Jobs in Video Game Design – The Ultimate Guide

The Video Game Industry

Console Video Game

Console Video Game

One of the coolest industries out there for anybody interested in graphics and visual art is the video game industry. In this industry you get to use your talents to create something that can be used and enjoyed by millions of people.

You will get to apply your skills to create the same video games that you play every day, and be a part of a team that has a huge influence on society. Whether you are looking to make the next Grand Theft Auto or Flappy Bird, or you just have an idea you want to do yourself, a career in the video game industry can be exciting.

Depending on your skills and interests, there are also many different avenues you can go down in the industry while still being a creative part of the team. Whether you are the artist/animator, programmer or sound technician, you can find something that suits you.

The thing I love the most about the video game industry is that you get to be a part of something bigger and create something for everybody to enjoy.

This can sometimes come at a cost at even the best video game companies, as when there are deadlines and you will have to work long hours to get the product out. The work/life balance can be disproportionate at times, but a lot of times, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Once you learn how to become a game tester, move up in the studio and start designing your own, you will agree.

Video Game Character Art

Video Game Character Art

Video Game Jobs

Job Category Job Titles Job Description Expected Average Annual Salary
Video Game Designer Junior Designer, Designer, Lead Designer Overall decisions on the design of the game and its features $70,000
Game Programmer Junior Coder, Coder, Lead Coder, Code Manager Engineer who codes all of the ideas into a playable game $85,000
Tester Junior Tester, Tester, Lead Tester, QA Manager Quality Assurance (QA). Tests games for bugs and errors, difficulty and localization $40,000
Artist/Animator Junior Artist, Artist, Lead Artist In charge of visual aspects of game. Character design, environment, objects and even user interface $72,000
Audio Audio Technician, Audio Engineer, Lead Audio Engineer Sound Effects (SFX) and Music for the game. $50,000

Video Game Designer Job Information

Let’s just get one thing off the table here; you aren’t going to be at this level right away. It takes some people many years of education and experience to get here, but for many, the end goal is worth it.

So what do they do exactly? Basically, everything involving the creation of the video game. They are responsible for the overall idea of the game, from the concept to the execution. When you think of a video game creator, many times you are picturing a designer.

  • Storyline
  • Game Rules
  • Difficulty
  • Rewards
  • Levels
  • Initial Concept
  • GDD (see glossary below)
  • Post Production
  • All design decisions

Compared to all of the other video game jobs they aren’t the ones who code it, make the music for it, animate it, sell it or license it, but they do have a hand in all of those aspects. This position is usually filled by very creative people who can see the big picture of the overall project.

Design Team

Design Team

They need to be able to lead a team while also working solo at times and they need to be good communicators to express their ideas.

Most people in this position have a Bachelor’s Degree and many years of experience from testing to artistry. You can realistically expect a video game designer salary to be an average of $70,000, with increases expected as experience and responsibilities increase.

There are different roles that can be filled within this category as some designers will focus on specific aspects of the game. Below are some common designer roles:

  • Lead Designer – Responsible for overall coordination of game
  • Mechanics Designer – Rule systems and function of the game
  • Environmental Designer – Scenarios and environments in the game
  • Level Designer – Similar to Environmental Designer, but focusing on the entire level

If all of this sounds like fun, you’re on the right path, but how do you become a game designer? There are many paths you can take to getting there, but there are a number of critical items you need to make sure you have before you begin.

The most important thing you need is a passion for video games. Sounds simple, but when you have to put in overtime and practically sleep in the studio, you want to know that you are doing it because it is your true passion.

Maybe you like playing video games and the thought of getting to make them is exciting, but will it still be exciting when you have worked for a week straight, only to hear a backer pull out funding, or a user complain about a design? Only true passion will push you past these obstacles and keep you sane.

PC Video Game

PC Video Game

If you have the passion and you know this is the right career for you, you need to start getting some experience. Many people get started with school and getting a degree, but to get a job as a designer you need more than that.

Most game studios will look beyond a resume and really focus on the portfolio. Studios are looking for tangible proof that you know what you are doing and can be a real asset to the company.

In your portfolio the best thing you can include are shipped games, as this shows a high level of actual experience. This doesn’t mean you have to have actually worked for a studio, as you can self-publish games today by making your own video games.

