A large cross-section of the Polywork community identifies and connects with others over a mutual love of photography, our data shows. That said, making it a full-time career might feel out of reach. Here, we’ve identified nine potential career paths in photography to help you get over the interest-to-career barrier so that you can feel confident (and excited about) making connections with others in the field.
Is photography a viable career path?
Distinguished photographer Dorothea Lange once said that “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” So if you have an eye for seeing the bigger picture without a camera, you’ve already taken a large step towards picking up a camera and turning photography from passion to profession.
There are several photography-driven paths you can take to turn a once-thought side hustle into a thriving career. We’ve purposely excluded salary bands on these roles due to a number of variables, such as experience and location, determining those ranges.
Commercial photographers are responsible for the images we see every day across advertising, marketing, and branding. Consider the food, beauty, and tourism photos you come across online or in magazines, and you’ll get a sense for the wide variety of work a commercial photographer can command.
Every time you’ve seen your favorite band, you’ve likely also come across an event photographer snapping shots during their performances. Event photographers can be found at concerts, festivals, and any other events that end up in marketing or promotion.
“Photography is not something you retire from,” famous fashion photographer Annie Lebowitz once said. Whether it’s in the form of street style or couture, fashion photographers feature in magazines, catalogs, and advertisements, most often using models as their subjects. There’s a wide range of styles within the field, from high gloss features to large-scale catalog work, to ply your trade. Well-known fashion photographers also include Ellen von Unwerth and Irving Penn.
Fine Art Photographer
Photography seen at museums or galleries are classified under fine art photography that can be exhibited and in many cases, sold to collectors. Famous fine art photographers include Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Photojournalists complement the words you see across media with stories of their own through their images. They work for news or media organizations as both documentarians and storytellers. Pulitzer prizes, one of the highest journalism honors, are awarded to photographers for their ability to capture entire stories in a single image.
Groups or individuals could benefit from the expertise of a portrait photographer for the likes of family photos or special events, as just a couple of examples. There’s both a wide range and narrow path you can take in this field, as some photographers like to specialize in different age groups (e.g., children) or non-marketing events (e.g. weddings).
Sports Illustrated magazine epitomized the art of sports photography for decades, showcasing remarkable images on its cover and within its pages. Sports photographers are still on the scene (and typically sidelines) of sporting events, capturing images of athletes and sporting events for use in publications, websites, and other media.
A good travel photographer helps send people to places they’ve never dreamed of without booking a trip. Their pictures of places and cultures make the word around us more accessible, embedding us in a place or culture without traveling a mile.
If you’ve come across a National Geographic magazine in a bookstore (or let’s be honest, in a a stack outside of your neighbor’s home), you’re looking at the efforts of a wildlife photographer. Wildlife photographers specialize in capturing images of animals in their natural habitats. They may have the trickiest (and in some cases, most dangerous) jobs of all, being present to get images for the world’s eyes, all without disturbing nature.
More photography resources
International Center of Photography
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - Photography