Photographers create images that tell a story or document an event or occurrence. The images that they produce help us to record events for future reference. A photographer may capture an image of a child at play, a happy couple on their wedding day, a corporate executive sitting for a photograph for an annual report, a product for an advertisement, or document world events such as natural disasters, famine, or military conflicts. Whether a photographer is creating an image of people, a place, or a product, they must have a passion for telling a story with the images they create.
Photography has changed significantly recently with the widespread adoption of digital equipment. A photographer may choose to use a digital or a film camera or both depending on their own preference and the nature of the subject matter to produce the commercial-quality photographs used in newspapers, websites, print advertisements, and magazines. The quality of these photos must be a higher level than would be produced by an amateur photographer who takes pictures for recreational use and pleasure. Whether using a digital or a film camera, a photographer uses a variety of other equipment to photograph their subject including lenses, tripods, flashes, lighting, and filters. These camera accessories allow a photographer to produce a successful picture that presents the subject in the desired manner. Photographers can modify the look and feel of a photograph with the use of these accessories by changing the amount and type of lighting, the distance from which the photograph is shot, and the camera angle and position of the photographer in relation to the subject.
Photographers often choose to use a digital camera because this technology allows them to capture images that can be stored electronically on a computer. Images can be stored on CDs or smaller devices such as memory cards and flash drives. Once the image is stored the photographs can be altered and edited using processing software. This software allows the photographer to change the size of the image (also known as cropping) or correct the colors shown. Once the photographer has finished modifying the image it can then be sent via the Internet to anywhere in the world. Photographers often display their portfolio of work on their own web sites to reach prospective clients and increase their business. This is another benefit of using a digital camera versus a camera that requires film. Storing photographs electronically allows a photographer to save larger quantities of images and for longer periods of time than would be feasible with traditional prints produced by cameras that use film. This technology provides a longer life-span for images produced with a digital camera and allows the photographer to use or sell the image repeatedly over a period of time.
Some photographers choose to use traditional cameras with silver-halide film that requires processing in the photographers own laboratory or an outside commercial lab. Some photographers prefer to develop and print their own images so they can control the process and achieve the desired special effects with the photographs. Color film processing requires expensive lab equipment for accurate processing and printing.
The basic skills needed for all forms of photography are generally the same. A photographer must have a thorough understanding of camera operation, darkroom (developing) procedures, lighting, and film speed (for photographers not using digital cameras). Most photographers choose to specialize in a particular area or focus such as portrait photography, commercial, scientific, or photojournalism or news. Portrait photographers take pictures at weddings, graduations, family or corporate events. Portrait Photographers spend considerable time carefully arranging lighting, setting, and positioning their subjects to create the desired image. They often own their own studios. In addition to taking the photos and developing them a portrait photographer who owns their own studio would also be responsible for developing their client base, scheduling appointments, billing customers, and other business related functions. To remain competitive and provide the services clients want portrait photographers often will design photo albums, mount and frame photos, and work on location with their clients.
Commercial photographers take pictures of a variety of subjects including merchandise, buildings, artifacts, and scenery. These photographs are used for advertising and sales purposes in website, newspaper and magazine advertisements, and catalogs. Industrial photographers often take pictures of machinery and equipment at a manufacturing facility, warehouse, or office. These photographs often include the products and the workers and company officials trained to use these products. The images are used for a variety of purposes including annual reports, corporate brochures or literature, and press releases announcing a new product.
Scientific photographers, in addition to having photography skills, often possess additional knowledge in fields such as biology or chemistry. This helps them to shoot images that illustrate or demonstrate scientific or medical data being produced in research laboratories. This type of photography is the most clinical and would rely less on lighting and camera angles and allow less creative interpretation.
Photojournalists are news photographers who take photos of newsworthy people or celebrities, sporting, and political events for websites, newspapers, magazines, or television. News photographers must be in the right place at the right time to capture events that often happen quickly. Photojournalists are often in areas that might be dangerous or locations that don't have a well-developed infrastructure. Photojournalists provide us with images of current events, people and places in the news, military actions, famine, natural disasters, and other tragic events.
Many photographers choose to be self-employed or freelance in one of the specialized areas mentioned above. Being self-employed provides a photographer with the flexibility to work directly with clients and also license their images to stock-photo agencies or sell copies of their work directly to the public. Stock-photo agencies sell catalogs, magazines, creative agencies, and other photography users the right to use an image in their print advertisements for a commission or fee to the photographer and the stock-photo agency. Photographers who are self-employed, or freelance, must ensure that they protect their work from unauthorized use and have a thorough knowledge of applicable copyright laws.
A photographer should possess most of the following traits and attributes to be successful in their profession:
- Creativity and passion
- Detail oriented
- Technical expertise
- Photographers who use digital cameras should be proficient in using computers, printers and scanners, and editing software
- Ability to work independently
- Strong client/customer service skills
- Physical ability to stand on their feet for long periods of time often carrying heavy equipment
- Exceptional time management skills
- Financial acumen to manage client billing, maintenance of business records, invoice payments
- Knowledge of laws to protect images from unauthorized use
- Concern for personal safety of themselves and others present at the photo shoot or on location
- Flexible schedule and ability to travel
- Knowledge of internet website development to promote work
- Understanding of marketing principles - advertising, client development, etc.
The working conditions for photographers vary considerably depending on the specialty chosen. Portrait and news photographers often work irregular hours depending on the clients' events or needs or world events. Commercial photographers will often work more traditional hours on a standard 5-day workweek. News photographers often work in uncomfortable or even dangerous areas of the world covering natural disasters or military conflicts. They are often under strict deadlines to meet a print date for a newspaper or magazine. All photographers must have the ability to travel to the clients location or where ever world events occur often on very short notice.
Agencies or corporations that employ photographers seek applicants that are creative, imaginative, and have a "good eye" in addition to a solid understanding of the technical aspects of photography. Photojournalists or photographers specializing in industrial or scientific photography generally need an advanced degree from a photography school. Scientific photographers should as well have a thorough knowledge of the subject they are specializing in such as science, biology, etc. Photography courses are offered by many local universities and community colleges. Some vocational-technical and trade schools often offer classes or a certificate program. Courses will cover a variety of subjects including choosing and using the proper equipment, how to process or develop images, and lighting techniques. In addition to these skills a photographer should learn good business skills so they can efficiently and profitably run their studio or business. After completing photography school many photographers will start their careers as an apprentice to a more experienced professional. This allows them to acquire the technical skills and build on their creative abilities.
The job market for photographers is very competitive and there are more qualified photographers than there are available jobs. Some photographers choose to work in less crowded fields such as industrial or scientific to build their portfolio. More than half of all photographers are self-employed which is a much higher percentage than for most occupations. Some self-employed or freelance photographers have contracts with creative and advertising agencies, magazines, or websites to do projects, while many others own portrait studios or sell their images to stock-photo agencies. Self-employed photographers are responsible for the cost of their health, retirement, and business insurance as well as their equipment while a photographer working for a newspaper or industrial photo agency is often provided with benefits and a company car. As the type of photography varies widely so does the salary and benefits for a photographer.
- The Newspaper Guild
- Professional Photographers of America, Inc.
- National Press Photographers Association
- American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.
Schools for Photographers are listed in the column to the left.