So if you ever asked yourself things like “Can you make a living doing photography?” (spoiler: Yes!), “How much money can I make as a photographer?” or “What’s the average photographer salary?” you’ve come to the right place!
In this photographer’s salary guide I’ll go over how much beginner, wedding, pro,… photographers charge, and how much you can expect to earn yourself (with a handy calculator).
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Can You Make a Living Doing Photography?
Although a lot of people say there are too many photographers in the world today, it’s still very doable to make a living doing photography.
Of course, if you’re just starting out it’ll take a while before you can charge the same as a professional photographer.
For the first few years, you’ll probably make less than if you would work a 9-5 job, and the gear you’ll be able to afford will also be limited (luckily gear isn’t that important to succeed as a photographer).
The Salary Of A Photographer
The answer, as always, is “it depends”.
How much photographers make is highly dependable on things like their experience and skill, their location, whether they work freelance or as an employee and many more things that I’ll go over below.
Freelance Vs Employee
Most photographers work as a freelancer, so all the prices and advice you’ll see here are geared towards freelancers.
The Average Photographer Salary
First of all, there isn’t anything like a meaningful “average photography salary” and as you probably know averages can be highly deceiving.
That said, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics the average pay for a professional photographer in 2018 was $16.35 dollar per hour.
Other sources say a professional photographer makes around $42,640 a year. However, if you talk to photographers, you will find that this varies wildly. Some make a lot less and others earn a lot more.
Of course, this also doesn’t tell you anything about:
- The type of photography
- Whether this is including marketing and editing
- How much you should charge
Luckily, we’ll answer those things in this guide and you can calculate your own rate with our handy calculator.
But before I show you standard rates for a couple of situations, lets first see what determines the price a photographer can charge.
Factors That Influence A Photographers Price
Your Experience And Skill
It goes without saying that a photographer that is more experienced, especially in the type of photography he is asked to do for the assignment, can ask for more money than a beginner.
So make sure you improve your skills, practice and create a portfolio, preferably with real clients.
If you can become a specialist in a certain niche, this also raises your value.
Type Of Photography And Industry
The general rule (unless you’re a famous and/or wedding photographer) is this:
The larger and more corporate your clients are, and the more money they stand to earn with your photography, the more you can charge.
A photographer that shoots food campaigns for a large company is in a much better position than a landscape photographer that tries to sell his images to a local magazine.
Not only because the company is larger and earns money with the advertising, but because there is also a lot more money in the world of food than in magazines and newspapers.
The main exceptions, of course, are famous photographers and wedding photographers.
Here’s a general overview of types of photography and the amount of money in that industry:
- Corporate $$$
- Advertising $$$
- Wedding $$$
- Food $$$
- Event $$
- Fashion $$
- Portrait $$
- Press $
- Sports $
- Music $
- Nature $
Of course, there are photographers in each of these categories that earn a lot or almost nothing at all as well, so it’s certainly possible.
As in every business, the more competition there is less you’ll be able to charge and make.
In photography, this often correlates with how fun, glamorous or sometimes difficult the type of photography is.
For example, music photography is something that a lot of people find very fun to do and seems very glamorous, while shooting corporate headshots sounds a lot more like “work”.
Thus, there is a lot of competition in music photography making it one of the worst-paid jobs in photography.
Especially since a lot of them are even willing to do it for free.
Photographers in large markets like Los Angeles or New York are able to charge a lot more money than someone in Waka, Texas for example.
Of course, there is also a difference between countries.
Also known as perceived value.
The way you present yourself has a great influence on the amount of money you’ll be able to command for an assignment.
Your Pricing Strategy
Most of the factors above are beyond your influence unless you are willing to move or change the type of work you do.
What you can influence however is your pricing strategy.
Check out our guide for the best ways to price your photography.
How Much Do … Photographers Make
As said above, how much a photographer makes is highly dependent on a lot of factors. It is always a good idea to do some research first and find out what photographers in your area and in your type of photography are charging.
