How to Become a Professional Photographer

Jan 24, 2022

Find out how to become a professional photographer. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to begin a career in professional photography.

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Professional Photographers

A professional photographer produces and processes film and digital photos, frequently focusing on specialized subjects, such as landscape, architecture, fashion, portraits, weddings and news events. Duties vary depending on the specialty, but a professional photographer is usually hired to shoot, develop and edit pictures of a particular subject or event. Most photographers are self-employed, which means work may be sporadic. As such, professionals will need to be flexible with their schedules. Certain seasons, such as wedding season in the spring and summer, may result in increased business. Photography work must be delivered in a timely manner, often on a deadline. These professionals often travel to photo shoots, stand for long periods and may carry heavy equipment.

Career Requirements

Education No formal education required; photojournalists, scientific, and industrial photographers may need a bachelor's degree
Education Field Photography
Experience Varies by employer; a solid portfolio and strong technical skills are essential
Key Skills Artistic ability; detail-oriented; interpersonal, business, customer service, and computer skills; ability to use cameras and photo editing software
Job Decline (2020-2030)* 17% (for all Photographers)
Median Annual Salary (May 2020)* $41,280 (for all Photographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

No formal education is required to be a photographer. However, photojournalists, scientific and industrial photographers may need a bachelor's degree in photography. Experience requirements vary by employer, though a solid portfolio and strong technical skills are essential. These professionals should be detail oriented, and have strong interpersonal and customer service skills, artistic ability, and business knowledge. They should also have computer skills as well as the ability to use various types of cameras and photo editing software. According to 2020 data from, photographers earned a median annual salary of $48,769.

Become a Professional Photographer

Step 1: Take Photography Classes

Not all professional photographers need college degrees, even though they may be required for scientific or news photographers. Photography courses offered by community or 4-year colleges and independent art schools can provide future photographers with the chance to learn new techniques and develop contacts that may be vital for future prospects. Classes typically cover the use of both film and digital cameras, lighting, film processing and photo editing techniques. Business and management courses may be useful for those planning to open photography studios.

Aspiring photographers can also complete internships and join photography clubs to develop skills. An aspiring photographer needs an artistic and visual sense, as well as a steady hand and technical knowledge. Developing skills takes practice through constantly taking pictures, working with a variety of subjects and experimenting with different equipment and techniques. Amateur photographers can participate in photography clubs or volunteer their services to hone their skills.

Step 2: Get Professional Experience as an Assistant

Working as a freelance assistant in a photo studio is a chance to gain valuable technical skills. When starting out, photographers can offer low-cost wedding photography and reduced fees for actors' headshots. They may freelance for magazines, newspapers, Internet news outlets and stock-photo distributors. Art photographers may want to show their work to gallery owners who often sell photographs.

Step 3: Network and Build a Strong Portfolio to Advance

Making strong professional contacts is an important part of becoming a successful photographer. Photographers can find and make networking contacts by reading industry magazines, keeping up with the latest trends, entering photography contests and attending seminars. A professional photographer also needs a portfolio to demonstrate the quality of his or her work. This can take the form of a physical folder of prints, but many modern photographers also maintain a gallery of their photos on a website. The portfolio's web address can be mentioned on promotional materials, such as business cards. Amateur or hobby work can fill out a portfolio early in a photographer's career.

To summarize, photojournalists, scientific and industrial photographers might need a bachelor's degree in photography, though typically no formal education is needed to launch into a photography career. Instead, a portfolio showcasing work samples is key.

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