Photographers On Dealing With Stolen Images

Here’s how photographers recommend dealing with stolen images.

Always register your images with the Copyright Office which will then allow you to collect a maximum of $150,000 for each infringement if it was willful.

Several software companies are recommended for tracking stolen images and getting settlements.

Ultimately a lawyer will get you the best settlement and take less for their fee.

Ideally you register your images within 3 months of publication. You can still register after the infringement which allows you to sue in federal court. Registration also gives you the ability to collect attorney fees which raises the stakes considerably when you consider the infringer paying for both attorneys and damages.
I use Visual Rights Group to track-down image theft and they have been very successful for me.

ImageRights for me since 2015.

There’s ImageRights, Visual Rights Group, and Copycat Legal to name a few

I’d recommend checking into Copyright Agency

and Pixsy:

Pixsy has been ok, for me. Most settlements have been for a few grand, and a few have been between 10k and 20k. I register all my work, which helps get higher settlements

Pixsy has worked for me over the years though the process is definitely very slow.

Others report that pixsy drops cases regularly, settles for less, and if they use an outside attorney you get 25%.

Many recommend using pixsy to track infringement then engage a lawyer to settle:

There’s been many of these companies over the years. You’re getting peanuts to what a real lawyer would get you. The max my lawyer takes is 40%. Usually about 30%

Here are recommendations for IP lawyers:

Look up attorney David Deal and tell him I sent ya! Thank me later!

Higbee & Associates is reputable

@meredith_bruner @bmadanat as an intellectual property law recommendation.

@robertfreundlaw I believe handles this.

@mpkelley_ Mike Kelley has a website called @apalmanac .
They are a treasure chest of information. If you reach out to AP Almanac they can refer you to the right attorneys. Super legit.
Attorney Rachel Brenke (@thelawtog) handles this type of work

Imagerights has a great IP lawyer in Australia

Photographers Report Hiding Their Pregnancy For Fear Of Losing Jobs

The Photo Industry Need To Do Better.

“This industry is unkind to mothers, there is no denying that.”

“Leading up to giving birth, I completely hid my pregnancy and never mentioned it to anyone. Even when I became so obviously pregnant, I just never talked about it to clients unless they brought it up.”

“I can’t tell you how many women shooters/assistants have felt they have to hide their pregnancy in order to keep working. The whole topic/concept is so difficult to navigate.”

“I didn’t share it on social media or tell anyone in person until I started to show. I hated it, I wanted to shout my exciting news from the rooftops but I knew the impact it would have on my work, which is incredibly sad”

Here are some comment from a post I made on Instagram:

Leading up to giving birth, I completely hid my pregnancy and never mentioned it to anyone. Even when I became so obviously pregnant, I just never talked about it to clients unless they brought it up. I was terrified of losing a job if someone found out/like I’d be an undesirable person to work with. I did almost lose a job with a very large well known client who found out through word of mouth that I was in my 3rd trimester. They stopped emailing with me and instead called me to ask me very personal questions like when my due date was, if I was physically able to take on the job, etc. it was so sketchy that the woman did it all over the phone.

A week after my son was born, just home from the hospital, my editorial shoots and hustle paid off. I got a call from one of the big three agencies in Boston at the time. The Photo Buyer *gushed* over my work, the creative team loved it! They couldn’t wait to meet me. When can I come in? In my half awake new mom haze I said “I just got back from the hospital with my first baby. Let’s get something on the books in three weeks.” She hung up on me. I never heard from them again and still haven’t shot for them 20 years later.

DO NOT TELL A SOUL. I worked til 37 weeks but could have gone until the day I delivered. The main issue was being uncomfortable driving. I took 2 months “off” but it was extremely slow afterwards and no one hired me for an ad job for another year. If I did it again I’d keep it all a secret, unfortunately I lost a huge IUD pharma campaign because they found out I was pregnant. The irony! Obviously it’s illegal but what can you do?

Luckily I didn’t show and I hadn’t told anyone when Covid lockdowns started so I could kind of hide it through not being outside. Even after having my baby I didn’t really tell any clients or post about it. When my main client found out I had a kid the jobs dropped off dramatically.

During my first pregnancy which was 18 years ago, I had a photo editor tell me straight up when I went to the office after a shoot that she “wouldn’t have hired me if she knew how pregnant I was” – at about 32 weeks. In general I hid my pregnancy for fear I wouldn’t get work.

