Becoming a Digital Photographer: Salary Info & Job Description

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A photographer's mean annual salary is around $38,350. Is it worth the irregular assignments and costs associated with replacing equipment? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Digital Photography Career

Unlike photographers who develop pictures from film, those who use digital cameras can see their photos almost instantly. While becoming a photographer can be a flexible career, check out the pros and cons to find out if it is right for you.

Pros of Being a Digital Photographer
Professionals can display their work for a wide audience online, which may help to attract new customers*
Photographers may get to travel the world to take pictures in exotic locations*
Individuals can enter the field with just four years of post-high school education*
Specialties are available *

Cons of Being a Digital Photographer
Digital camera equipment can be expensive at the start of one's career*
Some specialties, like news photographers, work irregular hours*
Income from photography isn't always steady for freelancers*
For self-employed photographers, running a business can be stressful*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Digital photographers are responsible for creating photo images of a particular subject. A good photographer may choose to shoot from a particular angle, use various forms of light and lenses or focus on various aspects of the subject to get the best shot. Digital photographers use a digital camera that stores the shot on a special disc, such as a memory card or flash drive. The photographer uploads the images onto a computer and employs processing software to enhance the picture using specialized effects, such as color correction, cropping and image modification.

Specializations and Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that photographers made an average wage of $38,350 in May 2014. However, digital photography salaries can vary by specialization. For example, news photographers, or photojournalists, work for newspapers and magazines, capturing newsworthy events, people and even daily life in small towns. noted that as of July 2015, many individuals responding to a salary survey reported earnings of $20,883 to $59,751 annually, which includes bonuses. Photojournalists may have irregular schedules and may be required to travel to get their photographs.

A commercial photographer takes pictures of a variety of living and inanimate subjects for books, catalogs and even company reports. notes that most commercial photographers reported earnings from $25,222 to $68,896 with bonuses as of July 2015. The BLS noted that these individuals may face competition from amateur photographers and may sell their work to stock photography companies.

What Are the Requirements?

Digital photographers require a good eye for detail, as well as a technical understanding of lighting, exposure, lenses, filters and manipulation software. While some freelance photographers may not require a degree, most employers seek workers with some kind of technical training. You can typically find undergraduate and graduate degree programs in photography. These programs explore concepts in digital imaging, editorial photography and photo visualization. You may also gain skills from working as a photography assistant. Additional traits that may be important include patience, attention to detail, good eyesight and creativity.

What Are Employers Looking For?

Employers don't always advertise for digital photographers, although they do advertise for specialized photographers, such as portrait photographers. However, due to the increased use of digital cameras they may request a photographer with skills in image manipulation software, such as Adobe Photoshop. Some employers require a bachelor's degree in photography, although some employers call for associate degrees and experience. Below are some examples of job postings for photographers in March 2012:

  • A Dallas, TX, company seeks a digital photographer with an associate degree or more than five years experience to take and process photographs for marketing materials.
  • A culinary arts school in Hyde Park, NY, wants a photographer to coordinate and execute photo shoots and to take photos for marketing purposes, as well as student portraits. This individual should have training in photo editing and a bachelor's degree in photography.
  • A Springfield, IL-based company is looking for a portrait photographer who can easily speak with and interact with subjects of all ages. This individual should have sales skills and a professional, outgoing personality. The preferred candidate would have a bachelor's degree in photography.

How to Beat the Competition

Join a Professional Organization

If you've chosen your specialty as a digital photographer, that's one way to stand out. Another is to join a professional organization for networking or professional certifications. For example, the Art Directors Club offers networking opportunities, as well as awards for general photography in books, calendars, posters and photo illustrations ( Additionally AIGA (formerly the American Institute of Graphic Arts) allows photographers to join competitions, network with others and get discounts on equipment.

Obtain Certification

If that's not enough, you could consider earning the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) credential from the Professional Photographic Certification Commission. You must declare your candidacy, complete an exam and submit a portfolio for review. The certification exam covers topics like f/stop exposures, JPEG compression, lighting, color wheels and ISO settings.

Other Career Paths to Consider


If your interest lies not in taking still photographs but with movies, you could consider a career in motion picture camera operations. Professionals in this field are called cinematographers. You'll find that work schedules for cinematographers vary and may require long hours. You'll have options for educational training in camera operation, including certificate programs that examine the tools used in cinematography, differences in film types and use of a variety of lenses to create specific effects. The BLS does not differentiate between television and motion picture camera operators, but indicates that the field is expected to increase by nine percent between 2008 and 2018. In May 2010, most camera operators earned between $20,300 and 81,270 annually. The BLS reported that motion picture camera operators earned an average of $52,380 annually.

Graphic Designer

If you're interested in creating the entire advertisement, as opposed to just taking the photographs used in it, you might consider a career in graphic design. You can complete degree programs in graphic design in as little as two years and can work in a variety of fields - including advertising, media production or print. The field of graphic design is expected to increase by 13% between 2008 and 2018. Graphic design pay will vary depending on the industry you choose. For example, the BLS noted that graphic designers working in newspaper and other publishing industries reported average yearly earnings of $42,180 in May 2010, while professionals working in specialized design services reported average earnings of $50,300 annually.

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