How to become photographer

What does a photographer do?

Photographers create permanent visual images. Often working to a client’s brief, they control lighting, tone and perspective in their photography work using a range of photographic equipment, accessories and photography imaging software. Photographers are valued for their technical understanding of the medium of photography as well as their artistic vision.

Key features of photography work include:

  • Choosing and preparing locations
  • Setting up lighting
  • Selecting appropriate cameras, film and accessories
  • Composing shots
  • Positioning subjects and instructing assistants.

After shooting, they may process and print images, or view and manipulate digital images using software such as Photoshop. Most photographers are self-employed, so must also spend time on marketing and other aspects of running a small business.

Photographers usually specialise in one of the following areas:

  • General practice or social – offering photographic services for local communities or businesses, with the majority of work being in wedding and family photography
  • Advertising and editorial - expressing a product idea or illustrating a magazine story; usually categorised into still life, food, cars, portraiture or landscape
  • Fashion - working with models and art directors in high fashion, or commissioned by catalogues and magazines
  • Press and Photojournalism - photographing news stories or personalities to strict deadlines
  • Corporate (Industrial and Commercial) - producing images for promotional material or annual reports
  • Scientific and Technical - producing photographs for medical reports, research papers or criminal investigations.

Professional photographers often employ assistants to help shoots run smoothly. Assistant photographers may deal with clients and suppliers, organise estimates, invoices, licences and payments; arrange props, work with photographic labs and stylists and carry out administrative tasks.

What's the working environment like for a photographer?

Hours of work vary - they may be long and irregular, including evenings and weekends. Part-time work may be possible. 

Photographers work in different environments, depending on their area of specialisation. In advertising and portrait photography, they are often based in a studio. Other types of work can be in any indoor or outdoor location, according to the brief. Some photographers may spend time developing and processing shots in a darkroom, although the rise of digital technology has reduced the need for darkroom work.

Photographers may lift and carry heavy equipment. Taking photographs on location can mean spending periods of time away from home. A license and vehicle may be necessary. 

What does it take to become a photographer?

To work as a photographer you should:

  • have the motivation and self-confidence to find work in a competitive profession
  • have good business and organisational skills, as the majority of photographers are self-employed
  • be creative, and have a good eye for visual effects, such as shape, form and tone
  • have technical aptitude, as the work involves using a variety of equipment
  • be ambitious and determined
  • have excellent communication skills and a friendly, open personality
  • have patience, as it can take a long time to get the right shot.

There are no set requirements to become a photographer, however you should have a portfolio of work and experience working on shoots. Most photographers are self taught however a course in photography can teach you technical and creative skills. 

Learn from the expert

If you'd like to learn more about the life of a photographer, have a read of our interview with the talented Jimmy Nelson by clicking the image below. 

Photographer career opportunities

Most photographers find their own area of interest and usually work as freelancers. Some take on contract work as well as exploring their own interests.

With enough training and experience, some photographers move on to becoming a press or police photographer. Medical photography and illustration are other aspects of photography that you can venture in to. 

Further information

If you would like to learn more about becoming a photographer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Skillset Careers
Tel: 08080 300 900 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Tel: 0808 100 8094 for Scotland

Prospect House
80-110 New Oxford Street

British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP)
Fox Talbot House
2 Amwell End
SG12 9HN
Tel: 01920 464011

The Association of Photographers
81 Leonard Street
Tel: 020 7739 6669

National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)
Latton Bush Centre
Southern Way
CM18 7BL
Tel: 01279 430009

Institute of Medical Illustrators
Bank Chambers
48 Onslow Gardens


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