If you can show a completed game, it shows you understand every aspect of video game creation and that you know everything from UI/UX design to player feedback. This will hopefully get you an initial interview.

Video Game Design

Video Game Design

Once you are in the initial and team interviews, make sure you show your ability to work within and lead teams, as professional games are never created without a team involved.

If you don’t yet have the experience or ability to create a portfolio of work, you will probably need to work your way up in the studio. Many people start out as testers and as they gain knowledge and experience, move up to the designer positions.

Video Game Programming Job Information

Many people confuse the term game programmer with designer, but it is important to understand the difference between these two video game jobs. Whereas the designer is responsible for the overall decisions of the game, video game programming is what makes it happen.

The programmer is specifically focused on the coding of all of the ideas and taking the information from the rest of the team members to turn it into a functional, playable game. They need to coordinate with all of the other members of the team, from the artists to the UI designers.

There are a number of specialty types of video game, each focusing on specific aspects of the game, a few are:

  • Game Engine – the foundation of the games
  • Physics engine – real-world physics dealing with kinematics, gravity or friction, for example
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Computer characters, enemies and opponents
  • User Interface – What the player sees and interacts with
  • Network – Multiplayer, Networked and Internet cooperation
  • Porting – Applying code to multiple different platforms

In addition to the specialty focuses of these programmers, you will also have generalists who focus on multiple aspects, usually at smaller studios with lower budgets, and a lead programmer who will oversee all of the other programmers.



Almost all programmers have a background and degree in Computer Science and will know multiple computer languages. The most common language is C#, but specialists might also know DirectX, OpenGL, or script languages like Ruby or Python.

If you don’t have a degree in CS, many studios will also look at experience, as many coding languages can be learned without a degree. Other degrees that are desirable by studios are mathematics or physics, as these are directly relatable to the position.

The level of salary for a programmer varies greatly depending on the level of experience and specialty. The average salary can be around $80,000, but the top programmers in the right city can make well past $100k.

The good thing about this position is that unlike other roles, video game companies are always hiring programmers, and once they find one that knows what they are doing and are easy to work with, they tend to hold onto them. A good programmer is essential to the success of most video games, and studios understand this.



If you want to get a job in this field, there is only one thing to do, program. Program, program, program. Do this until you don’t want to do it anymore and then move on to another language and do it again. Programming is like playing a sport; you get better at it the more you do it.

Think of it as practicing, where you do it enough, when somebody throws you a curve, you know how to react. You should be able to take any task the designer gives you and instantly know how you would go about making that work.

The bonus to all of this practice, is when you are done, you will have a pretty good knowledge of engines and have hopefully built your own. This engine is a great thing to show your potential employer, because it is actual proven experience beyond any piece of paper some people might have.

Game Tester Job Information

Arguably, this is the best sounding job at video game companies. Who doesn’t want to play video games for a living? Well, there is a lot more to it than that. Game testing is hard and monotonous, but the good news is that it can be a great stepping stone to future careers, or a career in itself. Want to know how to become a game tester? Read on.

This position will test games, but many times they are tasked with testing one specific portion of the game many times and finding ways to break it. It’s not like you get to play a game from start to finish, making notes along the way.

Video game tester jobs require a lot of documentation, analytic abilities, and understanding of how games work. You will need to report any issues to the lead tester and it needs to be thoroughly documented and researched.

Testing roles fall under the quality assurance (QA) banner, and you are generally required to find all of the bugs within a game in order to have minimal impact once the game ships. There are also roles that will do beta testing or even part-time tester jobs.

Video Game on Sale

Video Game on Sale

Good testers will not only be able to find a bug, but replicate it and report what they think caused it, which means playing the same portion of the game over and over again with different scenarios. In the end, the tester will fill out a bug report on the company database.

The bug report progression goes from identification, to report, ending with analysis and verification. Bugs are reported by ranking with an “A” bug being the worst, and a D bug being a minor issue, and might not be fixed and become “not a bug” or NAB, also known as a game feature.

Many people begin in this role as tester as a path to moving up and this is a great way to gain experience in many different fields. In video game tester jobs, you will learn:

  • Design – Understanding why things were done a certain way
  • Programming – Understanding how programmers work to analyze and fix bugs
  • Customer Support – Player found bugs and how to resolve them

By working through these items and excelling, you may soon become a lead tester, and test manager and eventually get involved in the production side. Over the years, this could lead to a designer position if you are capable.



