Determining factors that have an effect on how much money do photographers make a year are location, specialty of the photographer, skill level of the photographer (experienced and reputable photographers make huge income compared to beginners) and whether the photographer operates as a freelancer or contracted photographer in the industry by a magazine, photography house, editorials, etc.
Photography is an age-long profession and arguably one of the most lucrative businesses in most of the nations around the world.
The United States photography industry boasts the most sophisticated and illustrious photograph industry in the world. In 2016, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics placed the average annual salary of photographers at $34,070.
About 25% of photographers earned $23,480, which means 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75% of the photographers that earn above this median salary earn about $52,220 annually and the rest of the photographers earned above this range.
In 2016, there were 147,300 photographers employed in the United States.
These earnings reflect how much photographers earn around the world.
Thus, the annual salary of a photographer will vary according to the interconnection or interaction between these factors
So, if you are just starting out in the business (beginner) or a long-time professional (expert) and you are considering moving to a new location or specialization, or perhaps you want to try freelancing than this article is for you.
You have found the right article to take you across the board and back home, right on target.
Factors That Affect How Much Photographers Earn
As said earlier there are several factors that determine the salary of a photographer at the end of the year. Let’s take a look at some of these factors.
The location or operating base of a photographer can represent a big factor that affects his income. Some of the choicest and low yielding places are stated below:
Australia – In Australia, photographers are reported to make an estimated rate of $10,000 in a month and between $100,000 and $120,000 annually as their total income.
United Kingdom – The highest earners in the United Kingdom are those who are experienced, have some brand/niche and good educational requirements to back up on their skill set. On average, photographers make $1167.23 to $7224.80 monthly and between $14006.73 and $86708.31 annually. This figure transcends the earnings of those who operate their studios without a specific brand/niche. On the other hand, the highest earners are those who specialize in shooting photos of top models, high fashion magazines, celebrities and so on.
Canada – The majority of photographers in Canada are freelancers or self-employed. This makes it a bit difficult to determine the annual income of the photographers in this region. But on the average, photographers in Canada can make between $2576.17 monthly / $30911.01 in a year on the low, and on the high $6218.85 monthly / $74629.29 annually.
Mexico – The majority of photographers earn $15,000 annually. This figure is pretty low.
The United States of America – In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that photographers earn an average annual income of $40,844. This begins at $14,878 and can go up as much as $92,757 a year.
Various States in the U.S – have different pay rates. The states that pay the most are Illinois, Virginia, New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. The average annual salary of photographers in those states was in a range between the US $ 43,390 to the US $ 56,110 in May 2010, according to the BLS. Of course, beginner photographers will generally be able to earn less than the average in each area.
2. Type of Photography (Specialization)
This genre of photography is not economy-dependent as wedding ceremonies tend to occur with or without an economic recession. It is probably one of the most illustrious niche jobs in photography.
A wedding photographer usually works on a contract or freelance basis. The payment is dependent on various factors which include reputation, location, the size of the work and also experience.
Weddings can be contracted out to photographers within the range of $1,000 to $10,000 in a single day depending on the factors enumerated.
A new photographer in the business might start off with few jobs but an expert photographer is able to sign up contracts for many photography jobs in one year.
A recent survey that we came across showed just how much profitable wedding photography is.
Let’s see the results:
- Number of weddings (per year): 16
- Experience doing wedding photography: 4 years
- Average Wedding package cost: $2700
This gives us an average of $43000 per year just from wedding photography.
Is this profitable? Well, you be the judge.
Now you have to understand just how hard this job is, and also how responsible it is:
- Time spent editing photos: 14 h per week
- Average time spent on a whole wedding: 65h (almost 3 days)
- Per hour average earnings before the expenses: $37
The thing about this kind of photography everyone wants the pictures to be done with the 3 days. This is impossible if you want to provide them with the best quality of photos imaginable.
This means when you have a wedding booked you are going to work your ass off. This survey does not include the preparations or the research you have to do with the couple.
Then negotiations and talking with them. If you include that time, then per wedding probably you will be busy for one week or even more.
Do something wrong and you will get a bad review, which means fewer clients in the future. This job can mean lots of fun, but it also comes with lots of stress and commitment.
The couple that is getting married what to pick a flawless photographer, having any bad stains on your resume will detour them in an instance.
You also have to have an understanding for them, this day happens once in their life (for some maybe more) and they want it to be perfect.
This is important to them that is why it needs to be even more important to you.
