How to become a Photographer. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Photographer do?
As a photographer, you would use film or digital cameras to take still photographs for a huge range of uses. You would use your technical skills and artistic vision to capture images of people, products, places or events, often on a client’s behalf.
You would typically specialise in one area of photography, such as:
- general or social (often known as ‘high street’ photography) – weddings and portraits
- advertising and editorial – images for advertisements, magazines and photo libraries
- press and photojournalism – for newspapers and other news publications
- fashion – photographing models and clothing for magazines and catalogues
- corporate (industrial or commercial) – for company promotional material
- scientific or medical – recording scientific research, or medical conditions and treatments.
With most types of photography, your day-to-day work would include:
- discussing the project with the client, or receiving instructions (known as a ‘brief’) from them
- choosing and preparing locations
- selecting appropriate cameras, film and accessories
- setting up lighting and equipment
- composing and taking shots
- checking image quality
- retouching images, by hand or with digital software such as Photoshop
- processing and printing photos
- marketing and running your business, if self-employed.
In some cases you might employ an assistant to help shoots run smoothly. Assistants set up equipment, prepare sets and props, look after clients, keep records and help with printing and administration.
Hours of work can vary and may often include evenings and weekends. As a self-employed photographer, you would need to be flexible about when you worked. Part-time work may be possible.
Your working environment could also vary. You would often work in photographic studios, or you could shoot in other kinds of indoor or outdoor location, depending on the assignment.
Some jobs involve climbing ladders or working at heights, and you may sometimes need to lift and carry heavy equipment.
You would spend a lot of time travelling to assignments, either around your local area, or around the UK and possibly overseas.
How much a Photographer earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Assistant photographers may start on around £16,000 a year.
- Full-time photographers can earn between £21,000 and £55,000 a year.
Freelance photographers are typically paid a fee for each job, or an hourly or daily rate. Rates can vary widely depending on experience and reputation, the type of shoot and the budget available.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Most professional photographers take a college or university photography course to develop their technical skills, although experience and contacts are also important for building a successful career.
Colleges and universities offer a wide variety of full- and part-time photography courses at all levels from beginner to advanced. Qualifications range from City & Guilds courses to foundation degrees, BTEC HNDs or degrees. Higher-level courses usually require A levels or an equivalent such as an art foundation course or City & Guilds diploma for entry.
Courses that offer industry contacts and work placements are especially useful. Some HNDs and degrees include the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) Licentiateship qualification, which is highly regarded by employers. You should check course content and entry requirements carefully.
Finding work as an assistant photographer is a good way of gaining experience, building your portfolio and learning on the job. You will need a keen interest in photography and good basic technical skills.
To find work as an assistant, you could contact professional photographers and studios directly, or use a website such as Photoassist.
To become a press photographer, you will usually need a photojournalism qualification approved by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). See the NCTJ website for more details.
Follow the link below to read some examples about how to make it in the photo-imaging industry (courtesy of Skillset).
- Skillset – Photo-imaging Case Studies
Training and Development
In most areas of photography there are no formal training schemes. Instead, you would develop your skills and experience on the job, perhaps starting as a studio assistant or photographer’s assistant.
You may get the chance to work towards City & Guilds NVQs in Photo Imaging at levels 2, 3 and 4 (new versions will be available from September 2010, course code 7511).
As a professional photographer, you may find it helpful to join professional associations such as the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) and the Association of Photographers (AOP), which offer training and networking opportunities.
BIPP also runs a mentoring service for new photographers. To join, you will need to submit your portfolio for their approval.
Some areas of photography require specialist training, particularly press photography and medical photography.
You will need to keep up to date with new technology and skills throughout your career. BIPP and AOP offer a range of short courses to help you further your skills. See websites for more details.
Skills and Knowledge
- creativity and a good eye for shape, form and colour
- practical and technical photography skills
- excellent communication and ‘people skills’
- the ability to put people at ease
- patience and concentration
- reliability, with good organisational and time-management skills
- computer skills, for using digital imaging programmes like Photoshop
- good business sense and the ability to market yourself
- motivation and determination.
Around half of all photographers are freelance or run their own business or studio. Many employers choose to use freelance photographers as and when they need them.
Alternatively, you could be employed as an in-house (‘staff’) photographer for an employer such as a commercial photographic studio, advertising or PR agency, newspaper or magazine, large company, hospital or the police.
Competition is extremely strong and you may need to do other types of work to earn a living when starting out.
Some jobs are advertised on the AOP website and in photography, advertising and design trade magazines.
You could find freelance work through word of mouth, approaching magazine picture editors or photo libraries, and listing your details in professional photography directories.