What is a Photographer?

A photographer is a professional that focuses on the art of taking photographs with a digital or film camera. Photographers use artificial and/or natural lighting to snap pictures of various people, places and things in a variety of settings. Some photographers focus on studio work, while other explore the natural, outside world. There are a variety of photography niches that one can choose from and be able to uniquely showcase their artistic ability with.

What does a Photographer do?

A photographer generally works in a freelance capacity, and is hired for specific jobs by numerous clients. Some photographers work exclusively in certain segments of the industry, such as wedding, graduation and other event-type settings, while others do mainly corporate work, and spend most of their time taking photographs that will appear on business websites and other promotional material. Still others, however, focus more on the artistic side of photography, and choose their own subjects and material that they wish to shoot.

A professional photographer taking a picture of the northern lights.

Other forms of professional, full-time photography involve taking stills for motion pictures, taking pictures for crime scenes in cooperation with local and federal law enforcement agencies, and taking pictures for digital and print newspapers (photojournalist) - though often newspapers will work with a photographer on a freelance basis rather than hiring him or her full-time.

A part-time or freelance photographer who is hired by a client is responsible for following the client's wishes down to the finest details, as well as for setting up a business model that makes pricing and options clearly visible and accessible.

A professional photographer who works full-time often does studio work that involves taking pictures in a controlled interior setting, with professional or amateur models. These photographers can be freelance, or can also be kept on retainer by certain magazines and fashion companies.

Finally, photographers are responsible for the digital or physical development of their pictures, and may also be responsible for small or heavy editing of their pictures. For physical prints, a photographer will be required to know how to best develop their film, or will be expected to hire other professionals to develop their film for them.

The editing process of photographs, on the other hand, may include simple cropping, or could include changing colour schemes, lighting, and adding or removing objects from pictures to 'clear them up.' Some clients will choose to edit the pictures themselves, while others will expect the photographer to do the necessary photo editing.

There are many genres of photography. The following are just a few fields that photographers can specialize in:

Wedding Photographer
Wedding photography is a very specialized type of photography. The wedding day is typically one of the most important and memorable days in a person's lifetime, and one that will be remembered for years to come. Therefore, for most couples, regular photographs just won’t do. Professional wedding photographers are hired to capture a couple's irreplaceable moments by taking creative, candid and beautiful photographs of the wedding ceremony and reception.

Before even photographing a wedding, the photographer corresponds with the clients for months, or even a year or two, before the actual wedding date. Getting to know the clients and understanding their likes, dislikes, and their ultimate vision is important, so that when the wedding day comes the couple feels comfortable enough to let their true personalities come out and shine. Once details are agreed upon, a standard written agreement is signed between the bride- and groom-to-be and the photographer.

After the event is over, the images are processed as quickly as possible, the wedding photographer and couple will meet to go over the images, and ordering details are finalized. A high level of customer service is just as important after the event as before it - good customer relationships can lead to family portraits and portraits of their children in years to come.

Photographers tell stories through images that they capture through their cameras, and express their personalities and viewpoints through their art.

Fashion Photographer
Fashion photographers are responsible for photographing apparel, accessories, and fashion models, as well as collaborating with hair stylists, fashion stylists, makeup artists, and fashion designers. A fashion photographer can either work freelance or be hired by a fashion designer, fashion publication, fashion house, advertising agency, or a fashion/beauty magazine.

Through their photographs, fashion photographers are able to create a certain aura and define what beauty and style is. Responsibilities typically involve setting up and running photo shoots, communicating with make-up artists and fashion designers to best represent their vision, and editing the photographs.

Real Estate Photographer
Real estate is a very competitive industry, filled with ambitious agents looking for their next sale. Selling real estate is about setting yourself apart from the competition, and one of the ways that can be done is by capturing beautiful and enticing photos of a home that is for sale. Real estate photographers specifically hone in on this area of photography, creating photos for real estate agents and their property listings on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).

This type of photography is somewhat detached from most of the artistic freedom one can enjoy with other forms of photography. Real estate photographers provide a much needed service for a very fast-paced industry. However, because the photos are temporary and, for the most part, don't have much sentimental value, the photographer can concentrate on producing a top notch product that can be duplicated from one photo shoot to the next.