If you want to know how to become a game tester, first know this, you don’t necessarily need any specialized degrees, but you should have extensive knowledge in video games and computers in general. You have to be able to process the bug and use critical thinking to figure out the potential reason for it.

What you are looking for when applying to a game company is a company in your immediate area, as most studios won’t allow you to work from home. Find one that is working on games that you would enjoy playing and send in your resume.

The companies you want to look for are ones that do testing internally and not external test labs, as there is little place to advance there. Video game tester jobs are called QA jobs, and are from a developer or publisher and ideally you would like to work in a place where there is a clear path for advancement.

One word of warning, watch out for scams. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is and look out for “companies” that ask you for a fee before you start working. They work by getting people to buy into the dream by offering a lot of money for a job, but requiring you to send in a fee. You will not get the job (there isn’t one) and you won’t get your money back.

How to make your own video game

Believe it or not, it is entirely possible for a single person to make their own video game. It may not be the next Braid, but being a video game creator is something anybody looking to get into the game industry should attempt.

By creating your own video game, you not only have something tangible to show on your portfolio, but you also gain valuable experience in every single aspect of game development along the way.

The first step in the process is to look at the big picture and understand that the first thing you create will likely not be the best thing you have ever played. This mindset will set you up for not being disappointed when a bug appears or something doesn’t work.

If this is your first game, you should also keep it simple and don’t allow for feature creep. You will have so many great ideas, you will want them all in the game, but an important part of design is editing your ideas down to the basics and keeping it simple.

You will also need to keep an eye out for complex strategies and systems that will make it too difficult for a single person. Maintain a simple mechanic that you keep consistent throughout, something that is easy to understand and implement. Don’t overdo it.

Once you have the big picture in your head, start putting on paper what you want your game to do. You don’t need to necessarily write a GDD, but you should have an understanding of what your game’s purpose is.

Video Game Team

Video Game Team

Think through the overall mission, the levels, the characters and environment. Put it all down on paper and make sure it makes sense before you invest all of you time to making it.

The paper game you just made is now ready to go into a computer or console, but for your first game it should be a PC, it’s just easier. The first step to getting it into the computer is to use an existing engine and not trying to build your own, keeping it simple, remember?

If you don’t want to learn programming just yet, get game making software like Game Maker or Stencyl which offer intuitive interfaces and drag-and-drop functionality for a small price (or free). If you are not an artist, find some free graphics and audio from OpenGameArt or FreeSound.

Another great way to get started is to also look at modding a game, where you take existing games and make modifications to them. While not as robust as other game making software, this will help you learn the ins and outs of the engine. Games like Unreal, Half-Life 2 and Quake can be modded in this way.

Game Conference

Game Conference

With these free and easy tools, you can quickly get your first game under your belt and you can quickly send it out to your friends and family to test it out. Hopefully you will have learned enough from making this first game that you are ready to move on to your next game, where you will learn even more.

Notice how we talked about making your first game and didn’t even discuss programming yet? That’s because when you are learning you need to focus on one task at a time, and programming is a task in itself.

If you are ready to tackle the programming side, you will want to look into the most commonly used languages. Python and C# are the powerhouses of programming languages in computer gaming. If you want to have a career in the industry you must know C++.

While it is almost a requirement to learn C++, as it is the leading game making software, I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners as it can be incredibly difficult to pick up at first. Start with Python, build a game and then learn C++, otherwise you might get too frustrated to finish.

DIY Video Game

DIY Video Game

Video Game Design Schools

If you are planning on getting into the industry, it is almost a requirement to have a Bachelor’s degree from one of the video game design schools. So how do you choose which school is best for you? Short answer is, it depends. What types of position are you looking for, programmer or designer? What part of the state are you in? How much money do you have?

These are all decisions you will have to make, but there are certain things you want to look for in your choice, in particular, what kind of classes do they offer?

Some universities offer degrees specifically in video games and offer courses such as programming, prototyping and game development and are clearly the best choice for those looking to become a video game creator.

Other universities offer a minor in gaming and have courses such as interface design and multiplayer game environments. This degree from video game designs schools could be a general Bachelor of Arts, but the minor focus will give you specific knowledge.

