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The 70k year was 25k shooting, 25k re-licensing work and 20k side gigs

My clients are fortune 500 and occasional international (Finance/Insurance/Healthcare/Pharma/Travel/Etc.). Going into Covid — shooting large campaigns and bidding often. Getting new opportunities with dream jobs right into the shutdown. Post shutdown: gigantic drop in income, and bidding opportunities got less and less. Bidding opportunities seemingly paused over past year. I had a great rep until somewhat recently. Editorial work has gone from 25% to 5%.

Have had to pick up other jobs in the industry to make ends meet.

Overhead is insurance, website, offsite archive backup, cloud storage. When I was repped it was a bit higher with marketing expenses, but since covid, those went way down anyway. No employees.

Each job is different and I’ve always been pretty flexible. Typical is hard to classify, but examples of the range of jobs has been: just a digital tech + myself getting stills on the set of a motion shoot for a client— To as large as having my own production with 80+ cast and crew members (stills + motion). To somewhere between: with myself and a producer — and bringing a first assistant and a digital tech and picking up local crew on a multi city, multi week shoot for a major corporation. I’ve done campaigns with solid 6 figure budgets and with the same clients, I’ve done projects that are less than $10k all in. (Fees ranging from $5k-15k day with one year usage (see below).

On the most lucrative campaigns: they’re often multi day (10-12 hour days) with fee & usage working out to $10k/day with a 1 year usage on all images for most uses (minus broadcast). A typical day might net $10-15k in fees/usage (depending on outdoor usage). Extended duration for usage pushes take home up.

I might walk with: 2 day shoot = ~ $20-25k. 4 Day shoot might be in the range of $40-$45k. And perhaps a bit more depending upon rentals or post production involvement.

A few shoots ran into the $60-70k range after paying out my agent, and then adding in rentals / prep days / tech scouting / post production fees. Usage 1-3 years online + print. Days were usually 10-12 hours.

In the past few years some of the biggest bids I was in on had fees/usage totaling $50-100k+ range, depending upon the usage. But they didn’t go my way.

My lowest paying shoots have been direct local clients – online + print usage: walk with maybe $1100-1200 for single 8-10 hour day.

Video is 15-20% of my work but most often I have a camera operator or DP, and I direct, but don’t generally operate a camera.

This post pandemic experience has been somewhat surreal, but very real. From a photographic point of view, I still love it. I’m still pushing forward, creating new work, and experimenting. From an income point of view, it feels like my career has disappeared. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. Don’t underestimate the power of influence and of building a recognizable name. If you don’t do either of those things, try to have as many clients as possible and to be shooting as often as possible. Make yourself anti-fragile.


$ are CAD. 1 CAD = .75 to .80 USD.

In 2022 I made about $65K in Commercial Jobs, $20K in Events and $16K in Portraiture. The remaining was smaller photojournalism work. I have no employees and pay $450/month for my shared studio / office. It’s large enough for portrait work and then I’ll rent larger studios for commercial jobs if required. The only other expenses are my book keeper and then the usual, Capture One, Adobe, Phone, Etc. I don’t feel like I have a lot of overhead. My total expenses in 2022 was $15,889.33 – bringing my gross to approx. $112,000.

Mostly large local clients, some international and US clients that come to the city. I also have a lot of clients that are small local creative agencies that essentially give me first right of refusal to jobs they bring in. This has been really impactful on my last few years because we already really align on the types of clients we want to work with.

in 2022 I had 59 jobs, most were a one shoot day, some were 2-5 hour events. I probably work 3-4 days a week planning shoots, editing or shooting. I don’t work a lot in January traditionally and spend a lot of that month emailing past clients, revamping my website and setting up my year a little.

I wouldn’t say I have a typical client. Event clients are either individuals that are throwing private parties, which is what a prefer to shoot over public events, or they are Associations or Non Profits doing a Gala. I have three gala’s that I shoot every year, I won’t be taking on any more. They’re great at this point because we all know what to expect from each other and it’s very little work for both them and me. They also expect rates to go up every year.

The commercial clients are medium sized local businesses, usually working with a marketing company.

My portrait work is a huge array of individuals, from law firms to individuals who want a new LinkedIn photo to everyone in between.

I thought I was really hitting my stride with events right before Covid, then I lost all my event work and really pivoted into Commercial work. I was lucky because businesses were looking for more ways to interact online so I was able to pick up work really easily. In the following years I’ve increased my income each year, mainly by being less afraid to quote higher and by saying no to the smaller clients who don’t understand usage or want large photo libraries but don’t have the budget for it. I think I’m working smarter and more confidently.

