This guest article was written by Ellen Berry, a member of the BrainTrack writing staff. She writes about a variety of job and career related topics.
It's hard to find photographers who aren't passionate about what they do. Perhaps it is the boundless potential of what can be done with photography – and the images that it captures – that inspires such enduring interest. Used to create art, document details or tell a story, photography is both an artistic and scientific medium – unlike any other.
But there are so many ways that photography is used – in almost any industry and location – and it can be hard to choose which career or careers are best suited for you.
Careers in Photography
Now more than any time in history, images are used to make money. Trends in innovative design, documentation methods, diagnostic approaches, and Web-based services combine with technological advancements in camera equipment and image processing to create an ever-increasing demand for skilled photographers. Industries that rely on photographers to conduct business, and the careers within them, include:
My camera makes an ideal travel companion, and taking photos that I plan to sell allows me to write off expenses from my trip.
News / Publishing – still photography is used in combination with multimedia to record and present what is seen by the photographer
- Editorial photography used to illustrate stories in magazines and books in print or online
- Photojournalism for newspapers and news websites
- Paparazzi candid photography of celebrities and newsworthy figures
- Teaching photojournalism students
Fine Arts / Craftsmanship – producing original works of art using artistic techniques for display, production and sale
- Fine arts photography for exhibition, commission and print sales of frameable art; includes still life, abstract, portrait, documentary, nature, botanical, and landscape
- Crafts photography for creating pieces of art sold as crafts or used to create art pieces such as fashion accessories, tableware, giftware, etc.
- Teaching of artistic techniques and use of camera equipment
Learning graphic design changed the way I take photos – now more than just to capture an image, photography allows me to create the foundation for a final product.
Scientific – used in scientific research and applied sciences, business, military, and the arts
- Medical photography for keeping medical records, publishing journal articles, and diagnostic purposes
- Forensic photography to aid in investigations and courtroom cases by accurately reproducing a scene of a crime or accident; black and white, infrared, and spectroscopy may be used
- Astrophotography to record astronomical objects and large areas of sky and space
- Aerial and satellite photography for use in the archaeological, geophysical, and cartographic sciences
- Stereophotogrammetry used in archeology to combine photos to create mosaics which document and reproduce large areas. Equipment uses satellite GPS technology to map specified areas
- Geologic photography for surveying, mapping, and documenting rocks, minerals, and formations
- Photomacrography and photomicrography for capturing magnified images through lenses or microscopes
- Infrared, ultraviolet, fluorescence, and high-speed photography, and thermography for capturing unseen scientific elements or processes
- Industrial photography for documenting equipment, production processes, work organization, employees, products, and layout for administrative or industrial relations use
- Teaching scientific photography techniques and use of camera equipment
I try to keep things simple by taking pictures of my jewelry on my kitchen table using household knick knacks and natural lighting.
Commercial / Industrial – used to create images (as compared to works of art) for sale
- Stock photography for creating collections of photos sold in catalogs or online that are purchased for use in brochures, websites, magazines, posters, etc.
- Advertising photography for illustrating and presenting products; used by marketing departments and ad agencies
- Fashion and glamour photography for taking pictures of clothing designs or products presented by models, or the models themselves
- Restaurant / food photography for use in packaging, advertising, magazines, and websites
- Real estate photography presenting the structure and decor of commercial buildings and private homes for sale or rent; includes 360 degree panoramas
- Event photography for ceremonies, parties, conferences, and promoted events
- Studio / portrait photography for families and individuals, pets, school pictures, and headshots for performers
- Teaching of commercial photography techniques and use of camera equipment
Underwater photography is used in many of these industries, and uses special equipment to capture images that cannot be captured by standard camera equipment.
Choosing a Photography Career
Most careers in photography require a combination of creativity, knowledge of specialized photographic equipment, specific knowledge of the relevant industry, a keen eye, patience, and the ability to travel frequently and carry equipment. Some jobs in dangerous situations require courage and risk. Many photographers are self-employed (so business training is essential) and expected to own their own equipment. Additional considerations when choosing a photography career include:
- Building a portfolio
Even before you know what industries or kinds of photography interest you, start taking photos. In every aspect of your life, look for ways that you can try different camera equipment, take photos of different subjects, experiment with techniques, and create pieces for your portfolio. Challenge yourself to tell stories with images, capture telling moments, make objects look aesthetically irresistible, and portray commonplace things in uncommon ways. Nothing is more important in photography than being able to demonstrate your talent and skill.
- Exploring careers
Start with an assessment of your current interests and skills – perhaps with the use of career tests and books, or career counseling. Consider which industries (like real estate or news) elicit a deep interest in you and offer lots of areas for discovery, and then become familiar with the details of the various kinds of photography careers relevant to those industries. Research blogs and websites about different kinds of photographers and their careers. Find successful photographers and ask if you can shadow them on the job, or apprentice with them, to get practical experience. Check out the many professional associations for different fields of photography. Be sure to include the creative, technical, and business sides of photography in your exploration.
When taking stock photo images, I try to think of all the ways the image might be used – by graphic designers or administrative assistants in specific industries for use on websites, in brochures or presentations, etc.
Identifying complementary careers
Once you've identified three primary areas of interest, consider how you can combine them. By developing skills and knowledge in complementary areas, you create a unique skillset that distinguishes you from the competition, and establishes a wide foundation for career growth and stability. For example, knowing how to use Adobe Photoshop and other post-processing programs, scanners, and graphic design techniques can infinitely enhance your skills and hireability. Adding formal training in marketing, business, science, food photography, or fashion are examples of ways to further increase your earning potential.
- Personal branding
As early as possible, begin to consider yourself as a marketable commodity when it comes to your career. Consider becoming self-employed (even if you are working or in school full time) as soon as you've identified your career path, since becoming a sole-proprietor is easy, usually free or low cost, and can provide tax benefits and support your business learning. Keep in mind that your presence online, in addition to in-person, reflects your personal brand so be sure to put your best foot forward when networking and interacting through social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
- Gaining skills
Having identified a career path that appeals to you enough to warrant formal training, compare different options for learning. Photography programs are readily available through four-year colleges and vocational schools, both on-campus and online. College degree programs for photographers are usually in the fine arts, and can vary in length from two to six years. Any program should be accredited through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE).
Ellen Berry is a member of BrainTrack's writing staff, and contributes regularly to BrainTrack's Career Planning Guide, which features additional articles about developing career goals, matching passions with careers, and job searching.