Photography Degree Careers
A photography degree is an entrée to a range of careers. The knowledge and skills gained while obtaining a photography degree can be used to travel the world as a travel photographer or a photojournalist. Artistic photography skills can be used to become a fine arts photographer or be combined with portrait skills to become a fashion photographer. A photographer who has studied portraiture might open a portrait studio or become a wedding photographer.
A photography degree graduate with computer skills might choose a career in graphics and visual media. A photography degree can be used to become a camera operator for films or become a cinematographer. Business interests and coursework can advance a photography career in commercial or product photography. An interest in science might lead to specialization in science or industrial photography. Career opportunities in photography are practically endless.
The options available to a graduate with a photography degree are as varied as the people who pursue photography. Photography degree applicants should carefully consider their interests and career goals to analyze the best photography program to meet those needs. Once in school, photography students should select courses and internships that support their career goals. Keep in mind, too, that photography skills are transferable to different specialties and a career path can change with changing interests.
Travel. Adventure. See the World! For photography degree students with a sense of adventure and the flexibility to travel the globe, travel photography has much to offer. One week a travel photographer may be in Nepal gathering pictures of sherpas and prayer cloths and the next week be in Europe cataloging architectural treasures. The romantic vision of traveling to foreign cities to capture landmarks, joining a safari to photograph the wildlife, enjoying sun and sand while recording visions in exotic locales, however, is mitigated by the reality of extremes in weather, missed connections, and fighting the language barrier. The business is challenging with hard work, long hours, and time away from friends and family.
A travel photographer's essential job is to tell a story about a place in a way that markets or sells it. The job involves traveling to a variety of locales and capturing images that tell the location's tale, a story of its buildings, its people, and its culture. There may be times when travel photographers are traveling on their own dime with the hope of selling their photographs afterwards. Experienced travel photographers may work as employees and as contractors traveling at company expense to assigned locations with a photographic plan in mind. Advertisers, advertising agencies, book publishers, and magazines have a need for travel photographs.
Travel photography requires some very practical considerations. How does a photographer get all that equipment on a plane and to the final destination? Is there such a thing as packing light? There are pieces a travel photographer cannot live without and cannot afford to lose in checked baggage. Then, too, who will translate? A good travel photographer develops strong advance planning skills to be ready to travel and maximize the journey. Travel photographers must put solid researching skills into play to search out the best known, oldest, most interesting, and so on, places. They will also be meticulous but have the flexibility to change the plan as needed.
An ability to connect and communicate with people is essential. Travel photographers must develop great intuition to know when they are invading and when they are welcome or are at least, tolerated. They should also gain a bit of pluck so there will be no hesitation in recruiting subjects. Photographers must be prepared with model releases in the local language to approve the later sale and publication of their images.
A photography degree is an asset in gaining the technical skills for this role, as well as convincing employers to take a chance on your skills. Photographers who travel on their own and sell their photographs depend solely on their skills and not on a degree or a school name. Travel photographers must have strong technical skills to work in a variety of locations with varied lighting, weather, and subjects. They must be able to offer original work with a new view. Unlike portrait photography, travel photographers must use their skills to compose full frame shots.
On average, travel photographers make $28,000 per year. Of course, for many who choose this job, the value of the supported travel is an extraordinary benefit. Starting salaries for travel photographers are about $20,000, while experienced photographers may make $70,000 or more.
Most salaried photographers work in portrait or commercial photography studios. A portrait photographer can be a fast moving associate snapping pictures in a department store and making $16,000 per year plus benefits. Or a portrait photographer might own his or her own studio and make $35,000 to $40,000. The average portrait photographer earns $25,000 to $30,000 per year. Portrait photographers that specialize in wedding photography embark on a lucrative career with an average salary of $196,000.
Portrait photographers employed by school picture companies, department stores, and the like are often hired without a photography degree. These photographers might be trained on the job, be avid hobby photographers, or may have completed a photography seminar or workshop. The work is fast paced and relies on the reputation or pricing of the company rather than individual photographers.
Private portrait studios shooting for a more technical and more artistic picture may be more likely to seek out a candidate with a photography degree. Private studios are looking for photographers with a deep understanding of photographic technique, equipment, lighting, and photography software programs. Portrait photographers may choose to be their own boss and start their own small business, opening a portrait studio.