Travel Photographer
Travel photography involves taking images that express an area's people, cultures, customs, landscape, and history. However, travel photography, unlike other types of photography like fashion, wedding, or real estate photography, is harder to monetize. Travel photographers used to earn money through magazine assignments and stock photography. However, now that the stock photography market has shrunk, more and more photographers are using other ways to earn a living such as blogging, commercial projects, and teaching.

Careers in travel photography can be as varied as the destinations they serve. A big part of making a career out of this type of photography is by tapping into social media marketing, content development, negotiation, and sales. However, the first step is to just get out there and take some pictures - having a good portfolio is key in this genre of photography.

Photographers use artificial and/or natural lighting to snap pictures of various people, places and things in a variety of settings.

A photojournalist is someone who photographs, edits, and displays images in order to tell a visual story. They are journalistic professionals that are skilled at interpreting and communicating an event through a photograph(s). The subject matter can vary greatly, all the way from social unrest in a foreign country, to issues and events happening at a local level.

Photojournalists can work as freelance photographers, or can be employed by photo agencies, magazines or local newspapers. Employment areas include the internet, print, and television.

Architectural Photographer
An architectural photographer captures photos of buildings and structures with the aim of portraying them as accurately as possible. This may include the interior or exterior of any structure - from a residential home to the world’s tallest building. Most of us think that buildings are the main things that architectural photographers take pictures of, however, other structures also come under the architecture umbrella, such as bridges, monuments, towers, and windmills.

One of the main challenges with this type of photography is composing a shot properly. Technical problems need to be solved such as finding the best vantage point to show mass and shape or looking for the best way to depict spatial depth and clarity.

Food Photographer
Food photography is a very specific genre of photography - it is still life photography that is used in cookbooks, blogs, magazines, social media, advertisements, and packaging. The 'key ingredient' is to capture the image in a way that makes the viewer's mouth water. This is done by the photographer's extensive understanding of light, colour palettes, and styling trends.

In order to work in this field, a good understanding of the food one is photographing is very important, as many food items can easily melt or wither which can make it quite challenging to work with. Food photographers typically work in collaboration with art directors, directors, food stylists, prop stylists, and assistants. As with any genre of photography, food photographers should always have both a print and digital copy of their best work to show potential clients.

Food photographer setting camera up to take photos of a plate of food.

Sports Photographer
A sports photographer specializes in taking pictures of athletes and sporting events. At big events, sports photographers usually have VIP access, giving them the best vantage point for seeing the action.

This type of photography is typically used for editorial purposes - sports photographers usually work for newspapers, news wire agencies or sports magazines. However, sports photography can also be used for advertising purposes, whether it's to build a brand or to promote a sport. While most sports photographers work full-time for publications and sport teams, others prefer to work as freelancers, picking and choosing who they work for. Working conditions vary depending on the type of sport being covered - sports photographers may choose to shoot only athletes, only games, or only cover extreme sports like rock climbing or sky diving.

Newborn Photographer
Newborn photography is one of the most rewarding yet difficult genres that a photographer can get into. This is the only area of photography that involves a photographer being completely responsible for the safety and welfare of another human being. Newborns are delicate, must be handled correctly, and are relying on someone to take care of them at all times. This is typically the parent's responsibility, however for the few hours the infant is with the photographer, the parent's have to trust the photographer to take on this responsibility.

The average newborn photo session is three to four hours - most of that time is spent settling, cuddling, soothing, and posing the baby (and not taking photos). The actual time taking photos only amounts to a few minutes of that three to four hours. Each baby is unique, and so is each session. The baby will dictate the session and how it goes - typically, the calmer and less stressed the photographer is, the better the session will go since babies can pick up on stress.

Understandably, most newborn photographers will do just one session per day. Beautiful photographs of newborns are not always the easiest to capture, but the challenges are what make it so rewarding and profitable. A booming newborn photography business can be realized by combining technical skills, business know-how, and a good understanding of babies and their parents.

Portrait Photographer
Portrait photography focuses on capturing a person’s likeness by having an individual sit or pose for the camera in a specific way. Typically, the most prominent part of a portrait photo hones in on a person's face. Other components, such as backgrounds and props, are still visible but are not the main focus. A portrait photographer will often spend a few minutes posing the subject (or subjects) for each picture. Paying attention to small details, such as a slight tilt of the head, a soft gaze, or a natural placement of the hands, is key to taking successful portrait photos.