As you see in the results, you will still have time for yourself and even one more style of photography.
Choose two or them or even three, but that is just too much work for one photographer for a whole year.
I recommend going all out on wedding and fashion photography, specialize in those two. Increase your prices accordingly and be an elite professional.
Average Income: Annual earning varies from $15,000 -$100,000 as so many factors are involved.
Fashion photographers are taking the photoshoots of models, celebrities, public figures and so on. They move throughout different awesome locations and they also help in choosing layouts for the photographic coverage in magazine publications.
Lots of combination of skill and creativity is required in this specialty than in others.
In the United States, the average incomes for fashion photographers can vary, depending on the region. They earn between $52,000 and $69,000 per annum in the northeast region.
Pennsylvania is recording the lowest incomes and New York photographers, of course, are earning the top wages.
Income in the west region was between $42,000 and $65,000 with Hawaii earning the lowest while California was on the high.
In the South, fashion photographers in Louisiana earned $49,000 while their counterparts in Mississippi up to $69,000 per annum.
In the Midwest, South Dakota earned $46,000 and in Illinois, the photographers made up to $62,000 a year.
The fashion industry keeps getting bigger and better which indicates even better times ahead for fashion photographers. Irrespective of the economic situation, the cloth and shoe industry must introduce new styles in all the four seasons of the year.
This represents a major boom market for photographers.
This is in line with the prediction of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that jobs for photographers including those in the genre of fashion photography are expected to rise by 13 percent from 2010 to 2020.
The advent of digital technology and high definition pixel phones has made it possible for more photographers to break in as freelancers and the jobs are still expected to increase.
Average Income: The average income is $59,000 per year.
Getting involved in wildlife photography requires almost no formal knowledge. Even though having formal learning is not required, having a degree in wildlife photography can serve as an advantage and a big asset for you.
Average Income: According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the income was $30,000 annually and $19.45 per hour.
Businesses always need to put their goods and services on sale in society, product photographers will never run out of business or jobs to do.
Business owners need photographs to market their goods and services. The product photographer is to ensure the good or service has an excellent marketable presentation. Most photographers work on a self-employed or freelance basis while others work on a contract basis with the big companies.
Average Income: Usually between $40,000 and $60,000 based on experience. It is important to note that freelancers usually earn more.
A war photographer could be a freelance photographer, a military combat photographer, a photographer working with the government or a photographer working or belonging to a set of publication staffers.
People that look forward to taking the photographic coverage or evidence of war usually start by working as a journalist in a media or a newspaper agency before switching their career to being a war photographer. Usually, to become a war photographer, you need to start out by having skills in photography or having a degree in journalism.
Most war photographers are in the profession not for the income but for the passion and journalistic drive they have for it. For a freelance photographer, the type of client would be the determining factor of his income.
The pay can be on an hourly basis or on the editorial rate like most photographers. The pay rate is dependent on how the publication circulates and the income the company generates.
Average Income: $17,000 -$65,000 (depending on whether the photographer is on freelance or salary-based).
Portrait photographers are responsible for taking individual, group or family pictures at studios or even at outdoor locations. This type of photography involves selecting photo layouts, background sceneries, and available portrait packages.
There is usually a huge turn over for photographers who have less competition in their area. However, the incomes seem to have dwindled as a result of phone photography and new technologies.
Average incomes depend on locations ranging from as low as $29,000 to $39,000 per year because of the varying costs of living. Portrait photographers tend to earn more by increasing their experience.
Real Estate Photography
When selling properties, the importance of awesome photographs cannot be overemphasized. The photographer’s creativity can be shown in the photographs taken and this will give the property an excellent presentation.
The income is usually based on experience. The real estate managers tend to be on the outlook for a photographer who renders an awesome service when it comes to photographic coverage.
Average Income: Annual income is between $76,000 and $100,000.
Fine Arts Photography
Fine Art photographers provide a documentary and visual report of particular topics or subjects and events. This involves the creation of a picture to exhibit the artist’s perspectives and feelings. This is usually produced in response to demands from society.
Fine arts photography is a very creative way to earn money in the photography industry.
Average Income: This ranges from $46,000 to $70,000 (depending on freelance or salary basis) – U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Freelance and Contract Photographers
These photographers have the option of working based on the time they choose/in their own studios by providing services to different clients (freelance) or for a firm such as a magazine publishing house, television or radio house, film houses, editorials and so on.
In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers who provide professional and technical services earned $16.02 per hour and $33350 per year on average. Contract photographers or employees in television and radio houses make $21.42 per hour and $44550 per year.
