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Nearly everyone enjoys taking pictures. From vacation photos to holiday memories, photographs are something we all like to share. Some people are able to turn taking pictures into a career. Photojournalists capture news images from around the world. Fashion photographers capture the glamour that we see in magazines. Artists use the medium to enhance our perspective of the world around us. With the advent of digital cameras, images that used to take days or even weeks to see can be downloaded and shared in an instant. Professional photographers, those with a “good eye,” combining artistic expression with technical expertise, have a number of career paths available to them. Photographers can be found everywhere, from the neighborhood studio where families sit for portraits to crime scenes where police investigators record evidence. While over half of all photographers are self-employed, most receive training via a college degree and a period of apprenticeship. Assistant photographers are able to learn the myriad of tasks involved, from the technical aspects of traditional developing in a dark room, through modern computer-aided editing and cropping. Photographers learn to work with people, as well as seeing the world around them through the composition available in the camera lens.
In 2008, there were approximately 150,000 professional photographers across the United States. Over half of these were self-employed individuals, owning studios or working freelance. Salaried photographers have the opportunity to work for newspapers or magazines. More than just taking pictures, photographers fall into five distinct categories.
• Portrait Photographers: These individuals work in studios, capturing family portraits as well as recording events such as weddings, events and school pictures.
• News Photographers (Photojournalists): Individuals working for news media, capturing images at newsworthy happenings such as community meetings or sporting events.
• Commercial/Industrial Photographers: Individuals who photograph subjects such as buildings, merchandise or machinery. Their work is often used in media and trade publications.
• Scientific Photographers: Photographers who record images of scientific or medical subject material, often combining expertise in medicine or hard science.
• Fine Arts Photographers: Those who are able to sell their photographs as artwork. These individuals are considered to be the most creative.
For photographers who are able to maintain a full-time position in the industry, as of 2008 the median annual income was $29,440. This ranged from a low of less than $17,000 for the bottom ten percent to a high of more that $62,000 for the top ten percent. The vast majority of photographers, who fall in the middle 50 percent, earn between $20,000 and $43,500 annually.
Photographers with a full-time job generally earn more than those working on a freelance or self-employed basis. The largest segment of salaried photographers work in the photographic services industry, and typically earned on average $26,160 per year.
Self-employed photographers must also incur considerable expense. These individuals may be responsible for such things as studio rental, purchasing their own cameras and equipment, as well as employing assistants. Fine Art Photographers, it must be noted, rarely make enough money from their art to maintain a living.
The work of a photographer is an attractive career. Therefore, there will be intense competition for jobs over the next decade. As a whole, photography is expected to grow on par with other occupations, at a 12 percent rate. Those seeking a career as a photojournalist or commercial photographer need to be aware that candidates will outnumber open positions. The explosion of the Internet has led to increased demand for digital images, allowing freelance photographers opportunities to market their work directly to customers. However, the continued reduction in the cost of digital photographic equipment, along with scores of amateurs, has allowed more individuals to enter into an already crowded realm. Many organizations that once employed an in-house photographer are now seeking more images from those working on a freelance basis. Success as a photographer will require not only a good eye, but also the ability to use technology and operate a business.