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?

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    \$\begingroup\$ That is entirely dependent on where you live. Where I live, you had to go through 3 years of training until last year, when politics (thankfully) opened the title of "photographer" to anyone. \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Apr 12, 2018 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have to take a special course to be a photographer?! Who said? \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Apr 12, 2018 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not even 40 and this question makes me feel old... \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Apr 12, 2018 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ this is more of a "forum" question, not a Q&A-website question. maybe you should ask that in chat if you would like an informal discussion. Better question might be "what is the difference in credentials for staff photojournalist today versus 15 years ago [in NYTimes]" \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14, 2018 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aaaaaa Users need a rep of 20 to post in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 16, 2018 at 5:08

2 Answers 2


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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Requirements for darkroom experience may have been more stringent then than now, but the increased competition for an ever dwindling number of full-time gigs has gotten to the point that today there are hundreds if not thousands of seasoned photogs with 15-20+ years of experience applying for every staff job that pays more than what waiting tables at a restaurant would. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 14, 2018 at 18:56

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Most of what you've cited seems related to simply getting a job in general, with little relationship to photography in particular, and even less (none at all?) to 15 years ago vs. today. If your real intent is simply to say that nothing has changed, then 1) you could certainly state that a lot more succinctly, and 2) it's not really true. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14, 2018 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JerryCoffin So I need an MFA to get a job as a butcher? Okaaay... \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 14, 2018 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even that (probably the closest you came to a meaningful comment) was much more general than you're characterizing it here. You named 3 levels of degrees in 3 fields plus an "etc." In other words, essentially "many jobs require an appropriate education", which yes, applies equally well to an immense variety of jobs. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15, 2018 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JerryCoffin Many jobs require appropriate degrees. Many other jobs don't. So yes, mentioning that many photographers needed a degree in a photography related discipline to get a job 15 years ago is relevant to the question. Degrees in Fine arts, Photography, Photojournalism, etc. all apply to fields in which photographers work. One would need to be rather obtuse to think an "etc." used in such a context would represent a degree in a field that did not involve photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 16, 2018 at 4:49

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