Photography Careers

Read on to learn about typical courses, resources, and careers in this field.

Staff Writer

2022-12-0215 min read

Photographers combine their artistic sensibilities with technical knowledge to create photographic materials that capture real-world occurrences or tell a story.

Students with a passion for photography can enhance their natural talents with technical skills to qualify them for lucrative careers in various industries.

Many colleges and art schools offer photography programs emphasizing different photography skills, business, and interpersonal development in their coursework.

This resource explores career options, degree programs, salaries, job outlook, and other valuable information for photography students.

Why Choose Photography?

If you have a keen eye for detail and you love capturing moments in photographs, why not turn this passion into a career? You already have the artistic ability to thrive as a good photographer. What's left is the technical skills and knowledge to boost your chances.

Photography allows you to express yourself in art form and work in various industries and sectors. And since about 69% of photographers are self-employed, you can build your brand and become your boss.

A photography degree gives you the necessary skill set to thrive in this competitive field.

How to Start your Photography Journey

Not all photographers earn undergraduate or graduate degrees to enjoy lucrative careers in this field. However, an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in photography can qualify you for specific roles in some industries.

Postgraduate degrees prepare you for managerial roles and leadership positions.

Educational Requirements

Associate Degree

An associate’s degree in photography introduces foundational concepts and technical skills to students. It teaches photography elements like exposure, composition, aperture, and image lighting.

You also learn about client management, customer service, and the business side of things.

Bachelor’s Degree

This program develops and improves the student’s innate artistic talents and offers technical training in graphic design and editing techniques.

A bachelor’s degree in this field qualifies students for roles as art directors, graphic designers, photo editors, multimedia artists, and more.

Master’s Degree

This terminal degree prepares students for roles in specialized fields like forensic photography, photojournalism, aerial photography, and other senior positions.

Many schools offer a Masters of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in photography.

Employment Prospects

New commercial and drone photography technologies mean more lucrative career opportunities for photographers. While many photographers are self-employed and run successful client services, others work in different sectors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, photographers in the U.S. held over 125,000 jobs in 2021.

Photography Career Forecast

The Labor Department projected a 9% employment growth for photographers within the next decade, with over 12,000 job openings estimated yearly. Some of these vacancies are to replace workers about to exit the labor force or switch careers.

The demand for wedding and portrait photographers continues to grow as more people get married and require the services of professionals to cover their events.

In addition, the rise of stock photography websites will also see more freelancers selling their works to high-paying clients.

Lucrative Photography Career Paths

Photography students can explore some of these successful career options.


Photojournalists or news photographers capture images for print news, human interest stories, and other media outlets. They take pictures of places, people, or events and tell stories through photographs.

Average Salary

Photojournalists earn average salaries of around $38,000 to $56,000 yearly. But, some professionals with more work experience earn higher incomes.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Capture and edit photographs
  • Process and print negatives
  • Collaborate with journalists and news anchors
  • Pitch new ideas to the editorial staff

Industries Employing Photojournalists

  • Television and Media Broadcasting
  • Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers
  • Government Agencies and Nonprofits

Fashion Photographer

These professionals take pictures for fashion shows, marketing campaigns, and other fashion-related projects. They can work exclusively with fashion houses or freelance.

Average Salary

Fashion photographers earn over $40,000 in median annual wages, with the top percentile earning over $70,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Create images for clothing, accessories, and other fashion items
  • Work with designers, magazine editors, and advertisers to create a cohesive brand identity
  • Edit the photos to remove blemishes and improve quality

Industries Employing Fashion Photographers

  • Fashion and retail industries
  • Advertising agencies
  • Print and media

Forensic Photographer

Forensic photographers take pictures of crime scenes to record evidence and support police investigations. They play vital roles in the criminal justice sector because they document and produce an accurate representation of a crime scene.

