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Photographers and camera operators use cameras to capture the special feeling or mood that sells products, provides entertainment, highlights news stories, or brings back memories.
Photographers use a wide variety of cameras that can accept lenses designed for close-up, medium-range, or distance photography. Some cameras also offer adjustment settings that allow the photographer greater creative and technical control over the picture-taking process. In addition to cameras and film, photographers and camera operators use an array of equipment, from filters, tripods, and flash attachments to specially constructed motorized vehicles and lighting equipment.
Photography increasingly involves the use of computers. A photographer may take a picture, scan it to digital form, and, using a computer, manipulate it to create a desired effect. The images may be stored on a compact disk (CD) in the same way that music is stored on a CD. Currently, some photographers use this technology to create an electronic portfolio. However, due to inferior image quality and high cost, this technology has not been widely adopted.
Camera operators generally use 35- or 16-millimeter cameras or video cameras to film commercial motion pictures and documentary or industrial films. Some film events for television news, or film private ceremonies and special events.
Making commercial quality photographs and movies requires technical expertise and creativity. Composing a picture includes choosing and presenting a subject to achieve a particular effect and selecting equipment to accomplish the desired goal. By creatively using lighting, lenses, film, filters, and camera settings, photographers and camera operators produce pictures that capture a mood or tell a story. For example, photographers and camera operators may enhance the subject's appearance with lighting or by drawing attention to a particular aspect by blurring the background.
Some photographers develop and print their own photographs, especially those requiring special effects, but this requires a fully equipped darkroom and the technical skill to operate it. As a result, many professional photographers send their film to laboratories for processing. This is especially true for color film, which requires very expensive equipment and exacting conditions for processing and printing. (See the statement on photographic process workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Most photographers specialize in commercial, portrait, or media photography. Some specialize in weddings or school photographs. Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and often work in their own studios. Portrait photographers who are business owners arrange for advertising, schedule appointments, set and adjust equipment, develop and retouch negatives, and mount and frame pictures. They also hire and train employees, purchase supplies, keep records, and bill customers.
Self-employed photographers may license the use of their photographs through stock photo agencies. These agencies grant magazines and other customers the right to purchase the use of a photograph, and, in turn, pay the photographer on a commission basis. Stock photo agencies require an application from the photographer and a sizable portfolio. Once accepted, a large number of new submissions are generally required each year. Photographers frequently have their photos placed on CD's for this purpose.
Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of such subjects as manufactured articles, buildings, livestock, landscapes, and groups of people. Their work is used in a wide variety of mediums, such as reports, advertisements, and catalogs. Industrial photographers use photographs or videotapes for analyzing engineering projects, publicity, or as records of equipment development or deployment, such as the placement of an off-shore oil rig. Automobile manufacturers hire photographers every year to publicize their new models. Companies use photographs in publications to report to stockholders or to advertise company products or services. This photography frequently is done on location.
Scientific photographers provide illustrations and documentation for scientific publications, research reports, and textbooks. They usually specialize in a field such as engineering, medicine, biology, or chemistry. Some use photographic or video equipment as research tools. For example, biomedical photographers use photomicrography, photographs of small objects magnified many times to obtain information not visible under normal conditions, and time-lapse photography, where time is stretched or condensed. Biomedical photographers record medical procedures such as surgery. Photojournalists photograph newsworthy events, places, people, and things for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. Some are salaried staff, while others are independent and known as freelance photographers.
Photography also is an art medium. Some photographers sell their photographs as artwork, placing even greater emphasis on self-expression and creativity, in addition to technical proficiency. Unlike other specializations, however, very few artistic photographers are successful enough to support themselves in this manner.
Many camera operators are employed by independent television stations, local affiliates, or networks. They often cover news events as part of a reporting team.
Camera operators employed in the entertainment field use motion picture cameras to film movies, television programs, and commercials. Some camera operators specialize in filming cartoons or other special effects for television and movies.
Working conditions for photographers and camera operators vary considerably. Photographers employed in government, commercial studios, and advertising agencies usually work a 5-day, 40-hour week. News photographers and camera operators often work long and irregular hours and must be available on short notice.
Self-employment allows for greater autonomy, freedom of expression, and flexible scheduling. However, income is uncertain and necessitates a continuous, time consuming, and sometimes stressful search for new clients. Some photographers hire an assistant solely for this responsibility.
Portrait photographers often work in their own studios but may travel to take photographs at schools and other places and weddings and other events. Press and commercial photographers and camera operators frequently travel locally or overnight; some travel to distant places for long periods of time. Their work may put them in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings. This is especially true for photojournalists covering natural disasters, civil strife, or military conflicts.
Some photographers and camera operators wait long hours in all kinds of weather for an event to take place and stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment. Photographers often work under severe time restrictions to meet deadlines and satisfy customers.
Photographers and camera operators held about 139,000 jobs in 1994. About 4 out of 10 were self-employed, a much higher proportion than the average for all occupations. Some self-employed photographers contracted with advertising agencies, magazines, or others to do individual projects at a predetermined fee, while others operated portrait studios or provided photographs to stock photo agencies.
