2021: $100k gross (75k assisting, 25k photographing)
2022: $125k gross (100k photographing, 25k assisting or 2nd shooting)
2022 was sort of a transitional year. 2023 is my first year supporting myself exclusively as a photographer. My clients are primarily New York based editorial and small commercial clients. Some West Coast based tech clients. I’m a sole proprietor. Not yet making enough for incorporating to be a high priority.
70% commercial, 30% editorial though of course that percentage gets flipped if you ask about shoot days for each.
I try to keep overhead fairly low:
I share a studio/office with a few other photographers for ~$400/month
Software licenses ~$500/year
No other recurring consistent overhead.
I probably put off buying new equipment longer than some photographers though I expect to spend about $15k on cameras and maybe a new computer this year.
I’ve been maxing out a Roth IRA for the past 3ish years. When I first opened it, I was contributing around $100/month and have gradually increased my monthly contributions as my income has allowed. In 2022 I opened a SEP IRA and I try to contribute around 10% of my gross to that as the checks come in. Some months that’s not possible. Both of these accounts are invested in low-fee target date funds.
As an assistant, I was working many days at fairly consistent rates and by my last year assisting, I could often command $750/day as a first on commercial projects and was rarely being paid less than $600. I would also still occasionally assist friends on editorial for $200–500/day.
Generally I pay my assistants now as much as I can. Sometimes that means paying out of my own pocket. On commercial jobs that means $500-750/day depending. For editorial anywhere from $250-500. I try not to ask assistants to take any rate I wouldn’t have taken when I was in their shoes.
Now, as a photographer I am on set many fewer days and the amount I make varies wildly. After expenses, I make anywhere from $0–1000/day on editorial. Commercially, I have made anywhere from $2000–6000/day including usage, etc. though rates at the high end of that that are very rare for me at this stage. Honestly, I don’t have an average.
My best paying shoot was a Tech/B2B services company. 4 shoot days, 1 tech scout. ~5 different creative calls and pre-pro meetings in the weeks leading up to the shoot. Whole shoot was work for hire. I netted around $26k. I recognize that’s low for WFH.
My worst paying shoot was a web-only editorial. Probably a total of around 13 hours of work between shooting and post. $400 flat rate. I used all of it to hire an assistant.
Not really shooting any video, but have some projects in the works that will change that.
Never feel like I’m doing enough marketing. I do one fairly large printed promo per year. Also do end of year gifts for select clients. I do individual emails with tailored PDFs or mini-sites for the person I’m contacting. In my experience, the more personalized my emails, the higher the response rate. I try to post work I’m proud of on Instagram regularly. I definitely go for quality ahead of quantity though I could probably use to shift that somewhat.
Best Advice I received is to just keep making work. Truly, deeply, deeply wish I could’ve internalized this about 5 years sooner than I did.
Forming genuine relationships with other photographers as well as with those in hiring positions will probably do more for your career than any marketing email you will ever send.
Also, and this is advice for myself as much as for others: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Nobody will know you exist unless you tell them.