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Nature of the Work
* Good business sense, imagination, creativity are essential.
* Only the most skilled, and those with the best business ability, can maintain a long-term career.
* A much higher proportion than average are self-employed.
By creatively using lighting, lenses, film, filters, and camera settings, photographers and camera operators produce pictures that record and event, capture a mood, or tell a story. Making commercial quality photographs and movies requires technical expertise and creativity. Producing a successful picture includes choosing and presenting a subject to achieve a particular effect and selecting equipment to accomplish the desired goal. For example, photographers and camera operators may enhance the subject's appearance with lighting or draw attention to a particular aspect of the subject by blurring the background.
Today, many cameras adjust settings like shutter speed and aperture automatically and also let the photographer to adjust these settings manually, thus allowing greater creative and technical control over the picture-taking process. In addition to automatic and manual cameras, photographers and camera operators use an array of film, lenses, and equipmentfrom filters, tripods, and flash attachments to specially constructed motorized vehicles and lighting equipment.
Photography increasingly involves the use of computer technology. A photographer using a traditional silver-halide film camera can take a picture and, once the film is processed and prints are made, use a scanner to transfer the images into digital form. Some photographers prefer to use digital cameras, which use electronic memory rather than a film negative to record an image. The electronic image can be transmitted instantly via a computer modem and telephone line or otherwise downloaded onto a personal computer. Then, using the computer and specialized software, the photographer can manipulate and enhance the scanned or digital image to create a desired effect. The images can be stored on a compact disk (CD) the same way as music. There are some photographers who use this technology to create electronic portfolios, as well.
Some photographers prefer to develop and print their own photographs, especially those who use black and white film or require special effects, but this requires a fully-equipped darkroom and the technical skill to operate it. Other photographers send their film to laboratories for processing. Color film, especially, requires expensive equipment and exacting conditions for correct processing and printing. (See the statement on photographic process workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Most photographers specialize in portrait, commercial, or news photography. Others specialize in areas such as aerial, police, medical, or scientific photography, which typically involves further specialization in fields like engineering, medicine, biology, or chemistry.
Portrait photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people and often work in their own studios. Some specialize in weddings or school photographs. 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 purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, and may hire and train employees.
Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of various subjects, such as manufactured articles, models, buildings, merchandise, landscapes, and groups of people. This photography is used in a wide variety of mediums, including reports, advertisements, and catalogs. Industrial photographers often take still or motion pictures of equipment and machinery, products, workers, and company officials. The pictures are then used for analyzing engineering projects, publicity, or as records of equipment development or deployment, such as the placement of an off-shore oil rig. Companies also use these photographs in publications to report to stockholders or to advertise company products or services. This photography frequently is done on location.
News photographers, also called photojournalists, photograph newsworthy people and places, as well as sporting, political, and community events, for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. Some photojournalists are salaried staff, while others are work independently and are known as freelance photographers.
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 from a photographer each year. Photographers frequently have their photos placed on CD's for this purpose.
Photography also is a fine art medium, and a small portion of photographers sell their photographs as artwork. In addition to technical proficiency, artistic photography requires an even greater emphasis on self expression and creativity.
Like photographers, camera operators work in a variety of settings. They generally use motion picture or video cameras to film a wide range of subjects, including commercial motion pictures, documentaries, music videos, news events, and training sessions. Some film private ceremonies and special events.
Many video camera operators are employed by independent television stations, local affiliates, or large cable and television networks. They often work in a broadcast studio or 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 special effects for television and movies. Camera operators who work in the entertainment field often meet with directors, actors, and camera assistants to discuss ways of filming and improving scenes.
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, irregular hours and must be available to work on short notice.
Self-employment allows for greater autonomy, freedom of expression, and flexible scheduling. However, income can be uncertain and necessitates a continuous, time-consuming, and sometimes stressful search for new clients. Some self-employed photographers hire an assistant solely for the purpose of seeking additional business.
Portrait photographers often work in their own studios but may also travel to take photographs at schools and other places, as well as at weddings and other events. Press and commercial photographers and camera operators frequently travel locally, can stay overnight on an assignment, or may 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 unrest, or military conflicts.