Game School

Game School

According to the Princeton Review, here are some of the top game design colleges for an undergraduate degree focusing on video games:

Colleges – Undergrad

Univeristy of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT
DigiPen Institute of Technology Redmond, WA
Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
Hampshire College Amherst, MA
Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester, MA
Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester, NY
The Art Institute of Vancouver Vancouver, BC
Massachussetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
New York University Brooklyn, NY
Shawnee State University Portsmouth, OH
Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
Northeastern University Boston, MA
Oklahoma Christian University Edmond, OK
Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, GA
Champlain College Burlington, VT
Becker College Worcester, MA
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy, NY
Vancouver Film School Vancouver, BC
DePaul University Chicago, IL
UC Santa Cruz Santa Cruz, CA
NJIT Newark, NJ
North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC
New England Institute of Technology East Greenwich, RI
Ferris State University Grand Rapids, MI

While you are in school, you will obviously want to take computer science specific classes, but you should also make sure you have learned things at these game design colleges specific to the gaming industry like physics, high level math, art and even psychology.

In the end what you walk away with by getting a college degree is not just a piece of paper, but an ability to think critically and problem solve, all of which is necessary in the industry.

Video Game School

Game Design Colleges


  • AAA: High level game that is typically within the top ten selling games in the market
  • A Bug: Highest priority bug that must be fixed
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Code or algorithm that dictates how a non-player character (NPC) behaves in the game
  • Avatar: A computerized representation of the player in the game world
  • B Bug: Second highest priority bug
  • Beta Test: Final testing phase of nearly complete project. Usually by user and not from QA
  • Bug: A problem with the game that needs to be fixed
  • Build: The complete group of game assets and source code
  • C Bug: Second lowest priority bug, may remain unfixed
  • Closed Beta Test: Beta test by select group of testers only
  • CS: Computer Science
  • Cut Scene: Video or animation, usually between levels or scenes
  • D Bug: Lowest level bug, not always fixed
  • DLC: Downloadable Content. Extra content from game developer that can be added to game
  • Engine: The program that makes the game run
  • Game-Design Document (GDD): Document that describes the design of the game. Highly detailed and used as a guiding document for the project
  • Graphical User Interface (GUI): User interaction through graphics as opposed to commands
  • Indie: Independent game created outside of major studios
  • Mod/Modding: Using tools to modify and customize game levels or environments
  • Non-Player Character (NPC): Character controlled by computer AI and not by player
  • Proof of Concept: Used to determine feasibility of game
  • Prototype: Iteration of game for testing
  • Quality Assurance (QA): Testing of game to check for bugs
  • Software Development Kit (SDK): Group of software tools, utilities, and documents for programmers to build from
  • Source Code: Base code that programmer writes for game and gets compiled to object code
  • Sprite: Object in game that is moveable
  • Technical Design Document (TDD): Document that describes the technical steps required to complete the GDD.
  • User Interface (UI): The way in which the user interacts with the game and vice-versa
  • User Experience (UX): The experience the user gets throughout the game
  • Work in Progress (WIP): An unfinished game that is still being worked on


If you are at all interested in making your passion your career, the video game industry might be for you. You get to create something that is enjoyed and used by a large number of people and you are able to express your creativity in something tangible.

The video game industry is growing, and whether you want to be a designer or programmer, work for the biggest AAA video game companies or go indie, you will find a place in this industry.

Start your career by becoming a professional photographer

How to Become a Professional Photographer

Photography Career

Photography Career

If you have a good eye, or if you enjoy capturing the world around you, a career in photography is an amazing path for you. There are so many different aspects to this career, more than just taking pictures, but that means that you can find a great way to find your calling in this field.

If you are interested in the technical aspects, you can focus on post processing. If you want to travel the world, you can look into starting your career in photojournalism, or you can consider doing fine arts or portraiture.

The great thing about choosing photography is you could be your own boss and freelance, or you can work for a large firm and have a secure job doing what you love. Learning to shoot will also change the way you look at the world, and can truly be life changing.



So what do professional photographers do anyways, and how do you become a photographer? This varies on the type of work you do, but overall, they capture objects, people, places or events and use those images to tell a story. They can work for themselves or for larger outfits that provide images for media outlets or stock photography.

If you are a freelancer you will spend your day running your business as much as you shoot, but you will set your own schedule and be your own boss. If you work for a company you will get more time shooting, but may make less money and may need to travel when they need you to.

In order to get started in this career, you will need to learn the trade, and the great thing about this career is there are more than one way to get this education.

