8 Interesting Careers In Photography (If You Don’t Want To Start A Business)

How can you make money as a photographer? Is a career in photography even possible? Almost every person with a passion for photography has grappled with those questions. As an answer, professional photographer Steven McConnell has written a fantastic series of articles about how to become a successful full-time photographer in one year. Although much of his advice applies to all photographers, it’s mainly geared towards those who are willing to start a business.

However, there are a number of great photography careers you may not have considered that don’t require you to start your own business. That’s why we’ve put together this list of careers for photographers who want to focus on the craft, not the business.

Depending on the job, you’ll still need to put in plenty of hours of independent work, freelancing or even working for free to build up experience. (For that reason, you should still read Steven’s inspiring articles.) Some jobs require you to have additional skills, perhaps even a degree outside of photography. It’s just like any other career–you have to invest time, effort and money towards getting your dream job.

Photographer in action

Photographer in action by John Ragai

1. Forensic photographer
If you love fine art photography, a career in forensics probably isn’t for you. But if you’re detail-oriented, interesting in solving crimes, and want your photos to have a concrete purpose, consider becoming a forensic photographer. Your photos would be used as evidence in court cases, so you would need to know how to take photos that accurately represent a crime scene. Besides tagging along with detectives, you would also be asked to use digital imaging to clarify details like fingerprints.

Of course, you’ll need more than just photography skills to get involved with forensics. Although at least three years of photography experience is generally required, you also need to take photography courses at a police academy or similar institution. An educational background in forensic science, criminology or law enforcement is a big plus, too.

"Crime Scene Do Not Cross" tape

“Crime Scene Do Not Cross” tape by Tex Texin

Weapons Intelligence Training Course

Weapons Intelligence Training Course by isafmedia

2. Military photographer
Being a soldier is not the only job the military offers. In fact, working for the military can be a great way to improve your photography skills, from close-up portraits to wide-scale action shots. As a military photographer, your photos would be used for recruitment, educational purposes, and historical documentation, similar to photojournalism. You’d cover training missions and news conferences, and perhaps even be asked to give presentations at military headquarters.

Like anyone in the military, you have to be willing to move around the world and travel to far-flung places as a military photographer. Although you wouldn’t be a fighting soldier, you’d still be under the same military protocol as soldiers, which means wearing uniforms and obeying orders.

However, one big perk is that you don’t necessarily need to be an established professional photographer to be recruited. Advanced technical training is available, and the military allows you to fine-tune your skills while on the job.

Royal Navy Sea King Landing in Norway

Royal Navy Sea King Landing in Norway by Mez Merrill (UK Ministry of Defence)

Afghanistan landscape

Afghanistan landscape by Spc. Ken Scar (The U.S. Army)

3. High school or university teacher in photography / visual arts
If teaching the next generation of photographers sounds exciting to you, a career in education might be your thing. Besides improving your craft constantly to stay up-to-date as a teacher, you’ll be exposed to the boundless creativity of young adults, whose fresh outlook will inspire you.

Positions in education generally require a college degree. Additional requirements differ depending on your state or country. Universities will want at least a master’s degree, while secondary schools usually require teacher certification next to a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re unsure whether you want to commit yourself to getting these requirements, you can ask to shadow an established photography teacher for a day or even try working as a substitute teacher to a get a feel for the environment.

Let me teach you

Let me teach you by Cristian Carrara

photography teacher

Photography teacher Mr. Cross and Ben Warner
“Having a dedicated and knowledgeable photography teacher is something I’ve learnt not to take for granted and to appreciate after a year at Suffolk One” – by Joshua Hayes

4. Portrait photographer at a studio
Portrait photography might make you think of crying babies and awkward family photos, but that’s only a part of it. You might also end up taking photos at a college graduation or chatting with an immigrant who’s getting passport photos. At special events, you’ll always be at the center of the party without worrying about how you look in the pictures.

To become a professional portrait photographer (without starting your own business), you need to have a strong portfolio of portraits and excellent interpersonal skills. Although a photography degree or certificate might give you some credibility, your best bet is to network with professionals and to first work as an assistant in a photo studio, building up experience and contacts until you get a full-time job.