Average Salary

Forensic photographers earn around $56,000 in median annual wages, with top earners making over $100,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Visit crime scenes and capture high-quality images for investigations
  • Help investigators and jurors sift through content and identify valuable photos or videos
  • Take pictures of victims, blood spatter, broken objects, and the environment

Industries Employing Forensic Photographers

  • Police departments
  • Coroner’s office
  • Medical and diagnostic laboratories

Nature Photographer

Nature or wildlife photographers capture images of animals, flowers, and natural landscapes. Some professionals take pictures of wildlife and sell them as freelancers.

Nature photographers have a keen eye and artistic abilities to capture impressive mountainscapes, ocean life, and animals in action.

Average Salary

These professional photographers earn median wages of around $40,000 yearly.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Research geographical locations and study animal behaviors and habitats
  • Capture images with specialized tools and lenses
  • Organize photos for galleries and publications

Industries Employing Nature Photographers

  • Museums and art galleries
  • Print and digital publications
  • Photo stock websites
  • Wildlife channels and NGOs

Portrait Photographer

Portrait photographers photograph different clients, from school students to families and pets. They employ effective lighting, backdrops, and poses to capture their subject's personalities.

Average Salary

Portrait photographers earn a median annual salary of around $37,000, at about $18/hour. Top earners with advanced skills and work experience make more than $50,000 yearly.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Apply various photographic techniques to capture high-quality images
  • Improve the subject’s appearance with artificial or natural light
  • Edit pictures with photo-enhancing software

Industries Employing Portrait Photographers

  • Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers
  • Other Photographic Services

Wedding Photographer

Wedding photographers capture images of wedding ceremonies, receptions, rehearsal dinners, engagement parties, and other related events.

Since this particular niche needs professionals with adequate customer service skills, some photography degrees provide concentrations in wedding photography.

Average Salary

The average salary for wedding photographers is around $50,000 annually. However, factors like experience level and the employer can increase salary options.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Discuss the client’s requirements before the wedding day
  • Set up equipment, including backdrops or props, before the event
  • Capture high-quality pictures of wedding guests during and after the wedding
  • Process and edit photos afterward

Industries Employing Wedding Photographers

Wedding photographers can work for private and public companies or freelance their services to different clients.

Medical Photographers

These professionals take photos of medical and surgical procedures, injuries, diseases, and autopsies for documentation and research purposes. You can find their pictures in textbooks, science reports, medical journals, instructional films, or other teaching tools.

Average Salary

Medical photographers earn median salaries of around $45,000, with the top percentile making over $85,000 yearly.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Captures different types of images to help with patient diagnosis and treatment
  • Learn how to use specialized imagery tools like thermography, 3D, or ultra-violet imaging
  • Use graphic design skills to produce artwork for scientific posters and other clinical material

Industries Employing Medical Photographers

  • Medical and research facilities
  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services

Art Director

Art directors determine the visual style and images in newspapers, magazines, art exhibitions, and other media outlets. Then, they create the design and concepts and direct other professionals to develop the artwork.

Average Salary

The median annual salary for art directors is around $100,000, with the top 10% earning over $190,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Determine which photographs or artwork to use
  • Manage graphic designers and other staff
  • Review and approve designs, photos, and artwork by staff
  • Develop budgets and project timelines

Industries Employing Art Directors

  • Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
  • Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers
  • Performing Arts Companies

Camera and Photographic Equipment Repairer

These professionals adjust and repair cameras and other photographic equipment.

Most photography programs teach students the basics of operating and maintaining different camera types and equipment.

Average Salary

Camera and photographic equipment repairers earn median salaries of around $40,000, with the top percentile earning over $60,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Assemble and set up photography equipment
  • Use cleaning materials and work aids to clean and lubricate camera lenses
  • Calibrate light meters, lens carriers, and shutter diaphragm with timing instruments
  • Test equipment performance

Industries Employing Camera and Photographic Equipment Repairers

  • Rental and Leasing Services
  • Electronic and Precision Equipment Repair and Maintenance
  • Professional and Commercial Equipment and Supplies for Merchant Wholesalers

Photo Editor

These professional editors select, review, and edit pictures for print and online services, including magazines, ad campaigns, and catalogs. As a result, photo editors have an eye for detail and pay attention to the smallest detail.

