Photographers
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Overview
Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that tell a story or record an event.
Predicted employment growth
Over the next decade, jobs for photographers are expected to shrink by 6%, and should have about 13,000 job openings a year.
Safety from automation
Photographers are less likely to be automated than 87% of other careers.
Workforce size
Photographers, with 147,300 workers, form a larger workforce than 74% of careers.
Education
About 50% of photographers have at least a bachelor's degree.
Education attained by photographers
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Context: workers with bachelor's degrees
More photographers have bachelor's degrees than 70% of other careeers.
Salaries
The median (middle) salary for 78% of all other jobs is higher than the middle salary for photographers. The graph shows inflation-adjusted salaries for most photographers.
This job's median $34KAll jobs' median $39K$33K$38K20142015201620172018$0$10K$20K$30K$40K$50K
Context: Median Salary
Gender
Women account for 38% of photographers -- that's a larger percentage than 53% of other jobs.
Gender of photographers
Men
Women
Context: Salary inequity
For each career, we compared the median (middle) men's salary to the median women's salary. For photographers, the median men's salary was 32% more the median woman's salary.
Race/Origin
About 14% of photographers are minority, and 11% are foreign-born.
Race/origin of photographers
White
Black
Pacific Islander
Hispanic
Asian
American Indian
Multiracial
Other
Context: Foreign-born workers (11%)
Where are the most jobs?
We ranked the number of jobs in Photographers per thousand workers in each state, DC, and Puerto Rico. The darker the blue, the higher the job density.
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
Job benefits
Employer or union-sponsored pension plans are offered to 23% of photographers, and 34% have company-sponsored health insurance (28% have dependents enrolled in their employer's health plan).
Employer-provided health coverage for photographers
100% premiums covered
Partial premiums covered
Plan with no cost sharing
No health insurance
Top college degrees
Here are the top college degrees held by the 51% of people in this job who have at least a bachelor's degree. Some of degrees may link to multiple programs due to the way Census classifies college majors. Click on a program to learn more about career opportunities for people who major in that field.
The downside
Some jobs are more stressful than others, and some are just plain dangerous. The following list gives the percentages of photographers who report hazardous or difficult situations typically occurring at least once a week.
  • Time Pressure (80%)
SOURCES:24.0 O*NET
Salary and diversity
Salary overview
What do photographers earn?

In this section, we want to give you a clear idea of what you can expect to earn in this career. We use two sources of data here: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which asks employers to classify their workforce and to report salaries using the SOC-specialty level of reporting, and the American Community Survey (ACS), which asks people to classify their jobs using the broad classifications that ididio uses for career profiles, and to self-report their salaries. For some jobs, the differences in survey approaches between BLS and ACS can paint a very different end-picture. Whenever possible, we provide data from both sources.

The BLS-compiled salary data is reported by companies for their employees. This data excludes self-employed workers. We first show the distribution of salaries for photographers, and then we show how the middle (median) salary for photographers compares to the BLS-computed median salaries of other careers.
Distribution: Salaries for photographers (BLS Salary Data)
$34K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
Context: Median salaries across careers (BLS Salary Data)
$34K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
We compiled household data from the ACS to determine the salaries that people working at least 35 hours a week report themselves to earn. Unlike the BLS estimates, this data includes self-employed wages. We first show the full salary distribution for all photographers, and then we show how the median (middle) salary for photographers compares to the median ACS-reported salary of other careers.
Distribution: Salaries for photographers (ACS Salary Data)
$37K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
Context: Median salaries across careers (ACS Salary Data)
$37K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
Employers and salary
A look at employers and corresponding salaries
The donut shares the break-down of workers by employer type, and following we show the salary distributions for these workers based on those employer types. For some careers, the salaries can be vastly different between private, government, and self-employment. As with our salary overview, we view the both the BLS economists' salary profiles and the household-reported salaries from ACS to get a thorough understanding of where photographers work and for what salary. We have the great faith in the accuracy of economist-vetted BLS data; however, the BLS restrictions on which employers are surveyed skews the data a bit (read more in the sources), and the ACS responses provide different and useful categorizations of employers and salaries.
Employers of Photographers (ACS)
Private for-profit (41.0%)
Private not-for-profit (2.5%)
Local government (0.7%)
State government (1.3%)
Federal government (2.3%)
Self-employed incorporated (17.4%)
Self-employed not incorporated (34.7%)
Working without pay (0.2%)
Distribution: Salaries of photographers by type of employer (ACS data)
Following are the salary distributions by employer type calculated by aggregating individual household survey responses.
$37K$42K$32K$37K$42K$47K$52K$0$20,000$40,000$60,000$80,000$100,000$120,000Self-employed not incorporatedSelf-employed incorporatedFederal governmentState governmentLocal governmentPrivate for-profitAll
Distribution: Salaries of photographers by type of employer (BLS data)
Following are the salary distributions by employer type as reported by BLS based on large employer-focused surveys. We note that smaller employer categories are not included by BLS.
$34K$59K$34K$46K$0$20,000$40,000$60,000$80,000$100,000State governmentLocal governmentPrivateAll
Age and career advancement
Salary growth for photographers