Family portrait

Family portrait by Quinn Dombrowski

Best Wedding Photography Picture about Professional Photographers

Best Wedding Photography Picture about Professional Photographers by epSos .de

5. Photojournalist
As a photojournalist, you’re at the forefront of news and culture, and your images bring an emotional edge where words fail. On one hand, it’s a broad career, since you can cover stories ranging from international issues to local sports events. On the other hand, the field is tough to break into and requires a lot of passion and perseverance.

To become a photojournalist, you often need to get a placement at a newspaper or magazine. That may require a long period of freelance work at first, as you network and develop a reputable portfolio. You’ll need to be active, social, and willing to submit your work for publication (or publish it yourself). Photojournalism means getting your work out there, so the more stories you track, photograph and publish, the better.


Photographers by William Warby

Woman TV journalist profile

Woman TV journalist profile by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

6. Nature photographer
Technically, outdoor and wildlife photography could be categorized as photojournalism too, except that photojournalists generally thrive on human chaos, while nature photographers try to get away from it. In a way, nature photography is the antithesis of fast-paced journalism; you spend a lot of time waiting on animals, the weather, and your own body, trying to recover from an arduous hike.

Nevertheless, the career track is similar: you take photos, submit them to magazines, and improve your portfolio until you get a contract. (National Geographic is the typical dream job, but there are also smaller nature magazines.)

Keep in mind, though, that the market is extremely narrow. A lot of amateur photographers take awesome nature photos, so you’ll probably need to combine your work with another job, like being a nature guide or forest ranger.

Sunset Photographer

Sunset Photographer by Anita Ritenour

Signs of Wildlife

Signs of Wildlife by Linda Tanner

7. Fashion photographer
Love of fashion is prerequisite #1 for this career. It’s a cutthroat business, but the fashion industry does allow you to express a more artistic, surreal style of photography, unlike forensics, photojournalism, and the military. Fashion combines well with fine art photography, so if you’re not earning enough on art alone, you can try adapting your work to fashion shoots.

Networking is important for any photography career, but it’s especially important for fashion photographers. Attend fashion events, talk to models and designers, carry a business card, and offer to take photos for free. As a top fashion magazine photo editor once said, “I only see people who are coming with a direct recommendation from somebody I know.”

To avoid the business end, find a photo agent who will sell your photos on your behalf. Agents also strive to get the best deal and most coverage for your work, ensuring that no one in fashion takes advantage of you.

New York Fashion Week Fall 2007: Doo Ri

New York Fashion Week Fall 2007 by Peter Duhon (via Art Comments)

A Day On The Lake - Millie E

A Day On The Lake – Millie E by Joel Devereux

8. Photo editor (also called Digital Imaging Editor)
If you’re all about post-processing, check out this job. As a photo editor, you’d pretty much remove yourself from ‘taking pictures’ as a job and, instead, be focusing on finding the perfect images for a story and editing them for a magazine. Photo editors have an eye for excellent photos and are often amateur photographers themselves–they’ve just decided to make their own photography a hobby, not a full-time career.

Photo editors know how to be selective–finding that one awesome photo in a pile of mediocrity–so to become one, you need to develop and demonstrate that ability. (On a basic level, get used to editing photos.) Try getting a job or internship at a magazine’s photography department; even if you’re not the editor, you’ll make important contacts and get experience learning about the entire behind-the-scenes work of publishing photos.

Also, learn the names and work of editorial photographers you like and build a network of photographers you respect. These will be the people you call on when you need photos for a magazine. No matter what your photography career is–editing or photographing–it’s always a good idea to surround yourself with a community of photographers.


Photographers by Mark Probst

Atlanta Guild Photographers, catching the storm rolling in

Atlanta Guild Photographers, catching the storm rolling in by Brooke Novak

Any other careers you think should be on this list? Add them in the comments below.

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4 Comments on "8 Interesting Careers In Photography (If You Don’t Want To Start A Business)"

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Agieszka Jankowska

Great article, it gave me a new idea. Thanks! 🙂

Laura from Ld Nature Photography

This is a great resource! Thanks for compiling. I shared it!

Jay Long

Very interesting list, indeed. It is intriguing to note the various opportunities associated with photography.

Marcell Grozavesti

expecially now, we could add “microstock photographer”. Selling your best pictures (commercial photography) in website like fotolia or istockphoto, is a good way to earn money from your camera! maybe in the beginning is not easy but someone had great success with this

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