- Many photographers work for themselves as freelance professionals for which no formal education is needed.
- If you want to work for a major corporation media outlet or art institution you will likely need to hold a Bachelor in Fine Arts (B.F.A.) or Master in Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree in photography or visual arts.
What you study:
You are likely to study all of the following in a photography program:
- Principles of Design
- Studio and Lighting Design
- History of Photography
- Photographic Methods
- Introduction to Photoshop
Shows an introduction to the work of a professional photographer. Created for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
As a professional photographer you have many options in terms of your work environment and the types of photography that you complete. Some photographers choose to work for newspapers and other media outlets as media photographers. Others work as commercial photographers who take photos for businesses and architectural firms. You can also focus on fine art or institutional photography. However the majority of photographers working in the U.S. are special event wedding and portrait photographers.
You begin your day by double-checking your schedule. You have two portrait appointments in the morning and a wedding to shoot in the afternoon. Once you’ve confirmed your appointments with a quick phone call you head into the studio to make sure that all of your lighting is working properly. Your first clients want pictures taken of their toddler. You set up props that toddlers like to use so that you can capture the best photos of the child. Working with the parents you pose the little boy and take photos from various angles making lighting adjustments as needed.
After you’ve completed work with the little boy you put up your props and get ready for your next appointment. You’re taking a formal portrait for a woman who has just received a major job promotion. You focus on taking professional head shots and 3/4 shots with soft natural lighting. Once the appointment is over you shut down all the lights in your studio and pack your gear bag to shoot the wedding.
At the wedding you’re responsible for both taking candid portraits of the ceremony and reception and for taking posed portraits of the bridal party. You work with an assistant called your second to ensure that you capture all of the important moments on this special day. You use a variety of portable lighting gear to ensure that you’re taking high-quality photos.
Once the reception has wound down you can head home for the evening. It’s been a long day. Tomorrow you’ll begin processing and editing your photos using a professional computer program. Once your edits are completed you’ll make discs containing the photos for your clients. You’ll also be responsible for printing high-quality copies of their photos for display in their homes. You encourage your clients to return to you any time that they need enlargements of their photos made.
Certifications and Licensing
No formal certification is needed to work as a photographer. You may wish to gain designation as a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) in order to attract private clients. If you work for yourself you may need to secure a business license.
Full-time versus part-time:
As a photographer you will have a great deal of control over your own schedule. You are likely to work some part-time and some full-time days depending on the number of clients that you have.
The majority of photographic work will be conducted either in the studio or out in the field. However you are likely to spend a great deal of time in front of a computer in your studio or home office for editing purposes.
- Professional Photographers of America: The PPA website provides information about ongoing educational opportunities and contests of interest to professional photographers. Those who are just beginning a career in this field will find information about equipment and indemnity insurance particularly helpful.
- American Society of Media Photography: ASMP’s website offers video and learning resources to society members. This site is particularly helpful for individuals who want to work as newspaper or digital media photographers.
- Wedding & Portrait Photographers International: WPPI is the leading international organization for photographers who cover special events and provide portrait services. Information about competitions may be useful to photographers with a depth of experience in this field. Individuals who have just begun careers in this field will find the WPPI blog particularly helpful as it offers a mix of business and technical advice.
- U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook for Photographers: This Bureau of Labor Statistics publication offers general information about careers in the field of photography. Consult this handbook for information about salary expectations and demand for trained professionals in the field.
Salaries by City
See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column — for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.