I wouldn’t say I have an average shoot. I’ve survived by making sure I’m willing to be flexible with what I’ll shoot. My average event is 2-5 hours long @ $300-$350/hour with basically zero expenses. My average commercial day is probably 1 day @ $2000-$3K day rate + expenses & usage. I try and take home at least $4000/day shooting commercial work.

The best paying shoot I’ve had was a contract with a large firm to travel across Canada and shoot approximately 70 traditional and environmental portraits and about 60 lifestyle images across 4 locations. I shot 6 or 7 days, had six travel days and edited everything myself. I billed out $77K for the job and took home probably $70K, covering food, a photo assist and some small rentals – flights and hotels were paid for directly by the company and weren’t included in my fees. They licensed the photos for 5 years for their website / marketing materials. I think it’s important to note I originally quoted MUCH lower on this job and the woman who was the lead coached me along and requested I re-estimate based on numbers they’d used in the past. She really cared that I was paid fairly.

My worst shoot I was brought on board to do the stills portion of a commercial very last minute and the budget had already been set at $750/day INCLUDING the licensing 5 x photos a day. No editing. I was told this was for their website. I found out months later that my work was on buses all around the city. I felt like I had been tricked, nobody wanted to take any responsibility for the issue and in the end I just gave up trying to get any payment for it.

I don’t shoot video.

I read once that it’s important to make sure everyone you meet knows what you do and who your ideal client is. I’ve used that often and I’ve found that by sharing what I’m looking for, I’m often helped by the people I least expect to have incredible contacts. I also think it’s very important to speak with other photographers in your area and find out what they’re charging. Be open to talking about rates and USAGE! Don’t undercut your peers, don’t feel like YOU have to take the pay cut because a company can’t afford the kind of photography they want from you.

$140-160k gross.

I shoot 80% journalism, 10% Event, 10% Commercial. I have no employees. I buy a new set of cameras every 2-3 years, it used to cost around $7-10k, but since switching to small mirrorless it’s been closer to $3-5k. I used to buy $4-5k of lenses every year or two now it’s closer to $2-3k. I invested around $8k in lighting gear over the course of 5 years, but haven’t needed to buy much more recently. I bought a 50k SUV which I use everyday for work. $4k Laptop every 3-5 years. My profit margin is $25-30k/ year.

There was a lot of overheard in the beginning of my career and also thinking that a better camera or lens would make my work better but lately I’ve realized that the cheaper gear works better (smaller, lighter, less conspicuous, etc). I also used to travel a lot for spec projects which I don’t do much anymore

My clients are large national US publications, large US corporate event clients. Within photojournalism 95% large national tabloid 5% wire services/broadsheet papers. Event is mixture of education and marketing firms.
I work around 230 days a year which is about 4-5 days a week.

In the past few years I’ve been able to raise my rates and evolve my style which has allowed me more flexibility and a higher income.

I split mortgage payments and living expenses with my wife. In previous years copyright infringement cases netted large sums for me but no longer.

Shoots range from 30 minutes to 12 hour work days. After 8 hours it is a higher rate, but not often more than 20%.

My best shoot in terms of time was when I did a portrait for a corporate client which was $3K for 45 min shoot. I retained rights they were granted internal publication rights no advertising or external use. A normal journalism job netted $500 for the day rate but I was able to license the image for $2000 and $3000 to two TV networks a week later (single time usage in one episode, but all platforms).

I’ve done shoots for free in the past thinking it would lead to work which it didn’t .

I do very little video, 1-2 shoots a year. Had some new video work with an existing client but it got destroyed by Covid.

The most salient thing I’ve encountered is that the more respected publications have the worst rates and copyrights grabs, especially in journalism. The NYT used to have the worst rate, for YEARS it was $200. They finally raised it to $450 with a work-for-hire joint copyright. Most wire services like Reuters, Getty, will take all copyrights for $350. Maybe throw you 100 bucks if you go to 10-12 hours. Tabloids will pay 400-500 sometimes more all expenses, travel, etc, and you will retain all copyrights after 24 hours with almost no restriction on resales. The most important factor though is volume: the tabloids will hire 200-300 days a year for YEARS. There is a lot of loyalty within this group, they will hold onto you for a long time, whereas the top journalism clients NYT, WashPo, Wires, all go through their freelancers very quickly and they will only offer a handful of people anything close to full time work. Most of my colleagues who freelance for these top companies work 5-10 days a month, which to me is unsustainable. The top level freelancers are either wealthy or have a wealthy partner/spouse or they live in abject poverty just living on the edge. Similarly with the photo editors.

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