The biggest take-away from the following two charts is the relationship between salary and experience that we can infer from age. Does this job seem to attract especially younger or older workers? Does it reward experience?

Take a minute a look at how much you might expect your salary to increase with each five years' experience, as well as how the numbers working in this career changes. We only provide this data when there are enough consistent ACS survey responses to allow a reasonable margin of error, so for some careers you will see gaps in our reporting of salary by age.

$46K$32K$37K$42K$43K$41K$42K$42K$20K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120KSalary distribution20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-4950-5455-5960-64
05K10K15K20KNumber employed20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-4950-5455-5960-64

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Gender and Equity
Photographers and gender

With 38% women, this occupation has a higher percentage of women than 53% of careers.

Context: Women in the workforce
38%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Gender of Photographers
Men (62%)
Women (38%)
Distribution: Salaries by gender

As we'll illustrate at the bottom of this section, the median (middle) salary for all full-time male workers in the US exceeds the full-time median salary for women by 20%, and the difference for photographers tops that, with the median salary for men 32% higher than the median salary for women. This chart shows you the salary range for most workers by gender.

$31K$41K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100KWomenMen
Context: Salary Inequity

Nationwide there are twenty careers for which men do not have a higher median (middle) salary than women. The chart below shows the salary inequity, the percentage by which the median men's salary is higher than the median women's salary, for most jobs. Photographers have one of the higher percentage increases for men's salary, with the increase for the men's median salary over the women's median salary in this job even higher than that for 81% of other jobs.

32%0%20%40%60%80%100%

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Race/Origin
Race and origin of photographers

The representation of minority and foreign-born workers is quite different between careers, and the relative pay of those workers also varies significantly between careers. There is a smaller percentage of minority photographers than for 76% of other careers. As with minority workers, there is also a smaller percentage of foreign-born workers in this career than in most other careers.

Race/origin of photographers
White (83% )
Black (6% )
Asian (4% )
Multiracial (3% )
Other (3% )
Hispanic (1% )
American Indian (0% )
Pacific Islander (0% )
Context: Representation of minorities in the workforce
14%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Context: Representation of foreign-born workers
11%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Distribution: Salaries for photographers by race/origin

For some careers, there is a pay disparity depending on race or origin, though this is not prevalent. We calculate standard errors for all of our calculations, and when the error is high we do not show results. Therefore, for some jobs will have omitted race/origin categories.

$29K$33K$34K$36K$37K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100KOtherMultiracialAsianBlackWhite
Distribution: Salaries for photographers by nativity
$37K$37K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100KAll native citizensAll foreign-born

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Pathways to this career
Education requirements and salary
Education attained by photographers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), photographers typically hold a high school diploma or equivalent.

Sometimes the typical education identified by the BLS differs a bit from the reality of the how much education current workers actually have. The donut shows the education level held by people currently working as photographers as reported in responses to the American Community Survey. Following, we investigate whether education level influences salary for photographers.

Education attained by photographers
None
High School
Some College
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Professional Deg/Doct
Doctorate
Details: Education and training recommended for photographers

Although postsecondary education is not required for most photographers, many take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field because such an education can improve their skills and employment prospects.

Many universities, community and junior colleges, vocational–technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer classes in photography. Basic courses in photography cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Art schools may offer useful training in photographic design and composition.

Entry-level positions in photojournalism or in industrial or scientific photography generally require a college degree in photography or in a field related to the industry in which the photographer seeks employment. For example, classes in biology, medicine, or chemistry may be useful for scientific photographers.

