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How to Become a Photographer

Many people have a creative side and feel drawn to a camera. Learning how to become a photographer is a great way to express that creative side through the lens of a camera.

Becoming a photographer is a great career choice for anyone who is skilled with a camera and best expresses themselves visually.

What Is a Photographer?

A photographer captures photographs using a camera. These are professionals who photograph anything and everything, from weddings to wildlife. Often, photographers can be found working independently and specializing in certain photos. Other times, photographers work for newspapers or highly-coveted publications like National Geographic.

What Does a Photographer Do?

Photographers do a lot more than simply holding up a camera and taking photos. While that is perhaps the most important part of the job, there are other valuable aspects.

Take Photos

Obviously, photographers take good photos. People hire photographers to document important life events. Photographers also work in more solitary jobs, such as wildlife or nature photography. Photojournalism helps spread important messages across the world.

Edit Photos

After taking photos, photographers spend a lot of time editing them to ensure a perfect, final result. The editing process can often take longer than the photoshoots do, simply because it takes so much detail-oriented work to perfect a photo.

Promote Business

Since many photographers run independent businesses, they have to promote their work. This involves building a photography portfolio, marketing, and advertising. Many photographers use their best work on flyers, posters, and business cards to promote themselves.

Essential Photographer Skills

Extremely Creative

Photographers have to be extremely creative to determine not only the best locations for photoshoots but also the best angles and editing techniques to use. Without a knack for creativity, photographers are unable to succeed in their careers.

Technical Skills

If a photographer doesn’t know their way around a camera and some editing software, they really can’t do much. Photographers need to have extensive knowledge of photography and editing skills.

Patience and Concentration

Photoshoots can often take hours, so photographers need to have patience and be able to concentrate for long periods of time. Getting distracted will not necessarily ruin a photoshoot, but it can definitely slow down the long process.

Photographer Salaries and Job Outlook

The average salary for photographers varies based upon what type of photography they do and where they work. A photographer’s salary is also affected by their choice of work schedule and vacation time.

Working full-time with few vacation days will bring in a higher salary than working part-time with more vacation days. Overall, the average photographer gets paid $17.44 per hour, which makes for an annual salary of around $32,000 to $36,000.

Some photographers, such as National Geographic photographers, are paid by contract. Each story they produce is the equivalent of one contract, so they have the ability to complete as many or as little as they want.

Unfortunately, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the employment of photographers will decline six percent by 2028. This doesn’t mean there will be no opportunities to become a photographer; it will just be a bit more difficult.

Digital cameras are becoming cheaper and more easily available to just about anyone, and the amount of amateur photographers is growing rapidly. Even phone cameras are becoming strong enough for many people to be satisfied without ever using an actual camera.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Photographer?

Becoming a photographer is a different process for everyone, and depending on the education you choose to pursue, it can take anywhere from three months to four years. Many people opt for a few simple photography classes to earn a certificate. Others choose to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The time it takes for you to become a photographer is really dependent on you and your aspirations. You can choose what education you feel is best for you and your career goals, which determines how long it will take for you to get started.

How to Become a Photographer: A Step by Step Guide

Photographers tend to take slightly different paths, but all of them end up in relatively the same place. Many professional photographers never attend college for their careers, while others attend a few classes at a community college and some choose to pursue the highest degree possible. Below are the most common steps to become a photographer.

Step 1: Decide on Your Desired Education

Decide what type of photographer you want to be. There are photography programs available for every type of photography, from wedding photography to wildlife photography. Once you are sure of what type of photography you wish to get into, you can find the right program.

Photography programs are available at all levels, from a certificate to a master’s degree. Many photographers do not even attend school and opt for self-teaching. This is definitely a possibility, but having a certificate or degree can aid in the learning and employment processes.

Step 2: Choose a Focus

Once you are in a photography program, you will be able to choose a focus. Many programs include options such as portrait photography, fine art photography, commercial photography, and scientific photography. 

Your career goals will help you to choose a focus. If you plan to do wedding and family photography, choosing a focus in portrait photography would be a great idea. Only you will know your exact goals and what best suits them, but meeting with an academic advisor can help you decide.

Step 3: Earn Certifications

There are many different certifications you can earn as a photographer to help advance your career. Earning a certification through the Professional Photographers Association is the best way to achieve credibility. Some of the certifications they offer include Certified Professional Photographer and Certified Biological Photographer. Depending on what type of photography you plan to get into, earning multiple certificates may be a wise decision.

There are also certifications you can earn for more niche areas of photography. For example, if you are pursuing a career in photography as someone who wishes to do crime scene photography, you can become certified in forensic photography, which will greatly boost your credibility when applying for jobs.

Step 4: Apply for Jobs

Even if you plan to run your own, independent photography business, it is a good idea to work for someone else first. Gaining experience before starting a business helps you get an idea of how everything needs to be run.

Starting up your own business is often quite pricey, so working under the wing of an established photographer for a little while can help you prepare for that. Being able to get paid and save money while also gaining experience and helpful business advice is a great start to your career.

Should You Become a Photographer?

If becoming a photographer is your dream career, you should certainly become one. While photography jobs are on the decline, there are still work opportunities. Photographers can be substituted by amateurs, but nothing will ever replace the quality work of a talented, professional photographer using the proper equipment.


Can photographers make good money?
While photography is not typically considered a high-paying job, there are opportunities for photographers to make good money. Working more hours and doing higher-profile work helps. For example, working as a National Geographic photographer, you can choose how many contracts you want and each contract pays $400 or more.
Is photography a dying profession?
Photography is by no means a dying profession. With today’s technology, professional photography is in a state of constant evolution, causing photographers to have to learn and adapt, which may make the profession feel as if it is dying. In reality, the profession is simply evolving to meet modern standards.
Is it ever too late to learn photography?
No, it is absolutely never too late to pick up photography. Plenty of photographers decide to go into the field after decades of other work, while others learn the skill as children. When you learn does not matter, it is the quality of your work that counts.
What do photography assistants do?
Photography assistants help professional photographers with everything from planning photoshoots to setting up equipment. Many photography assistants also help with photo editing and processing to ensure timely delivery of the final product.
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