Career Options: Photographer | Guide to Photo Careers

I found this article on the Mac On Campus website – very sage advice. If you’re interested in the competitive field of photography, networking and joining industry organizations should be your #1 plan.

As an educator, I would add that interested students, photographers and faculty join the Society of Photographic Education (SPE). and of course to study the below topics in our program at CCSF. -Erika

Career Options: Photographer | Guide to Photo Careers
By MOC staff
Published by MOC

Get an overview of some of the areas of specialization that are open to working photographers, along with links to organizations that offer more information about the professional practices and requirements of each.

Since the invention of the photography, those working in the medium have made an impact on society, offering a way to document anything imaginable, from everyday life to moments in history to the marvels of science and medicine. A wide variety of career paths are open to photographers. One thing most of them share—as findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate—is a high level of competition. You probably already know why: Many people are attracted to making photographs. However, attraction isn’t enough.

To succeed as a professional photographer, you’ll need sharp technical skills, innate creativity, imagination, and the ability to stay on top of new technologies. You’ll also need to understand the culture, common practices, and requirements of your area of specialization.

Below you’ll find summaries of some of the main areas of specialization for professional photographers, along with links to organizations that provide further information about each of them. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the paths a photographer can take in the 21st century—there are creative opportunities for image makers to work in almost every industry segment.

Architectural Movie Stills
Commercial Nature/Environmental
Editorial Photojournalism
Fashion Sports
Fine Art
Medical/Scientific Wedding/Portrait


Architectural photographers are among the most technically skilled of all photographers. Knowledge of the view camera and a thorough understanding of lighting, exposure, and film and digital imaging are requirements to excel at this profession. You’ll also need a superb portfolio, knowledge of architecture and interior design, and the ability to work on location. Consider working as an assistant to a successful architectural photographer to learn the tools of this trade.

For further research, visit the following websites:

Advertising Photographers of America

American Society of Media Photographers

The International Association of Architectural Photographers


Commercial photographers usually specialize in advertising and corporate assignments. Subjects may range from common consumer products to elaborate scenes with models to industrial sites. The commercial photographer must understand lighting, film, and digital and analog cameras, and must have the ability to multitask and work well with clients and models in the studio and on location.
For further research, visit the Commercial Photographers International website.


Editorial outlets abound for photographers, from local newspapers to glossy magazines with huge circulations. Editorial photographers work on story assignments, usually pairing with the writer of the story.  You may travel with the writer, or independently.  Editorial photographers work on human interest, culinary, travel, and all general interest stories. They travel to unusual places and need to be ready for anything, sometimes working for long periods of time away from their home base. A good portfolio, an interest in culture and current events, patience, and the ability to work as a team player are requirements to make it as an editorial photographer.

For further research, visit the following websites:

Advertising Photographers of America

American Society of Media Photographers

Editorial Photographers

National Press Photographers Association


Photography is one of the most important elements of the fashion world. Who better to show off a new design or clothing line than a talented photographer? Fashion photography is hard work, requiring a lot of international travel and long hours. Sounds good to you? Having an excellent portfolio is important for getting an assignment. You’ll need a distinct style and the ability to imbue your photographs with it to make it as a fashion photographer. Consider working with a photo agency to promote your talents and get your work seen.

For further research, visit the following websites:

Advertising Photographers of America

American Society of Media Photographers

Fine Art

Fine art photographers generally present their photographic images as finished prints for sale. Fine art photography ranges from images of landscapes to surrealistic patterns to everything in between. The artist generally sells his or her work through local or online galleries, at art shows, and from their own studios and websites.  Successful fine art photographers also use reps to promote their work.


Photographers that work in the medical or scientific communities work in research labs, hospitals, and healthcare facilities—and in the field.  They use tools such as cameras, microscopes, video cameras, and specialized equipment designed to capture biomedical images. Specialties include ophthalmic photography, forensic biomedical photography, photomicrography, and dental photography. Since medical photographers frequently work with patients, physicians, and researchers, good people skills are necessary.

For further research, visit the following websites:

BioCommunications Association

The Journal of Biocommunication

The Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society
Movie Stills

Movie still photographers work on movie sets, capturing both behind-the-scenes images and photos of the scenes being shot. These images are used for movie promotion, record shots, and other applications. The best way to get into photographing movie stills is to have an outstanding portfolio showing people and their interaction, along with a great personality and the ability to be flexible in your work habits. Think about volunteering to learn the business.

For further research, visit the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.


The nature or environmental photographer usually works on location, and may work in conjunction with a researcher, newspaper, or magazine. Knowledge of the natural world is a must for photographers choosing this path, and can include a background in zoology, botany, or other earth and natural sciences. Great patience is required, as well as a love for travel.

For further research, visit the following websites:

International League of Conservation Photographers

The Explorers Club

The National Geographic Society

The North American Nature Photography Association


Photojournalists make many of the photographs you see on a daily basis in newspapers, in magazines, and on news and current-events websites. This career can be a rewarding one, and it requires not only photography skills, but also the negotiating skills, knowledge of different cultures, and physical and mental strength. Photojournalists frequently travel and may be away for extended periods of time covering conflicts or working on assignments. The National Press Photographers Association has a national mentoring program for students, which offers an excellent way to work and learn from a professional photojournalist.

For further research, visit the following websites:

American Photojournalist

Associated Press

National Press Photographers Association


Wedding Photojournalist Association

White House News Photographers Association


The sports photographer records sporting events as they happen, and must have lightning-fast reflexes, superb timing, knowledge of the sport, and great technical skill with a variety of cameras. Some sports photographers specialize in only one sport, while others photograph many different sports. They travel extensively, work nights and weekends, and typically endure extremes of weather. Sports photographers generally own their camera gear, and work for several magazines or newspapers.

For further research, visit the following websites:

American Society of Media Photographers

National Press Photographers Association

Sports Shooter


The underwater photographer not only needs excellent technical skills in photography but also must be certified as a diver who can work comfortably in a marine environment. Diving, swimming, and underwater safety skills, combined with a thorough knowledge of marine life, the ocean, and boating, are requirements for this career. Underwater photographers often shoot images for stock photography.

For further research, visit the following websites:
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Scuba Diving magazine

The New York Underwater Photographic Society


The wedding or portrait photographer usually works out of a studio, but frequently shoots on location with clients. Capturing the big day for a bride and groom is a daunting responsibility. Wedding photographers need top-notch equipment and the technical knowledge to make it work. Photojournalistic wedding photography has become quite popular, and this is an area you may choose to specialize in. Making portraits of people and families requires great patience, as well as creative flair.

For further research, visit the following websites:

Professional Photographers of America

Wedding & Portrait Photographers International

Wedding Photojournalist Association

Professional Profiles

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