If you are wondering how to become a photographer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the media industry, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Photographers use film or digital cameras to take still photographs for a huge range of uses. Often working to a client’s brief, they use a combination of technical and artistic skills to capture permanent images of people, products, places and events.

    As a photographer you would typically specialise in one area, such as:

    general or social (‘high street’ photography), which involves taking mostly wedding photos and portraits
    advertising and editorial – images for advertisements, magazines and photo libraries
    press and photojournalism – for newspapers and other news-related publications
    fashion – photographing models and clothing for magazines and catalogues
    corporate (industrial or commercial) – for company promotional material
    scientific or medical – recording scientific experiments and research, or medical conditions and treatments.

    Typical responsibilities:

    discussing the client’s needs
    choosing and preparing locations
    selecting appropriate cameras, film and accessories
    setting up lighting and equipment
    composing and taking shots
    checking image quality
    retouching images, by hand or with digital software such as Photoshop
    processing and printing photos
    marketing and running their business, if self-employed.
    Some photographers employ assistants to help shoots run smoothly. Assistants may set up equipment, prepare sets and props, look after clients, keep records and help with printing and administration.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good photographers include:

    creativity and a good eye for shape, form and colour
    practical and technical photography skills
    excellent communication and ‘people skills’
    the ability to put people at ease
    patience and concentration
    reliability, with good organisational and time-management skills
    computer skills, for using digital imaging programmes like Photoshop
    good business sense and the ability to market yourself
    motivation and determination.

    How to become a photographer
    Experience and contacts are the key to becoming a professional photographer. You do not usually need set qualifications, although most photographers take some form of photography course to develop the necessary technical skills.

    Colleges and universities offer a wide variety of full- and part-time photography courses. These range from part-time City and Guilds certificates, to foundation degrees, HNDs or degrees, which usually require A levels/Highers or an equivalent such as an art foundation course.

    Courses that offer industry contacts and work placements are especially useful. Some HNDs and degrees include the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) Professional Qualifying Examination (PQE), which is highly regarded by employers. You should check course content and entry requirements carefully. You can find photography courses of all levels on Skillset’s database of media courses – see website for details.

    Finding work as an assistant photographer is a good way of gaining experience, building your portfolio and learning on the job. You will need a keen interest in photography and good basic technical skills. To find work, you could contact professional photographers and studios directly, or use a website such as

    To become a press photographer, you will usually need a photojournalism qualification approved by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

    Training and Development
    In most areas of photography there are no formal training schemes. Instead, you will usually develop your skills and experience on the job, perhaps starting as a studio assistant or photographer’s assistant.

    You may get the chance to work towards NVQs/SVQs in Photo Imaging at levels 2, 3 and 4.

    As a professional photographer, you may find it helpful to join professional associations such as the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) and the Association of Photographers (AOP), which offer useful training and networking opportunities. BIPP also runs a mentoring service for new photographers. To join, you will need to submit your portfolio for approval.

    Some areas of photography require specialist training, particularly press photography and medical photography. For example, to become a medical photographer you will need to take either:

    a HND or degree in photography, then find a trainee post at a teaching hospital and complete training in clinical photography, or
    a BSc or MSc in Medical Illustration.
    See the Institute of Medical Illustrators for more information.

    You will need to keep up to date with new technology and skills throughout your career. BIPP and AOP offer a range of short courses to help you further your skills.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Assistant photographers may start on around £12,000 a year.
    Full-time photographers can earn between £15,000 and £50,000 a year.
    Freelance photographers are typically paid a fee for each job, or an hourly or daily rate. Rates can vary widely depending on experience and reputation, the type of shoot and the budget available.

    Job Prospects
    As a photographer, you could work for a commercial studio, or you could be an in-house (‘staff’) photographer for employers such as:

    advertising and public relations agencies
    newspapers and magazines
    government and Civil Service departments
    large companies
    hospitals, universities or research institutions
    the police or Armed Forces.
    Around half of all photographers are freelance or run their own business or studio. Many organisations choose to use freelance photographers as and when they need them.

    Competition for work is extremely strong, particularly in fashion, editorial and advertising photography. You may need to do other types of work to earn a living when starting out.

    Jobs may be advertised in magazines like the British Journal of Photography, Pixel and advertising and design trade publications, and on the AOP website. Not all jobs are advertised, so you will often find freelance work through networking and word of mouth, or approaching magazine picture editors or photo libraries.

    Success depends on building your business, contacts and reputation.

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

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