Becoming an Advertising Photographer: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about an advertising photographer's job duties, salary and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a career in advertising photography.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Advertising Photographer

As an advertising photographer, you can use your original ideas and creative energy to take product images that stand out. Read on for some pros and cons of becoming an advertising photographer.

Pros of an Advertising Photographer Career
Creative job with chance to work on unique projects*
Variety in daily duties*
Flexible hours*
Opportunities to earn extra income through teaching*

Cons of an Advertising Photographer Career
Lack of salaried jobs*
Low wages (approximate median income of $30,490 as of 2014)*
Stiff competition for jobs*
Physically demanding (standing or walking with heavy equipment for long periods)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

As an advertising photographer, you would work with clients to design and create the photos used in advertising campaigns. Subjects might include landscapes, animals, buildings, inanimate objects and people. Your daily activities might involve traveling between shooting locations, setting up shots, discussing work with clients and planning subsequent photo shoots. You also can expect to spend a fair amount of time on the computer, transferring digital images and editing photos.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many photographers are self-employed and work on a freelance basis. This could require you to spend ample time looking for new clients and marketing your services. The BLS stated that many photographers work part-time and have flexible hours.

Salary Info and Outlook

According to the BLS, the median income for photographers was approximately $30,000 as of 2014. Income can fluctuate according to how much work you accumulate as a freelancer. You can earn a steadier income by acquiring a staff position at a company; however, these jobs are few and far between since most companies prefer to use freelancers.

The BLS anticipated average 4% job growth for all photographers from 2012-2022; self-employed photographers accounted for 60% of workers in 2012. Advertising photographers should see persistent growth as businesses continue seeking their services to promote products.

What are the Education and Training Requirements?

Although there is no formal education path for photographers in general, the BLS states that advertising photographers often need a bachelor's degree. You might study photography, advertising or a related field. Some postsecondary schools offer degree programs in photography or visual communications with advertising or commercial photography concentrations or courses.

Many photographers start out as interns or assistants to working photographers. Universities and art schools often have internship programs that can help you gain real life training experience and begin building your professional network. You also need to develop a collection of images so you can display your skills to potential employers or clients.

What Skills Are Needed?

Advertising photographers need to be creative, meticulous and original to catch the eye of potential clients. Having good communication and people skills also makes you more appealing to employers as well as being able to meet deadlines. Competence in business concepts helps you if you work as a freelancer since you may need to use marketing strategies and handle your own bookkeeping. The majority of advertising photography is created digitally, which requires you to have technical know-how - not just so you can manipulate camera controls in order to achieve various results, but also for photo-editing techniques.

What Are Employers Looking for?

While specific requirements vary, most employers are looking for people with significant experience working with computers and digital photography. The following list comes from real job descriptions found online in May 2012 and provides examples of what employers are looking for:

  • A real estate company in New York City was looking for a digital photographer with photo editing experience to cover specific territories and take photos of commercial properties. A bachelor's degree, good communication and computer skills were preferred.
  • A car company in Missouri was seeking a detail-oriented photographer to take inventory photos that would enhance its website's Internet commerce. The successful candidate would have a bachelor's degree, a strong background in layout and photography and an ability to meet deadlines.
  • A company in Minnesota had a job listing for a freelance photographer with panoramic photography experience to photograph business interiors that would help the businesses enhance their websites. A certificate was the only education requirement.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Taking courses to learn about fundamental concepts of advertising could make you more marketable to employers. The knowledge you learn might help you understand more strategic methods of conveying messages and presenting products.

There are also several professional organizations for photographers that you can join, which can help you increase your visibility and network with other professionals. The American Photographic Artists (APA) is affiliated with the Alliance of Advertising and Media Professionals, and it allows clients to search for advertising photographers among APA members.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're looking for a career that offers a better chance of landing a salaried position, consider becoming a graphic designer. These professionals use digital technologies to create various types of visual communication. Those who work in the advertising, public relations and related fields should see a 17% employment increase from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that graphic designers earned a median salary of about $44,000.

If the low salary deters you from wanting to pursue the photography field, consider becoming an art director. These professionals manage all the visual content for various media platforms. According to 2011 BLS data, art directors brought in an annual median income of roughly $81,000. The BLS did project slow employment growth of just 9% for this field; however, the advertising and public relations fields should see the most employment growth, with the BLS reporting that an estimated 2,600 more art directors should be hired in these fields between 2010 and 2020.

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