How to start your photography career

Emma Knowles, Editor
February, 2018

Becoming a photographer takes determination, the motivation to network and a substantial portfolio to showcase your talent - here's how to get into this creative profession

Photography courses

Postgraduate study isn't the only way into a photography career. However, if you opt to study for a Masters (MA), a Masters of Fine Art (MFA), postgraduate certificate (PGCert) or postgraduate diploma (PGDip) you'll gain invaluable knowledge of the industry, its history and current issues while also building your portfolio.

MFA courses are exclusive to creative subjects, and are focused more on applied, practical learning through performance and portfolio than a traditional, theory-based MA.

The broad range of modules offered on MA courses is designed to give you a deeper, more rounded understanding of photography as a whole - its past, present and future. For example:

  • Kingston University London's Photography MA offers modules concerned with political debates about representation in photography and the photographer's role as an image maker.
  • Modules such as 'The Photographic Witness', 'Visualising the Invisible' and 'New Media Practices' are offered as part of UCLan's Photography MA.

To gain entry to a course, it's likely that you'll need at least a 2:1 degree in a related subject, as well as substantial relevant experience. This could be anything from evidence of work shadowing to keeping your own photography blog.

Universities will be interested to see your own work, so you may be called to interview as part of the application process. Compile a portfolio of your work before you go and be prepared to discuss it at length.

Generally, a full-time photography Masters will take you one or two years to complete. Part-time courses can last up to three years, with the exception of some part-time MFA courses, which can take four.

Search postgraduate courses in photography.

Getting photography work experience

In any industry, finding work experience opportunities and securing a placement is a difficult task. Photography is no different. You'll have to showcase your drive and talent to catch the attention of a photographer you can work with.

Compared with looking for work experience with large employers, you're less likely to land a week or month's placement with a photographer. Nevertheless, you may be invited to assist a photographer for a day or during an event they are covering. Make the most of any experience you're offered - it's still a valuable time to ask questions, learn photography practices and build contacts.

When searching for work experience, find companies or photographers who work in the area or style of photography that you're hoping to pursue. Targeting photographers speculatively in your chosen speciality will show you're passionate about starting your career, and you'll gain a more insightful view into what the work involves.

If you're struggling to secure work experience, consider starting your own photography blog. Uploading your work online will demonstrate your talent, ability to use photography software and provide instant access to your portfolio. Utilise the online photography community by following other photography blogs and using social media to hunt for opportunities.

David Dennison, senior lecturer in Photography at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), describes finding work experience as the 'single most useful activity' for students preparing for life after graduation. However it's not the only way to get ahead in the photography world, he says.

'Students can contact professional bodies such as the Association of Photographers (AoP) or the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) - both of these offer student membership and great access to working practitioners.'

Both the AoP and BIPP hold events around the country.

'Other organisations, such as Redeye, support photographers through portfolio reviews, talks and other activities,' David adds. 'Redeye is based in Manchester, but has good contacts with other organisations across the UK.'

Find out more about work experience and internships.

Photography jobs

As a photographer you'll specialise in a certain field, such as:

  • architecture
  • events
  • family
  • fashion
  • forensic
  • school
  • wedding
  • wildlife.

Alternatively you can combine interests in photography and journalism to become a press photographer.

Each of these roles requires a different style and skillset. Photographers across the industry use a range of apparatus, working to different hours in various locations, requiring travel from local to global.

For instance, as a school photographer you may work within a county or region, while as a wildlife photographer you'll need to travel to habitats in various countries and weather conditions. Because of this, finding work experience tailored to your ambitions is crucial.

A lot of photographers are self-employed, which is something you'll need to consider when starting your photography career. You may want to find out what's involved in going freelance before you get started.

David also recommends reading Beyond the Lens by the AoP before you embark on your career. 'It's the definitive guide to life as a professional photographer,' he says. 'It covers all aspects of contracts, copyright, model release agreements, licencing and just about anything else you might want to know.'

You can look for photography job vacancies at the AoP Job Shop or Photoassist. You may also consider joining an online board, such as, to reach potential clients.