How to Become a Photographer in 4 Simple Steps

What is a Photographer

Digital cameras, the internet, these are two big reasons why becoming a photographer is easier than it’s ever been. High quality equipment capable of capturing high-quality photos is more accessible than ever. Photography starts out as a hobby or a passion for most. There are several ways you can start turning it into a way to make a living as will be covered in this article. It’s a competitive industry, so showing flair, talent, and a drive to succeed will go a long way to giving you a competitive edge. So let’s discover how to become a photographer.

What Does a Photographer Do?

Most photographers are freelance or have worked freelance in their careers. They may build up a regular client base, but there isn’t often the need for photographers to be full-time employees.

While some take artistic photographs and use their creative side, most take photos at corporate functions, weddings, take news related photos, and take photos for business publications.

The core types of photography include:

  • Fashion
  • Wildlife
  • Sports
  • Travel
  • Events
  • Private Functions
  • Corporate

The hours of work are almost always going to be irregular and will include late nights and weekends. There will be some editing post-production work needed to the photos. As well as downloading the final photos to different formats as per the client’s instructions.

Staying up-to-date with the latest technology is another important aspect of a photographer’s job. Photography equipment is always advancing, as a freelancer, it’s important to have the best equipment to stay competitive with competitors.

The average photographer salary is $34,000 per year.

Desirable Skills of a Photographer

In an industry where taking the perfect photo is expected from clients, there is a lot of stress to deal with. Sometimes the weather or other conditions are out of the control of the photographer, so capturing excellent shots can be a challenge. There are some skills that lend themselves to helping a person become a successful photographer.


You need to have a great deal of patience when waiting for the perfect photo opportunity. Working with people, animals or other subjects that move makes it even more difficult. Being patient and keeping calm is incredibly important.

Good IT Skills

There are few jobs that forgive poor IT skills, and photography certainly isn’t one of them. Modern photography is done on digital cameras, with the photos being uploaded to computer software for touching up and making changes.


Photography is a job that becomes easier and more intuitive the more you practice. This isn’t a problem for most professionals as they perused the career from a passion or a hobby. It’s not the type of career to take a long break from.

An Eye for Detail

The camera only does so much, finding the perfect shot or the detail in the distance is up to the photographer. Having a keen eye for detail and understanding how colors and shapes work together can be the difference between a good or a great photo.


Most photographers are freelance and will have to put in the effort to find new clients and keep busy. They will also be required to work unsociable hours to meet the demands of clients. So being self-motivated and having a good work ethic are desirable skills.

What is a Photographer

Becoming a Photographer

Step 1: High School Requirements

High School Courses for Photographers

 Computer Classes

As a professional photographer a big part of your daily routine will be to color correct, resize and generally edit the pictures you have taken. You will do this using a computer based software like Photoshop. Mastering basic computer skills by taking computer courses in high school will help you be more comfortable using a computer and make your life easier.

Art Classes

A lot of time art courses include photography courses so it is a no-brainer to take photography classes if available. If not, taking art classes will help you understand color composition develop a good eye and convey emotion.

Journalism Classes

Journalism classes cover all aspects of journalism including photojournalism. Even if you consider yourself a more artistic person you should know the basics of photojournalism as it is a good source of income and as a professional photographer you should know all the aspects of your profession.

Step 2: Get an Undergraduate Degree

Photography Certificate Program 6 months to 1 year

These programs are designed for aspiring professionals and individuals who want to improve their photographic skills. They are mostly offered online and consist of 24 to 40 semester hours. There are not any official admission requirements and all you will need is an SLR camera and a computer with an internet connection.


Core Courses (14 to 24 credits)

  • Photography I
  • Photography II
  • Shooting Like the Masters: A History of Photography
  • Lighting I
  • Lighting II
  • Portfolio Workshop

Electives (9 to 16 credits)

  • Environmental Portraiture
  • Photographic Portraiture
  • Event Photography
  • Travel Photography
  • Photoshop for Photographers
  • Shoot and Critique: A Digital Photography Workshop
  • DSLR Video and Motion
  • DSLR Video and Motion II
  • Photographic Composition
  • Conceptual Photography
  • Documentary and Landscape Photography
  • Street Photography
  • Lightroom I
  • Digital Retouching and Restoration for Photographers
  • Photographing Architecture and Interiors
  • Photoshop I
  • Photoshop II
  • Mentorship
  • Visualizing the Urban Landscape

The cost of a photography certificate program is $3,147 – $6,000.

Photography Associate’s Degree Program 2 years

Photography associate degree programs are designed to offer a more in depth knowledge to the students and teach them all the technical and business skills required for a successful career in photography. They last two years and consist of 44 to 92 semester credit hours. The admission requirements are a high school diploma with a GPA over 1.5.


