How to Become
A Photographer

Anyone on social media knows that the world now is full of photographers. With just a smartphone and an Internet connection, people can publish their latest photographic masterpiece, and lots do.

But it takes more than a smartphone or a single-lens-reflex digital camera to know how to become a photographer. The pros understand the intricacies of light, composition, color and digital technology and, perhaps most importantly, they have the training that allows them to react instantaneously when the perfect moment arrives.

What Does a Photographer Do?

  1. Specialize in a variety of areas, including portrait, wedding, aerial, scientific and fine arts photography. In addition, there are news photographers, photojournalists, university photographers and photographers who specialize as compositors/retouchers, using a combination of many photo images to create a single work of art. Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of buildings, models, merchandise and landscapes that are used to analyze engineering projects or to appear on magazine covers.
  2. Understand cameras and increasingly complex settings available on the latest types of cameras. Photographers are all artistically inclined and know how to frame an image for maximum impact. Some staff photographers -- at magazines and news organizations, for example -- are called on to do a variety of photography, from breaking news to fashion or architectural photography.
  3. Understand how to use computers and digital photo editing software that allows them to correct the colors in their images or manipulate them in other ways to achieve their goals. While some photographers, such as photojournalists, consider it unethical to change anything but very basic exposure settings, other photographers, such as compositors, make a career out or drastically altering photos and are quite adept at manipulating them to communicate one idea or another.
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Steps to Becoming a Photographer

  1. Start taking pictures.

    Whether it's with an iPhone or a Nikon, practice taking pictures and challenge yourself to improve the composition, lighting and impact of your images. Work hard to capture your subjects' expressions and moods, and work with lighting to create atmosphere in your photos.

  2. In high school, volunteer for the school yearbook or newspaper.

    Often, high schools stock high-end equipment that you can sign out and practice with. Take art and journalism classes to gain exposure to the cannons of photography. If photojournalism is a passion, see if your local newspaper accepts freelance photos and spend time in your community looking for newsworthy things to shoot.

  3. Work as an intern.

    Or employee of a photo studio where portraits are taken or in the offices of professional photographers. When on an assignment to shoot a wedding or special event, some professional photographers need help carrying equipment during the event and in editing images after the event is over. This will acquaint you with the equipment and software used in that profession.

  4. Take classes.

    Many community colleges and recreation departments offer photography classes for amateur photographers. These classes will introduce you to digital photography but also to color theory, depth of field, exposure and special effects you can use to create eye-catching images. The photographs you create in these classes could help you start a portfolio of your work.

  5. Earn a degree.

    Although many photographers don't need a college degree, those who do find that a bachelor's or master's degree in commercial, news or fine art photography will help them find work with news, ad and government agencies. Universities also hire photographers, and are more likely to hire one with a college degree.

  6. Gain expertise in your subject area.

    Photojournalists, for example, are going to need to know how to collect information and write captions. Many news photographers also need to understand the basics of news writing in order to get a photojournalism degree. Scientific photographers, who often shoot their images through a microscope or under difficult field conditions, may find it valuable to study biology, medicine, chemistry and other sciences.

  7. Build your portfolio.

    Examples of your work are vital when applying for freelance or permanent jobs as a photographer. Most photographers, whether they are fashion, wedding, news or commercial photographers, maintain a website that allows potential clients or employers to peruse their work.

  8. Get certified.

    The Professional Photographers of American, for instance, offers a rigorous certification process that identifies those who qualify as professionals who have the consistency, artistry and technical skills clients are looking for in a free-lance photographer.

  9. Build your business.

    Many photographers are self-employed, and to be successful they have make sure potential clients can find them and quickly learn about them. This means have a system for advertising, scheduling, billing, hiring and running an office.

How Do I Become a GREAT Photographer?

An interview with Chair of Photography, Savannah College of Art and Design
Rebecca Nolan

There are a wide range of specializations within the photography profession, as well as a wide range of skills that are needed to boost your career opportunities. To find out how to become a really great photographer, we sat down with Rebecca Nolan, Chair of Photography, Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD).

Q. How do you know which field of photography you will like the best?

Our broad curriculum at SCAD helps students determine their career goals. We have a range of courses that help students determine their personal interests in the vast array of photography fields. In addition to the basic courses that teach the creative use of technical skills, we have three portfolio-building courses. These courses help students build a portfolio based on their career interests. We also have approximately 25 specialized electives that help students learn more about particular careers in photography. Elective courses are often genre-driven. Some examples are documentary photography, fashion photography, portrait photography, alternative processes and the fabricated image.

"The market is not limited to being a photographic shooter. The market also incorporates creative-minded alumni from our program who become producers, art directors, stylists, editors and technicians."

Q. What are the basic characteristics of a great photographer, regardless of which field they go into?

The most successful photographers are passionate about creatively communicating ideas through photography to a broader audience. It isn't just another job. It is a lifestyle.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing many photographers just starting out in the profession?

One of the biggest challenges is making connections that will lead to opportunities. Many young photographers may intend to eventually work for themselves (freelance), but they have to start somewhere and build a reputation for working with clients. We really encourage students to seek internship opportunities in order to learn more about the daily business of photography and to have some connections in the field upon graduation.

Q. What is the job market like for photographers?

I think the market really varies. We have lots of alumni who are really successful freelance commercial photographers and artists. We also have alumni who work for larger companies. The market is not limited to being a photographic shooter. The market also incorporates creative-minded alumni from our program who become producers, art directors, stylists, editors and technicians, just to name a few areas of the photography market that are not discussed as frequently. I find that students gain an understanding of how photography is used, valued and interpreted by audiences in our program. That opens the doors to a much broader field than just being behind the camera.

Resources for Photographers

  • Professional Photographers of America
  • American Society of Media Photographers
  • Profotos Profession Photography Resource


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Aug. 23, 2015 http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm
Academy of Art University, School of Photography programs, http://www.academyart.edu/academics/photography
Professional Photographers of America, What is CPP Certification? http://www.ppa.com/cpp/content.cfm?ItemNumber=4160&navItemNumber=4315
Interview with Rebecca Nolan, Chair of Photography, Savannah College of Art & Design
Interview spotlight
Rebecca Nolan
Savannah College of Art and Design

"The most successful photographers are passionate about creatively communicating ideas through photography to a broader audience. It isn't just another job. It is a lifestyle."

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