Photography Schools and Photography Degrees

If you are planning on working at a company that offers photographic services, getting a photography degree can be extremely helpful. Not only will this give you a leg up on competitors, you will learn very technical aspects as well.

While you are getting your degree, you will also have the opportunity to learn other aspects like business, finance, and even sociology, all of which will be helpful for a freelancer as well.

The most common degree people get in photography schools is an Associate of Arts or even Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with specialties in photography. These degrees are offered at a number of schools, but some highly desired colleges are:

Yale School of Fine Art New Haven, CT
School of the Art Institute (SAIC) Chicago, IL
Brooks Institute Santa Barbara, CA
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Providence, RI
School of Visual Arts New York, NY
Columbia College San Fransisco, CA
Arizona State University Tempe, AZ
Photography Degree

Photography Degree

Getting your degree can be super expensive, and in this career are not always necessary, so you better make sure you know why you are going to school and what you are going to get out of it. There are a number of good reasons to go to school

  1. Mentorship: There is no better way to learn about shooting than to learn from somebody that has done it before. Without photography schools, you will be hard-pressed to find somebody willing to take the time to train you.
  2. Community and peer review: Going through this with like minded people will give you a group of people to lean on when you are stuck and will give you a group of peers who will give you honest feedback to get better. When you are learning alone, it is hard to get somebody to tell you what they honestly think.
  3. Experimentation: Since your living isn’t tied to the shots you are taking yet, you are free to take advantage and test out different things. It will allow you to grow as a photographer through experimentation.
  4. Presentation: You will learn how to properly present your work, verbally and non-verbally. It will help you create a portfolio and get more clients.

Photography Classes (learn on your own)

Going to college and getting a degree may not be for everyone, but lucky enough, with this career it is perfectly acceptable to learn by doing. In fact many of the best photographers were self-taught and some feel this is still the best way.

Why is learning on your own by taking photography classes better than college?

  1. School is expensive. There are many free resources out there if you take the time to find them and when you have learned enough to go out on your own, you won’t have student loan debt hanging over your head for years or even decades.
  2. You can learn on your own time, at your own pace. If you are considering this as a career change, or you want to turn your hobby into a career, you might not have the time to devote to getting a degree.
  3. Your portfolio is more important than your degree. Photography is one of those careers that take advantage of people talents and don’t care as much about your degree, so you can spend your time working on that instead of assignments.

To get started learning on your own, the easiest way to do it is to simply not do it on your own. There are online courses you can take through actual schools like the New York Institute of Photography or The Art Institute.

Vintage Camera

Vintage Camera

If an online degree isn’t up your alley, you can just take one-off courses, workshops and seminars. Look for online workshops that focus on your specific genre you are interested in. You can learn specific things about your client, camera or business.

To get out there and learn in the real world, the best place to look is your local community college. They offer a number of semester or year long classes and are often just enough to get you started on your journey.

Beyond taught classes, learning will be achieved by just doing it. Experiment with your shots, test out your settings and play with your tools to see what you can learn new.

One of the best things you can do is to simply put the camera down and to study lighting, compositions, textures and layering. Understanding how the light bounces off surfaces and how shadows are made will make you a much better photographer.

Photography Genres

Regardless how you learn photography, at some point you will find a genre that draws you in and is something you think you would enjoy specializing in. Each of these genres have their own traits and experience needed to succeed, so it is important to try them out to find what you might like about them.

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

One of the more common types of work you can focus on is weddings. This is one life event that is guaranteed to need a photog as anybody getting married will want to capture it. There is not another event where capturing it is almost required.

If you like to travel and get a rush from the energy of getting the perfect shot, this is a good genre for you to get into. Many weddings happen at destinations and the scenery is gorgeous, and if you get really good you can travel to exotic locations.

Be careful though because there is potential in this genre, there is also competition. You may need to do some shoots with friends or family members before you can even get somebody to pay you to document their wedding.

Remember that for that couple getting married, this may be their only shot to get it right and they will expect perfection. They will be spending some serious money, so they want somebody who really knows what they are doing.

Wedding Photographer

Wedding Photographer

Typically when you are photographing a wedding, you will shoot with a second shooter, or somebody there to assist you and get shots that you are not able to get. While you are shooting the family, maybe they will be out get the candid shots.