Business, marketing, and accounting classes can be helpful for self-employed photographers.

Details: Licensing and certification recommended for photographers

Photographers who commercially operate drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UASs), must obtain certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They must fulfill the following criteria:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as a hearing impairment)
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to operate a small UAS safely
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center

For specific guidelines and information, visit the FAA website on unmanned aircraft systems.

Distribution: Salary by education level

What level of education is truly needed for photographers? Below we see the distribution of photographers salaries based on the education attained. These comparisons are based on all survey responses by those who identified themselves as photographers, and are not intended as a statistical analysis of salary differences that would correct for non-educational factors that could contribute to high or low earnings.

$30K$31K$41K$41K$41K$69K$0$50K$100K$150KHigh School (13%)Some College (25%)Associate's Degree (10%)Bachelor's Degree (43%)Master's Degree (6%)Professional Deg/Doct (1%)
Bachelor's degree pathways
College majors held by photographers

This table shows the college majors held by people working as photographers. Select any degree to see detailed information. We are able to connect careers to degrees using the American Community Survey (ACS), and their degrees are defined a little differently from our programs, which are based on standard CIP classifications. Therefore, selecting some degrees will lead to a selection of CIP-level programs from which to choose.

If you see "**" before the name of a degree/program, that means this field is one that the Department of Education believes is preparatory for this career. However, you can see from this list that those recommendations are far from your only path to this job!

Degree
Select any title to learn more about that degree
Percentage of Photographers with this degree
Salary for all majors
Salary distribution (across jobs). Showing 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
Final education level of all people with this major
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Gender of people this bachelor's degree
Men
Women
7.3%
$0$200K$56K
6.6%
$0$200K$57K
4.3%
$0$200K$51K
3.4%
$0$200K$63K
3.3%
$0$200K$53K
2.4%
$0$200K$60K
2.4%
$0$200K$55K
1.5%
$0$200K$45K
1.4%
$0$200K$60K
1.4%
$0$200K$63K
1.1%
$0$200K$72K
1.1%
$0$200K$51K
1.1%
$0$200K$73K
The link between degrees and careers
The link between degrees and careers

With the following "sankey" diagram, you can follow the top ten bachelor's degrees held by people working as photographers, and then, in turn, you can see the 10 occupations that hire the most of each degree's graduates. This visualization links fields of studies and careers, suggesting both similar careers and options for degrees. The full list of bachelor's degrees held by photographers given in the previous section reminds us that there are many paths to these careers beyond what we can summarize here.

This job
Top 10 majors
Each major's top ten jobs
Producers and directorsPhotographersManagers (specialized areas)EditorsTelevision, video, and motion picture camera operators and editorsDesignersWriters and authorsSecretaries and administrative assistantsElementary and middle school teachersFirst-line supervisors of retail sales workersArtists and related workersPostsecondary teachersSecondary school teachersRetail salespersonsCustomer service representativesMarketing and sales managersWholesale and manufacturing sales representativesHuman resources workersLawyers, judges, and magistratesNews analysts, reporters and correspondentsPublic Relations SpecialistsChief executives and legislatorsWeb developersAccountants and auditorsFinancial managersFirst-line supervisors of non-retail sales workersCounselorsSocial workersPsychologistsPhysicians and surgeonsEducation administratorsFilm Video andPhotographic ArtsFine ArtsCommunicationsJournalismMass MediaCommercial Art andGraphic DesignGeneral BusinessPsychologyEnglish Language andLiteratureBusiness Management andAdministrationAll other degrees
Switching Careers
Most common new jobs
The most common next careers for photographers

What jobs will most photographers hold next year?

The data in this chart comes from person interviews for the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The survey interviews households eight times over a two-year period, allowing us a glimpse into how people move from job to job. You can see more details from the results of the survey in our last tab in this section, and you can read about our methodology in our source descriptions.

Here we see all of the jobs that at least 1% of photographers reported holding in their second year's survey. Is your future job on this list?