Photographers who work in newspapers, books and advertisements made $19.69 per hour and $40940 per year. In the aerospace industry, cable and scientific industries, the average annual income for photographers in these sectors is between $52540 and $76210. Photographers who work in the motion picture industry get the highest-paid salary as they earn $69,370 on the average.
3. Skill Level
The experience, formal education qualifications and skillset matter a lot when it comes to the fees a photographer would retain especially in countries like the United States. Various estimated rates have been computed below based on different skill levels and experience.
Highest Level Photographer
Hourly rate: $44.59
Annual rate: $92,757
Senior Photographer (Very experienced, top-level photographer)
Hourly rate – $25.04
Annual pay – $52,089
Experienced Photographer (Top Professional)
Hourly rate – $14.37
Annual Pay – $29,885.2
Junior Photographer (Intermediate)
Hourly rate – $10.52
Annual Pay – $21,884.7
Beginner Photographer (Amateur)
Hourly rate – $7.15
Annual Pay – $14,877.6
4. Marketing Strategies
How much a photographer makes is also dependent on how well he is able to market his services and photographs. No matter how skillful a photographer is, he must be able to convince people to patronize his work.
Being creative at what you do does not give you the assurance of success as much as you being able to market your work coupled with hard work. Branding is as important as the business itself.
If you truly want upgrade your income as a photographer, then you need to improve on your brand, marketing skills, sales skills, networking skills and your personal website.
Also, you have to improve your creativity and the quality of your photographs. To further increase the market awareness to your target audience, you may consider hiring brand consultants and marketing experts. This can totally give your photography business a complete facelift.
Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably a photographer wannabe or an amateur photographer. So, you probably won’t have to hire a brand consultant or marketing experts.
Instead, we have a few low-cost marketing strategies that might help you achieve your short and long-term goals.
Start a Blog
To start marketing your work, it’s best to start your own blog. Many will say that this is pointless and a waste of time, but every photographer needs to have his own blog. Be sure not to only publish photos every day, but also write articles.
Write about your journey or about how you captured a perfect photo that you’ve published. Get creative and your work will start to grow.
There are tons of websites to start your blog and if you want to do it for free, it’s best to use Google’s blog. If you have a bit more cash and want some advanced features, using WordPress is your best bet. WordPress will let you customize every bit of your blog for guaranteed success.
Get Into Charity Work
In photography, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. However, doing charity work is always a win-win.
But, how exactly could a photographer do the charity work?
Well, that’s a good question and a fairly simple one. If there is a local dog shelter or a similar organization near you, you can offer them to snap a few photos. Snapping some great photos of animals could help them get adopted faster, which will save their lives.
Offering your help for free will not only make YOU happy but also the people around you. Now, I’m not saying that you do everything for free, but doing this from time to time will help you establish your name in the photography business. If you really love what you’re doing, you’ll have zero problems with this.
Attend Photography Events
Photography events are a special kind of events where nearby photographers gather and share their experiences. It may be hard to find such events near your location, but I’ve found a website called Meetup, which can help you.
This website offers not only a photography niche but various different niches that people are interested in. It’s a great way of finding people with the same interests as you and meeting up.
If you have a lot of luck and you already know where these gatherings are, you don’t need any kind of website like this. But, be sure to often attend those events and market yourself, your work, and your passion.
Collaborate with Friends and Family
If you have really good friends and family, they can help you a LOT. I mean… A LOT. Not only that you can snap some photos of them, but also give them your business cards which they can forward to their friends.
Another great reason to collaborate with them is advice. Yes, even a person that’s not in photography can give you some bits of advice. As we mentioned numerous times, photography is a sophisticated activity and requires knowledge from many areas of work.
Use Social Media
Last, but not least, use social media. And by that, I mean social media websites that are focused on photos and videos. For example, Twitter might not be the best website, while Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest are excellent for photography. While you can make your own page and promote your work directly, you can also use your ordinary profile, post your photos, and use hashtags to increase the number of followers.
The important thing here is to not be shy. Some people will laugh at you, some may not, but you need to keep doing what you love.
5. Level of Business Education
Did we just mention the word ’business’?
For a person that plans to do photography for a living, or simply plans to earn some cash doing it, it’s at a level of business. You see, doing this for your own satisfaction is called a hobby while doing it for both satisfaction and money is business. And not everyone is capable of leading and maintaining his own business, right?