The subjects of portrait photography are usually everyday people (not models). Memorable lifetime events can be captured in school photos, dance recital photos, graduation photos, and family portraits.

Landscape Photographer
Landscape photography can be a preferred genre of photography for a variety of reasons, such as recalling a personal observation or experience while traveling, wanting to be involved with nature and the elements, using it as an escape from the artificial world, or simply having an appreciation of natural environments and having a desire to see it preserved.

Many landscape photographers don't want to show any human activity and instead want to display a pure portrayal of nature that is devoid of any human influence. Features such as light, weather, and strong landforms are usually brought to the forefront. On the other hand, other landscape photographers consider urban settings, industrial areas, farm fields, orchards, and gardens as their definition of a landscape. This genre of photography can be hard to monetize but can be done with excellent marketing skills.

Landscape photographer taking a picture of city lights.

Aerial Photographer
Aerial photographers take pictures from the air, usually from helicopters, small airplanes, drones, blimps, balloons, parachutes, pigeons, kites, and rockets. Photographs can be taken by the photographer with a hand-held camera, or cameras can be mounted and triggered remotely or automatically. This type of photographer often works for architects or real estate developers who require aerial photos when looking for potential building locations or when marketing properties.

Air-to-air photography is a bit different than aerial photography, in that it specifically focuses on chase planes that "chase" and photograph other aircraft in flight.

Are you suited to be a photographer?

Photographers have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if photographer is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Photographer like?

A photographer will be asked to work in any number of settings and environments. This can include working in comfortable studios in a big city, or working in the frozen forests of a remote country. A photographer is one of the few professionals that could be wearing shorts and a t-shirt one day, wearing a tuxedo the next, and a winter coat and boots the day after that.

Most photographers that are serious about their craft will also have a home office or studio that will include a place to work on digital or physical photographs for the purpose of development and/or editing work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Photographer?

Photographers tell stories through images that they capture through their cameras, and express their personalities and viewpoints through their art. There are pros and cons for every career, and the pros and cons of photography depend on what each individual considering this career finds important. For example, whether freedom is valued over structure or whether a regular paycheque is valued over an irregular income is subjective.

Read over the following pros and cons for this career, and then decide if it's something you can see yourself doing:


Flexibility Self-employed photographers enjoy the flexibility to make their own schedules and be their own bosses. They can work pretty much anywhere that suits them, and are not confined to a desk or office environment.

Earning Potential On one side of the earning equation is the worry of not having a regular paycheque, but on the other side is the potential to earn a lot of money by having the option to expand or specialize as you feel fit.

Seeing Your Work It is very exciting and motivating to have the ability to be creative during a photoshoot or to be engrossed while in the process of taking a great shot. However, it's even more exciting to see a client love and use a photo you've captured. There’s a true sense of pride when you see your hard work making a difference, whether it’s in advertising, in social media, or in a family photo.

Seeing Things Around You Differently You'll start to appreciate and see the beauty in small things around you, especially after you've been shooting for a while. You'll also start to appreciate light and what you can do with it, particularly when working with apertures, exposures, angles, and shutter speeds.

Capturing Moments It's amazing to know that you are capturing a moment in time that would otherwise have been forgotten. From baby pictures to graduation pictures to wedding pictures, life and its special moments can be documented and preserved.

Doing Something You Love It's probably safe to say that most photographers originally started on their photographic journey by just loving to take pictures and progressed from there. By honing their hobby until they got good enough, they made it their professional career.

Many Choices There are a variety of niches to choose from in photography. For example, you can specialize in fashion, weddings, babies, sports, news, business, fine arts, wildlife, food, real estate, or landscape photography (just to name a few).

Adventure Some photographers choose to work in interesting environments. Examples include attending special events and taking pictures of famous actors, athletes, or politicians, or shooting wild animals in remote parts of the world.

Independence Many photographers are freelancers, which gives them a great deal of freedom when choosing assignments. Doing freelance work also allows for more creativity as the photographer can then have autonomy to choose the setting and type of photo that needs to be taken.