I kept my pregnancy to myself and did not share publicly or with clients. I just showed up to work pregnant and did my job just as well (sometimes better) than I did not pregnant.

Pregnancy is the easiest part of navigating life as a freelancer (I told clients on a need-to-know basis while pregnant 13 years ago, and happily worked until 39 weeks). The hard part of working in this field really happens once the child is born. I know many female photographers whose careers were sidetracked by the challenging logistics of balancing an unpredictable photo schedule and childcare.

I kept it very private. Nothing on the internet until my daughter was born. Almost 100% of the time, I only told clients once I was already on set because it was visible. I was soooo scared to lose work because I thought people might assume hiring me would be a risk.

I worked until I was 38 weeks pregnant but also didn’t tell any clients that I was pregnant for fear of not being hired. The part I found difficult was after I had the baby, trying to be 100% on shoots after little to no sleep some nights but the pumping was really difficult, having to take a break somewhere private every few hours was very tough.

Never told anyone but also wouldn’t lie if asked. Wore oversized clothes on set and worked up until a month before birth. Booked an extra assistant if needed just to have an extra person to have my back. Was back on set when baby was 8 weeks old which was a bit unnecessary/early in hindsight (for me – everyone’s different). A few clients didn’t book me because I was pregnant but I figured I don’t wanna work for them anyway – it’s my choice.

In my experience as a event and editorial shooter in LA at the time, not telling anyone i was pregnant until it was very obvious was a good choice for me, only because once the clients knew I was pregnant they were all very kind but many were also much more cautious and concerned about me, and acting as though i was much more delicate like I should be doing something at a desk LOL so I had to really reassure more people that i was absolutely fine and capable. And that women have done this since the dawn of humanity and i’d let them know if i was ever feeling not capable.

My boss and management was not supportive at all. I was scrutinized even if I only came in 30 minutes late due to doctors appointments and so I scheduled each doctors is the very first appointment of the day so I could rush to work

This is a really important topic to discuss as a lot of us feel we cannot tell people we are pregnant for fear of not getting booked. I was also one of those people. I didn’t share it on social media or tell anyone in person until I started to show. I hated it, I wanted to shout my exciting news from the rooftops but I knew the impact it would have on my work, which is incredibly sad. I would turn up to shoots and shock people not only because I was pregnant but because I was still very much capable. IMAGINE!? Once the news was out and baby arrived, I did have some clients presume that I wouldn’t want the work we had in the calendar for the coming months and THAT is the problem. The attitude towards pregnant people drastically needs to change

Book pregnant photographers and support them by booking them when they are back to work.

Let’s try and change this crappy narrative, we deserve better!

Shifting Perspectives: Kenny Hurtado Walks Away From Professional Photography

by Angie Smith

Angie Smith: When did you start taking pictures? And how did it turn into a profession?

Kenny Hurtado: I grew up as a surfer. When I graduated from High School, I bought a camera to document the surf when it was good.

It became very natural to me, so I took a couple of classes at a Junior College. From there, I interned for Surfing Magazine. They would give me free film, critique me and give me lessons.

Within a month of interning there, I started getting some really good pictures, and right away, they started publishing my work. They took me under their wing, and I interned there for seven months until one day they said, ‘Let’s test you out’– so they sent me to Mexico for two months. I did a road trip through Baja and Mainland Mexico and when I came back, I had shot sixty rolls of slide film. It ended up being a feature-length story in print. I was put on a retainer and lived a true dirtbag vagabond lifestyle, traveling the globe with an endless film budget. It was a dream come true. I stayed with the magazine for about 2 years until the recession started to hit. Budgets dropped, and I was let go.

I moved to San Francisco and studied the fine art side of photography at The San Francisco Art Institute. I knew nothing about fine art photography but found it exciting.

I crashed and burned a ton of times during my art school years. I spent that time just experimenting with different cameras and subject matter.

I moved back to Los Angeles, and from 2010-2013, I went back to shooting some ocean scape and surf portraits, trying to approach it from a fine art angle.

In 2013, a couple of surf brands started seeing my work, and I was put on retainer for companies to shoot their campaigns.

It was a great gig, but it didn’t pay well. With rent, my car payment, and insurance, I was barely scraping by. I felt so pigeonholed, and I didn’t really want to be a surf photographer anymore. At the same time, I was developing my own work outside of the surfing world. I was conflicted and knew it was time to move on.

