Postsecondary education is not required for portrait photographers. Photojournalists and industrial and scientific photographers often need a bachelor’s degree. Employers usually seek applicants with a “good eye” and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of photography.
Although formal education is not required for most photographers, many take classes or earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which can improve their skills and employment prospects.
Many universities, community and junior colleges, vocational–technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer classes in photography. Basic courses in photography cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Art schools may offer useful training in photographic design and composition.
Entry-level positions in photojournalism or in industrial or scientific photography generally require a college degree in photography or in a field related to the industry in which the photographer seeks employment. For example, classes in biology, medicine, or chemistry may be useful for scientific photographers.
Business, marketing, and accounting classes can be helpful for self-employed photographers.
Photographers often start working as an assistant to a professional photographer. This work provides an opportunity to gain experience, build their portfolio, and gain exposure to prospective clients.
For many artists, including photographers, developing a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities—is essential. This portfolio is necessary because art directors, clients, and others look at an artist’s portfolio when deciding whether to hire or contract with the photographer.
Artistic ability. Photographers capture their subjects in images, and they must be able to evaluate the artistic quality of a photograph. Photographers need "a good eye"—the ability to use colors, shadows, shades, light, and distance to compose good photographs.
Business skills. Photographers must be able to plan marketing strategies, reach out to prospective clients, and anticipate seasonal employment.
Computer skills. Most photographers do their own postproduction work and must be familiar with photo editing software. They also use computers to keep a digital portfolio and to communicate with clients.
Customer service skills. Photographers must be able to understand the needs of their clients and propose solutions.
Detail-oriented skills. Photographers who do their own postproduction work must be careful not to overlook details and must be thorough when editing photographs. In addition, photographers accumulate many photographs and must maintain them in an orderly fashion.
Interpersonal skills. Photographers often photograph people. They must communicate effectively to achieve a certain composition in a photograph.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition