There are many specialized areas in the field of professional photography.

Portrait photography was the first commercial form of photography to develop, shortly after the invention of the photographic process as it is known today. A portrait photographer must find a way to create a likeness that is recognizable but also illuminates the character of the person who is sitting for the photograph. Portrait photographers might specialize in photographing children or capturing weddings. It takes special skill, insight, energy, and patience to do this kind of work well. The ability to work with and direct a wide variety of people, and to make them feel comfortable enough to be themselves, is essential to the job.

Commercial and advertising photographers shoot photographs that will be seen in magazines, on billboards, in catalogs, in promotional materials of various kinds, and on Web sites and on social media platforms, among many other places. This branch of photography requires a very high level of technical skill since quality is of paramount importance. A photographer who photographs a product for an advertising campaign, for example, must be able to make that product look irresistibly attractive and perfect in every way. Any flaw in the photo would defeat the purpose of the advertising. The commercial field includes specializations such as food, fashion, product, and industrial photography. Commercial photographers often employ photo stylists, who collect props, prepare sets, and arrange products to be shot.

Photojournalism is the field in which photographers capture news events as they occur. Photojournalists often travel, and the work can be dangerous, such as when photographers enter war zones and disaster zones to capture images that communicate the essence of an event to people throughout the world. Sometimes the work is much less adventurous, as is most often the case for those who cover local news and events. Sports photographers, who photograph professional and amateur athletes and sporting events, are often photojournalists.

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. The work of well-known photographers in this field is often collected and published in book form. There is some overlap between this and other forms of photography. The work of some photographers who did not set out to create works of art is nevertheless considered to have great artistic value. This category can include portraiture and photojournalism, as well as landscape, nature, architecture, and still life photography.

Scientific photographers often work under unusual conditions and face a wide range of problems. Specialized forms of photography are often used, and photographers must find special techniques with which to photograph celestial events, capture the behavior of animals in their native habitats, make visible the trajectories of subatomic particles, and record what scientists see through microscopes.

There are many other specialized areas of photography. Architectural photographers, for instance, photograph built spaces. They might specialize in shooting exteriors or interior architecture. They may also be hired to document architectural projects, including building construction. Some photographers specialize in underwater photography and aerial photography. Work in these areas requires not only specialized knowledge but also specialized equipment. Photography instructors teach photographic techniques to professionals and amateurs alike.

Photography involves much more than shooting pictures. Photographers need to know about the technical aspects of picture taking, such as cameras, lenses, lighting, and shutter speed.

Digital photography has been mainstream for years, and photographers need to know software programs such as Adobe Photoshop, to manipulate the color, size, and contrast of their photos and create special effects. They also have to keep up with the latest technological advances, hardware changes, and software upgrades.

In addition, photographers who work independently or operate their own studios need business management skills. Bookkeeping and accounting, promotion and marketing, sales and negotiation, scheduling, equipment and space rentals, release forms, and more, are part of photography work also. Depending on the size of their business and their budget, photographers handle these tasks themselves or delegate to staff members and consultants.

Some photographers, such as art photographers, may still shoot with film, and develop and print their own film or send it to a film lab. Film development requires mixing and measuring chemicals, loading film into developing tanks in complete darkness, carefully agitating the film and chemicals with precise timing, and drying and storing the developed negatives. Printing the photos requires knowledge about enlargers, the huge variety of papers available, and developing and fixing chemicals. Printing, like developing, demands exact measurement of times and temperatures.