Professional photographers take pictures of people, events, places and objects. Their work can appear anywhere from newspapers and magazines to wedding albums and textbooks.
Job Description, salaries and benefits
Professional photographers take pictures of people, events, places and objects. The majority work in general practice, which involves work such as taking pictures of weddings and family portraits, while others may specialise in a particular field such as fashion, advertising or clinical photography.
Increasingly photographers are using digital rather than film cameras. They often work alone, but some may employ an assistant, and also work with models, lighting technicians and journalists.
Hours can be unsociable and irregular, and photographers can work anywhere from a modern studio to outdoors in all weathers, depending on the pictures they need to take. They may spend time travelling locally or on assignments abroad.
Salaries for photographers may range from around £12,000 to £50,000 or more a year.
- be creative, with a good eye for a picture
- have excellent technical and photographic skills
- have good communication and people skills
- have good IT skills, especially with computer programs such as Photoshop
- be commercially aware and good at marketing themselves.
Photography is a very competitive occupation and, although there are about 25,000 professional photographers in the UK, most are self-employed as full-time employed jobs become rarer.
It is common to start as a photographer's assistant, particularly in general practice, advertising, fashion and editorial work. Most photographers have completed courses in photography in order to learn the technical skills they need. There are no specific qualifications needed for some of these courses but a portfolio of work is essential. Some photography specialisms, such as clinical and press photography, have set entry requirements. Apprenticeships may be available.
There are no upper age limits for entry to this job and maturity, particularly in social skills, can be an asset.
Many photographers start work and then train on the job, often working towards City & Guilds qualifications, NVQs/SVQs or qualifications from the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP). There are structured training schemes for press photographers or for work in the Armed Forces.
Self-employed photographers spend time building their businesses and reputations. For those in full-time work, there are limited opportunities for promotion as photography departments tend to be small. Press photographers can become picture editors, and some freelancers also teach part time.
What is the work like?
Professional photography covers a wide range of different specialisms. Each job - or shoot - will be different, and how individual photographers spend their time will depend on the area in which they work.
After a shoot they print or digitally manipulate the pictures before sending them to the client. They also spend time archiving their images. Increasingly, digital photography is replacing film.
Photographers may specialise in one or more of the following areas:
- general practice - the most common type of work and includes family portraits, school groups and weddings
- advertising - working on commission from advertising agencies, magazines and design groups
- fashion - can be studio based or on location, possibly abroad
- editorial - involves taking pictures to illustrate articles, often in magazines
- newspapers - working for either the local or national press
- medical - involves recording operations, experiments and postmortems for teaching and scientific purposes, often using specialist equipment
- scientific and technical - involves taking pictures for government departments and research institutes, often using cameras that allow for extreme close-ups or high speed photography
- industrial and commercial - involves recording industrial processes, machinery and buildings for research purposes or corporate literature
- police/ forensic - photographers record scenes of crime or traffic accidents for investigative purposes, and may supply pictures to the press.
Self-employed photographers also spend time marketing themselves and looking for additional places to sell their work, often through picture libraries.
Starting salaries are around £12,000 a year.
Hours and environment
Most photographers work unsociable and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Freelance photographers need to be flexible about when they work.
Photographers can work anywhere, from peoples' homes to war zones, laboratories to a music concert. Working outdoors can involve waiting for the right weather conditions.
Some work may involve heights and photographers will often need to lift and carry heavy equipment.
Photographers spend a lot of time travelling locally or on assignments abroad. A driving licence is an advantage.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.
- Junior assistant photographers start at about £12,000 a year.
- With experience this may rise to around £20,000.
- Some specialists earn over £50,000.
Income varies for freelancers depending on experience and workload, and they can earn between £150 and £600 a day.
Skills and personal qualities
A photographer should:
- be creative, with a good eye for a picture
- be reliable and able to meet deadlines
- be motivated and determined
- have excellent technical and photographic skills
- have computer skills, especially with computer programs such as Photoshop
- have good communications skills
- be confident organising people
- be able to listen and interpret the client's needs
- be able to focus on getting a good picture no matter what is going on around them
- have commercial awareness and be good at marketing themselves.
It is important to be interested in:
- their photography specialism
- the changing technology of photography.
Photography is an extremely competitive occupation. There are about 25,000 professional photographers in the UK. Full-time employed jobs are become rarer and around half of all photographers are now self-employed.