Sure, you can take some amazing photos, but still, have zero progress if you don’t know how to manage your business.
Let me give you a classic example of this. I’ve seen tons of YouTubers having awesome channels, doing awesome stuff with no more than 1,000 subscribers. To put it simply, you need to have knowledge of marketing, pricing, SEO, branding, sales, customer experience, and much more. Photography is all about working with people and if a photographer doesn’t know how to do it, the future isn’t that bright.
Let’s talk about these factors a bit.
Many people think that branding is simply putting a logo on your company or whatever. However, branding is VASTLY different than a logo. Your company’s brand should be what your logo represents.
Successful photographers know this and they’re using this knowledge to gain an advantage over their competition. So, if you are a wedding photographer, you can’t advertise and make your brand as if you were a pet photographer, for example.
Branding is what you should FIRST think about and then make your logo according to this. If you want to be a wedding photographer, you can call yourself Max’s Wedding Photography. This is just an example. According to this, a photographer needs to make a logo that’s in tone with his photography niche.
Let me tell you something. Photography is literally 85% business and 15% photography. I know that snapping great photos is sometimes exhausting, but business is even more exhausting! However, having a good relationship with your customers will give you a boost you need. After all, this is a crucial factor in your progress.
Oh yeah, this is a pretty important one. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and this little guy crawled into various businesses like a monster under your bed. Since most photographers have their own blogs, knowing more about SEO will grant you more visitors and more money.
If you are curious, then you’ll be intrigued to know that SEO experts earn millions of dollars every year. That’s how SEO is important. So, if you happen to know a thing or two about SEO, you have a HUGE advantage over other photographers that don’t know a thing about it.
Knowing how to adequately price your work is of high importance. Many successful photographers are somewhat expensive, but they also offer top-notch services. A truly professional photographer can easily make a living out of it, but if you just look at his photos, you can see some jaw-dropping work in front of your eyes.
A great photographer knows what he’s capable of and knows his skill level. You can’t charge a ridiculous amount of money if you are an amateur photographer. However, be sure to never underestimate your work and charge as little as charity work.
The pricing will also depend on the type of work you’re doing. If you are a wedding photographer, you can base your pricing on various packages.
That being said, you can’t just put an enormous price on your work and expect to always earn more. To be successful, a photographer must know how to value his work properly.
Photography trends are similar to SEO trends, but they don’t fluctuate as much. Of course, times change and trends change over time, which is what’s also happening with photography trends. Following different trends is a part of a successful business. If you take a look at the fashion industry half a century ago and now, things are obviously not the same.
People who are in the fashion business managed to keep their jobs by following or even setting those trends. A photographer should always keep his on what’s trending and what’s most profitable at the moment. During the past couple of years, event photography showed the most potential.
It’s not strange since we always see a couple of photographers at the wedding. These people aren’t just sitting on their sofa, watching Netflix and devouring pizzas. So, at least basic knowledge in this area is compulsory.
If you have a hard time starting your photography business, it’s not game over for you. There are websites that have special photography courses devoted to photographers. Knowing that, you can’t say photography is dead… oh, don’t you dare!
The best thing about these courses is that they are either free or low-cost, which is great if you have a dime or two in your back pocket or in a small pocket on your jeans. Udemy is a great website, to start with. Aside from numerous other courses, these guys offer you SEO and photo-editing courses for literally a DIME (10 bucks).
All of the info you need is on the internet and if you want to become a full-time photographer, don’t just sit there. Knowledge is crucial and knowledge is power, so go get it.
6. Devoted Time and Effort
I don’t want to sound cliche, but hard work always pays off, it’s just a matter of time and sometimes luck. It’s normal that you have a full-time job and that photography is your main hobby, but if you make this your full-time job, you may see better results.
However, it takes the courage to quit your regular job and pursue your photography dreams. I believe that many of us do jobs that we don’t like, just because we aren’t brave enough to follow our dreams. The great thing is that you can perfectly balance your regular job and photography, at least at some degree.
It’s important to start somewhere, being it a full-time job or a hobby that can turn into a full-time job. If you do a lot of blogging, a lot of publishing, if you attend photography events, you’ll be able to earn from photography. With that in mind, be sure to devote more time to photography and your success will come naturally.
2018 vs 2019
In our article, we’ve mentioned the state of photography in 2016. Three years might not seem that much, but in a profession like this, it can mean a lot. The truth be told, we’ve seen an increase in photographers’ earnings, although not by a huge margin. 2018 was a great year for photography and so is 2019, making it very interesting for a direct comparison.