Average Salary

Photo editors earn around $59,000 in median annual wages, with top earners making over $80,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Alter and enhance digital photos with computer software
  • Supervise photographers and other team members
  • Work with the editorial team and develop creative concepts
  • Submit photographs for final approval

Industries Employing Photo Editors

  • Real estate sectors
  • Advertising and publishing agencies
  • Fashion houses
  • Other print and media services

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers combine art and technology to create design concepts for clients and art directors. They use visuals to communicate ideas that captivate and inform consumers.

While many employers prefer professionals with graphic design degrees, some managers employ artists with photography backgrounds and relevant work experience.

Average Salary

Graphic designers earn median salaries of around $50,000, with the highest 10% making over $90,000 yearly.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Use digital illustration and software to create designs
  • Communicate ideas and concepts with clients and art directors
  • Review designs before publishing them

Industries Employing Graphic Designers

  • Specialized Design Services
  • Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers
  • Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
  • Printing and Related Support Activities

Drone or Aerial Photographer

These professionals control drones or aerial vehicles to capture aerial stills and images for various industries. They take pictures of high-altitude landscapes and provide a birds-eye view of properties and landmass.

Average Salary

Drone/aerial photographers earn over $50,000 in median annual wages, at around $24/hour.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Operate drones to capture images of specific areas or events
  • Manage and maintain photography equipment
  • Take shots that meet the needs of employers and clients

Industries Employing Drone/Aerial Photographers

  • Real estate sectors
  • Law enforcement
  • Television and media sectors
  • Construction and surveying

Product Photographer

Product photographers take pictures of marketing materials and products for adverts and promotions. In addition, they often work with studios to develop content that matches the brand's image.

Some professionals work as freelancers, while others work with ad agencies or large marketing companies. .

Average Salary

Product photographers earn over $40,000 in median annual wages, around $20/hour.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Research products to understand the best photography concepts to apply
  • Find models and props to enhance the product, if necessary
  • Edit images with the latest image editing software

Industries Employing Product Photographers

  • Advertising and public relations
  • eCommerce and retail services
  • Marketing agencies and firms

Fine Art Photographer

Fine art photographers capture images for aesthetic purposes. Their work attempts to evoke emotional responses from viewers by expressing innovative ideas or messages.

These professionals usually exhibit their work in art galleries and museums or sell it to private collectors.

Average Salary

An average fine art photographer earns around $74,000 to $100,000 yearly. However, some professionals can sell their photographs to private collectors for over $100,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Capture images for displays and art galleries
  • Use thought-provoking photographs to evoke emotions and incite debates

Industries Employing Fine Art Photographers

  • Museums and art galleries
  • Private collectors
  • Advertising and public relations

Commercial or Industrial Photographer

These professionals take pictures of products, buildings, landscapes, and other merchandise for companies and agencies. They often collaborate with graphic designers and marketing teams to ensure the images express the brand’s ideals and values.

Average Salary

Commercial and industrial photographers earn over $40,000 in median wages, with top earners making around $84,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Capture images that communicate the product’s features
  • Develop concepts for ads, billboards, magazines, and catalogs
  • Edit images and improve their quality with advanced software

Industries Employing Commercial/Industrial Photographers

  • Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
  • eCommerce and Retail Sectors
  • Television and Other Media Services
  • Construction and Manufacturing

Director of Photography (Cinematographer)

Directors of photography or cinematographers collaborate with directors and film crews to develop a film’s visual style and requirements.

They manage the visual dynamics of mood and tone in movie projects and commercial advertisements.

Average Salary

DOPs earn over $80,000 in median annual wages, with the top percentile making over $148,000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Decide the best camera angles for scenes
  • Control lighting conditions and requirements
  • Supervise and manage the camera crew
  • Edit visual elements after production

Industries Employing Cinematographers

  • Information media and telecommunications
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Arts and recreation sectors

How to Boost your Photography Career

You can advance your photography career through continuing education units (CEUs), professional licensure, or networking opportunities.