In 2018, my partner Lindsay was offered a job in San Francisco. I put the word out that I was looking to move back to the Bay. A few days later, someone reached out and said AirBnB was hiring and wanted to offer me an interview for an in-house photo editor. I needed the income to live in the Bay Area, and I had some debts to clear. I ended up dropping my brand retainers in Southern California, and we both moved North to Sonoma County.

I was offered the AirBnB job, and at the same time, I was picked up by a photo agent based in LA the day before I left town. I joined the agency but wasn’t very active.

I slowed down my photography practice so I could focus on work while I had this consistent tech money coming in. After I got settled in and freed myself of debt, I started shooting again. I had a couple of projects that were catching on and from there, I started working for clients like the New York Times, The New Yorker, Outside, and NatGeo – people I really want to shoot for.

After about 1 year in the AirBnB offices, my contract was pulled. I said to myself: ‘OK, I’m going all in on freelance.’ I started to line up jobs back to back and felt I was finally on the path I wanted to be on – until March 2020 came around. I was back to being broke again.

A few months later, in May of 2020, I found out I was going to be a father. I was like: ‘Woah, woah, woah.’ I was scared as shit but very excited at the same time.

The whole time Lindsey was pregnant, I was still trying to find my way as a freelancer, which was going nowhere. Lindsay had a good job, enough to pay our rent in the Bay Area. I felt so bad because I was 37, an expectant dad, and had no means of income. I did the classic Covid lockdown fitness thing and got super into running. I guess I was truly running away from my worries.

I had to stop and think: ‘I’m gonna be dad, dude, what are you doing? You spend all day running, not bringing any income. You need to figure something out.’

A good photo job would pop up and make me really excited. I’d think: ‘This is gonna help me out for a couple months.’ Then it would disappear. That would happen again and again.

It was a month before Sage was born, and I literally had zero money in my bank account. I knew that I needed something that was gonna be stable and fast.

I was just pushing 40, and I thought: ‘I have a baby now. I don’t have a family that’s gonna bail me out. I have no backup plan; I have no savings. What am I going to do?’

I spent the first 9-10 months as a stay-at-home dad but felt worthless since I was not helping out at all financially.

In 2021, out of nowhere, Lindsey said: ‘Let’s move back to my hometown.’ She’s from Springfield, Missouri. I was like: ‘No freaking way, I’m not moving to Missouri.’ I’d always lived on the coast my entire life. I hated the idea of moving inland. Eventually, it just made sense because her whole family is here. And the cost of living is insanely affordable.

So we moved to Missouri, and I said: ‘I want to make a fresh start.’

Once we moved and settled, I took all my camera gear, and I stuck it in the back closet of my son’s room. In the very, very back. I said to myself: ‘I’m just not going to think about this; I’m not going to stress about it. I’m not gonna even touch my camera for one year.’

Right away, I enrolled in a local Community College, got into an EMT course, and knocked out my training. Then got a job at an EMS agency working the ambulance in rural America– talk about a culture shock.

I told myself: ‘I’m gonna go all in for one year and see where I end up.’

About six months into it, I almost sold all of my camera gear. I thought: ‘I don’t want to be a photographer anymore. I want to be done.’

I thought about that pretty seriously.

Self Portrait. Peru for Surfing Magazine. 2004
Peru for Surfing magazine. 2004
Mainland Mexico for Surfing Magazine 2003
John John, Hawaii for Outside magazine 2020
Shark attack victim. New York Times 2020

Kenny Hurtado: Maybe nine to ten months into my first year in EMS, I started bringing the camera back out. I went back to the 4×5 camera. It’s so healing for me to spend a full day in the forest and a rushing river under a dark cloth with ground glass – it puts me into a very meditative state.

Now that running is in my life and adding 4×5 landscape, my mindset is so relaxed now. I’m so calm.

Angie Smith: Did you struggle with grief around letting go of your old freelance life?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes, I really struggled with it, especially six months into committing to working on the ambulance. It was a lot of time away from my son and very low-paying– a bigger sacrifice than I had intended. Working in EMS is a very selfless job. First Responders don’t make that much money, but it pays in other ways. There were a few times where I would drive home from work and think: ‘I actually did something today. I was involved in saving a person’s life.’