However, to give you a general idea of what different type of photographers charge I’ve listed most common groups below.
If you want a more specific number for your situation, try out the photographer salary calculator.
Beginner / Hobby Photographers
Per Hour: $20-$35
Per Day/Shoot: $75-$150
Per Print: $25-$75
Yearly Earnings: $4000-$6,000
While you may have some talent, as a hobby photographer it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to charge a lot of money.
Your work is probably not up to the standards of a professional photographer, and the risk for anyone who hires you is higher. This rules out getting jobs from clients who normally work with more experienced photographers.
That said there are probably a lot of people who are willing to take a chance on you and pay a little sum for your efforts.
Whatever you do, “never” work for free.
At this stage, if you’re serious about becoming a photographer, it’s best to start building a portfolio and create a network. Get the word out there that you’re a photographer and create a website to show your work.
Maybe you’ll be able to find some local coffee bars or shops that are willing to hang some of your work against the wall for sale. Arts and crafts fairs are often also a great way to sell some prints.
A couple of jobs and print sales can easily add up to a nice amount of extra income that lets you go on a holiday or buy new gear to move up on the photography ladder.
Per Hour: $25-$50
Per Day/Shoot: $100-$250
Per Print: $50-$150
Yearly Earnings: $10,000-$20,000
Student photographers, especially those in the higher years, are able to command a bigger fee than hobby photographers although most it applies here as well.
As a student of photography, your best bet to make some money comes from paid assistance jobs for other photographers while you are still learning the ropes.
There are also quite a lot of job openings where people are looking for student photographers, as they see it as getting a decent photographer for cheap.
Competitions and exhibitions organized by schools and other organizations often lead to some print sales.
Beginning Freelance Photographers
Per Hour: $50-$125
Per Day/Shoot: $400-$600
Per Print: $75-$250
Yearly Earnings: $20,000-$50,000
Professional / Experienced Photographers
Per Hour: $100-$250
Per Day/Shoot: $500-$1000
Per Print: $100-$500
Yearly Earnings: $50,000-$100,000
Per Hour: $200-$500
Per Day/Wedding: $800-$5000
Per Print: $200-$800
Yearly Earnings: $100,000-$150,000
Wedding photographers are in a unique position, as it’s one of the few occasions where normal people (aka non-companies) are willing to spend a large amount of money on a photographer.
Because they want to be sure their special day is captured in the best possible way you can charge and make a decent living as a wedding photographer.
Photography Pricing Calculator
While the above situations should provide you with a good idea about how much photographers can make, every situation is different.
For this, I’ve created a photography pricing calculator that shows you how much you should charge and can expect to earn in your specific case.
How To Increase Your Salary
Own Your Brand
As a photographer, you are your own commodity. Your product is you and your images.
The experience of your images, your company, your positioning, your value proposition, and your voice al determine your perceived worth.
It’s critical to cultivate and craft it.
It’s about the way you present yourself in person, how you market yourself (your website,…), the service you provide, the distinct flair you bring to it, the way you interact with your clients and everything else that gives people an emotional association with your business.
In fact, taking control of your brand and its reputation might even be more critical to how much you’ll make as a photographer than anything else.
Serve A Niche
As they often say, “The Riches is in the Niches”.
You may be an excellent generalist, being able to handle most requests that come your way.
The challenge is making sure that those requests come your way.
One of the best ways to ensure that demand stays strong and to increase your prices is to become an expert beyond the general field.
Think about it.
If you were opening a restaurant and needed a food photographer, would you be more likely to pay more for a general photographer, or to a photographer who is a master of food photography? The latter, right?
In the end, niche photographers make more money.
Improve Your Pricing Strategy
Most photographers start out with trading time for money in the form of an hourly or daily rate.
There are better ways however to increase the fee you can charge for your photography services.
I’ve expanded this section into this photography pricing guide article.