Photographer • Job Description, Salary & Benefits

Are you a happy snapper? Does your index finger just love clicking buttons again and again and again? Do you have a permanently scrunched up face from staring through the viewfinder so much? Or do you just enjoy having an expensive piece of technical equipment pushed up against your face for a large part of the day?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then you’re in the right place. Seriously though, if you have creative flair and a passion for pictures, then a career in photography can be massively exciting and hugely fulfilling.

Professional photographers can work across a variety of areas, including fashion, fine art, advertising, glamour, photojournalism, documentary, travel, food, political, social, technical and war photography.

Photographers usually specialise in one specific area, such as social photography, which includes portraiture and photographs covering social events such as weddings and parties.

The majority of photographers work independently, taking up freelance assignments or operating out of their own studios. Understandably, your daily activities will focus around taking photos, but the intricacies of your professional life will be dependent on your specialist area of photography.

You’re not going to be just snapping photos willy-nilly, though – you’ll usually be working to a brief. Consequently, you’ll be liaising with your clients and consulting with them to discuss the type and volume of photos they require.

In the preparation stages, you’ll be priming the necessary equipment and backgrounds for indoor work or scouting out appropriate locations for outdoor shoots. When it comes to the actual photo sessions you’ll be interacting with your subjects (if applicable) to put them at ease during photo sessions and then taking the actual photographs.

After the session, you’ll be processing film and creating proofs for client approval, completing the remaining processing work once approval is received and carrying out any modifications and enhancements that are requested by clients, such as enlargements, cropping and framing.

Some photographers use software and other technological processes for digital enhancements or preparing photos for display across different media. To thrive in this profession, you’ll need to keep up to date on the latest trends and developments in photographic equipment and techniques.

Salary & benefits

Starting salaries for photographers with little or no experience are low. Salaries between £8,000 and £12,000 are not uncommon for photographic assistants and interns.

Salaries for professionals with more experience range from £10,000 to £20,000 per annum.

However, established photographers with a strong reputation can command between £25,000 and £75,000 a year.

If you become famous for your expertise though, especially in the fashion world, you can earn monumentally large amounts of money. Indeed, if you become the next Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz, Ryan McGinley or Bruce Weber, you will not be hard up for cash!

Annual incomes for freelance photographers vary hugely, though, and are entirely dependent upon your experience, reputation and portfolio.

Working hours

Your working hours are likely to be irregular and long days are common, although studio-based photographers are usually able to work to slightly more regular schedules.

Opportunities for travel are also frequent, especially for photographers accompanying news reporters or those handling political, fashion, travel or photojournalist assignments.


Prior work experience and academic qualifications are required in equal measure, with degrees or diplomas in photography, fine art or digital imaging really boosting your career prospects. However, you can also enter this profession without a degree.

It’s all about building up an impressive portfolio of your work, participating in contests and getting work experience by assisting established professionals, or doing internships with newspapers and magazines.

Training & progression

Training and career growth is driven by the individual and your area of specialism. While print media, fashion or technical photography jobs may include some amount of structured training, the majority of training will focus on personal development, private study and building up an individual portfolio which stands out from the rest of the competition.

Thriving in this industry is all about networking, making contacts and building your reputation. As you work on more and more high-profile projects, you will begin to attract more business. The majority of photographers carve out a niche for themselves and focus on that specific area.

Some photographers may even dabble in cinematography or video production from time to time.

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