PhotographersManagers (specialized areas)Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editorsChief executives and legislatorsDesignersElementary and middle school teachers
Lateral career moves
Lateral job transitions for photographers

A lateral career transition is a move to a job with similar pay and responsibilities. A move to such a job can offer a change of pace without an increase in stress or a decrease in pay. The following table simply identifies the one job which was held by at least 1% of survey respondents before working as photographers as well as 1% of respondents after working as photographers. Select a row to investigate the job's full description and determine if it truly offers an opportunity for a lateral transition.

Lateral-move careers for photographers
Annual openings
How many openings are expected each year?
Salary
Salary distribution for people in this occupation. Range is 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Men
Women
Managers (specialized areas)
84,000
$0$200K$72K
Full prior and next career listings
Prior and next careers for photographers: full listings

What do people typically do before and after they work as photographers? Here are the full lists of all jobs that at least 1% of photographers surveyed reported as holding a year earlier or later.

Choose which type of transition to view
Prior jobs
Next jobs
Prior careers for photographers
Annual openings
How many openings are expected each year?
Salary
Salary distribution for people in this occupation. Range is 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Men
Women
Percentage Transitioning
What percentage worked in this job the previous year?
Managers (specialized areas)
84,000
$0$200K$72K
5.3%
Photographers
13,000
$0$200K$37K
58.9%
No occupation
14.3%
Read about photographers
Responsibilities and activities
Responsibilities and activities

Photographers typically do the following:

  • Market and advertise services to attract clients
  • Analyze and plan the composition of photographs
  • Use various photographic techniques and lighting equipment
  • Capture subjects in commercial-quality photographs
  • Enhance the subject’s appearance with natural or artificial light
  • Use photo-enhancing software
  • Maintain a digital portfolio to demonstrate their work
  • Archive and manage imagery

Today, most photographers use digital cameras instead of the traditional film cameras. Digital cameras capture images electronically, so the photographer can edit the image on a computer. Images can be stored on portable memory devices, such as compact disks, memory cards, and flash drives. Once the raw image has been transferred to a computer, photographers can use processing software to crop or modify the image and enhance it through color correction and other specialized effects. Photographers who edit their own pictures use computers, high-quality printers, and editing software.

Some photographers use drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to capture shots. The drones are equipped with an integrated camera to capture 360° imagery of buildings, landscapes, scenery, or events.

Photographers who work for commercial clients often will present finalized photographs in a digital format to the client. Wedding and portrait photographers, who serve primarily noncommercial clients, frequently also provide framing services and present the photographs they capture in albums.

Many photographers are self-employed. Photographers who own and operate their own business have additional responsibilities. They must advertise, schedule appointments, set up and adjust equipment, purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, pay bills, and—if they have employees—hire, train, and direct their workers.

In addition, some photographers teach photography classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios.

The following are examples of types of photographers:

Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and usually work in their own studios. Photographers who specialize in weddings, religious ceremonies, or school photographs may work on location.

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of various subjects, such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. These photographs, which frequently are taken on location, are used for a variety of purposes, including magazine covers and images to supplement analyses of engineering projects.

Aerial photographers travel in planes or helicopters to capture photographs of buildings and landscapes. They often use cameras with gyrostabilizers to counteract the movement of the aircraft and ensure high-quality images.

Scientific photographers focus on the accurate visual representation of subjects and therefore limit the use of image manipulation software to clarify an image. Scientific photographs record scientific or medical data or phenomena. Scientific photographers who take pictures of objects too small to be seen with the naked eye use microscopes to photograph their subjects.

News photographers, also called photojournalists, photograph people, places, and events for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. In addition to taking still photos, photojournalists often work with digital video.

Fine-arts photographers sell their photographs as artwork. In addition to having technical knowledge of subjects such as lighting and the use of lenses, fine arts photographers need artistic talent and creativity. Most use traditional film instead of digital cameras.

Personality and skills
Personality and skills

Can you see yourself in the ranks of photographers? Here are the skills and traits that could lead to success.

