What Is Photography?

Photography involves capturing images with a camera. These images can be of just about anything, including people, places, animals, objects, or events.

A professional photographer does much more than just take pictures, though. Professional photographs are often able to elicit certain feelings. Simply looking at professional photographs can bring on feelings of happiness, dismay, fear, awe, nostalgia, or even hunger.

Expert photographers are also able to make people or situations appear different than they really are. This can be done by utilizing different lighting techniques, or positioning people or objects a certain way. With today's advanced image editing software, many photographers also change some elements of their photographs in order to make them look a particular way.

What Are the Different Types of Photography?

Photographers can – and will – often choose to focus their career in a certain area of photography. Some photographers might only shoot portrait pictures, for example, which involves taking pictures of people, particularly their faces.

Glamor photographers and fashion photographers will take pictures of models and their clothes. These pictures, however, are meant to enhance a person's beauty or style, and many of them are retouched or airbrushed.

Still life photography, on the other hand, involves taking pictures of static, or still, objects. This can include such things as scenery or architecture.

Photojournalism generally generally involves shooting pictures of newsworthy events. These types of photographers are usually referred to as photojournalists, and they are often hired by newspapers and magazines.

There are also other specialized types of photography, including science photography, nature photography, underwater photography, wedding photography, and advertising photography.


Work Environment

To get decent paying jobs and clients, a photographer should first put together a decent portfolio. Most portfolios contain several examples of an artist's strongest work. The photographs in a portfolio can be the products of school projects, paying jobs, or even just hobbies. Some photographers may even have several different portfolios that showcase different type of photography or different techniques.

Traditionally, photography portfolios were similar to picture albums, with tangible photographs attached to each page. Today, however, more and more are moving their physical portfolios online. This makes it simple for a large number of potential clients to peruse through the photographs at their leisure.


Education Requirements

A formal education is not always necessary in order to become a professional photographer, but it is helpful. In general, trained photographers will usually be able to command a higher wage.

Most photographers develop a love for cameras and photography at an early age. High school photography classes can often help develop this hobby into a lucrative career. Many budding photographers will also shoot pictures for their school paper or yearbook, which gives them additional experience when pursuing photography as a career.

Students can also take photography classes at local colleges and universities to help fine tune their skills. Some online photography schools also offer photography courses and degrees.

If students have dreams of becoming wildly successful, however, it is usually recommended to obtain a degree from a photography school or an art school.

Taking courses in these types of schools will help a budding photographer learn the skills to become exceptional.

Some specialized photography careers may also require some additional coursework. Aspiring fashion photographers may want to study fashion, for instance, and aspiring photojournalists will usually need to take some journalism courses. Photographers who want to break into advertising photography will also usually benefit from taking some advertising courses.

Photography Salary and Job Outlook


Many times, photographers are paid a certain amount of money for each picture that they take. Some photographers, however, may be paid an hourly rate or salary. Salaries for photographers can vary greatly, depending on a number of factors, including experience and talent. Also, since some photographers only work in their spare time, they will usually not make as much as full-time photographers. Part-time photographers and inexperienced photographers will usually make less than full-time experienced photographers. Most professional photographers can expect to earn a comfortable wage. The median yearly salary for most photographers is $28,490 or $13.70 hourlyaccording to O*Net Online's 2012 data.

Job Outlook

Like many other art professions, photography is very competitive. Armed with a degree, however, a photographer will often have a much better chance of landing good paying jobs. Some companies only hire staff photographers with the proper training, for instance. A photographer often has the option of working at photography studios, newspapers, magazines, advertising agencies, and website design agencies. Photographers that choose to work for themselves, however, typically have much more freedom. They get to pick and choose which jobs they accept. Some may prefer to shoot photographs at weddings, for instance, and others may only sell photographs to certain niche magazines.


FAST FACTS: Photographers
2016 Median Pay

$34,070 per year
$16.38 per hour

Recommended Level of Education

High school diploma or equivalent

Number of Jobs in 2014


Expected % Change in Employment (2014-2024)

3% (Slower than average)

Expected 10 Year Employment Growth (2014-2024)


Source: BLS - Occupational Outlook Handbook

Photography Salaries by Industry

Top Paying Industries for Photography

Motion Picture and Video Industries


Printing and Related Support Activities


Scientific Research and Development Services


Local Government (OES Designation)


Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services

Source: BLS OES - Industry Profile
Mean Hourly Wage Mean Annual Wage

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Photography

  1. Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY Metropolitan Division
  2. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA NECTA Division
  3. Niles-Benton Harbor, MI
  4. Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, MA NECTA Division
  5. New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ
  6. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
  7. San Rafael, CA
  8. San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA
  9. Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA
  10. Springfield, MA-CT
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics OES

Helpful Resources

  • Interview with Joe Lekas, Photographer & Imaging Specialist

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJun 16, 2012

    I started out intending to become an illustrator, actually. I would practice drawing by tracing over snapshots. Eventually, I began trying to actively increase the detail and contrast in those snapshots so that I would be able to draw over them better. In the end, I wou...

  • Interview with Rob Corpuz, Photographer

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJun 17, 2012

    One of the fascinating things about any art form, is the philosophy behind it. In this article, you will meet a master of both his art and the theories which help create it. Here we profile Rob Corpuz, who's career path is a unique one, sure to intrique.

  • Get Paid to Do What You Love: Seven Strategies to Make Money as an Artist

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 10, 2017

    Doing what you love and making a living from your art is a goal that is within reach. Here, we offer a few tips to help you get your dreams off the ground. Try these seven strategies to make money as an artist.

  • Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Art Career

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    Anna OrtizJul 17, 2017

    An art career cannot happen overnight. Becoming an artist takes dedication, hard work, and a plan. Learning early lessons about how to develop your skills, attract clients, and market yourself can help you generate early results.

  • 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 19, 2017

    The life of an artist is often glamorized, while the real challenges of being an artist tend to be glossed over. Here we provide a few tips on how to deal with early challenges, like facing criticism, dealing with frustration, and meeting the right people.

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