Careers in Photography

A career in photography requires far more than a love for using a camera. Savvy business expertise, careful planning, and sheer determination are a few of the personal attributes that can transform a hobbyist into a professional. Additionally, researching industry-specific data related to job growth and potential earnings can help you launch a career in this fast-paced field.

An Industry Snapshot

The spectrum of professional photography is broad. Some photographers focus on shooting events, such as weddings or banquets; others work as photojournalists, and shoot on assignment for news or media outlets; and there are those who seek training to become commercial or portrait photographers.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) lumps photographers into a general category. According to the BLS, photographers in the U.S. earn a median annual salary of $29,130 (or roughly $14 per hour). However, the variation can be extreme — in 2010, the lowest 10 percent in the field earned less than $8.50 an hour, while the top 10 percent earned more than $30.

Educational Requirements

Photography education and training may also vary considerably. While postsecondary education is not a requirement for this field, aspiring photographers often pursue a bachelor’s degree to learn various technical competencies. On-the-job training and mentorship is often a critical asset for entry-level photographers.

Career Projections

Employment growth for photography is projected at roughly 13 percent from 2010 to 2020. Technological advancements and the decreasing costs of digital cameras have increased the number of amateur photographers in the market, making it an easier profession to enter than in the past.

Certain sectors of the photography industry are predicted to do better than others. Self-employed photographers will see a 15 percent growth rate, while the field of newspaper photography is headed in the opposite direction — BLS expects a 30 percent decline in employment.

Best Cities for Photography

Career prospects for photographers (in terms of employment) are most promising in the states of California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Illinois. In 2010, photographers in the District of Columbia earned the highest hourly median wage at $23.57, according to the BLS. Paychecks in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco; Los Angeles; Hartford, Ct.; Springfield, Ill.; and New York City were also among the country’s highest.

The BLS provides further information about photography careers, as well as related industries such as journalism and fine art. Aspiring photographers should also consider participating in professional photography networks like the American Society of Media Photographers that offer local chapter memberships and opportunities to connect with photographers, clients and studios nationwide.