Being a photographer my whole life was a selfish endeavor. It was just all about me, all the time. I struggled with being so self-involved and constantly worried about work. I had turned my mindset away from trying to be a working photographer. Before, I would think: ‘If I do this kind of work, it might get me this kind of job.’ But now I’m literally just shooting 4×5 pictures of rivers and streams. It’s so therapeutic for me.

Angie Smith: I saw that you started a YouTube channel about you shooting in nature. Tell me more about that.

Kenny Hurtado: Growing up as a surfer, we would always watch surf videos to get excited and motivated to go out and surf. I’d feel the same thing watching photographers on YouTube. During Covid, I’d watch videos of photographers shooting in the field and think: this is actually interesting. About 6 months ago, I started creating videos to show a day life of shooting landscape work in the Ozarks. My thought was: ‘Maybe someone will see this and go outside and get creative.” And it’s fun.

Angie Smith: Do you have FOMO when you look at Instagram and see other photographers on shoots?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes, definitely. Besides being a father, the best times in my life were being on the road, just stamping passports, and being creative. I lost my creative outlet when I stashed my camera away. It started to really bug me after a while.

In my heart, what makes me happiest is being in the field with photography. The other day, I spent 10 hours in the woods taking pictures. Obviously, I would like this to be my life, and I would love to still be doing commissions. But I love what I’m doing now, and I’m proud of myself for making that decision. Since I’m almost a year and a half into this process as an EMT/Paramedic in training, I’m asking myself: ‘Do I want to do this for the next 25 years?’ I don’t know the answer.

Angie Smith: So even though you’ve done the pivot, it’s not a clean break? Do you ask yourself if it was the right decision?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes, every day. As photographers, we spend so much time and energy doing the things that we do. It’s so hard to make the decision to pivot away entirely. I thought long and hard about it.

I had times where I said to myself: I just gave up on my path. I never thought I’d give up. Is what I’m doing NOW worth it?

Angie Smith: Did you talk to your agent about it?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes. I told her I was gonna go off and try to do the paramedic thing. She wants me to be out making fun portraits and lifestyle stuff, but I’ve just been out shooting leaves and streams. I’ve just been doing therapeutic photography.

Angie Smith: Yeah. Wow, that’s an amazing concept– therapeutic photography. That’s a whole new genre.

Kenny Hurtado: Yeah, it’s just all about being in nature. It’s just an excuse for me to spend an entire day in the woods. Yesterday, I was in the woods from sunrise until sunset.

Angie Smith: If there are people who are reading this interview and they were facing the same question, what advice would you give them?

Kenny Hurtado: To really think it through. Because if you put in 5, 10, 15, 20 years into pursuing photography, it’s so hard to get the courage to walk away from it. The identity part was the hardest for me. Everyone knew me as a vagabond photographer. That’s all I did from 21 until 36, and to just drop it was a really hard decision.

Think about your current situation– how are your bills stacking up? Are you falling behind? Do you have kids now? What’s changing in your life? Just think it through and pick a direction you actually might enjoy.

But you don’t have to walk away from it; you can still go off and pursue a different angle than what you were before. There are amazing photographers who have made a switch because they are now fathers or mothers– or their life circumstances have changed. Now, they’re practicing photography for love and making amazing work without the stress of this HAS to feed my family. If it wasn’t for me becoming a father, I probably would have stuck with it. Shit, kids really do change things.

Now, I’m back to working on photography. It’s all I can think about, and I am doing it because I love it. I have more peace in my heart.

I don’t feel stressed about my career and where it was or where it went. I’m not afraid to start over at 40.

If someone hears this and they’re 42, 43, or 50 even– and have pursued a creative life–you can always say fuck it and start over. Don’t be scared.

4×5 personal Landscape photography. Ozarks 2023
Personal landscape work. 2021
4×5 personal landscape work 2024

Digi Tech based in Australia: $57k AUD

Whenever I get paid, i set aside some funds for tax, for super (national retirement), for business growth and the rest goes into the family pot.

I moved to Australia about half way through my career.

My work is, 40% fashion, 30% e-commerce, 10% video and 20% advertising. Majority of the brands are very well known locally and internationally. It’s not rare to be driving around or walking through the shops and see images I’ve worked on. I get the odd local start up brand, but those jobs are pretty rare now. My partner always gets a kick out of it, she loves hearing about what went into getting the shot and what was happening just outside of frame.

