Photo Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a photo technician career? Read on to get real job descriptions, salary info and career prospects to see if a photo technician career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Photo Technician Career

Photo technicians, also called photographic process workers or processing machine operators, use machines and chemicals to develop film into prints as ordered by customers. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a photo technician is the right career choice for you:

Pros of a Photo Technician Career
Can enter the field with a high school diploma*
On-the-job training is short term*
Independent work style when operating equipment**
Can work almost anywhere (photo labs exist across the nation)*

Cons of a Photo Technician Career
Below-average salary (median annual of about $24,000 as of 2014)*
Little or no growth expected (0% from 2012-2022)*
Work can be very repetitive**
May need to meet strict deadlines or complete rush orders**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Occupational Information Network

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Photo technicians work in photo laboratories with machines that develop film and create printed photographs from that film. As a photo technician, you would feed customers' film into the machines, create prints according to customers' orders, maintain the correct composition and level of photographic chemicals and conduct sales interactions with the customers. You may also work with electronic photos, printing from files or helping customers use printing, copying and enlarging equipment. You would work to maintain all of the equipment in the lab as well as keep track of what supplies need to be ordered. Many photo technicians work a regular schedule, but that may include weekend or evening hours.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that photographic process workers and processing machine operators made a median salary of about $24,000 as of May 2014. Most of these workers were employed in general merchandise, department and health care stores. The BLS projected little or no change in employment (0% growth expected from 2012-2022) for this group. According to the most recent information available, the advent and continual advancement of digital cameras and at-home printing equipment will result in less of a demand for photo technicians. However, customers may want professional prints of their digital photos and people continue to use film for various reasons.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers don't have education requirements for photo technicians beyond a high school diploma, and they will train you on the job before you begin work. On-the-job training is typically through the instruction of a more experienced worker and can last up to a month. If you're interested in some formal education in the field, some vocational and technical schools offer courses or programs in photography or photography technology. A background in photography, computers and machinery could be helpful to you in your work as a photo technician.

Skills

Photo technicians need to have a keen eye for detail to ensure that the work in the photo lab is done correctly. You should also have good communication skills in order to deal well with customers and to follow instructions. Manual dexterity can be important in your work, since you operate machinery and make small adjustments. Also, computer and digital imaging skills may come in handy in some positions.

What Employers Are Looking For

Job postings for photo technician jobs typically mention the kinds of tasks you'd be doing and what type of shift you'd be working. Read these summaries of job postings open in May 2012 to get an idea of what some employers may be looking for:

  • A private photography company was looking to hire a digital photo lab tech to work at a Massachusetts tourist attraction. They wanted someone with a year of experience and weekend availability.
  • A media company in Texas was searching for a photo lab tech to work full-time. The posting mentioned that the candidate should have previous experience and an excellent attention to detail.
  • A California company was looking for photo lab workers to work day, swing and night shifts processing and framing photos.

How to Stand Out in the Field

In high school, you may be able to get a leg up on the competition by taking photography and computer courses. Though you may use machines to develop photos, it can be helpful to understand the underlying process involved as you learn to develop and print by hand. Because more and more photos are digital, you may need to use computers in order to make prints, so feeling comfortable around a computer is important. You may also want to develop some digital photo enhancement skills in programs like Adobe Photoshop.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're really interested in creating photographic art, consider a career as a photographer. Many photographers are self-trained although some attend school to learn their craft and gain business savvy. Photographers are mostly self-employed, which means they book clients and do their own finances. The BLS reported 2011 that photographers made a median salary of about $29,000 as of May 2011. The projected employment increase for this occupation is 13% from 2010-2020.

If you're interested in retail stores, but don't want to work on the floor or in customer service, you could become a wholesale or retail buyer. Buyers locate goods for a company and negotiate a price, ultimately hoping to secure the best product at the lowest price. Some buyers begin work out of high school while others have bachelor's degrees. The BLS reported in May 2011 that wholesale and retail buyers, excluding those who buy farm products, made a median annual salary of about $50,000. The BLS projected a 7% employment increase for purchasing managers, buyers and purchasing agents from 2010-2020.

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