Photographers work all over the UK, although the majority of opportunities are found in larger cities.
A wide range of organisations employs photographers, both freelance and full time. These include:
- advertising and public relations agencies
- commercial studios
- newspaper and magazine publishers
- large businesses
- government departments
- research institutions
- the police and Armed Forces.
Vacancies appear in publications such as the British Journal of Photography, while the Association of Photographers (AOP) runs a job board on its website.
Some freelancers may use a photographic agent to find work.
Entry for young people
There are no set academic qualifications for entry into this career but the majority of photographers have completed a course in photography in order to master the technical skills involved. There are a large number of courses available ranging from City & Guilds courses, needing no qualifications for entry, to HND and degree courses, which require A levels/H grades or equivalent.
Work experience is important and trainees may be taken on by a commercial studio as well as local and national newspapers. A portfolio of work is essential and should contain between 10 and 15 photographs.
Working as an assistant photographer is an excellent way to learn on the job. The role can involve everything from downloading images to tidying the studio. Positions are sometimes advertised in the photographic press but most jobs are obtained by word of mouth.
Working in some areas may require specific qualifications:
- press photographers need a qualification from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)
- clinical photographers require a BSc or MSc in Medical Illustration
- police photography trainees normally have at least five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3).
The RAF recruits civilian photographers directly, regardless of military training, while the Army and Navy only recruit candidates who are currently serving in the forces. No formal academic qualifications are required.
Photography apprenticeships may also be available.
Apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out which one is most appropriate log onto www.apprenticeships.org.uk or contact your local Connexions Partnership.
It is important to bear in mind that pay rates for Apprenticeships do vary from area to area and between industry sectors.
Entry for adults
Adults with a strong interest in photography may be able to develop a freelance career. They are most likely to succeed in general practice, where maturity and social skills can be an asset.
Colleges may waive their normal entry requirements for adults with considerable relevant experience.
Some specialist areas of photography have formal training schemes, but on the whole there is no set training pattern.
Many photographers gain experience, qualifications and contacts working as an assistant. They would start work and then train on the job, often working towards City & Guilds qualifications at a range of levels. NVQs/SVQs are also available at Levels 2 to 4 in Photography or Digital Imaging and Photography.
Photographers can also use these studies to work towards obtaining a Royal Photographic Society's Distinction and a British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) qualification. Membership of the BIPP also offers excellent networking opportunities and a mentoring service for those new to the industry.
There is a structured training scheme in press photography, and photographers may train for the NCTJ National Certificate in Press Photography or an NVQ/SVQ Level 4 in Newspaper Journalism (Press Photography). The NCTJ also runs courses in photo-journalism.
Personnel from all three Armed Forces are trained at the Defence School of Photography where they can take a range of courses leading to an NVQ Level 3.
Associations such as the BIPP and the Master Photographers Association (MPA) also run short courses.
The Armed Forces, police, Civil Service and research centres all have formal promotion structures although prospects are limited as departments are small.
Press photographers can move to a national paper or magazine and then gain seniority within the team. They can also work on the picture desk, commissioning and selecting pictures rather than taking them.
There may be opportunities to manage larger photographic studios.
For self-employed photographers success depends on building up a business, a network of contacts and a reputation. Some photographers also teach on a part-time basis.
- The Association of Photographers, 81 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QS. 020 7739 6669.
- British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP), Fox Talbot House, 2 Amwell End, Ware, Hertfordshire SG12 9HN. 01920 464011.
- The Defence School of Photography, RAF Cosford, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV7 3EX.
- Institute of Medical Illustrators, Honorary Secretary, 29 Arboretum Street, Nottingham NG1 4JA. 01133 436258.
- The Master Photographers Association (MPA), Jubilee House, 1a Chancery Lane, Darlington, County Durham DL1 5QP. 01325 356555.
- The National Council for the Training of Journalists, The New Granary, Station Road, Newport, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 3PL. 01799 544014.
- The Royal Photographic Society, Fenton House, 122 Wells Road, Bath BA2 3AH. 01225 325733.
- Skillset, Prospect House, 80-110 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1HB. 020 7520 5757.
- Leaflets and booklets are available from many of the organisations listed
- Freelance Photographer's Market Handbook
- Working in print & publishing - Connexions
- British Journal of Photography
- Image (AOP)
- The Photographer (BIPP)
- Professional Photographer