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Dream Career: How to Become a Professional Photographer

Most photographers get started the moment someone hands them a camera. For artists behind the lens, pictures reveal the smallest details and capture the biggest moments. However, there are all sorts of photographers, from the incredible realistic, such as nature photographers, to commercial photographers, and still others, those who enjoy journalism. The path to the right photography degree depends on your passion and goals for a career, but essentially, you want to be comfortable around a camera and understand the different settings, lighting, angles and positioning that you can only get from learning about your passion.

Photography career

There are also several levels to learning about photography. You don’t necessarily have to get a photography degree but it helps in certain fields and gaining the confidence of employers, though a well-organized portfolio and experience can also make others take notice of your expertise.

Photography: Just Starting Out

If you haven’t really done any professional photography or tried your hand at learning basic photography techniques, you may be in for a surprise as to how this art form develops. You’ll need a decent camera. Most photographers actually start out with a manual 35mm and learn about photo development in the dark room, while others go straight for digital photography. While learning on a manual can teach you more about the importance of lighting and positioning, digital photography can yield some beautiful results and teach you more about the current technology behind technology.

High end digital cameras are also a tad more expensive than your basic 35mm manual camera. As you begin, look online for some basic techniques and try your hand at taking photos for family and friends, see how you feel towards the camera. You also want to get some criticism for your photos, since learning to take criticism will be a large part of any education program or artistic profession. If you feel you want to get started right away, a two-year community college can give you a few courses on basics and a little advanced techniques for both manual and digital photography.


Photography: Taking the Next Step

The next step for someone who is really interested in photography is going to a fine arts college. Private and public colleges have fine arts program with a photography program. Some schools will even have a specific degree for photography. You may also want to partner your degree with a minor in another degree to fall back on or to partner with photography, such as journalism, film or environmental science. In a bachelor of arts program, you won’t spend all of your time with photography.

Usually, you have to take general courses in math, science and history to pass graduation requirements, but your degree’s core curriculum will center around fine arts and photography courses—including courses that focus on using cameras, lighting, setting, placement, studio and outdoor photography, action photography, cinematography, color theory and photo editing software. During this time, it’s important that you branch out of your comfort zone, taking pictures of all sorts of scenes, people, nature, inanimate objects, and developing an artistic expression through your photos. You want to start developing a portfolio of your best work towards the end of your junior year at the latest. While in school, you’ll also get used to critiques, which will become a necessary part of your art education.

Photography: Going Beyond the Degree

Earning a bachelor of arts degree is just the first step to gaining a better understanding of your artistic presence. The degree can only teach you about techniques, theories, and previous ways that photographers have used pictures to tell stories, capture moments and even expose emotions. Photographers usually start to experiment heavily with the art form in college, wanting to try new and exciting ideas that will expand upon what they’ve been taught. There’s no limit to the creativity that you can produce within an arts degree program, but you also have to take your creativity to another level and push towards higher art.


You should get involved as much as possible with organizations on campus, such as a newspaper, arts magazine, gallery, or meet-up groups. You can also look for opportunities to test your abilities, possibly by volunteering to take pictures of an event for a school group or looking for ways to become a part of a club’s street team. Once you have a good base of pictures to choose from, you should set up your own site dedicated to your photography and start developing more of an artistic presence.

The best photographers enjoy wonderful careers, working in a variety of fields, but the field is highly competitive. After college, you can continue to pursue higher degrees, but you can also take a break during this time to develop more of your abilities and perfect your talents. You should explore unknown places and stretch your imagination. You can also focus more on certain aspects of photography that interest you, such as photojournalism, studio photography, playing with lighting techniques and fine arts photography. As you begin to develop more of your skills, you’ll become better at using your camera and disregard what others think of your photography, choosing to follow your passions and developing experience. Take note of the lessons learned and continue to create art wherever your camera leads.

Ed Book
Ed Book

noticably poor camera-holding technique.