Careers in photography
Choosing the photography career that's right for you.
Photojournalism is a career that requires a particular skill set to capture interesting, newsworthy pictures in a timely manner.
It's your future - make it a success Some people starting out as professional photographers seem to know just what specific field of photography they want to pursue. They may have a strong interest in a particular area - fashion, for example - or may already have training or specialized skills needed to become a successful photographer in a given discipline, such as forensic photography.
But many others don’t really know, and may need to just get started in general photography work to find out by experience whether a particular area captures their interest.
There are three essential steps when considering a full-time photography career, based on your interests, the demand for your services and your capabilities.
- The first step is to decide what types of professional photography appeal most to you.
- Then, you have to determine whether there is a need in your community for the areas of photography that interest you.
- Finally, you have to objectively assess your capability to take on the work that falls within the first two steps above, and to do it well.
Sometimes your circumstances (the community in which you live, your personality, education, friends and associates, whether you work well under pressure, etc.) provide you with an opportunity for a photography career. A photographer in a small community who enjoys dealing face-to-face with people, for instance, is probably in a good position to take on a number of completely-different assignments to satisfy the needs of the market, whereas photographers in larger, populated markets tend to specialize. The photographer who takes steps to become an experienced, top quality specialist will almost always do a better job of an assignment within his or her area of expertise.
If you open a studio in a small town, you will probably have to generalize, learning a lot about different types of photography to survive and do well. But, you can still specialize more or less, placing the types of photography that you prefer ahead of other assignments. However, you must be careful to remain realistic. Photography assignment opportunities will not always fall into your preferred type of photography. If you are to stay in business and thrive, you must take them on and do an excellent job of them.
An accomplished wedding photographer in all but the smallest communities can expect to be kept busy during the warmer months, especially on weekends, and may also find clients during the winter months who need photographs that require similar people skills – portraits, family pictures, pet photographs and so on.
Some photographers starting out in a small or large community may prefer not to deal directly with people. They would probably not do all that well photographing portraits, weddings and other people pictures. But they might enjoy taking pictures of inanimate subjects, such as product shots for advertisements or industrial processes and equipment. It is important to know before getting established that there is enough demand in your area for those areas of photography.
Two general career categories
The most basic difference when generalizing about photography careers is based on the subjects to be photographed - ordinary people (including their animals) versus meeting the photo needs of commercial businesses. These could be labeled somewhat liberally as People and Commercial photography. There is often overlap in these types, just as there can be overlap in almost any photography career.
To help you decide which of these general areas of photography appeals to you, we have listed some of the better known assignment categories that photographers will meet under these headings.
People photography jobs:
- Animals, including pets and livestock;
- Model portfolios;
- Banquets and award ceremonies;
- Community organizations – Lions Club, Rotary, etc.
- Conventions, trade shows and sales meetings;
- Dance/theater groups and individuals;
- Families and reunions;
- High school seniors;
- School classes and individuals;
- Sports teams and individuals;
- Headshots and publicity;
- Passport and identification;
- Portraits – formal and informal;
Photography careers where you deal with people include weddings, portraiture, family groups and of course their pets, and usually require that you have a studio and very flexible work hours.
Commercial photography careers include photojournalism, performers' headshots, product shots,sports, aerials, fashion, environmental and many other categories.
Many of the above photography tasks do not necessarily require a studio. Wedding photography, for instance, and banquet & awards ceremonies are usually photographed on location. The equipment needed by the photographer is minimal, and can usually be packed into one or two medium-size camera bags. Because of this, these jobs are relatively inexpensive for the beginning photographer who has quality camera equipment. Portraits and family groups can often be photographed outdoors, too, in a pleasant setting that does not require studio gear. At some point, though, you will wish to have a photography studio to expand your business, and to provide you with a place to make good pictures during inclement weather.
Commercial photography assignments & specialities:
- Magazine/newspaper ads;
- Product brochures and labels;
- Shareholder reports
- Store displays;
- Technical pamphlets;
- Visual presentations; and
- Web pages.
- Entertainment - movies, theater, TV;
- Investigative and Forensic;
- Plants and factories;
- Manufacturing processes and systems;
- Training/Instruction/Safety manuals;
- Promotional activities, in stores or malls, for example;
- Public relations;
- Real estate;
- Scientific; and
FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Much commercial photography work requires the photographer to have a studio, which can often be in your home. For food photography, the studio may need access to a kitchen or at least have food preparation, refrigeration and storage areas. For photography of models and other people, you will need a dressing room, equipped at least with a full-length mirror, rods on which to hang clothes, good lighting, a countertop and seats. In fact, as you progress with your career, you will probably find that you need a great deal of space, including storage space, for props that you accumulate and material for sets; backdrops; reflectors, accessories, wardrobe items, tools and so on. A washroom is practically an essential. If it has a shower, that is even better.
Just as with people photography, some commercial work can be accomplished without a studio. Public relations assignments, for example, are usually done on location, in a plant, office, hospital or other facilities. If you are photographing school or sports team pictures, you may need to have portable studio lighting and a portable backdrop to set up in a classroom, gymnasium or an arena.
Architectural, forensic and medical photography usually require specialty equipment - including lenses and lighting methods.
The point is that, as a part of objectively assessing your capability to take on people or commercial work, you must have the tools needed for the jobs. You must also know how to use them properly and effectively.
That's not all. Consider your personality, character and people skills before deciding to take on photography work that is unsuited to you.
These are only some of the situations a photographer may face. If you say no to any of these, you may not be suited for some kinds of photography. A family photographer, for instance, must have a great deal of patience, and must enjoy dealing with crying, reluctant or misbehaving children and still remain smiling and professional.
- Are you personally able to withstand criticism, especially from clients who don't see things the way you do, and then adjust what you do to meet their wishes?
- Can you remain friendly and pleasant under pressure?
- Do you have the patience to wait for a child's tantrum to end?
- Can you charm a shy child into facing the camera or smiling?
Patience is a necessary character trait for the child photographer. Babies may unexpectedly cry, pop a thumb into their mouth or even fall asleep. Toddlers tend to get into things. Older kids may be shy, bored or just plain uncooperative.
Can you bring out a subject's character when making a portrait? Do you see compositions differently than most people do? Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is critical to your choice of the kinds of photography jobs you can do.
There's more. Your skills as a photographer must be taken into account.
We could go on and on with such questions, but you hopefully get the idea. You need to objectively assess your strengths and weaknesses, your viewpoints and your standards, and your likes and dislikes, and then see how they fit into the areas of photography that interest you.
- Do you see things uniquely, so that you can take the mundane and make it interesting?
- Can you arrange a composition so that its components are pleasing in a photograph?
- Can you bring out a person's personality and better side so that a portrait of them is clearly revealing of their character?
- Can you follow instructions from an art director, just as a movie photographer follows the film's director's instructions?
- Are you a team player or an individual who needs to assert his or her point of view?
- Do you get great satisfaction from lighting a scene better than most photographers can do?
CERTAIN PEOPLE MAY NOT BE SUITED TO A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY CAREER.
It is important that you determine whether you are one of those people before you invest a great deal of time and money, only to find out you have made a mistake and should look elsewhere to make a satisfactory living.
It is equally as important for you to feel as certain as possible that the kind of photography you decide to do professionally meets your liking, your capabilities and can make you a living. You must feel that you will spend your time photographing what you enjoy and what you are good at, or you will be wasting your efforts. When you do your homework, though, and feel confident that you have made the right decisions, you will be ready to launch your professional photography career.