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.
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.
Table of Content
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t want to discourage you, but SEO trends are changing literally every day. It’s hard to get ahold of every single trend, but there are some basic SEO rules that every photographer should know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nermin Grahovic is a photography enthusiast and photography blogger based in Europe. His images are fun, creative and exciting and his love for travel makes its way into most of his images. Some of his favorite photography genres are portraits, street, landscape, and industrial photography.
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