Some photographers and camera operators must 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. While working on a motion picture production, camera operators are often required to work long and irregular hours. It may also be necessary for camera operators to work in helicopters or on the back of specially equipped vehicles in order to capture a scene or cover a news event.
Photographers and camera operators held about 154,000 jobs in 1996. 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 at 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 also imaginative and creative. Entry level positions in photojournalism, as well as 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, cameras, and other equipment, and learn to load and unload film. They may receive routine assignments requiring camera adjustments or decisions on what subject matter to capture. With increased experience, they may advance to more demanding assignments. Photography assistants often learn to mix chemicals, develop film, print photographs, and the various other skills necessary to run a photography business.
Individuals interested in photography should subscribe to photographic newsletters and magazines, join camera clubs, and seek employment 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 a successful photographer. Summer or part-time work for a photographer, cable or television network, newspaper, or magazine is an excellent way to gain experience and eventual entry into this field.
Courses in photography are offered in many places, including universities, community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools. 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. Bachelors degree programs, especially those including business courses, provide a well-rounded education. Art schools offer useful training in design and composition, but may be weak in the commercial aspects of photography.
Photographers who wish to operate their own businesses need business skills as well as talent. These individuals 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; obtain releases to use photographs of people; price photographs; know about copyright protection for their work; and keep financial records. Self-employed photographers should also develop individual styles of photography to differentiate themselves from the competition. Some photographers enter the field by submitting unsolicited photographs to magazines and art directors at advertising agencies.
Both photographers and camera operators need good eyesight, artistic ability, and manual dexterity. They should be patient, accurate, and enjoy working with details. In addition, photographers should be able to work alone or with others, as they frequently deal with clients, graphic designers, and advertising and publishing specialists. Camera operators should have good hand-eye coordination, communication skills, and, if needed, the ability to handhold a camera for extended periods of time.
Commercial photographers must be imaginative and original. Portrait photographers also need the ability to help people relax in front of the camera. Photojournalists must not only be good with a camera, but must also understand the story behind an event, so 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.
Different types of filming environments require camera operators to have different strengths. For example, camera operators who want to work on music videos need a good sense of music and rhythm, while those who want to work in news teams must be able to set up quickly and capture the image on the first take whenever possible.
Camera operators are usually hired for a project based on recommendations from individuals such as producers, directors of photography, and camera assistants from previous projects, or through interviews with the producer.
As for career advancement, 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 particular 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, those with the best business ability, and those 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 persons 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 increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. 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. Also, as advances in telecommunications create new markets and productselectronic newspapers and magazines, for example, which rely heavily on imagesthe demand for pictures and images is expected to increase over the projection period.
Employment of camera operators is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Despite businesses making greater use of videos for training films, business meetings, sales campaigns, and public relations work, the growth in employment of camera operators will be restrained as their work and duties in motion pictures and film are expected to be slowly taken over by directors of photography or cinematographers. Expansion of the entertainment industry will create some additional openings, but competition for these jobs will be keen for what generally is regarded as an exciting career field.
The median annual earnings for salaried photographers and camera operators who worked full time were about $30,600 in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,000 and $46,500. The top 10 percent earned more than $75,100, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,500.
Most salaried photographers work full time and earn more than the majority of self-employed photographers, many of whom work part time, but some self-employed photographers have high earnings. Earnings are affected by the number of hours worked, skills, marketing ability, and general business conditions. Because many camera operators who work in film or video do so as freelancers, earnings tend to fluctuate from year to year.
Unlike photojournalists and commercial photographers, very few artistic photographers are successful enough to support themselves solely through this specialty.
Career information on photography is available from:
Professional Photographers of America, Inc., 57 Forsyth St., Suite 1600, Atlanta, GA 30303.
Advertising Photographers of America, 7201 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046.
American Society of Media Photographers, 14 Washington Rd., Suite 502, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550-1033.
General information on news photography careers is available from:
National Press Photographers Association, 3200 Croasdaile Dr., Suite 306, Durham, NC 27705.
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