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Photographer: Job description

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Photographers create permanent visual images for an exceptional range of creative, technical and documentary purposes.

A professional photographer usually works to a brief set by the client or employer.

Examples of image content include wedding, family and baby photographs, fashion, food, architecture and landscapes.

Most professional photographers specialise in one area, such as:

  • advertising;
  • corporate;
  • editorial;
  • fashion;
  • fine art;
  • social photography - also known as general practice, which includes weddings, commercial and portraiture photography.

A large proportion of professional photographers are self-employed. The remainder work for a variety of employers, including creative businesses, publishers and photographic agencies, or in the education or public sector.

For information on working in the press or within medical photography see press photographer and medical illustrator.

Typical work activities

Exact tasks vary according to the specialisation. However, common activities for most photographers include:

  • working with clients to discuss the images they require and how they want to use them;
  • seeking out appropriate photographic subjects and opportunities;
  • carrying out research and preparation for a shoot;
  • working in different locations and in different circumstances to get the right image;
  • using an extensive range of technical equipment, including cameras, lenses, lighting and specialist software;
  • communicating with photographic subjects, putting them at ease, encouraging them and directing them;
  • arranging still life objects, products, scenes, props and backgrounds;
  • liaising with other professionals, including graphic designers, writers, gallery managers, picture researchers, commissioning editors and art directors;
  • managing the processing and use of images, discussing technical problems, checking for quality and dealing with clients' concerns;
  • preparing proofs for approval;
  • compiling finished products for sale, such as albums and framed prints;
  • understanding traditional film and digital photography and keeping up to date with industry trends, developments and new techniques;
  • developing expertise with software to digitally enhance images by, for example, changing emphasis, cropping pictures, correcting minor faults or moving objects around;
  • managing the business aspects of the work, including administration, scheduling work, invoicing and basic accounting;
  • developing a good portfolio, building a network of contacts and achieving a reputation for quality and reliability in order to secure future assignments;
  • self-marketing by, for example, producing business cards, postcards and promotional materials and creating and maintaining a website.

Many graduates start out as a photographer's assistant, spending a great deal of time on routine administration and helping out around the studio.

Written by AGCAS editors
July 2015

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