What you really need to make sure you do is to capture the beauty of the wedding and what makes it special to the couple. Maybe it is getting great family photos, or they want to remember the fun times and get candid shots of the reception. You should get to know the couple to get an idea of what they like before you start shooting.

Money that could be made by doing this photography, as the budgets are typically bigger than a commercial or stock photography business, but they are less often and you might go long stretches without work. There is a season to weddings and you may have to ride out the winters by doing other work.

Portrait Photography

Another popular type that people get started in is portrait photography. This can be glamour shots, newborns, or even pets, but it usually involves a living subject. This is popular because it is easier for beginners to capture emotion and character with a living object versus an event or object.

Each different type of subject has its own unique characteristics so it is important to understand how they differ.

Portrait Photographer

Portrait Photographer

Glamour: You will be dealing with amateur or professional models here and many times, their career also rides on your skills. They may be more critical of the shots, but at the same time work with you to get something great. The great aspect of this type is you really are working with the model to get the best shot.

Family: When dealing with families it is important to ensure you are capturing the character of the family. Just like individual people have specific nuances, so does a family unit. Get to know the family to help direct what type of shots you will do. Are they fun and quirky or are they looking for a classy, conservative photo to hang over the fireplace?

Newborn/Pregnancy: This type of photography is intended to capture the magic of having a baby, so you want to be sensitive to the preciousness of the subject. The parents will be looking for something they can treasure and reminisce about for many years, so it should be timeless.

They best way to start with portrait photography is to just start shooting the people you know. Ask you friends and family to pose for you, or try to get good candid shots. Once you are comfortable with the people you know, move onto strangers.

To take the next step you should start taking photos of professionals. Go to places like Model Mayhem and link up with a model who needs professional shots. You typically will team up with them and do a trade for pictures (TFP) or trade for CD (TFCD), which means the only exchange that takes place is you will give them a copy of the pictures or a CD.

Commercial Photography

This type of photography is intended to be used for business or commerce with the expectations of it being used in advertising or marketing. This differs from the other types, as the sole intention is not to just capture a moment, but to use it to sell.

The subjects are typically objects, products, buildings, or even places. You will typically want to keep the focus on the object and not have a distracting background. You can still get creative, but in the end the photograph needs to sell.

The good thing about commercial photography is you can do this on your own and don’t need to rely on an event or model to get started. If you are working on smaller objects, you can setup a studio in your garage.

Many people will also consider starting out by doing stock photography. This is taking a large number of images that are licensed and made available through online databases. As clients download your images, you will get paid a royalty for it.

Stock photography is a good way to get started, but understand that there are many people doing it, and it is difficult to get your images sold, even if they are really good.




One of the most exciting types of photography is photojournalism, as you get to travel or attend events, and just capture the world around you. If you are lucky enough to be contracted with big players like National Geographic, it can very lucrative as well.

The purpose of photojournalism is to capture the news and event through photographs, in particular for news outlets or magazines. You are very much like a reporter, but instead of using words, you are using the images.

There are some pretty rigid rules for being a photojournalist because you must remain impartial and capture the event exactly as it happened without your interference. There have been cases of many professionals loosing their job and career for stretching the truth, so don’t do it.



This is an extremely hard career to get into as the requirements are extremely stringent and is not something most outlets would trust to an amateur. Many organizations will also only want degreed professionals in their group.

As you are looking for the perfect moment, there will also be times where you spend a lot of time waiting for that perfect shot. It is not uncommon to wait weeks or even months to find the shot you want, but is usually all worth it.

This is unlike other genres where the subject is staged, planned or instantaneous. Being a journalist, you are there to simply capture what happens without causing it to happen.

Freelance Photography

Photography Studio

Photography Studio

At some point in most photographer’s career they consider going solo and freelancing. A photographer salary will vary, but nearly half those in the photography business are in freelance photography, or do work on the side for themselves. That is also part of the attraction of being a photographer, the freedom.

It can be scary to get started as a freelancer, but there are a couple of things you can do ahead of time to make sure you are ready. Learn everything you can about your practice through school or on your own, choose a niche and then you are ready to start considering going on your own.

Hobby vs. Career

Before you jump in with both feet, you first need to consider if you really want to have your livelihood reliant on this, or if you would rather keep it a hobby. There is nothing wrong with coming to the conclusion that it is just a hobby, in fact, you might be happier that way.