The work of a portrait artist may be in studio or on location. For example, the photographer might be called to a school to take students' annual photos or to a bride's home to take her bridal portraits. Portrait photographers must set up necessary equipment, including any props, and position individuals, groups, and sometimes pets for their best shots. This job involves substantial client interaction from cajoling subjects to cooperate for photographs to helping clients understand what makes a successful portrait to scheduling appointments. Portrait artists also must keep up with current portrait trends. Portrait photographers often put on their salesman hat as well, offering and selling a variety of portraits to their clients.
This role can be very rewarding for a photographer looking for stable work from a consistent location with reasonable hours. As most weddings take place on weekends, wedding portrait specialization, however, requires a nontraditional schedule with photography on weekends and production and sales on weekdays. Relatively speaking, a career as a portrait photographer is secure with a steady demand and steady clientele. Portrait artists are also rewarded with sharing their clients' lives and momentous occasions.
Portrait photographers may choose an alternative path, choosing a career in editorial portraits (portraits photographed for magazines and newspapers), fashion portraits, or fine art photographs of people. These more specialized fields may be handled on a freelance basis or as employees of a magazine or company. This work can mean working with a newsworthy group of people or greater opportunity for creative and artistic portraits.
Photography schools capably prepare portrait photographers with both general and specialized coursework. Concentrations in portraiture are commonly available. Future portrait photographers study courses including Portraiture Photography Studio, Personal and Family Portraiture, Wedding and Event Photography, Editorial Portraiture, and Fine Art Photography of People. Photography degree students have an opportunity for studio work and for internships with portrait photographers to hone their skills in this specialty.
Fine Art Photographer
The path to fine art photography starts with a photography degree. The majority of four-year photography degrees and all graduate photography degrees are fine arts degrees. Photography students complete technical classes to gain skills with camera equipment, lighting equipment, and computer and software equipment. Beyond those practical skills, programs focus on helping students develop their artistic contribution to their photographs.
While students will enter photography school with creativity and a developing style, instructors and courses will help students more fully develop and realize their potential. Students study a variety of art and art history classes. Students spend a great deal of time in the studio advancing their craft and having their work critiqued for greater understanding and improvement.
A bachelor of fine arts in photography is a four-year program from which photographers can enter any specialty, including fine art photography. Students who would like to better prepare for a career in art may later attend graduate school and obtain a master of fine arts in photography over a two to three-year period. Master's programs allow photographers intensive artistic evaluation and development.
Following graduation, photographers intent on creating art photography must develop relationships with art galleries that can exhibit and sell their work. Photographers can also look to online sites and resources to advertise and sell their own work.While the income of fine art photographers will vary widely based on expertise, marketing skills, productivity, and reputation, the average fine art photographer can make around $35,000 per year. In this photography specialty perhaps most of all, the photographer is an artist. The primary focus of the end product is art and creative expression. Artists have a tremendous opportunity to experiment and develop new techniques. While fine art photography expresses the artist's vision, it can also be used to educate, expose, and advance causes.
Fine art photographers would do well to gain business skills to represent their art skills. Artists will need to negotiate with galleries and museums for exhibitions and sales including commission rates. Artists do well to explore public opportunities to display their craft by seeking public funding for work. Photographers might arrange commissions for public and private buyers. Fine art photographers are rarely successful enough to support themselves through their art. It is imperative, then, to be aware of all opportunities and consider other work that supplements the art.
Photographic artists might fit well in a position at a gallery or a museum that utilizes their fine arts degree. They might photograph and catalog art in the museum's collection and assist in developing promotional materials for the museum. Photographers might handle photograph management, including scanning and retouching images, managing digital and film filing systems, and responding to image requests. This work requires meticulous attention to detail and organizational skills.
Art photography overlaps with several other specialties in photography. For instance, fashion photography is used to represent and sell a product, but it is done in an artful and creative way that emphasizes a story and style that accompanies the product. Clients looking for adventurous or creative portraits might work with a fine art photographer to get an unusual image.
Fine art photography also overlaps with landscape and travel photography. Certainly, landscapes have been presented as artistic photos, but any location photo might be viewed in a different way, a way that evaluates the picture beyond the present. Place images may be developed for a gallery show or might have a place in art and travel magazines. While this work may not offer the stability of other photography positions, fine art photography appeals to photographers whose primary interest is the art and pushing the boundaries through this art form.