Most salaried photographers worked in portrait or commercial photography studios. Others were employed by newspapers, magazines, advertising agencies, and government agencies. Most camera operators were employed in television broadcasting or in motion picture studios; relatively few were self-employed. Most photographers and camera operators worked in metropolitan areas.
Employers usually seek applicants with a good technical understanding of photography who are imaginative and creative. Entry level positions in photojournalism, and in industrial, scientific, or technical photography are likely to require a college degree in photography with courses in the specific field being photographed, such as industrial products or botany. Camera operators generally acquire their skills through formal post-secondary training at colleges, photographic institutes, universities, or through on-the-job training. Those in entry level jobs, including photography and cinematography assistants, learn to set up lights and cameras. They may receive routine assignments requiring few camera adjustments or decisions on what subject matter to capture. With increasing experience, they may advance to more demanding assignments. Photography assistants often learn to mix chemicals, develop film, print photographs, and the various skills vital to running their own business.
Individuals interested in this occupation should subscribe to photographic newsletters and magazines, join camera clubs, and seek work in camera stores or photo studios. Individuals also should decide on an area of interest and specialize in it. Completing a course of study at a private photographic institute, university, or community college provides many of the necessary skills to be successful. Summer or part-time work for a photographer, network, newspaper, or magazine is an excellent way to gain experience and eventual entry to this field.
Many sources, including universities, community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools, offer courses in photography. Courses in cinematography are most often offered by photography institutes and universities. Many photographers enhance their technical expertise by attending seminars.
Basic courses in photography cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Bachelor's degree programs provide a well-rounded education, including business courses. Art schools offer useful training in design and composition, but may be weak in the technical and commercial aspects of photography.
Photographers who wish to operate their own business need business skills as well as talent. They must know how to submit bids; write contracts; hire models, if needed; get permission to take on-site photographs at locations normally not open to the public; get clearances to use photographs of people; price photographs; and keep financial records. They should develop an individual style of photography to differentiate themselves from the competition. Some self-employed photographers enter the field by submitting unsolicited photographs to magazines or art directors at advertising agencies.
Photographers and camera operators need good eyesight, artistic ability, and manual dexterity. They should be patient, accurate, and enjoy working with detail. They should be able to work alone or with others, as photographers frequently deal with clients, graphic designers, and advertising and publishing specialists. Knowledge of mathematics, physics, and chemistry is helpful for understanding the workings of lenses, films, light sources, and developing processes.
Commercial photographers must be imaginative and original. Portrait photographers need the ability to help people relax in front of the camera. Photojournalists must not only be good with a camera but also understand the story behind an event so that their pictures match the story. They must be decisive in recognizing a potentially good photograph and act quickly to capture it. This requires journalistic skills and explains why such employers increasingly look for individuals with a 4-year degree in photojournalism or journalism with an emphasis on photography.
Camera operators can become directors of photography for movie studios, advertising agencies, or television programs. Magazine and news photographers may become photography editors. A few photographers and camera operators become teachers and provide instruction in their own area of expertise.
Photography, particularly commercial photography and photojournalism, is a highly competitive field because there are more people who want to be photographers than there is employment to support them. Only the most skilled and those with the best business ability, and who have developed the best reputations in the industry, are able to find salaried positions or attract enough work to support themselves as self-employed photographers. Many have full-time jobs in other fields and take photographs or videos of weddings and other events on weekends.
Employment of photographers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. The growing demand for visual images in education, communication, entertainment, marketing, research and development, and other areas should spur demand for photographers. Demand for portrait photographers should increase as the population grows.
Digital cameras use electronic memory rather than a film negative to record the image, which, in turn, can be transmitted instantly via a computer modem and telephone lines. For this reason, they are used widely by news photographers. However, these cameras are much more expensive than conventional cameras, and are not capable of producing an equally clear image, or one where the subject is in motion. As the technology improves and the prices drop, however, they may be more widely used, increasing demand for commercial photographers with a high degree of computer skills.
Employment of camera operators also is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005, with businesses making greater use of videos for training films, business meetings, sales campaigns, and public relations work. Expansion of the entertainment industry will create additional openings, but competition will be keen for what generally is regarded as an exciting field.
The median annual earnings for salaried photographers and camera operators who worked full time were about $25,100 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,300 and $39,200. The top 10 percent earned more than $46,300, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,400.
Most salaried photographers work full time and earn more than the majority of self-employed photographers, who work part time, but some self-employed photographers have very high earnings. Earnings are affected by the number of hours worked, skills, marketing ability, and general business conditions.
Unlike photojournalists and commercial photographers, very few artistic photographers are successful enough to support themselves solely through this specialty.
Other jobs requiring visual arts talents include illustrators, designers, painters, sculptors, and photo editors.
Career information on photography is available from:
Professional Photographers of America, Inc., 57 Forsythe Street, Suite 1600, Atlanta, GA 30303
For reprints of a publication describing the work of various types of photographers and lists of colleges and universities offering courses or a degree in photography, write to:
American Society of Media Photographers Washington Rd., Suite 502, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550-1033.
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