Amateur photography is the most common among photographers. Since this is a non-fluctuating part of this profession, we haven’t seen many changes from the past couple of years. In 2018, a hobbyist would charge you approximately below $100. In 2019, this number hasn’t changed, which is still an expected case.
But, what about more experienced hobbyist?
These, so-called amateur photographers will charge you anywhere between $30 to $100, depending on the type of photography and the photographer himself. The main difference between these two is a tad more experience and some kind of portfolio or website.
Just for comparison, let’s mention 2016 again. The price of photography during this year was a bit lower and amateurs wouldn’t charge you more than $75. While 25 bucks difference seems small, I think it’s drastic progress for amateur photography. Great job!
Professional photography is vastly different than the amateur one. In this kind of business, we are talking about much higher sums of money and some of these photographers CAN make a living out of their profession.
Let’s start with the students. This type of photographer just finished his photography school and thinks he can own the world. Yeah, sure… but not just yet!
Jokes aside, a student photographer would charge around $35 to $85 per hour or $50 to $100 per photo in 2018. Needless to say, a student photographer could make around $1000 per month, depending on the frequency of the job.
As for 2019, the per-hour rate jumped a bit, from $85 to $90 and from $100 to $115 per image. From this increasing trend, we can see a fair growth from last year to this year. This tells us that photography gains more value each year, at least for now.
Another interesting fact is that the last year saw the same rates for student photographers as of 2016.
Semi-pro photographers are fairly experienced photographers that aim to become professionals in the near future. They are talented and are able to make a living out of their work. That being said, their price is a bit higher, but let’s check how they fare throughout the year.
In the past year, this kind of photographer would charge you $50 to $150 per hour, and up to $125 per photo. As we can see, the pricing is a bit similar to student photographers, albeit a bit more expensive. This year, we have some minor increases. They can now charge up to $150 per hour and $150 per photo.
Interestingly, in 2019, we didn’t see noticeable changes over 2016.
Semi-pro photographers are also great for event and wedding photography since their pricing is a bit lower and this niche of photography doesn’t require that much experience.
While a semi-pro photographer can barely make a living out of photography, a professional photographer is able to enjoy his life doing this. To take it to this level, you need years of experience and knowledge about the photography business. They surely want to monetize their years of effort, so expect higher prices.
Let’s begin with the last year. Last year, a professional photographer could charge $75 to $250 per hour. As we can see, the earnings are much higher here than they’ve been with semi-pro photographers. Luckily, 2018 became a fantastic year for professional photographers.
The earnings have increased to a maximum of $300 per hour and $375 per image, making it far more profitable than the last year. If you are a professional photographer, you know what I’m talking about.
Top-of-the-line Professional Photographers
Being a top professional in this industry is as hard as it sounds. Sadly, this is only a small population of photographers and these guys are able to live a more-than-comfortable life out of photography. Let’s see if things have changed over the years.
A top professional would charge around $200 to $500 per hour and $250 to $1,500 per image. You’ll agree that this is serious pricing and it is. As for 2019, per-hour pricing stayed the same, but per-image pricing increased to $300-$2,000.
Astonishing numbers, aren’t they?
If we take into account that top professionals work almost every day, that’s a lot of money. Once again, I was quite surprised to see no changes between 2016 and 2019.
What Does the Future Hold?
Since we just compared photography success in the past couple of years, I think it’s time to mention something about the future.
Sure, this year is probably better than the past couple of years, but is it going to get better?
Well, there is hope… actually, a lot of hope!
My opinion is that social media boosted photography’s fame and success quite a lot. And if we take a look at Instagram user count, we can see that the numbers are constantly increasing.
With people wanting more and more attention, photographers can truly make more money and take advantage of both people and social media. Not only that, but many of us check our social media profiles at least a few times a day, making it a holy ground for photographers.
Another key thing to take into account is technology. As technology evolves, photographers can buy more and more advanced cameras with different features. If you buy a $5,000 camera and $2,000 lens, you want to have your money back through photography, right?
This means that photographers can charge more for their photos thus increasing their earnings drastically. Nonetheless, we can just hope that next year will be even better as if this year wasn’t great enough.
And will photography stand the test of time? We’ll see, we’ll see…
Starting a photography career can be quite challenging and rough in terms of earnings.
However, improving one’s skillset, education, marketing strategies and importantly, having a good location can turn the fortunes around for the best. Indeed, photography can be that illustrious career you always dreamed of.