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Imagine taking photographs to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine or National Geographic! Photographers use their skills and artistic talent to capture people, products, events, fashion, landscapes, legal evidence and other subjects on film.

Photographers have the option to specialize in a variety of areas such as portrait photography, commercial photography, scientific photography, fashion, aerial, medical, forensic or photojournalism. The primary differences between these specialties lie in the subject matter, work site and type of equipment used.

Despite the photographer's specialty area, they all use the same basic technical skills. They must concentrate on lighting (whether it be natural or artificial), shutter speeds, camera settings, apertures, developing and other related tasks. Photographers either use traditional cameras with 35mm film or newer digital cameras that record images electronically.

Some professionals prefer to develop and print their own photographs. Photographers who do their own film developing must have the technical skill to operate a fully equipped darkroom or the appropriate computer software to process prints digitally. With recent advances in electronic technology, a photographer can develop and scan standard 35mm or other types of film, and use flatbed scanners and photo-finishing laboratories to produce computer-readable, digital images from film. After converting the film to a digital image, photographers can edit and electronically send images, making it easier and faster to shoot, develop, and transmit pictures from remote locations. Specialized software also allow photographers to manipulate and enhance scanned and digital images to create a desired effect. Because so much photography now involves the use of computer technology, photographers must have hands-on knowledge of computer editing software. Employers usually hire photographers with a good eye, creative imagination, as well as a good technical understanding of photography.

Portrait photographers may choose to specialize in an area of portrait photography, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs or graduation pictures. The primary differences between these specialties lies in the subject matter, work site, type of equipment used, and the amount of training and precision required for design and composition of the photograph. Many of these photographers work in the freelance capacity or can be found at department stores or in small studios.

Scientific photographers take pictures of different scientific phenomena and provide visual documentation for scientific publications and research reports, specialize in patient, operating room or laboratory photography, and produce images of treatment procedures for medical textbooks.

See also Photojournalist and Forensic Photographer
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  Interests and Skills  
Photographers must have great manual dexterity, be detail oriented and have a good sense of timing. Since a photographer's aim is to capture the perfect picture, they must also have good eyesight and color vision. Those who work with people must have great communication skills, patience, be good listeners and have the ability to put people at ease. Successful photographers enjoy composing and arranging innovative pictures and working with cameras and in dark rooms.

Since a scene can be photographed in a hundred different ways, it is up to the photographer to use proper lighting, composition and other techniques to present that scene in the best, most imaginative way possible. Photographers that constantly practice their skills in order to become professionals are most likely to succeed.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with clients or advertising staff and study assignments to determine the locations and type of equipment needed
  • Select appropriate cameras (i.e. 35mm, 6x6, 4x5 or larger format) and props
  • Study requirements of a particular assignment and decide on type of camera, film, lighting and background accessories to be used
  • Determine picture composition, make technical adjustments to equipment and photograph subject(s)
  • Adjust cameras for desired focus, exposure, composition and other settings
  • Choose lenses designed for close-up, medium range or distance photography
  • Select the type of film, filters and lighting equipment (i.e. electronic flashes, floodlights or reflectors)
  • Set up studio lights to achieve the best balance and the most flattering illumination for the subject
  • Take numerous photographs and choose from the best
  • Test and maintain all equipment
  • Use specialized film and paper processing or new technology
  • Process and develop exposed film in darkrooms
  • May use airbrush or manipulate other techniques to retouch negatives and prints
  • Working conditions for photographers vary depending on the type of photographs one takes. Photographers may work both indoors and outdoors and be routinely required to lift photographic equipment. The pressure of having to meet deadlines can be stressful. Due to the wide variety of assignments, photographers' working hours and environments are extremely varied. For example, photojournalists often work long, irregular hours and may be expected to be at a certain location at a moment's notice.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Photographers work for photographic studios, film, radio and television stations, newspapers, magazines, museums, theaters, department stores, hospitals, publishing, advertising and printing companies. Some are employed by the government and police force, while others may be self-employed. In fact, a majority of photographers are independent freelancers. Full-time employment is usually available only in specialized fields such as forensics or science photography.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Since the field of professional photography is quite competitive, versatility is an important and often critical element in obtaining work as a photographer. Many start out as assistants and learn the fundamentals about cameras and developing and printing. As you gain more experience, it helps to localize your talents in a particular area and create a unique style for yourself.

Some photographers may decide to teach at a university or college whereas other may start a business or studio. These days, it is important to learn about digital cameras and related computer programs in order to move ahead with the speed of technology. Furthermore, with digital and computerized programs, photographers can learn how to manipulate their photos, add color and generally create works of art.

  Educational Paths  
Although there are no required educational steps involved in becoming a photographer, in today's competitive job market, schooling will really help aspiring photographers find employment. In photojournalism and scientific photography, for example, photographers will need a background education in journalism or science. Community colleges and universities have some specialized training and courses in photography and offer diplomas and degrees.

Most photographers learn by practice and working in related fields. These days, computer skills are essential for digital photography and are becoming increasingly required in other forms of photography. Volunteering for high school and university newspapers provides some experience. Working in a photography store or a developing laboratory also provides experience in this field.

Photographers should compile a portfolio of their best work, especially when applying for jobs. Companies will look at a portfolio to assess the photographer's ability and past experience. The best advice is to practice by taking as many pictures as possible.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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