Freelance photographers are self-employed. More than half of photographers are self- employed, leading to high competition for available projects. Freelancers usually specialize in one field of photography and can take different approaches to identifying work. In this role, they should expect to take some time to identify available projects and market themselves for consideration. Freelancers then accept a project or assignment under direct contract. A person or company has a specific need the photographer has agreed to meet for an established expense and within an established time-frame.
Freelancers might also capture and create images freely and then sell the images by marketing directly to the public, marketing to companies, and by licensing to stock-photo agencies. Stock-photo agencies store a considerable amount of varied photographs. When a business or media outlet has a need for a specific image, they can contact the stock-photo agency and license a filed image. The photographer is paid a commission for the sale of rights to the image. Freelance photographers that work with stock-photo agencies need to submit large numbers of photographs every year to maintain the relationship.
Freelance photographers must use their technical expertise along with their creativity and must have an eye for marketable photos. They will want their image to have a distinctive quality that differentiates it from other available photographs. Freelance photographers work primarily in a digital format.
These photographers must develop marketing skills. They will need to market themselves for available projects and their photographs to buying outlets. A photography degree is helpful in getting contracts and successfully marketing photography services and photographs. Freelancers should have a good understanding of copyright laws in order to protect the images they produce and offer. The business and marketing classes offered in many photography degree programs will be very helpful in this regard.
Freelance photographers will spend a significant portion of their time editing images on their computer and pursuing new opportunities. An advantage of this work is the variable and flexible schedule. Contractors can accept new contracts as their schedules allow and coordinate taking images and editing them as best works for their schedule. Many photographers do freelance work on a part-time basis. This specialty offers greater autonomy and freedom of expression, since much of the work is of the photographer's own design.
Experienced freelance photographers make between $20,000 and $74,000 per year. Most make less than $50,000 per year. On average, salaried photographers earn more per year than freelance photographers. Because freelancers are self-employed, they must cover all of their own business costs and insurance costs. Any needed assistants are hired at their expense.
Photo editors are mainly salaried employees who have primary responsibility for the content and quality of all photographs printed in a periodical or book. Photo editors report directly to the managing editor and make between $30,000 and $70,000 per year. They work closely with the creative director to gain a common vision and discuss image possibilities. Together, they may develop a storyboard or illustrations of desired photographic images.
A photography degree is a valuable background for a photo editor due to the broad and varied responsibilities, creatively and technically. Photo editors manage and supervise original photography. They oversee stock images either owned by the company or from a stock-photo agency.
The photo editor may produce photo shoots from start to finish, including model hiring, arranging support staff, renting a location, and handling all shoot logistics to smooth the production process. Employed photographers are directed or freelance photographers hired and directed and then tracked to ensure they meet deadlines. The photo editor must hire and match photographers for different needs, matching the best photographer for a portrait versus the best photographer for a lifestyle shoot. Occasional odd hours may be necessary to supervise photo shoots occurring outside normal workday hours or to meet deadlines.
Business skills are critical to meeting the responsibilities of this position. Photo editors monitor departmental budgets, negotiate fees and contracts, and hold contractors accountable.
The business may have a small staff of photographers. In this instance, the photo editor would be responsible for overseeing and training the photographers, as well as any interns. When outside contractors are used, it is important that the photo editor have relationships with a range of successful photographers to call upon for contracted shoots. The photo editor must also establish and maintain relationships with models, modeling agencies, and related stylists, including hair stylists and makeup stylists.
Once images have been recorded, the photo editor must evaluate them, ensure all needed photographs are available, and edit or alter photographs for printing. Photographic elements must be ready in time for publication and be free of inappropriate images, including undesired product placement.
When hiring for this position, employers usually expect applicants to have photography experience, expert knowledge of the commercial photography industry and of publishing, and knowledge of digital print production. Photo editors must have strong organizational skills, attention to detail, and a commitment to getting the job done. They must be able to maintain positive working relationships with outside vendors and network for additional resources. Photo editors must have familiarity with digital photo databases.
Photography degree students interested in a career as a photo editor should consider a specialization in commercial photography, fashion photography, or photojournalism. For example, courses such as Photographic Art and Design, Digital Workflow, Principles of Business, Advertising Photography, Commercial Photography, Editorial Photography, Fashion Photography, and Visual Journalism would be useful in this role. Business courses in marketing and personnel management would be particularly useful. Some schools, like the Brooks Institute in California, offer a bachelor of science in visual journalism that serves as a good base for editor work.
