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Photography is both an artistic and technical occupation. There are many variables in the process that a knowledgeable photographer can manipulate to produce a clear image or a more abstract work of fine art. First, photographers know how to use cameras and can adjust focus, shutter speeds, aperture, lenses, and filters. They know about the types and speeds of films. Photographers also know about light and shadow, deciding when to use available natural light and when to set up artificial lighting to achieve desired effects.
Most photographers use digital cameras to take photographs. With digital photography, film is replaced by microchips that record pictures in digital format. Pictures can then be downloaded onto a computer's hard drive, flash drives, and other storage devices. Photographers use photo editing software to manipulate the images on screen.
Some photographers still use traditional silver-halide film cameras and send their film to laboratories, but some develop their own negatives and make their own prints. These processes require knowledge about chemicals such as developers and fixers and how to use enlarging equipment. Photographers must also be familiar with the large variety of papers available for printing photographs, all of which deliver a different effect. Most photographers continually experiment with photographic processes to improve their technical proficiency or to create special effects.
Photographers usually specialize in one of several areas: portraiture, commercial and advertising (food, fashion, sports, etc.), news, fine art, educational, or medical and scientific photography. There are subspecialties within each of these categories. A scientific photographer, for example, may specialize in aerial or underwater photography (work in these areas requires not only specialized knowledge but also specialized equipment). Fashion photographers work in the fashion industry and focus their skills specifically on styles of clothing and personal image. Food photographers create beautiful and enticing images of food for magazines, cookbooks, and restaurant promotional materials. Medical photographers, or biological photographers, create photographs, slides, prints, transparencies, films, and computer graphics to make medical concepts easier to understand. They provide images of anatomical and biological structures, as well as surgical and medical techniques and procedures. Sports photographers are specialists hired to shoot pictures of sporting events and athletes. Photojournalists shoot photographs that capture news events. Art photographers use photography as a vehicle for artistic expression. The work of art photographers is collected by those with a special interest in the field, shown in galleries, and displayed in museums of art. Educational photographers provide illustrations for books and other publications, motion pictures for specific audiences, and various other photographic products. There are many other specialized areas of photography.
Some photographers write for trade and technical journals, teach photography in schools and colleges, act as representatives of photographic equipment manufacturers, sell photographic equipment and supplies, produce documentary films, or do freelance work.
Freelance photographers will need to develop their portfolio and market themselves to succeed. Building an impressive portfolio, particularly one that is available online, and using social media to gain exposure are critical.