|State||City / Region||Typical Salary||Salary Range||Job Count||% of All Jobs|
|AL||Auburn – Opelika||$34220||N/A||N/A|
|AL||Birmingham – Hoover||$26220||200||0.04%|
|AR||Fayetteville – Springdale – Rogers||$29360||80||0.04%|
|AR||Little Rock – North Little Rock – Conway||$25310||200||0.06%|
|AZ||Phoenix – Mesa – Glendale||$32070||870||0.05%|
|CA||Bakersfield – Delano||$25790||100||0.04%|
|CA||Los Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale (Metro Area)||$47320||1680||0.04%|
|CA||Oakland – Fremont – Hayward (Metro Area)||$29040||N/A||N/A|
|CA||Oxnard – Thousand Oaks – Ventura||$40610||N/A||N/A|
|CA||Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario||$29900||570||0.05%|
|CA||Sacramento – Arden – Arcade – Roseville||$30970||220||0.03%|
|CA||San Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos||$32290||460||0.04%|
|CA||San Francisco – San Mateo – Redwood City (Metro Area)||$45650||480||0.05%|
|CA||San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara||$35920||180||0.02%|
|CA||Santa Ana – Anaheim – Irvine (Metro Area)||$43170||420||0.03%|
|CA||Santa Barbara – Santa Maria – Goleta||$29170||60||0.04%|
|CA||Santa Rosa – Petaluma||$27840||40||0.03%|
|CA||Vallejo – Fairfield||$29000||40||0.03%|
|CA||Visalia – Porterville||$19110||40||0.03%|
|CO||Denver – Aurora – Broomfield||$43310||580||0.05%|
|CO||Fort Collins – Loveland||$18920||60||0.05%|
|CT||Bridgeport – Stamford – Norwalk||N/A||140||0.03%|
|CT||Hartford – West Hartford – East Hartford||$58920||160||0.03%|
|CT||Norwich – New London||$28490||50||0.04%|
|DC||Washington – Arlington – Alexandria (Metro Area)||$40490||810||0.03%|
|DE||Wilmington (Metro Area)||$23200||120||0.04%|
|FL||Cape Coral – Fort Myers||$27040||110||0.06%|
|FL||Crestview – Fort Walton Beach – Destin||N/A||40||0.05%|
|FL||Deltona – Daytona Beach – Ormond Beach||$23250||70||0.04%|
|FL||Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach – Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)||$20520||420||0.06%|
|FL||Lakeland – Winter Haven||$19200||60||0.03%|
|FL||Miami – Miami Beach – Kendall (Metro Area)||$19310||550||0.06%|
|FL||Naples – Marco Island||$19420||30||0.03%|
|FL||North Port – Bradenton – Sarasota||$37410||70||0.03%|
|FL||Orlando – Kissimmee – Sanford||$22080||1500||0.15%|
|FL||Palm Bay – Melbourne – Titusville||$30250||50||0.03%|
|FL||Pensacola – Ferry Pass – Brent||$24200||80||0.06%|
|FL||Port St. Lucie||$19240||50||0.04%|
|FL||Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater||$21470||280||0.03%|
|FL||West Palm Beach – Boca Raton – Boynton Beach (Metro Area)||$37060||210||0.04%|
|GA||Atlanta – Sandy Springs – Marietta||$25280||1280||0.06%|
|GA||Augusta – Richmond County||$29510||80||0.04%|
|IA||Davenport – Moline – Rock Island||$22810||60||0.03%|
|IA||Des Moines – West Des Moines||$22990||230||0.07%|
|IA||Waterloo – Cedar Falls||$18490||80||0.09%|
|ID||Boise City – Nampa||$26600||120||0.04%|
|IL||Chicago – Joliet – Naperville (Metro Area)||$44040||2140||0.06%|
|IL||Lake County – Kenosha County (Metro Area)||$34560||50||0.01%|
|IN||Gary (Metro Area)||$27440||120||0.05%|
|IN||Indianapolis – Carmel||$24550||350||0.04%|
|IN||South Bend – Mishawaka||$29910||60||0.05%|
|KY||Lexington – Fayette||$20720||130||0.05%|
|KY||Louisville – Jefferson County||$23760||320||0.05%|
|LA||New Orleans – Metairie – Kenner||$23230||230||0.04%|
|MA||Boston – Cambridge – Quincy (Metro Area)||$42640||770||0.05%|
|MA||Framingham (Metro Area)||$26950||130||0.08%|
|MA||Haverhill – North Andover – Amesbury (Metro Area)||$20680||60||0.07%|
|MA||Lowell – Billerica – Chelmsford (Metro Area)||$32490||70||0.06%|
|MA||Peabody (Metro Area)||$33400||30||0.03%|
|MD||Baltimore – Towson||$22560||650||0.05%|
|MD||Bethesda – Rockville – Frederick (Metro Area)||$35500||300||0.05%|
|MD||Hagerstown – Martinsburg||$18080||40||0.04%|
|ME||Portland – South Portland – Biddeford||$19920||70||0.04%|
|MI||Detroit – Livonia – Dearborn (Metro Area)||$29850||250||0.04%|
|MI||Grand Rapids – Wyoming||$29390||110||0.03%|
|MI||Holland – Grand Haven||N/A||40||0.04%|
|MI||Kalamazoo – Portage||$20900||40||0.03%|
|MI||Lansing – East Lansing||$41660||70||0.04%|
|MI||Saginaw – Saginaw Township North||$41170||50||0.06%|
|MI||Warren – Troy – Farmington Hills (Metro Area)||$30480||500||0.05%|
|MN||Minneapolis – St. Paul – Bloomington||$39780||970||0.06%|