According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 136,300 photographers employed in the as of 2012.1 The labor force in the industry is projected to grow four percent from 2012 to 2022, with the majority of photographers being self-employed. Outlook suggests that photographers who are multi-talented (or have skills in more than one specialization) especially in the areas of digital media will have better job prospects.
That being said, these statistics do not imply that a photography graduates are destined for unemployment. In addition to market conditions, photography students’ success in the job market is dependent on the following factors:
Strength of your network: Networking is one of the most important components of job searching. A recruiter is likely to interview a candidate that was referred from a business acquaintance an applicant merely responding to an ad. Moreover, most job opportunities are not posted. Having a strong professional network can uncover many hidden opportunities. As a student, your network may consist of instructors, teaching assistants, peers, past and current employers. It is important for students to be involved with professional associations to gain greater exposure to the industry and further develop their network.
Breadth of experience: If you are entering the program from high school, your breadth of experience may be limited. It is important for students to continue developing their portfolios throughout their program, with a combination of course work as well as paid and volunteer work. Thus, you may want to consider applying to a school with entrepreneurial/business courses and internship opportunities as part of the program’s curriculum. If internships are not an option, volunteering your skills with a not-for-profit organization also provides a great opportunity to develop experience and add to your portfolio.
Depth of expertise: Continuing education can increase a graduate’s opportunity in the job market. If you are someone plans on specializing in a certain area such as cinematography or studio management, you may want to consider applying to graduate school to enhance your technical knowledge and expertise. Investment in workshops is also crucial in order to keep up with an industry that is constantly changing.
Reputation in the industry: Understanding the business of photography can impact your career as a photographer. Business ethics (accountability, integrity and responsibility) and ability to understand and interpret clients’ needs are essential to maintaining positive client relationships. Your ability to deliver according to clients’ expectations can create generate repeated business as well as develop new business with other companies. Most companies request references from your clients to determine whether or not to hire you for a project. Entrepreneurial courses are highly recommended for all photography students because not only do you require the skills to be a competent photographer, but you also need to have good business sense in order to succeed in a highly competitive industry.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Photographers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm