Field research photographers are essentially collectors of information. But instead of simply observing a subject and noting their findings, field research photographers capture a series of images that can later be studied, and their role in gathering information crosses many industries. In real estate, for example, field research photographers take pictures of commercial buildings, capturing the address, height, stories and other specifics of the structures. In the life sciences, field research photographers might take pictures of animals in their natural habitats or capture a "slice of life" of indigenous people in another country. Salaries are often higher than the national average for photography as a whole.
As of 2012, photographers in general averaged salaries of $36,330 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the top 10 percent, salaries exceeded $66,990. The bottom 10 percent, however, didn’t fare as well, earning less than $17,520 a year. Those working in scientific research earned roughly 60 percent more than the national average, bringing home close to $58,280 annually. Photographers working in other scientific and technical services, as would be the case for field research photographers in real estate, averaged almost half this salary, earning $32,930 a year. The job site Indeed provides a figure right in the middle, estimating salaries at $49,000, as of 2013.
As with any occupation, earnings can vary by location. Of the states, some of the highest salaries for field research photographers were in New York, where the average was $60,000 a year. Salaries were even higher in New York City, at an average of $64,000. Field research photographers in the District of Columbia also fared better than most, averaging $59,000 a year, while those in California earned $53,000. Some of the lowest wages reported were in South Dakota, where the average was just $36,000 a year.
The above-average salaries are at least partly due to skill. Employers typically seek candidates with a good “book.” This can take years to establish, as photographers must learn how light, color, lenses and filters can affect the balance and composition of a shot. When hiring field research photographers, employers also prefer to hire applicants with a bachelor’s degree in photography or a related field, such as photojournalism.
The BLS expects employment opportunities for photographers to be favorable, with an average growth rate of 13 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is almost on par with the national average for all U.S. occupations, an estimated growth rate of 14 percent. With nearly 38,000 photographers employed in scientific research and other scientific services, the anticipated growth rate works out to about 4,900 new jobs over the course of a decade. Expect additional openings to develop as field research photographers retire or leave the field.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Photographers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Photographers
- Indeed: Field Research Photographer Salary
- Indeed: Field Research Photographer Salary in New York
- Indeed: Field Research Photographer Salary in New York, NY
- Indeed: Field Research Photographer Salary in Washington, DC
- Indeed: Field Research Photographer Salary in California
- Indeed: Field Research Photographer Salary in South Dakota
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images