I work full time, average 4 days a week. If it’s a slow, I’ll take a weekend gig or two, but make an effort not to. I like enjoying my weekends.

I don’t have a lot of overhead. Once a year I will invest a little into my kit; i’ll buy equipment that people often forget to bring on set, or equipment that is frequently hired. I typically leave it in the car so it’s always available in an emergency. This has saved the day a number of times over the years and I’m sure has led to more work.

Otherwise, my expenses are just what ever the ATO allows me to claim as a deduction. I always put away at least 10% into my Super fund, sometimes more if i have had a good week/month.

More and more agencies and clients are paying super; i wouldn’t say it’s common yet, but it’s becoming more popular. No one really knows what you should or shouldn’t be doing, and no one can decide if it’s supposed to be paid as part of your day rate or on top of your rate. I think a union like they have in America or Britain would help a lot in standardizing these kinds of things.

In 2021 i worked about 100 days, and in 2022 i worked over 150 days.

I think the pandemic (and last few years) has had a huge impact on the industry. For a number of reasons, rates have increased: A good portion of the assistants in town have either left the country, left the industry or have started shooting themselves. The cost of living has gone up significantly in our city, we were able to be selective as to who we work for because everyone kept wanting to shoot here. Also, I’m hearing that new assistants are charging nearly as much, if not more than seasoned pros. So in order to make up for it, we’ve raised our rates accordingly.

I think this last one hurts the industry as a whole. Why would anyone hire an assistant with 1 or 2 years experience when they can pay an extra $50 or $100 and get someone with 7-10 years behind them? I think this is bad for the industry as a whole because they don’t get on set, they don’t get experience and it’s a struggle on big/busy days.

My average day is about 9 hours. More and more jobs are going into OT though, which I typically don’t mind, but 11-12 hour days get tiresome really fast.

My day rate is $600 for 10hour day, Overtime after 2 hours, double time after that. I don’t do half days anymore, it’s not worth it. I might give a small discount if it’s a good or long term client and their desperate, but never for new clients.

I don’t do a lot of seasonal jobs. It’s warm here most of the year so we can shoot outdoors almost any day, provided it’s not raining. Bring some sunblock and you’ll be fine.

My terms are strict 28 days and it’s generally respected, i either get paid within 24 hours or on the 28 day mark. People who take longer don’t tend to stay clients of mine for long.

Best job was a multi week shoot for a major Australian brand. It was very relaxed, full day rates, lunch catered every day etc… It was outside the city so i should have charged for travel as well, but i just ate it in exchange for the cash. It was during the pandemic while some parts of the country were shut down so I was just counting my lucky stars I had income.

I think i came out with just shy of $10K. I had a hard time getting paid because it was flagged with the ATO (Aus Tax Office), so it took a while to get the cash cleared but made my year.

Worst paying job was a job with a new client that came from out of town. I thought we had agreed on rates, but turns out our city uses industry terms differently then they do, so there was a bit of back and forth after they received my bill; In the end, I was left with essentially a 50% pay cut for an extra long days work.

I work on a little bit of Video. Some of my clients shoot video, and it’s becoming more and more common to be on set with a videographer as well as a stills crew. I still charge my usual rates, and my roles vary from just general hands on deck to data wrangler.

Even though i’m less experienced on video than i am on stills, i feel i bring value on set because i know how they like to operate, how the like to light, how they like to run their days etc… only thing i can’t do (yet) is operate the camera or focus pull.

I market myself via instagram. I try and shoot personal work, or just shoot when I’m out and about doing stuff. I feel like my creative vision is a good marketing tool, people have told me they’re hire me because of the way i see certain things. Otherwise, it’s just word of mouth.

Worst Advice: they have more money, take it and run.
This is the worst advice because I’ve found success doing the exact opposite. I prefer to leave that $50 or $100 on the table in exchange for building trust or not charge for a quick short favour; I think karma has taken good care of me.

Best Advice: say no.
Say no and stick to it.. It could be a low ball offer, being asked for a discount just this one time or doing something way outside your comfort zone. You might lose that job, you might lose that client, but everyone will respect you and you won’t have to deal with that anymore.

Stop thinking about other assistants as your competition, and think of them as your peers. Talk to reach other other, be kind to each other, ask questions, share your rates and how you would charge x or y. We don’t have a union but we can still work together.

