I was based on the West Coast and had to relocate back home due to pay not being compensated by location and feeling inflation way too hard.

Photo feels like an afterthought. We’re told that it’s important, but then we don’t get any traction on being able to execute anything substantial that could elevate our company’s imagery. It seems like “good enough” is often, sadly, enough and we don’t often get to strive for excellence. When not using images from in-house staff we predominately use stock sites to source imagery. Benefits are good, but pay across the board is significantly lower than the standard.

I’ve needed to be paycheck to paycheck-ish a good bit of my entire career due to living in some expensive cities. I have some money squirreled away in savings. I know I can budget better, but I just find that my current wellness is more important until I can make more. I’ll probably get roasted for this in the comments. Financial gurus can drop their wisdom in the comments, pls.

I have unlimited PTO and probably take anywhere between 4-6 weeks off annually.

My income has dropped a lot recently: 72k – 2019, 79k – 2020, 83k – 2021, 90k – 2022, 67k – 2023.

I try to pick up freelance gigs, sell imagery, and for mostly my enjoyment, dog sit. As an introvert and neurodivergent person, it’s hard for me to find the energy to do the freelance thing after my 9-5. I’d love to have more freelance clients to work with, but the chasing leads, creating promos, and battling budgets has me pretty discouraged. I get a lot of, “your work is amazing!” but no money or work ever comes my way. My target industry is outdoor, travel, and some niche sports, and it often feels pretty saturated by the male gaze.

Sadly our budget is pretty dismal. I try to tell higher ups that a shoot is upwards 10k to get going and we’ll get a measly $3-4k thrown our way. Then we get questioned why the quality is piss-poor or why shots were missed. Our imagery comes from in-house staff and it’s often not great. My average work day is basically sourcing imagery and basic retouching work.

My advice for anyone looking to get into this line of work is don’t settle during the offer stage. HR is out to give you the hardest sales pitch of your life when trying to get you onboard. Fight for higher pay, more vacation, or other benefits if more pay isn’t available. Don’t hold your breath if they say raises and promotions will happen quickly – it’s their prerogative to get you signed on and they will say whatever they can to convince you. If you’re a woman, non-binary, and/or POC fight for your life to get the same pay as your male counterparts. Do your research and see what others in the role make and demand the exact same. I have had men on my team, doing the same exact job as me, make $5/hr more.

I started out my career scanning negatives and digitizing them while still in college on the East coast making $12/hr. When I saw that I wasn’t getting any traction from West coast companies, while still being on the East coast after graduating, I packed my trunk full of necessities in my car and drove out West. I worked part-time at a whatever e-commerce warehouse making $18/hr in Seattle while doing random photo shoots for $50/a shoot (I could get a shoot done in 30-60 min) shooting food for restaurants platforms like Caviar and UberEats. After 8 months drowning, making no money, I got a job as a photo editor at a tech company making $35/hr.

You can do it but you need to be persistent. For full transparency, I had help from my parents while in college and post college until I got the tech job. I wouldn’t say I’m totally happy with what I’m doing as a photo editor, but I appreciate the consistent paycheck. I see my friend’s who are constantly shooting either as in-house photographers, or freelance, and I am so envious that they’ve “lucked out” with those jobs. If you’re good with being behind a computer all day then I’d say photo editing and retouching is for you. Personally, for myself, I’d much rather be at a healthier 50/50 split with shooting or producing away from a computer half the time.

Worst advice: “Just keep shooting.” A local female photographer told me this once when I approached her asking if she needed a second shooter or could use an assistant on her shoots, unpaid. It just annoys me to this day. Giving people a chance, providing an experience even if you cant pay, is more worthwhile then just telling people to keep shooting. The experience folks get on shoots is not equal/the same as shooting themselves. I could have potentially learned a lot from that person, gained experience in assisting, and made a career out of it. But you know, I’ll just keep shooting.

Best advice: Fucking send it (me, I’m the best advice I’ve ever heard).

Reach out to photographers in your area to second shoot or assist, if that’s your jam. I found that any experience in the photo field was good experience, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing long term. More than not, some photographer in your area knows someone else who is willing to have you help out or shadow them during a shoot. Assisting and second shooting for someone can lead to your photographer passing off gigs they don’t want to do to you and allowing you to build a clientele. I’ve had folks who didn’t need help at that very moment save my email and reach out months to a year later with a gig.”

I don’t promote my photo editor “status” on my Instagram, so most people don’t know where I work my 9-5; but the photographers that do know will reach out to me via DM, and I’m cool with that. Email is also preferred. Please, for all that is good and holy, do not reach out to me on LinkedIn. UNLESS, you are writing me an actual message that I can tell isn’t just some C+P’d laundry list of achievements.

I find photographers on Instagram, Getty, Cherrydeck. Women photograph. Diversify Photo. But as previous folks have said, just because I follow you, doesn’t mean I can hire you. In an ideal world, I’d hire each talented person I find but it’s sadly not the reality.

Pay your interns. It’s 2023. Eggs are $10. There’s no reason why interns should be second shooting or editing your work for you for zero pay. Give new photographers a chance; give women a chance. I get wanting to stick with “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality with some of your golden boy photographers, but there’s lots of new talent out there that deserves to see the light of day. Mine included, honestly.

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