How To Become a Photo Editor in 4 Easy Steps

Updated January 26, 2023

Photography is a creative field that can offer many kinds of jobs, including photo editing. Editors possess specific skills in photo manipulation and editing software and work closely with clients to ensure their photos look the way they want. Understanding the duties of a photo editor and the steps to become one can help you plan your career path more effectively. In this article, we define the role of photo editors, explore their job duties and explain how to become one.

What is a photo editor?

A photo editor is someone who manipulates photos with effects to create a desired aesthetic for the photos. These professionals are often also photographers, which can help them better understand the photography process and how to create a specific look or feel for photographs. Photo editors typically have strong computer software skills, creativity and attention to detail. They typically work in an office environment, using computer software and photography equipment, and they can work for an agency, as a freelancer or both.

Related: How To Write a Photo Editor Resume (With Template)

What does a photo editor do?

A photo editor has many daily duties, including:

Collecting photos for editing

Photo editors collect the photos that require editing from clients each day. This might include traveling to the client, meeting with a photographer or sharing files via digital cloud storage and email. Editors ensure they have all the files they need for each project and determine what the client wants for each photo. It's important for editors to listen closely and ensure they understand customer requirements to they can deliver a final product that directly aligns with customer expectations. Editors are also responsible for maintaining file integrity and taking special care to protect photos from accidental damage or loss.

Creating and sending invoices

Editors create and send invoices for their services, unless they work for an agency. As a full-time photo editor for an established agency or firm, editors typically only partake in the editing process and don't participate in the business aspect of photo editing. If you work as a freelance photo editor, you might have more business obligations, like creating, sending and tracking your invoices to ensure payment. Editors who work as freelancers can set their own rates and collect payments as they see fit, which may offer an opportunity to earn more money with each project.

Manipulating photos to match customer requirements

An editor's primary function is to use computer software to manipulate the client's photos to match their aesthetic vision. Editing photos can include cropping, or trimming photos, enhancing photos with different effects, airbrushing photos, creating text or adding images or any other requirements a client might have for the project. Editors can spend anywhere from a few minutes to several hours editing a single photo, depending on the software they use, the client's requirements and the hardware capabilities of their computer or device.

Collaborating with photographers and other professionals

Editors typically collaborate with photographers, other photo editors, cinematographers and many other professionals in the field of photography or cinematography. Editors might collaborate with a cinematographer to create still frames or advertisement photos for an upcoming film project. Collaboration is an important part of the job because it allows editors to share creative ideas and knowledge with other professionals, which can help them grow in the field, learn new techniques and even grow their professional network. This might help create new relationships and job opportunities with the potential for higher pay or better benefits.

Related: Key Photo Editing Job Responsibilities and Skills

How to become a photo editor

Here are four steps you can take to become a photo editor:

1. Consider a degree

Many photo editors possess a degree, though it's not a hard requirement for the position. Earning a degree may help you learn the right skills and knowledge to be more successful in the industry, and some employers might require any applicants to have a degree. Some editors hold an associate degree, which can take up to two years to complete, while others hold a bachelor's degree, which may take up to four years. Degree programs can help establish fundamental knowledge about the industry and the technology you might use for your job. Some programs are available online for more flexibility.

Read more: What Can You Do With a Photography Degree?

2. Learn to use editing software

One of the most important skills for a photo editor is mastery of photo editing software. This is a skill you can learn both in a formal education setting and individually through practice. Learning to use editing software allows you to successfully manipulate photos, which is the primary function of a photo editor. Consider purchasing photo editing software so you can learn to use it directly, especially if you decide against a degree program. Establishing strong skills in photo editing software may help you build a client base without a degree, since you show proficiency in photo editing.

3. Offer free editing

Offering editing services can be a great way to gain industry experience while practicing your editing skills. Consider offering free editing services to friends, family members or potential clients. Consider your free services as an investment in your future. By gaining industry experience and improving your skills, you may make yourself a more viable hiring candidate for future job opportunities. You can also start building a client base, which can make earning referrals more simple. Experience is often one of the core requirements of a photo editing position, so it's important to gain any experience you can while you learn.

4. Establish a client base or apply for editing positions

As you learn, establishing professional connections can be important to your growth in the industry. Many creative job opportunities depend on an extensive network of professionals to find the right candidate for the work, so work on creating a client base early in your career. Offer free services or consulting, take smaller jobs and create relationships. If you want to work for an agency, it can still be important to create a network for future job opportunities. Determine if you want to work as a freelancer or full-time editor, and begin creating your network and applying for open positions.

Related: Jobs at a Magazine: 17 Opportunities

Salary for photo editors

Photo editors can earn an average salary of $39,594 per year. Editors with extensive experience might earn more, depending on the projects they complete. As freelancers set their own rates, they might earn a higher salary depending on the types of projects they work on and the clients they work for, who might offer higher compensation for good work.

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