Creative & Arts
Career insights: Become a Professional Photographer
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Professional Photography explained
If you are a creative individual with a good eye for taking photos of friends, family, pets and scenery, you may have already considered a career in photography. More and more people are following their dreams and choosing to pursue a career in this dynamic and exciting field.
If this is something that you (or a loved one) is considering, read our comprehensive guide in order to learn how you can succeed. Photography is an extremely competitive field, and so it is imperative that you put in the work and do the research before you get started. By knowing all about the industry, its requirements and your competition, you can build your knowledge and increase your chances for success.
What is a Professional Photographer?
The Washington Post, the internationally renowned newspaper, defines a professional photographer as “anyone who earns more than 50 percent of his or her annual income from photography.” This is a clear and succinct definition, and one that most people will certainly find helpful.
That said, there are many professional photographers who might not met this definition. For example, perhaps a trained and skilled photographer donates a great deal of his or her time to worthy causes – they may only earn 40% of their income from photography, but they are certainly a professional in the industry.
Similarly, the definition above also leaves out someone who spends a lot of their working hours (and earns a lot of their income) editing, retouching or developing others’ photos.
The positive aspects of this definition? It makes the pool of people who can claim to be a ‘professional photographer’ very narrow, preventing hobbyists and newcomers from falsely advertising their skill level. Very few people can actually call themselves ‘professional photographers’, and this is certainly a good thing for other photographers and for consumers.
What Are The Different Types of Photographer?
You can probably think of at least a few different types of photographers right off the top of your head – wedding photographers, those who specialise in portraits, wildlife experts. While these are all common, there are many, many other types, with more becoming popular each year as technology advances.
Here are just a few of the most common and popular types of photographers out there.
- Aerial Photography
Photographers have been capturing the earth below from flying aircraft since all the way back in 1858! French hot air balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon took the world’s first aerial photos, of a French village called Petit-Bicetre from 80 metres up! Since then, people (and increasingly drones) have gotten up into the sky in order to snap vast landscapes and breathtaking sunsets.
- Candid Photography
Mastering candid photography is the bread and butter of any events photographer! Since event photography can really help to pay the bills, this is something that most people try to master. People don’t want staid, posed and ‘fake’ looking photos of their wedding, party or event – they want images that capture the light, love and excitement of their attendees. More and more, parents are eschewing studio portraits of their little ones, and they want candid shots of Little Janie or Jimmy’s personality shining through.
- Fashion Photography
Fashion photography is an important part of the photography world, as it is all about showcasing products in the best possible light – literally and figuratively!
- Architectural Photography
Using natural light to capture the beauty of a building’s façade is an acquired skill, and if you can build this talent you can start working with the best in the real estate industry.
- Documentary Photography
Documentary photography is all about telling a story that chronicles a particular subject or a story. This might be about war, famine, social problems, scientific issues or other current events.
- Landscape Photography
Landscape photography captures the beauty and dramatics of nature, giving the viewer a sense of tranquility, love or even despair (if the image shows the negative impacts environmental change.
As a photographer, portraiture is many people’s bread and butter. You can make a lot of money – and gain many loyal clients – by creating meaningful portraits of children, weddings and events.
- Wildlife Photography
Capturing animals in their natural habitat requires skill, talent and perfect timing. In addition to your technical skills, you need to time everything perfectly – and if you can get the perfect shot, you can charge quite a high amount.
- Food Photography
A lot of people joke about people taking pictures of their food, but what they don’t realise is that food photography is a big business. Restaurants, cafés, bars and food production companies need savvy food photographers to take mouth-watering photos for them.
What Does A Professional Photographer Do?
A typical day in the life of a professional photography? It simply doesn’t exist! On any given day, a professional photographer might be donning a scuba tank to dive into a reef, sailing above the clouds in a prop plane to capture vast landscapes, or inside an operating theatre snapping photos for a medical textbook.
The most important part of any professional photographer’s daily tasks is the time that they spend liaising with their client. Unless you are creating images for your own portfolio or for a fine art purpose, you will likely always have a client that has specific opinions and ideas about how you should work.
