographer can be either a freelancer or work for different companies, magazines or even fashion houses.

QuestionHow much do photographers make?

On average, photographers earn about $15 per hour in the United States.

Salaries start from around $10 an hour.

A wage of a photographer would heavily depend on the niche that he decided to work in.

The photographers that work in the professional services industries typically earn around $38.000 per year.

The top 10% in the industry get paid over $76.000.

Certainly, there are famous photographers that get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a photographer?

A year at a public college will cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $21.000 (in case you decide to acquire a degree).

A year at a private college can cost from around $15.000 to nearly $80.000 for the most prestigious schools.

Buying the actual equipment will cost you a small fortune.

Even if you are not intending on working in a studio, the camera alone can cost around $500-$3000.

You would have to spend $60-$2.000 more on additional lenses.

You might also want to join a photography trade association (for a small fee) and get a license.

You can always find some online photography courses (some could be joined for free).

QuestionWhat is the demand for photographers?

The demand for professional photographers is projected to remain surprisingly static during the next couple of years.

There will be more self-employed photographers, rather than professionals working for various companies.

The demand for wedding, portrait photographers and those taking advertising pictures will slightly increase.

The Internet has become the main focus of professional photographers, while traditional full-time employment and print publications have declined.

According to BLS, the photography field will add approximately 17.500 new jobs by the end of this decade.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a photographer?

If you are going for a certificate in photography, it can take you only a few semesters.

An associate degree can be acquired in 2 years, while a bachelor’s degree can be earned in 4 years.

Nowadays, there is a lot of competition in photography, so you might want to consider at least attending some professional courses.

You can begin working as a photographer’s assistant to get to know more about the technical and creative aspects of the job.

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