Creativity This career allows photographers to express how they feel or see life. Their work can also bring out reactions and emotions in others by helping people understand and share the feelings of people from different backgrounds and other parts of the world. At times, photos can make such an impact that they can help in changing societal viewpoints.

Wide Exposure Good photography can lead to wide exposure if pictures are published in the media or in national or international publications. This type of exposure can lead to opportunities for domestic and international travel as well, which can then lead to more work opportunities.

Relationships Photographers often get to work with other professionals such as models, makeup artists, hair stylists, set designers, fashion designers, prop stylists, and other photographers. This gives photographers the opportunity to forge professional and personal relationships which gives them the opportunity to hear about future work opportunities.


Self-Employment If a photographer is in high demand, the pay can be great. However, being in high demand doesn't happen overnight, and takes an enormous amount of work and tenacity. When photographers are starting out, they typically rely on referrals and self promotion to find work. Some may even be forced to accept assignments they don't want in order to eke out a living.

Competition This industry has a lot of competition, and because of this some are so keen and eager to get published that they give their work away for almost nothing. The amount of amateur photographers working for free to build a portfolio can become a real problem to the professional photographer trying to make a living.

Getting Ripped Off There are those that steal a photographer’s work, change it slightly, and use it as their own. Publishing your work means that people can take it and do what they want with it, which is not legal, but does happen.

Setting a Price There are many amateur photographers getting into the photography business presently, and the unfortunate thing is that you will probably be competing with people charging very little money. Don't fall into the trap of giving the client a low price when starting out - charge what you think you’re worth and you’ll be taken more seriously.

Expensive Gear Top quality equipment isn’t cheap - it is a significant financial burden. While knowing how to use a camera well is more important than the type of camera you are using, you are eventually going to have to buy quality gear as soon as you can afford it.

Choosing a Boring Niche If you want to be a successful photographer, you’re going to have to find a niche. Choosing a more eclectic niche, like wildlife photography, will mean that no two days will be alike. If, on the other hand, your niche is portrait photography, your days may end up being very boring and repetitive. Finding the one type of photography you love the most and working on perfecting it is advisable.

Being Your Own Boss (and Secretary) From taking pictures, photo editing, social media, blogs, videos, website updates, promotion, invoicing, contracts, spreadsheets, sales enquiries, correspondence, taxes, or personal finances - it's your job.

The Grind of Post Production Post production plays a big role in today's photographic society. It can be a slow and repetitive process, and it's easy to spend more time behind a computer screen than behind a camera. There are thousands of post production methods; it's important to develop a method and process that works best for you.

Long Hours and Dangerous Situations Some photographers work long, irregular hours and spend a lot of time away from their family and friends. A photographer who works in photojournalism is typically on call 24 hours a day, must be ready to go when the news breaks, and has long and unstructured hours. Covering a live crime scene or war zone could also become very dangerous very quickly.

Wildlife or travel photographers often have to spend many hours/days/weeks capturing images, often in inclement weather and with lack of proper facilities. They also run the risk of being attacked by a dangerous animal or slipping and falling in rugged terrain.

How long does it take to become a Photographer?

There are several types of photography programs to choose from, from the certificate level all the way up to the master’s level. Each program is designed to match a student’s goals and level of commitment, as students typically choose to focus on one specific area or niche.

Certificate programs vary by school and are usually offered at community colleges. They can often be completed in just a few quarters, allowing students to learn the basics of photography. Associate's degrees typically take two years to finish, are more technical, and offer stronger photography and arts backgrounds. Bachelor’s degrees are four-year programs and and can give graduates a competitive edge in the marketplace (photojournalists or industrial or scientific photographers generally need bachelor's degrees). Master’s degrees are available for those who have already earned a bachelor’s degree, and take two years to complete. Master's degrees can lead to management positions such as art director or senior photographer.

Internships can also provide students with the opportunity to participate in workshops/fieldwork to explore various aspects of photography both in studio and on location. Employers prefer those who have been formally trained versus amateurs who may not have enough knowledge in the technical and creative aspects of photography.

Steps to becoming a Photographer

Photographers are also known as:
Professional Photographer Freelance Photographer Picture Taker Photograph Taker Amateur Photographer Studio Photographer