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A Day in the Life of a Photographer

A photographer takes pictures of people, places, objects, and events and tries to artistically capture and evoke a mood, feeling, or drama surrounding a particular subject. Photography is both an artistic and technical job with which one can present his or her technical proficiency as well as beautifully composed images. A photographer uses his camera much the way an artist uses his brush, as a tool to capture his unique perspective of the world around him. The famous photographer Ansel Adams popularized the genre of landscape photography as art through his pictures of Yosemite. Alfred Steiglitz recorded the charm of the drama of the modern world around him in great photos such as “The Steerage” and also earned fame for his series of portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe. Cartier-Bresson’s subject was the city itself. A photographer must practice extensively in order to master the technical knowledge of light, camera settings, lenses, film, and filters and apply this knowledge creatively. Photographers use a wide variety of lenses and filters designed for close-up, mid-range or long distance photography. Some photographers do their own developing and printing, especially “art” photographers, but many hand their film over to their employer or a commercial lab for processing. More than half of all photographers are self-employed and most specialize in commercial or portrait photography or photojournalism. Commercial photography involves taking pictures of merchandise, buildings, machinery, fashions, livestock, and groups of people to be used in advertisements, marketing reports, brochures, catalogs, and postcards. Editorial photographers work for magazines, newspapers, and sometimes book publishers (for covers); industrial photographers’ work is usually used in reports and to evaluate machinery or products used. Forensic photographers travel with police to crime scenes to photograph evidence; portrait photographers work either in their own studios or on location, taking pictures of individuals, families, and small groups. Some photographers specialize in special events such as wedding, awards ceremonies, etc. Photojournalists often face significant danger in attempting to take pictures of newsworthy events, people, places, and things for newspapers, journals, and magazines. Some photojournalists also work in the field of educational photography, preparing slides and film strips for use in the classroom. Still others become aerial photographers, taking photos from airplanes for industrial, scientific, military, or journalistic purposes. Scientific and biological photographers provide images for science publications, research reports, and textbooks. Archaeological photographers take pictures of finds in situ. Finish photographers photograph horse races as the animals cross the finish line. Motion picture photographers film movies, commercials and television programs. Photographers work long and irregular hours and sometimes have to be available on short notice. They must be able to work under the pressure of tight deadlines. Self-employed photographers enjoy a more flexible and relaxed schedule but must devote a significant amount of time marketing themselves and expanding their client list.

Paying Your Dues

Skill, creativity, training, and determination are the keys to success in this profession. No formal education is necessary, but for the photographer who intends to specialize in areas such as scientific or industrial photography, a college degree in the area of specialty is recommended. Photojournalists are often expected to have some background in journalism. Photographers need to have good manual dexterity, and good color vision and eyesight. They must also possess certain personal traits such as artistic sensibility, creativity, and reliability; and enjoy working with detail. They should have an appreciation of light and shadow, an eye for form and line, and a distinctive and creative approach to photographs. Because success in this field is closely tied to experience and exposure, aspiring photographers are advised to serve internships or apprenticeships with experienced photographers to acquire broad technical knowledge of the field and the practical experience that comes with handling many different kinds of cameras and equipment. Apprentices are trained in darkroom techniques, lighting and background, and the use and setup of camera equipment. Those who are interested in setting up their own studios should prepare by taking business and marketing courses and some public relations courses to be able to sell their skills and increase clientele.

Present and Future

Photography first “developed” in the mid-nineteenth century. Early photographers captured images on heavy plates and printed them on sepia-toned paper. Now cameras have been simplified to their bare essentials with film and a lens and aperture in cardboard boxes that can be recycled once the film is developed. The growing use of visual images in areas such as education, communication, entertainment, marketing, research and development should continue to drive the demand for innovative and skilled photographers. The increasing use of computers in photography will create another growth area for those in the field.

Quality of Life


The newcomer should still be apprenticed to a more seasoned photographer. She may be a proficient photographer, but as yet has not acquired enough experience to compete against the more experienced and versatile photographers in the profession.


At the five-year level, the self-employed photographer is slowly building a reputation and scouting for more clients. If he is lucky, some of his work may have been placed in magazines and trade journals, a significant step. Photographers should consider signing with stock photo agencies which grant magazine and other clients the rights to an individual’s photographs on a commission basis. Some photographers work in-house at magazines, newspapers, or are part of a stable of professionals at large photography businesses that specialize in weddings and events.


Photographers have usually set up their own studios by this point. The ten- year veteran has significant professional contacts that will lead to bigger and more high-profile assignments. She has more pictures published in magazines and journals.