Dangling stuffed animals in front of toddlers, cracking jokes with teenagers and repeating the phrase "Say Cheese!" a hundred times a day is only a small part of a portrait photographer's busy schedule. She also loads film, prepares equipment and adjusts her cameras to get the best angles and lighting for her customers. A photographer often works long hours to accommodate her clients' needs and spends additional time on a computer enhancing digital photos or, in some cases still, in a darkroom processing film and making prints.
Many portrait photographers work in studios where the work space is divided into camera, processing and reception areas. A studio can be a noisy place, with children of all ages, primped to perfection, waiting to get their moment in the spotlight. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, 63 percent of photographers were self-employed. Some owned their own studios while others worked out of their homes to meet customer needs. Portrait photographers spend much of their time standing, so they must be able to tolerate long hours on their feet.
Portrait photographers often travel to schools, businesses, churches, organization meetings, private homes and natural settings to photograph their clients. Versatile indoor and outdoor portrait locations make each day unique and interesting, but relocating heavy equipment can be a big pain. Camera equipment is cumbersome, so many portrait photographers use a van or commercial vehicle to transport their gear. With the ever-increasing demand for digital images, cameras aren't quite as heavy as they used to be, but lighting stands and adjustable tables and chairs are bulky. Portrait photographers often hire assistants to schedule customers and help with setup and teardown.
Hours of Operation
Some portrait photographers are fortunate enough to have regular office hours, but many work odd hours to meet their customers' needs. For example, weddings take place at all times of the day and often require a photographer to set up for portraits before a ceremony begins. Seniors in high school are in school all day, so late afternoon, evening and weekend hours are necessary. Sports teams usually want to be photographed outdoors, so a photographer must work around weather conditions and game times. Photographers must be flexible if they want to keep current clients and entice new ones. Portrait studios in commercial locations often adjust their hours to match those of surrounding stores or businesses, especially if the studio is located inside a retail store or mall.
Pay and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the median hourly wage for photographers was $14.00. Some seasons are busier that others, such as winter holiday time, when customers want to send photo Christmas cards, or fall, when graduating seniors and other students take school pictures. As a result, a photographer's income typically varies from month to month. Employment is expected to grow by 13 percent through 2020, which is average for all occupations. The demand for professional portrait photographers is limited because digital cameras make it easier for amateurs, hobbyists and photo-crazed parents to take photos themselves.
2016 Salary Information for Photographers
Photographers earned a median annual salary of $34,070 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, photographers earned a 25th percentile salary of $23,480, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $52,220, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 147,300 people were employed in the U.S. as photographers.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.