While you will certainly be able to allow your personal flair and creativity shine through (after all, that is why they chose you over your competition), you will also need to be mindful about what they want from your work. Once you have met with the client and had them sign a contract, you will spend anywhere from a few hours to a few months tackling the project for them.
Once the photos have been taken, a whole other facet of the work must be undertaken, including touching up and editing the photos on the computer, changing colours, lighting and ‘cleaning them up.’ Once your client has approved these edits, you will need to physically develop your pictures, and present them to your client in the agreed-upon format.
Remember, you will also need to spend time promoting yourself and your services, including maintaining a website and social media profiles, attending trade shows, advertising, and meeting with potential clients.
How Much Does A Professional Photographer Earn?
Every photographer earns a different level of pay, and their pay cheques depend on many factors. These include their level of education, the quality of their portfolio, their industry contacts, their years of experience, and of course – their talent! You can find photographers that charge a few hundred pounds to shoot an event, and photographers that charge tens of thousands. The wages cut a wide swath!
It is important to note that the average photographer in the UK makes between £20,000 and £30,000 per annum. In fact, one report from the British Photographic Council estimates an average profit of only £18,821, with starting salaries hovering around 12K. However, certain photography niches do tend to pay more than this.
Here are some of the most common photography fields, and how much a professional in these areas can expect to make:
- Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing
This type of photography is the highest paid, with an average salary of £58,500 per annum.
- Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories
Based on many current job listings on Glassdoor.co,uk, medical photographers often have a starting wage of £24,000.
- Motion Picture and Video Industries
With a huge variation depending on specific projects, those in the motion picture and other video industries will make between £28,000 and £40,000, on average.
Wedding photographers with an established portfolio and industry-wide reputation will usually make upwards of £40,000 per year.
Falling on the lower end of the scale, lifestyle photographers make an average of £20,000 per annum.
A skilled food photographer will often earn £32,000 per year.
While you may spend many years toiling away at low paid freelance gigs, if you make a name for yourself in the competitive and creative world of fashion, you might one day top £100K per year.
professional photographers in London, the Home Counties and Brighton tend to be able to charge higher rates, as the cost of doing business is higher.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Become a Professional Photographer?
While you do not technically need any formal qualifications to call yourself a professional photographer, a higher education program, online photography course, or university degree really can help you to hone your skills, build good practices, and gain important industry connections. A digital photography diploma can also be very helpful.
Professional qualifications or not, you need creativity, technical prowess and good people skills, along with a good eye for detail. In order to please your clients, you must listen to what they want you to do, so customer service skills are also important.
What GCSEs Do You Need To Become a Photographer?
As you have just read above, not everyone pursues formal education on their journey to becoming a professional photographer. However, if you plan to apply to a photography degree or higher education course, you need five grade 9-4 GCSEs (A*-C) (this might vary slightly depending on the institution). These GCSEs should include Maths and English, in addition to 2 or 3 other A levels (one must be in art, design or media).
How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Professional Photographer?
Just like the section above about how much a professional photographer can earn, the answer to the question ‘how much does it cost to hire a professional photographer’ is not cut and dry. If you are planning to hire a novice in the field, you might only end up paying a few hundred pounds for the full day. That said, top destination professionals might charge tens of thousands.
Remember, you will often have to pay an additional fee to have your photos retouched, edited and developed; fees for these things vary dramatically.
What Are The Career Advancement Opportunities?
While some people choose to remain ‘part time’ professional photographers for many years, earning the occasional bit of income from their photos and maintaining a select stable of clients, others do wish to advance in their careers in order to earn more money.
As with any industry, the room for advancement depends on many factors. If you are a freelancer, you might consider ‘advancement’ to be related to being able to charge higher rates, or having a fully booked calendar. If you choose to work for a specific company as a paid employee, you might consider advancement as including promotions, pay rises and/or more prestigious assignments.
If you are considering a career in photography, you are about to enter into a fascinating, exciting and constantly challenging world. By utilising some of the information listed above, your transition into your new career will be easier – and more profitable – than you ever imagined.