As salaried employees, photo editors also enjoy job benefits. Typically, these include paid vacation, paid holidays, and health insurance. Some companies also offer access to retirement programs.
A seasonal photographer is a short-term employee or freelance worker. It is often a full-time job during "the season," with an absence of work or a lesser amount of work in between. Freelancers may expand their job opportunities by accepting seasonal work. Full-time workers interested in adding to their income might accept additional seasonal work.
There are many aspects of photography, particularly related to portrait photography, that are seasonal in nature. Wedding photography is an example of portrait photography with moderate seasonality. Most weddings occur during months with pleasant weather. Although wedding photographers will have business at other times of the year, that wedding business may be a third of their load during peak seasons. Other aspects, like Christmas portraits, for example, are entirely seasonal. Most Christmas portraits will be taken in the two months leading up to Christmas.
Spring and fall mean it's time for school portraits. Grade school students are a captive clientele. Photographers arrange to go to each school and capture students' images one-by-one, as well as by classroom as a whole. Middle schools and high schools may arrange for an on-site photographer to take yearbook pictures. Late spring means prom pictures and graduation pictures. Photographers may work at dances to capture pictures on-site. Graduation photos are often taken in studio or on location, although some schools still provide an opportunity for in-house photographs. Spring is also a sacramental season, meaning classes of first communion recipients will be matched with photographers.
Not surprisingly, spring and summer bring the height of wedding season. Wedding photographers may work seven days a week this time of year meeting with clients, taking photographs, processing photographs, and preparing images for presentation. During the summer, photographers may also be in demand at resorts and camps to capture guests' experiences.
Winter brings Christmas and the obligatory Santa photos, family Christmas card photos, and, for some people, pet photos. This is also the time for holiday parties. Employers may hire photographers as a treat for employees and to record the event for the company newsletter.
A photographer who prefers to work in a variety of environments and can tolerate down time between jobs might consider seasonal photography employment. Seasonal employment is also a good option for a photographer who is employed full-time but looking for extra income and additional experience. Seasonal photographers average $17,000 per year, at the low end of the range of salaries for photographers.
Photography degree students wishing to pursue seasonal work should consider focusing their coursework on portrait photography. The skills gained in a portraiture specialty relate to the skills needed for seasonal work.
Product photographers are commercial or industrial photographers who photograph a company's products for placement in marketing materials and informational materials. Product photographers may be asked to photograph merchandise, buildings, models, artifacts, equipment, machinery, and other products. Images may be used in advertisements, reports, training manuals, books, websites, and sales catalogs.
For instance, a product photographer might photograph a necklace, carefully considering its placement and lighting. He or she then considers the best photograph and prints it. The photograph may be used in an in-store marketing campaign and in print advertisements. The necklace photograph might be included in the company's catalog and posted on the company website. Product photographers might also record items to analyze engineering projects, rack deployment, and track equipment development.
Photographers specializing in product imaging will be responsible for all aspects and phases of product photography. They will handle product set up, styling, and lighting for photo shoots. Products must be styled and prepped according to specifications from the company. The photographer will then catalog, copyright, archive, and maintain photographic images. When working with one company over a period of time, a photographer must follow that company's brand style to ensure consistency in image composition.
Product photographers must be able to produce high-quality images on a tight deadline, have strong communication skills and a team-oriented work style, and be creative. Photographers must have extensive lighting experience, as well as experience with large format cameras. Product photographers will need good computer skills and be able to maintain an easily searchable digital database.
In a sense, these photographs are the face of the company. Their look reflects the business. Consistency in image is important.
Product or commercial photographers might further specialize their work. Product photographers, for example, might choose to specialize in food photography. Others might specialize in scientific equipment or industrial machinery.
Product photography positions are often full-time positions with benefits including paid holiday and vacation time and health insurance offered by employers. The average product photographer makes about $45,000 per year. Work is primarily done on-site.
Many photography degree programs offer specialization in commercial or product photography. Relevant coursework includes Tabletop Photography, Stock Photography, Advanced Lighting, Commercial Advertising Photography, and Digital Imaging. Product photography job candidates with a bachelor's degree are preferred.
Competition for product photographer positions is strong. There are more photographers seeking these jobs than positions available. A photography degree is generally required for positions in industrial, scientific, and product photography.
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