Applying these methods can improve your earning potential and provide an edge over the competition.

Some states require professional licenses for photography jobs. For example, you may need a permit to operate a photography business or to specialize in drone imaging.

You can earn certifications through the Professional Photographers of America or the Federal Aviation Administration for drone photography.

Pros and Cons of Photography Careers

Exploring a career in photography has numerous benefits. For example, companies and clients pay you to do what you love and visit new places. However, it also has a few downsides.

Here are some of them.


  • Freedom and flexibility
  • You can set your work hours
  • You get paid to travel and visit new places
  • Room for career advancements


  • No guaranteed fixed income for freelancers
  • Competitive field
  • Expensive gear and equipment
  • Potential copyright and privacy violation lawsuits

Skills You’ll Develop While Studying Photography

Photographers need specialized skill sets to practice this art form, most of which they learn from school or on the job.

These are the valuable skills you need to excel in this profession.


Most photography students already have innate artistic skills. All they need is a degree to expand on these capabilities. It’s why college programs offer resources that help professionals develop and take their skills to the next level.

Attention to Detail

Capturing the best photographs takes dedication and an eye for detail. As a result, you should easily dissect a photo and observe components and information that others would miss.

Computer Skills

You need basic computer skills to improve your work process and interact with clients and media publishers. Learning to use photoshop software and other graphic design tools is also an added advantage.

Interpersonal and Communication Skills

Half of the job involves taking pictures, and the other involves building client relationships. Therefore, you must hone your listening and communication skills to stand out from competitors.

Always ask the right questions and listen to your client's needs and requests.

Technical Skills

The best photographers know how to balance their artistic and technical sides. You must apply both aspects to capture high-quality photographs that distinguish your work from the competition.

How to Prepare for a Photography Career

1. Get a Photography Degree

A photography degree allows you to apply for specialized roles in different fields.

You can find online and offline courses that cover everything about the business of photography. These photography programs teach you valuable skills you would otherwise not have learned.

2. Find your Niche

After learning the photography basics, you can choose an area of specialization. For example, you could do wedding photography, portraits, photojournalism, wildlife, or fine art.

Whatever you choose, ensure you pick a niche that ignites your passion.

3. Get Professional Work Experience

Get your pictures in front of an audience by volunteering or taking stock images for online platforms. You can build your portfolio this way and start submitting your best work for exhibitions or photography competitions.

4. Join Photography Groups

Finding a mentor and a supportive community is a crucial step in your photography career. You can build strong connections with other professionals and be the first in line when job opportunities arise.

Photography Resources to Help Your Career

Professional photography organizations offer unique opportunities for career advancements like networking, access to industry news and job boards, educational resources, etc.

Valuable photography organizations to join include,

You can also find photography journals and free online courses to get an in-depth analysis of photographic techniques and theories.

Some helpful resources include:

How to Switch to a Photography Career

Switching to a career in photography is straightforward enough since most roles require candidates with an associate's or bachelor's degree in related fields. As a result, you can transition from design, communications, or fine arts disciplines.

Some professionals start as assistant photographers to established photographers to gain work experience and learn from the best.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is photography?

Photography is the art of capturing images with a digital or analog camera. Photographers express their artistic viewpoints and tell stories through the photos they capture.

What certification do I need for a photography career?

These photography certifications showcase your skills, prove credibility to clients, and help you stand out from the competition.

Can I get a photography degree online?

Yes, you can.

Most accredited schools and colleges offer online photography degrees for students nationwide.

What fields can photography professionals work in?

Photographers can work in various fields, including photojournalism, fine arts, portrait photography, fashion, and commercial photography, among other sectors.

Is there a high demand for photography majors?

The Labor Department projected a 9% employment growth for photographers within the next decade, with over 12,000 job openings estimated yearly.

Final Thoughts

Photographers capture special moments with a single photo. Their artistic talents and creativity evoke emotions and inspire the audience in different ways.

An associate's or bachelor's degree in photography can help you develop and master creative skills and technical capabilities. And also pave the way to a successful career in several industries.

Compare your school options

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