Photographers produce images for art, advertising, journalism, and personal use. Many people can take a snapshot, but in order to become a professional photographer, one needs to understand artistic composition and complicated photographic equipment. The emergence of digital cameras has made it possible for more people to enter this profession, but the work of experienced and talented professionals is still easy to distinguish.

The way a photographer spends his or her time depends to a great degree on how he or she makes a living. Many photographers work for news organizations; they accompany reporters or go alone into areas where news is breaking, and their photographs help inform the public. Indeed, photographs are often more effective than words at conveying the significance or emotional quality of an event. This sort of work can be grueling, and often entails irregular hours.

Probably the most common way for a photographer to make a living is by producing commercial images. Advertisements and catalogs are shot by trained photographers who know how to make products look their best. A commercial photographer may work for an ad agency or may run his or her own business. These professionals may work long hours during a busy season, but they usually operate in a clean and safe environment and do not have to work on weekends or holidays.

Portrait photographers, meanwhile, produce quality images of people or animals. Some common subjects for portrait photographers include sports teams, families, and pets. These professionals must be good at working with their subjects, and must be able to create attractive images on demand.

Although technical skill and creativity are the most important qualifications for photographers, it is useful for professionals to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree. The degree need not be in photography, though there are bachelor’s and master’s degrees issued in the subject. Also, many vocational schools have programs in photography. Many professional photographers take a general art-school degree or major in a subject like journalism or zoology. The increasing use of digital cameras makes it imperative for photographers to obtain at least a little bit of computer training in school. Moreover, the increase in the number of freelance photographers means that aspiring professionals in this field would do well to acquire some training in business administration and accounting.
In general, full-time photographers on salary make more than their freelance counterparts. Freelance photographers have to buy and maintain their equipment and pay for their expenses and benefits. Freelance photographers only rarely make enough money to support themselves; news and commercial photographers tend to make more money. The most lucrative route for a photographer is to become employed by a large organization. The average annual wage for a salaried photographer is $29,440. The top 10 percent in this field, however, make more than $62,000 a year. The vast majority of photographers are employed in the photographic services industry, which pays slightly lower-than-average wages.

The demand for photographers is expected to increase at a normal pace, but the continued popularity of this profession will create intense competition for available jobs. There will be particular growth in portrait and online commercial photography. Industry analysts expect freelance photographers to take advantage of the increase in online demand. At the same time, more people will be able to enter this business because of the declining cost of photographic equipment. In the past, one needed an expensive camera and photo-developing equipment in order to take professional pictures. Now, digital cameras make it possible for amateurs to create professional-looking work. Most industry experts believe that prospects will be better for freelancers in the future, as publications elect to choose from a variety of sources rather than hire full-time photographers. One good way to increase job prospects is to acquire credentials or training in a related field. Many art schools offer training in photography.