How Do I Become a Licensed Photographer?

Photographers know how to capture key moments in our lives and make them look good.
Photographers know how to capture key moments in our lives and make them look good. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Photographers use cameras and other imaging equipment to capture moments ranging from the mundane to the mind-blowing. Some consider themselves creative visual artists, while others view themselves as practical technicians who consistently produce quality images. Becoming a photographer requires patience and lots of experience. Although a license or professional certificate is not normally required for employment, licensed photographers tend to have a wider range of job opportunities in front of them.

Things You'll Need

  • Camera equipment
  • Photo editing equipment and software
  • Website


Get involved in photography as early as high school. Take introductory photography classes if they're available and spend lots of your free time taking photos. Take the initiative to teach yourself beginning photography techniques, software editing and image processing. There are literally thousands of books and ample information about photography online at your disposal.

Consider studying photography in college or taking advanced photography courses on the side. Many colleges and universities -- as well as fine arts academies, community colleges and vocational schools -- offer courses in photography and related subjects. Start thinking about what type of photography you are interested in, whether it’s artistic, commercial, fashion or wedding photography, and choose your courses or degree program based on your interests.

Take supplementary courses to learn relevant job skills. Modern professional photography is about much more than just snapping nice photos. You need to learn how to edit and develop your photos using imaging software or non-digital tools. Classes in graphic design, website development, marketing and art history are highly recommended for those who want to become licensed professional photographers.

Gain lots of experience taking your own photos and editing them. You’ll never develop you artistic and technical skills unless you get out there and take photos. Experiment with different image-capturing and editing techniques. Walk around your city and think of every moment as a possible opportunity for a photograph. Share your work with other photographers and listen to their constructive criticism.

Create a website with a full portfolio of your work. This will be your main tool for self-promotion and finding photography gigs. Telling potential employers or benefactors that you have a photography degree and lots of nice photos is not enough. You need to be able to show them your work; and the easiest, most cost-efficient way to do that these days is to point them in the direction of your professional photography website.

Obtain a license from the Professional Photography Certification Commission. This organization offers a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) designation. Applicants must pay an inscription fee, fill out an application and pass the CPP examination, a written exam testing the applicant’s knowledge of lighting, exposure and color. Applicants must also submit photographs for approval by the commission. This license provides multiple benefits, including proof of professional competency and a listing in the commission’s photographer referral service.

Tips & Warnings

  • Explore different career paths that incorporate photography. Photographers work for magazines, wedding planners, schools, private companies and many other employers.

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