General Education Courses (16 to 28 credits)

  • Introduction to the Visual Arts
  • Introduction to Communications
  • Advanced Communications
  • Composition and Language
  • College Math
  • American Popular Culture
  • The Afterlife in the History of Art
  • American Art History
  • Human Anatomy
  • Introduction to Chemistry
  • Economics
  • Introduction to Ethics
  • Aesthetics
  • Physics

Core Courses (30 to 60 credits)

  • Image Manipulation
  • Digital Color Theory
  • Principles of Photography
  • Introduction to Photography Applications
  • Digital Image Management
  • Photojournalism
  • Photographic Design
  • Lighting
  • History of Photography I
  • View Camera Theory
  • Color Management and Printing
  • Studio Photography
  • Photographic Post-Production
  • Business of Photography
  • Portfolio I
  • Academic Director Approval
  • Marketing for Photographers
  • Advanced Lighting
  • Portraiture
  • Advanced Photographic Post-Production
  • History of Photography II

The cost of a photography associate’s degree program is $8,060 – $42,300.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography Degree Program 4 years

This degree is ideal for those that know that professional photography is their career choice and are committed to study in depth for longer time. These are 3 to 4 year programs and can be completed mostly on campus. They consist of 120 – 180 semester credit hours. The admission requirements are:

  • High school diploma with a GPA over 2.5 or a GED
  • A portfolio of 8 to 12 pieces that can include photographs drawings and digital media design
  • A letter of recommendation from a high school teacher or a college counselor


General Education Requirements (48 credits)

  • Writing 1
  • Writing 2
  • Introduction to the Arts: Antiquity to Early Modern
  • Introduction to the Modern Arts
  • Foundation in Critical Studies
  • Media History: Photography
  • Literary & Performing Arts Studies (200 level)
  • Philosophy & Critical Theory (200 level)
  • Social Science/History (200 level)
  • Science/Math (200 level)
  • Visual Studies (200 level)
  • Humanities & Science (300 level)
  • Diversity Studies Seminar
  • Humanities and Science Electives (200 or 300 level)

Core Courses (80 credits)

  • Photography Lab I
  • Photography Lab II
  • Foundation Seminar I
  • Foundation Seminar II
  • Drawing Intensive
  • Foundation Visual Culture Seminar
  • Image in Context
  • Photography Lab III
  • Photography Lab IV
  • Contemporary Trends in Photo
  • Sophomore Seminar I: Concepts
  • Sophomore Seminar II: Projects
  • Junior Year Portfolio
  • Professional Directions
  • Senior Portfolio I
  • Senior Portfolio II
  • Internship/Photography
  • Photography Internship Seminar

Electives (9 credits)

  • Documentary Photography
  • Portrait: Traditional & Contemporary
  • Landscape of Memory: Histories
  • Intro to Alternative Processes
  • Commercial Studio

The cost of a bachelor of fine arts in photography degree program is $98,880 – $221,640.

Step 3: Get a Graduate Degree (Optional)

Master of Fine Arts in Photography Degree Program 2 years

Students who chose the master of fine arts in photography degree program will learn to think critically as artists, professionals and instructors. They will gain more hand on experience and will also explore theory more critically. Also they will have to complete a big final project. These are 2 year programs consist of 60 to 90 semester credit hours. The admission requirements are:

  • A bachelor degree in photography or a relevant field.
  • A 500 to 700 word statement of purpose
  • 2 Letters of recommendation
  • A portfolio of 14 to 20 images
  • Pass an interview


  • Survey: Photography
  • Photographic Technique and Signification
  • Photography Portfolio Process
  • Contemporary Art
  • Art Criticism
  • Graduate Critique Seminar
  • Digital Craft I: Technique and Concept
  • Photographic Arts I: Idealization and Experimentation
  • Photographic Arts II: Project Definition and Development
  • Photographic Arts III: Aesthetics and Direction
  • Issues in Contemporary Photography
  • Photographic Arts IV: Sequence and Nuance
  • Graduate Field Internship
  • Graduate Teaching Internship
  • Photography M.F.A. Thesis

The cost of a bachelor of fine arts in photography degree program is $72,090 – $94,800.

Step 4: Become Certified

While getting certified as a photographer is optional in the US, we recommend to do so as it is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge to your potential employers. There are several certifications offered but the most prestigious is issued by the Professional Photographers Association.

Certified Professional Photographer (CPP)


Be a Professional Photographers Association member


Its a 3 hour exam that you can take either online or offline

Cost: $300 (offline) – $325 (online)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Photographer and How Much Does it Cost?

Option 1 : Certificate

Degree Time Cost
Certificate 6 months to 12 months$3,147 – $6,000
Certification $300
Total 6 months to 12 months$3,447- $6,300

Option 2 : Associate’s Degree

Degree Time Cost
Associates Degree2 years$8,060 – $42,300
Certification $300
Total 2 years $8,360 – $42,600

Option 3 : Bachelor’s Degree

Degree Time Cost
Bachelor’s 4 years$98,880 – $221,640
Certification $300
Total 4 years$99,180 – $221,940

Option 4 : Master’s Degree

DegreeTime Cost
Bachelor’s 4 years$98,880 – $221,640
Master’s2 years$72,090 – $94,800
Total6 years $171,270 – $316,740

Photographer Training Video

Noel Griffith, Ph.D.
Noel Griffith is a Doctor of Philosophy with a strong interest in educational research. He has been an editor-in-chief of since 2014. Noel is an avid reader (non-fiction), enjoys good food, live theatre, and helping others make wiser career decisions.

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