Hi I am curious about photography's history and I'm just wondering what were the requirements to become a photographer 15 years ago? I know that nowadays you need to take a special course, have creativity, etc. But, what about 15 years back? Anyone would like to share their personal experience on what it was like to becoming a photographer 15 years ago?
The requirement to "become a photographer" have always been pretty similar: use a camera to take pictures.
If you mean, the requirements to get a job where you're paid to take pictures, the requirements tended to be more stringent then. In particular, many jobs as a professional photographer involved darkroom work. Although it's possible to learn that entirely on your own, the majority of people I recall took at least one class (and usually more).
A lot depends on what sort of photography you're talking about though. Newspapers typically did their own darkroom work, so a photographer was expected to know how to work in the darkroom. Commercial photographers were a lot more likely to shoot slide file and have somebody else process it for them (usually not the one hour place down the street though). Even when you didn't work in a darkroom at all, you were generally expected to be conversant with darkroom techniques, so you could (for example) discuss reducing contrast using an internegative, even if you didn't actually do that work yourself.
Then, as now, the basic requirement to be a photographer is to take pictures. Anyone who takes photos is a photographer.
If you're asking what the requirements were to be hired as a photographer, the answer is almost as varied as the number of jobs that were available. Beyond a basic competence for producing photos useful to the one paying you, and all that entailed (shooting, developing, printing, etc.), the requirements varied greatly from one job to the next.
Jobs may have required one or more of the following:
- A basic certificate that you had completed photography courses at a certain level.
- An Associate's, Bachelor's, or Master's degree in photojournalism, fine arts, general photography, etc.
- Completion of an apprenticeship with a recognized photographer or photographic agency doing work in the field for which you were being considered.
- A portfolio of work that demonstrated you could produce images like the one hiring wished to pay you to produce for them.
- An existing professional working relationship with the one hiring (sometimes it's as much about who you know and who knows you as anything else). Maybe you went to photo school with the person hiring, or they taught courses or workshops where you went to photographic school, or you were often covering the same events and developed a professional relationship. Maybe you connected with them during an apprenticeship. Maybe you both worked for another employer in the past, and so on.
- Familiarity with an area of interest that you were hired to photograph. Sports photographers were generally expected to understand the rules, procedures, and strategies of the games they covered. Fashion photographers needed to understand the world of fashion magazines and advertising. Many other niches also expected the photographer to have a good understanding of what it was they were shooting.
- A specified number of years in a certain field. Most photojournalists hired by major news organizations had first "paid their dues" working for a few years at small town newspapers.
- For specialized assignments, competency in other areas might have been required. Such skills as mountain climbing to very high elevations, scuba diving, piloting small aircraft, etc. were sometimes required for certain jobs. Political or social connections could sometimes be a prerequisite.
- For some very sensitive jobs, a governmental or private security clearance following a background check might have been required.
Today it's a little simpler. The glut of highly experienced staff photographers and the increasingly scarce number of staff positions mean that experience, portfolio, and, yes, professional relationships capture the lion's share of choice gigs today that almost always go to those who have many years of experience in their particular photographic field but have been displaced by the dwindling number of available staff positions as many major news organizations and other types of publications have eliminated the staff photographer from their business model.