Hobbies are fun because you don’t have any pressure with them like you do with your everyday job, and once it becomes your everyday job it will be less fun. If you aren’t able to make rent or pay the bills, you might not think so highly of it.

Amateur Photography

Amateur Photography

You will also be surprised how often your are now doing things that have nothing to do with your passion. You will be running a business, bookkeeping and marketing, with only limited time for taking photos for fun.

What you need to decide before you go off on your own to do this as a career, is if your passion is enough to make up for all of these negative aspects. If it is, you’re mentally ready to do it.

Setting Rates

Without a doubt, the biggest question and fear for most beginners is how to set your rates. What are you worth? How much should you charge? What if I insult my clients with a high fee, or I don’t charge enough and I can’t make a living?

These are all common fears that every freelancer goes through, so don’t worry you are not alone. The easiest answer is to charge what somebody is willing to pay you. Start high and see if they flinch. If they don’t go higher next time. If they balk, offer them a “discount” this time, but let them know it will go up in the future.

Setting Rates

Setting Rates

This method works for those who are confident in their numbers to start, but most people don’t even know where to start, so here are some tips to come up with a number:

Make a living rate (minimum)

Your personal expenses + the business expenses / total expected number of clients (or hours of work)

Find out how much you need to work, let’s just say for the month to keep it easy. Add how much do you need to keep the business running, including licenses, fees and taxes. Divide that by how many clients you hope to get for that month (or hours you will plan on working) and this will tell you how much to charge each client, or how much you will charge hourly.

Example for 1 month:

  • Personal Expenses: $3,000
  • Business Expenses: $500
  • Expected Number of Clients: 3
  • or -Expected Number of Hours: 150 hours

$3,000 + $500 / 3 = $1,167 per client

- or – $3,000 + $500 / 150 = $23.33 per hour

Remember that this is just a place for you to start thinking about what you are worth. Just because that is what you need to live, it doesn’t mean that is what you worth. Pricing is based on the value to provide and not how much it costs to make something.

Thing about your client when setting your rates. Is what you are providing them going to make them more money or are they just looking for something personal? Are you providing exceptional service at a short notice? These are all things that could affect the value of what you provide.


Photography Contract

Photography Contract

There are other things you need to consider when freelancing, and that is running your business. There are some important documents you need to have to protect yourself and run a successful business.

The first thing you need for every project is a contract. This document will spell out the exact services you will provide, what the fee will be, how they will pay you and what other expenses they will be expected to cover.

This should include specifics on what they will receive and the format they will receive it in. Will they get a CD with the photos or are you printing a certain number of them? Will they get digital images in JPG, TIFF, or RAW format? How many images will be post-processed?

Tax Forms.
If you are running your freelance business in the US, you should apply for a Employer Identification Number (EIN) so that when you are dealing with clients you are not giving out your Social Security Number.

Depending on the client, you may also need to provide them with a W-9 form, so be ready to fill that out with all of your pertinent information.

You should setup a separate business account to keep things straight and make it easier come tax time to understand what came in and what went out. You should have a invoice template setup to easily send out to the client and have them make payments to the business.

You will likely get checks mostly, but also consider accepting other forms of payment like PayPal, as it makes it easier for some clients to pay this way.

Photography Portfolio

The most important thing for beginners looking to get into the photography business is to start your portfolio. This will be what gets you jobs and new clients. This is the only thing that most people will look for to make sure you are serious.

Depending on your genre, this should include your best work of that type and really showcase who you are as a photographer. You want to show what you are capable of, but also what style interests you, so you the client understands what they are getting.

Photography Portfolio

Photography Portfolio

You definitely want to vary what you include so you are not including too many images that are similar, and shows you can’t expand your reach and abilities. You should be constantly shooting and experimenting to try new things, and this should show in your work.

Your portfolio shouldn’t be too long, maybe 20-30 images of varying types, with groups of themes or styles. Always start and end with your strongest images to leave a good impression.

Your work should be presented in a print and digital format and should look professional. You can get a book printed through numerous outlets like shutterfly and using a place like squarespace can get you started in setting up something professional looking.


Professional photographers have an excellent career for creative types who are looking for a way to capture the world. By learning what you need to know to not only work a camera, but to run a business, you can make a very successful living doing something you love to do.

Professional Photographer

Professional Photographers