Photographers use cameras to record people, places, objects and events on film or electronically. Using their knowledge of design and composition, images are selected to obtain the desired effect. Most photographers use the same basic equipment, but may specialize in a particular area of photography.

Photographers tend to be categorised according to the subject or type of illustrative work undertaken, although a precise clear-cut division seldom occurs. Successful photographers need to be versatile and cannot always afford to limit themselves to one particular area.

Press or news photographers: also called photojournalists, photograph newsworthy people; places; and sporting, political, and community events for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. The subjects do not usually pose and the work depends on spontaneous responses to situations. Some photojournalists are salaried staff; others work independently and are known as freelance photographers. Press photographers need to meet deadlines, produce usable images under tough conditions and have the tact and tenacity to get the cooperation from others.

Commercial and industrial photographers: take pictures of various subjects, such as buildings, models, merchandise, artefacts and landscapes. These photographs are used in a variety of mediums, including books, reports, advertisements and catalogues. Industrial photographers often take pictures of equipment, machinery, products, workers and company officials. The photographs may be used for analysing engineering projects, publicity, or as records of equipment development or deployment, such as placement of an offshore rig. Companies also use these photographs in publications, reports to stockholders, or to advertise company products or services. This is frequently done on location.

Medical and scientific photographers: work in research institutes and hospitals to record operations and experiments. A scientific or medical background and a knowledge of photographic theory are essential. Photographers in this field have to be able to use very specialised cameras and a variety of electronic flash equipment. The work is usually done under laboratory conditions and creative opportunities will be of a technical nature. They may use special equipment to photograph information not normally visible, such as electron microscopes with built-in cameras.

Studio photographers: mostly work in studios and takes photographs of people of all ages for specific purposes such as passports, identity documents, graduation ceremonies, portrait studies, weddings, engagements and other important events. The subjects pose and much time is spent setting up the background, setting correct angles and lighting, etc.

Forensic photographers: work in a special area of photography known as police or crime scene photography and it is now often correctly referred to as “forensic” photography. Forensic photographers utilise photography to help solve crimes, for instance a photograph of the scene of a murder can help detectives solve the crime.

Advertising photographers: takes photographs of people or objects for use in advertisements. Some advertising agencies have their own in-house photographers, while smaller agencies hire outside photographers. The photographer chosen for the task must possess good technical skills; have previous experience and special equipment. The photographer is, after careful planning, almost always disciplined to a drawn layout. Yet the work has to be original. Advertising photography is usually more suitable for experienced photographers. The work is sometimes done with models that pose.

Fashion photographers: usually work for magazines and take photographs of models displaying clothing, for example. Fashion photography can be divided into advertising and editorial illustration. Fashion photographers must know how to create lively, original and interesting images while showing details of the garment. A flair for clothes and a good working relationship with the models are essential. Editorial pictures for magazines offer greater visual scope.

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 sizeable portfolio. Once accepted, a large number of new submissions are usually required from a photographer each year. Photographers frequently have their photos placed on CD’s for this purpose.

Other fields of photography include public relations, photographic marketing and aerial photography.

Personal Requirements

  • creative, artistic and imaginative
  • patient and accurate
  • able to put people at ease in front of the camera
  • able to initiate and maintain pleasant human relations
  • able to react and decide quickly
  • able to do detailed work
  • good vision and colour sense

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Art or a related subjects is highly recommended
Recommended subjects: Art, Design Studies, Engineering and Graphic Design


  • An art portfolio is required to demonstrate your creativity, abilities and commitment.
  • If you intend studying towards a degree in Fine Art at university, you will need to a Bachelor's pass in matric. If you intend studying a diploma in an art-related field, then you will need a Diploma pass in matric.
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university or requirements set by the college.

What to Study

Degree: BA (Fine Art) – some universities offer photography as a specialisation.

Diploma: The N.Dip. Photography - CUT, CPUT, DUT, TUT, VUT, NMMU. The course takes 3 years to complete. At some of these universities of technology, a fourth year of study will culminate in the BTech Photography degree.

Certificate: Some TVET colleges and various private colleges, such as the National College of Photography, offer a one-year Diploma in Professional Photography.

Most novices are expected to spend a few years as assistants, since practical experience is very important.


  • portrait and commercial photography studios
  • newspapers and magazines
  • television
  • advertising agencies
  • some large companies and industries
  • hospitals and research institutes
  • government departments
  • film industry
  • self-employment, with own studio or freelance work

Further Information

Photographic Society of South Africa

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work at a photographic studio, newspaper or magazine publishing company
  • arrange to speak to various photographers about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work, possibly acting for a while as their assistant, even if unpaid

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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