This is my salary + additional freelance photo work (per year) over the last few years.
I am a former full time freelance photographer who is now a salaried photo editor. I was making $45-60K gross when I was a full time freelancer for the first several years of my career.
I work for a mid-to-large size publication and it is mostly remote. We have enough work to hire a handful of photographers every month and can pay between $1-2K per day for shoots.
I understand that it’s easier said than done, but leaving full-time freelance work and getting a salaried job within the industry was probably the smartest thing I did financially but, more importantly, emotionally. I was not built to be a full-time freelance photographer. It’s a hard life and is very difficult to maintain relationships, have kids etc. The up and downs are too great and it’s hard to live off of the $450 day rate that the New York Times, or other publications, would occasionally send my way. It was the absolute worst not getting work for a few weeks. It made me jealous of people who were getting consistent work and big advertising jobs and I did not like who I was becoming. I was always anxious and my work suffered. Being able to rely on a salary allowed me to become a better photographer since I was able to focus on my craft and get better, rather than having to constantly try to get hired and paid.
Between full-time job and freelance, I probably work 250-300 days each year.
Since getting my current job I have been able to max out my company matched 401(k) every year. I have $100K+ in savings, vast majority of which has come in the last few years.
If you are still a student – intern anywhere you can. Work for photographers, see what their world is like. Work for museums, see how they operate. Work for publications and see what life is like as a photo editor. The stakes are low and you will likely hate some of them, but that is incredibly valuable information for you to take with you.
If you are already a working professional – Don’t wait to get hired to start making the work you want to make. If you want to, for example, photograph protests for the NYTimes, don’t wait for them to hire you. Photograph it anyway and put it on your instagram. Treat it like an assignment and ask your friends for feedback in how you can improve. The best thing to do is always be shooting. If the work is strong enough, there is a good chance the right people will eventually see it. If you are not making work, you lose any chance of getting seen.
Best Advice – Shoot what you know.
Worst Advice – Any advice I received from professors in college who hadn’t been a working photographer in decades. They had no knowledge or desire to learn about how the modern photography industry works.
Instagram is the best way for photographers to approach me- If you follow me, I will at least look at your work. If I like it, I will follow you. If you’re looking for freelance work, please put where you’re based in your bio.
I find photographers everywhere: friends and I talk about who is making interesting work, instagram, reading magazine/newspapers and checking credits, being online too often…
You do not have to go to photo school to be a successful photographer, especially in this day and age and especially if you would have to assume substantial debt in order to go. This is not to say photo school is not valuable or doesn’t give students a leg up. Some of the best photographers I’ve met either didn’t go to college or studied something else before becoming a photographer.