My income went up every year from 2016-2020 then dropped significantly during covid and when I moved to another state. Now in 2023 my income has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

My clients are are small to midsize fashion brands based on the west coast. Because they’re smaller we have to cram a lot of looks into one day which drives down quality overall. I shoot 60% eComm and 40% Lifestyle, fashion and still life.

My other source of income is Retouching which has been a great fallback for those tighter months.

Average shoot:
eComm – 10 hours, 60-100 looks per day, 1 year digital only usage, 3 retouched images per look, $3300/day for shoot, $1000/day for retouching (usually 2 days), $650 for first assistant, $2.5k for EQ

Lifestyle campaign – 10 hours, 15-20 looks per day, 1 year digital only usage, 100 lightly retouched images, $3,500/day, $1000/day for retouching (usually 2 days), $650 for first assistant, $500 for second assistant, $2.5K-3.5K for EQ

Campaigns for national beauty brands – 10 hours, 15-20 shots per day, no retouching included, 1 year digital only usage, $3000/day, $650 for first assistant, $500 for a second assistant, $2.5K-$3.5K for EQ

My best shoot was for a Sports brand, 2 athletes, 1/2 day shoot on location on west coast, 10 retouched photos for one year digital only usage, $5,600

Photographers make sure you raise your rate to match inflation at the beginning of every year, don’t be afraid to negotiate for travel days and renting out your own gear, raise your team rates when you raise your own.

My profit margin is 40-45% post income taxes. Try to run very very lean. I work 40-50 days a year with many more for pre and post, travel, etc. But we’re always workin, right? Revenue has steadily declined. Income has declined slower percentage-wise due to aggressive cost savings and always evaluating how to run lean in my business and my life. But I’ve cut my way to all the savings I can realize. I have no employees and work from home office. I’m a self proclaimed fiend for finding super clean used equipment. Lean and mean.

My clients are Local to New York State, exclusive of NYC. My work is 50% Corporate, 20% Editorial and 30% Corporate Events/Conference. Editorial is largely national trade mags with needs in my area. Some corporate is for major nationals who have needs in my area. Business conferences are everything from state trade associations to massive corporate conferences.

I have a spouse, thankfully, so health insurance comes from their job and cash flow comes from their job. And I also have my savings. I worked extremely hard early on to get to a point where the money I put in my pocket this year is used to pay living expenses next year. And metered out carefully, that savings account sometimes increased year over year. But not after the pandemic. It’s nearly gone now.

My shoots are most often a full day, or maybe a couple, and I do a full 8 hrs creating lots of content as a library of their operations. Client will cover all travel, hotels and some meals. I run solo so no assistants or crew, etc. Often I can bill a couple hundred bucks to travel in ahead of time and maybe for some travel back to home base on the back end.

My fee for the day is 2K all in with usage and 4-500 for post. And I’m very productive. Licensing is generally 5 to 10 years unlimited. No advertising rights included and no right of distributing to third parties (like to a company who has equipment in the photos, say). I’m Ok with it as the photos age-out either because of tech or clothing, or because they use the heck out of them and wear them out. So in reality they have maybe a 3 year lifespan.

Any attempts to drag my rates up from there or bill for usage on top of that and I’m instantly ghosted and lose the work. Repeat clients balk if I’m any higher than that, even if I explain that inflation is killing me and we haven’t raised rates in years.

Would feel fairly treated if I was able to bill $3500-$4000 per day for the production value and level of content they are getting.

Best paying shoot was for one of those library days mentioned above and my take after all expenses was about $5500. But that went into the business to help make my break even point where my overhead for the year was covered. About 6 days total: 1/2 on either end to travel in and out. 3 on site and traveling between locations within a couple states (making for 10-15 hour days, usually up before dawn). About 2 days for post and delivery of several hundred images. Licensed unlimited for 10 years as listed above with no advertising rights or rights to distribute to third parties.

Second best paying job would be a “trade” (educational institution) magazine which needed an alumni portrait. 2 locations nearby with one outfit change. Under 3 hrs to travel, do the job, and return to home base, then a couple hours post. Assistant which was billable. Able to schedule at my preference when light was nice. University has done research into living wage and offered $1600 for fee, plus mileage, billing for some post, assistant, etc. Would 10/10 do those all week long. First usage rights to them, embargo until 90 days after they publish. Clause by them that no secondary publication of images that could hold institution or the subject in a bad light.

My worst paying job $350 for a half day+ for a trade magazine. Multiple things needed to be covered at one location about 45 mins away. Beat back a request to create some cover candidates by saying the job would start at 1200 to even be considered if a cover was involved. Very rushed. Work. For. Hire. Complained and complained. Miserable publishing group to deal with. All in, was probably about 10, 12 hours from start to moment of invoicing. But work comes in and you’ve had nothing for 40, 50, 60 days you take it. Owner of mag called months and months later to complain I didn’t create enough detail photos for their files from that job. Rest of the abbreviated convo didn’t go well as I offered, uh, ‘input’.
No I don’t do any video.

My advice for photographers is to run lean and buy used.

If you think you need gear, rent it until you are using it all the time. Never ever think you have to “upgrade” (argh!!!) just because a new camera comes out. In fact, chase all the clean barely used stuff everybody who “”upgraded”” last time around is now selling cheap.

Learn to save and invest, and the difference between the two. Work so that the money you make this year goes into the bank or your investments, and you have it there to live off of next year so you don’t have to freak out about cash flow or dry spells. Took years to get to that point …

Get a side hustle or second skill. As a photojournalism exile that used to be weddings, which at the time were great but suck now. Have a second skill like bartending or something. Need to make those personal bills? Well parachute into being a bartender or server or landscaper or accountant for hire or whatever for a day or a month and get those bills handled. That way you don’t devalue yourself or the industry by being desperate.

Learn video. Offer it. Even on a rudimentary level.

Share. Even with competitors. The more we share, the better. Especially about business.

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