If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then photojournalists have written a visual encyclopedia. With cameras in tow, photojournalists have chronicled the world’s most important stories, beginning with “father of photojournalism” Mathew Brady and his visual stories from the Civil War. The field has grown since then. Photojournalists working for newspapers, book publishers and television stations made up 6 percent of the nation’s 139,500 photographers in May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photojournalism isn’t the best-paying profession, but what it lacks in income, it makes up for in impact.
Photojournalist pay varies by medium. Television photojournalists made mean wages of $45,000 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photojournalists working for newspapers, magazines or book publishers earned mean salaries of $41,000. That pay was higher than the annual mean wage of $34,000 for all U.S. jobs. However, photojournalists’ mean income was lower than pay for other photographers. Photographers in the aerospace industry made the most in 2011, with mean wages of $65,000. Motion-picture and video photographers took home $64,000. Photographers who snapped shots for science-related research and development companies earned $55,000.
Photographer income also differs by region. Among states, the District of Columbia paid the most in 2011, with a mean wage of $64,000. Connecticut ranked second, at $59,000. Rounding out the top five were New York, at $51,000; California, at $46,000; and Illinois, at $45,000. Wages were lowest in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia, where annual mean pay ranged from $26,000 to $27,000. Among best-paying cities for photographers, Connecticut’s Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk market topped the list, with a mean wage of $81,000. The San Francisco-San Mateo area ranked second, with a salary of $67,000. Hartford, Conn., came in third, at $61,000.
Photojournalists say their biggest rewards don’t come in a paycheck. The National Press Photographers Association says nobody goes into the field to get rich. Rather, the real compensation comes from intangibles such as working on a different project every day or the opportunity to travel. Photojournalists also say they have meaningful careers that allow them to make a difference in areas or issues they care about.
Employers prefer photojournalists with a bachelor’s degree in photography. News media look for an artistic sense, or the ability to compose pictures using colors, shadows and light. Photojournalists also work with people, so interpersonal and communications skills are important. Photojournalists need computer skills: They use photo-editing software and keep digital portfolios on their workstation. Photojournalists have to make significant equipment and software upgrades every 12 to 18 months, according to the National Press Photographers Association. Persistence is vital as well. It takes consistency to break into the business and to track down story subjects.
Photojournalists will have fewer job opportunities than photographers in other fields. A declining newspaper industry will cut photographer jobs by 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, the BLS reports. Overall, photography employment will increase 13 percent from 2010 to 2020, or about the same as average growth for all jobs. Expect tough competition for those jobs: Affordable cameras and improvements in digital technology will allow more people to enter the field. The best prospects are in wedding photography and commercial photography such as advertising. The outlook is also stronger in states with above-average numbers of photography jobs. States with the highest concentration of photography jobs are Hawaii, Nevada, Indiana, Missouri and Rhode Island. States with the lowest rates of photography jobs include Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana.