Professional photographers can easily turn their artistic gifts into rewarding careers. But how much cash can they actually expect to take home?
Whether you’re a budding shutterbug or darkroom devotee, it’s tempting to follow your heart and turn your side hustle into a photography career. But it’s important to understand your potential photographer salary before you quit your day job.
How much photographers make depends on numerous factors, including how much you work and how much you charge clients for your photography service.
In this guide, we’ll cover average salaries for photographers and the steps you can take to grow your photography business.
Photographer salary range
While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics records that the average photographer makes around $36K annually, other sources allege that the median income for photographers is over $65K.1
What accounts for this discrepancy?
Some photographers charge per hour, and hourly rates can range from $25 at the low end to $200 on up for experienced professionals.2 Someone working 20 hours per week at the low end would thus make $25,000, while a high-end experienced photographer could make eight times more—that’s $200,000!
Other photographers charge by the image. Prices per image can range from $10 to over $1,000. Different photographers take on different work loads. After all, there are only so many hours in a day you can snap photos—you also have to travel to work sites, develop or edit your photos, and market your photography services.
As you can imagine, a beginner photographer charges less, while an experienced photographer can eventually book high-paid shoots for magazines or other lucrative projects.
Next, we’ll take a closer look at the variables that affect the rate you can charge.
Factors that affect your salary
If you’re just getting started out, your goal is to raise your rates above a low $10 per image as soon as you can.
Will that be possible in your area?
The following factors may play a role:
Niche and training – Some photographers make more money. For example, wedding photography is one of the most lucrative niches, since people are willing to pay top-dollar for beautiful documentaries of their special day. If you have a prestigious degree or specific training, you may be able to charge more, too.
Location – How much are people used to paying for photographers in your area? Shutterbugs can charge more in expensive metro areas where people are used to paying a premium for goods and services.
How you find clients – Freelancers often find gigs through websites like Fiverr and Thumbtack. However, these platforms may take a portion of your earnings. As you grow your business, you’ll be able to scale and diversify your client base.
Portfolio and reviews – Use your website and social media to showcase your best work. In addition, ask for happy clients to review you on Yelp or write testimonials. Evidence of your skills and professionalism can help convince potential clients to book you.
Size of your business – At first, you want to handle every client interaction. As your business grows, a virtual assistant could help manage your bookings so you can concentrate on the art itself.
Zoom out to grow your income
Now you’re aware of some of the factors that will affect your take-home pay. So how can you begin growing your income and business? Take a step back from your craft and look at the big picture. Below are a few of our favorite tips:
Increase your rates – Is your schedule fully booked? Do you have as much work as you can handle? It’s time to ask for what you’re worth. Raising your hourly or per-photo rate over time ensures that your income keeps pace with inflation, rising costs, and the growing value of your work as you develop even more experience and skill.
Improve your efficiency – How much time does it usually take you to complete a shoot? What about editing? Investing in the right supplies and photography apps can help you save time. Once you’ve freed up your schedule, look for new clients or book another gig.
Find new leads – Are you a real estate photographer? Connect with a real estate agent. A wedding photographer? Get in touch with local wedding planners. Professionals in related fields need your services for their clients and can help to connect you to more jobs.
Anticipate photography risks
When you’re making a good profit from your business, you want to spend it on things that nourish your growing business. Needless to say, lawsuits are an obstacle to this goal. Why would someone sue a photographer?
- If the photos come out terribly and you can’t fix the issue before a client needs them, they could sue you for your error.
- If you use someone’s likeness in your advertising without their permission, they could sue your for personal injury.
- If your equipment topples over onto the gift table at your client’s wedding, they could sue you for property damage.
- Like any other person, you’re at risk of injuring someone else by accident.
Are you looking for a flexible policy that meets your specific needs? Thimble’s Photographer Insurance can provide coverage for client and third-party claims of bodily injury, personal injury, property damage, and professional errors.
Only need insurance for a single shoot? With Thimble, you can take out insurance by the hour, day, or month. Get coverage that works when you do!
If you get a monthly policy, we’ll bundle it with an optional Business Equipment Protection add-on to cover your camera, lenses, tripod, and any other essential equipment while you’re out shooting.
Point, click, and capture success
As a photographer, you’re all about spending long days on the shoot and long nights reviewing your work. But it also takes business acumen to make a salary at the higher end of the spectrum.
- Choose a niche and specialization that enables you to charge your target rate
- Seek out new leads and build your portfolio
- Increase your rates and grow your business over time
- Protect your business with insurance
Take these simple steps and say cheese! With patience and the right attitude, you’ll be well on your way to a picture-perfect business.