Artistic ability
Photographers capture their subjects in images, and they must evaluate the artistic quality of a photograph. Photographers need a “good eye”: the ability to use colors, shadows, shades, light, and distance to compose good photographs.
Business skills
Photographers must plan marketing strategies, reach out to prospective clients, and anticipate seasonal employment.
Computer skills
Most photographers do their own postproduction work and must be familiar with photo-editing software. They also use computers to maintain a digital portfolio.
Customer-service skills
Photographers must understand the needs of their clients and propose solutions to any problems that arise.
Detail oriented
Photographers who do their own postproduction work must be careful not to overlook details and must be thorough when editing photographs. In addition, photographers accumulate many photographs and must maintain them in an orderly fashion.
Interpersonal skills
Photographers often photograph people. They must communicate and be flexible when working with clients in order to achieve the desired composition in a photograph.
Trends in employment
Salary trends
Distribution and trends: Salaries for photographers
Choose actual dollars or inflation-adjusted dollars to view
Adjusted for inflation
Historic dollars

In 2018, the median (middle) for 78% of all other jobs were higher than the median (middle) salary for photographers. This graphic shows how the salary distribution (adjusted for inflation) has changed for this job over recent years. The gray line, as a comparison, shows the median salary of all US workers.

This job's median $34KAll jobs' median $39K$34K$38K200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201620172018$0$10K$20K$30K$40K$50K
Projected versus actual employment
Exploring actual employment trends versus projected trends

Currently, jobs for photographers are anticipated to shrink by 6%. over the next decade; 88% of jobs are projected to grow more.

The projected employment for photographers is the best guess created by talented economists and statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, as you look through several careers you'll notice that the projections are heavily influenced by past performance and may miss current trends. No one can tell the future, and as new information and better techniques are developed, actual counts and future projections may change. Here's a glimpse at the actual counts versus the projections over time.

2000201020202030050,000100,000150,000200,000
Employment counts
Actual measured employment
BLS 10-year predictions
Variation by state
Employment
State-by-state employment numbers

Some careers tend to be centered in specific parts of the country. For example, most jobs in fashion are in New York or California. Let's see if your dream job is easy to find in your dream location! We have a few choices for viewing the data that can help you get a full employment picture.

Job density versus job count

Which states hire the most photographers? We wonder if that's a fair question since states come in all sizes, so instead let's start with the question of which states have the highest density of people working as photographers. You can choose to view the number of jobs per state if you prefer.

BLS vs ACS data

This map defaults to employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which provides job totals carefully compiled for accuracy and with a primary focus on how employers describe their workers. The BLS job totals do not count self-employed workers. We've also compiled totals using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) which are based on how workers describe themselves. Sometimes ACS results are quite a bit different from the employer-based BLS data.

Choose the metric to review
Jobs per 1000 working
Number of jobs
Use this data source
BLS
Number of Photographers per 1,000 workers (BLS)
Select a state to see local area details
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
0.00.20.40.60.8
Salary
Salaries by state
Let's get a feel for where photographers earn the highest salaries. There are several choices for which data we consider and how we view that data, and each can lead to different conclusions, so please read on...
Median salary versus state ratio

We use two methods to compare salaries across states:

  • In-state comparisons: the ratio of median (middle) salaries for photographers compared to the median salary for all people working in each state, or
  • Median salary: the unaltered median salaries for photographers.

We hope the ratio allows perspective about how salaries may compare to the regional cost-of-living.

BLS vs ACS data

We have two sources for statewide salary information with important distinctions. The BLS data is created by surveying companies, missing individuals who are self-employed or work for smaller companies. The ACS data is compiled from multi-faceted household surveys and may reflect the inconsistencies that people may have in reporting information.

Choose the metric to review
In-state comparisions
Median salary
Use this data source
BLS
Median salary ratio: Photographers to all workers (BLS)
The darkest shading corresponds to states in which photographers earn the highest salary when compared to other jobs in the state. We think this ratio might be a better indicator than the actual salary for your buying power as a state resident.
Select a state to see local area details
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
0.00.51.01.5
Compare to similar jobs

If this job interests you, then use the dots below to find other jobs you might like. The dots closer to the top represent jobs that are like Photographers (shown with a blue star). Look for the dots to the right to find the best salaries! (We pulled salary data from BLS, and they give a top salary value of just over $200K to protect privacy, so our graph would go much higher if the salaries were not top coded.)

How should the career similarity be computed

There are a number of ways to measure the similarity of jobs, here are a few we provide:

  • Interests: Also known as a Holland Code - Are you a thinker? A helper? What fits your personality?
  • Environment: Are there hazards? Will you be comfortable? Will it be stressful?
  • Knowledge: What do you need to know the most about?
  • Physical Abilities: Do you need to especially strong or coordinated?
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