If someone isn’t paying you on time, isn’t treating you well on set, is being disrespectful, stop working for them. There’s so much work out there, people are getting flown in from other cities because there is such a shortage of good, qualified help. Just say no.

Learn how to use your tools. The amount of times i have someone hand me a camera or laptop and say “make it do x” is just incredible. For a while, i was in different people’s phone book as “John Smith – Phase 1”. Knowing those little obscure tricks and features has rally helped me gain the client base i have now.

A Commercial Lifestyle Photographer: $64k (gross)

In the years leading up to the pandemic, my gross income ranged from $115,000 to $230,000. Keep in mind, that this number is after my reps took their 30% cut, so the actual gross was higher. I became a full-time photographer around 2011. In those initial years, when I was solely focused on photography and not supplementing with assisting work, I was pulling in roughly $70,000 to $85,000 gross and steadily built my way up.

After college, I spent about four years as an intern, film production assistant, and photography assistant. To support myself during that time, I also worked at a supermarket.

I don’t currently have an agent, but I do work with one on a case-by-case basis if a project that comes in is substantial enough to warrant their involvement. In the past, I’ve been signed by three different agencies. One was a boutique agency, another was more mid-range, and the third was a well-known and prestigious agency. Each of these experiences was incredibly different from one another.

A couple of years ago, I decided to part ways with my last rep, and since then, I’ve been on the lookout for a new one, but it’s been a bit of a challenge finding the right fit for both parties. I have to admit, ego aside, that it’s been surprising how tough it’s been for an established commercial photographer, with over a decade of profitability, to even secure a meeting or a response from many agents.

Approximately 90% of my income is generated through commercial lifestyle projects. Editorial assignments have generally come my way only about two to three times a year.

In terms of workload, I typically handle bidding anywhere from 25 to 40 commercial project requests annually. During a successful year, I manage to secure around 5 to 7 of these projects, although it’s worth noting that there are no guarantees any year.

Most projects involve three, but up to six or more photographers bidding for them. There can be additional challenges like budget and scheduling problems that might lead to the project being canceled or postponed indefinitely. Even if you and the agency’s creative teams are on the same page, the final decision typically rests with the client. This client is usually someone you haven’t spoken to, and they often aren’t focused on creativity; they’re on the business side of things and have the ultimate say because they’re footing the bill.

I mainly work with Fortune 500 companies. I’ve collaborated with big advertising agencies and shot over two dozen global and national ad campaigns and also directed several TV commercials. My clients range from top tech companies and big sneaker brands to car ads, alcohol, healthcare, tourism, and pharmaceuticals.

I initially started with smaller “cool” brands, which eventually led to bigger projects. I still try to take on creatively interesting projects each year, even if the budget is tight.

I don’t have any employees that are on payroll. I hire assistants and techs on a freelance basis as well as professional services such as my accountant etc.

I keep my expenses low to survive in lean times. However, living costs have gone up significantly in recent years, while job opportunities and rates have not. I have substantial expenses like self-employment taxes, photography insurance, and health insurance. On top of that, I’ve managed to pay off my student loans, which were quite significant.

I work from my home office, which I can deduct as a business expense. I own just the essential equipment I need for smaller personal and editorial projects so I can work on them on without needing to rent extra gear.

I’ve never had a great retirement plan, just been trying to save up as much as I can and put a bit into an IRA. But these last couple of years, work’s been slow, and it’s taken a toll on my savings. If I decided to retire right now, I could probably get by for about two years in a more budget-friendly city without needing to work.

I’m pretty much “working” in some way every single day. In peak years, I used to work on a commercial project roughly every other month. These gigs could vary from quick 2-3 day shoots to those massive weeks-long projects that involved jetting off to different countries. Typically, each project would come with a couple weeks of prepro work and another couple weeks for post-production.

These days, it seems like most of my time is eaten up by bidding on projects, marketing my work, and all the research and outreach that goes into it. I also try to set up test shoots every couple of months and work on personal projects whenever I can.

Before the pandemic hit, my income was somewhat stable. There were some tougher years, but overall, I felt like my career was steadily growing and building each year.

In 2020, I got lucky because the year started well, and I managed to weather the storm with some government help.

Then came 2021, which turned out to be the kind of year every photographer dreads. I didn’t land a single profitable job. I was bidding on some good and high-paying creative projects, but none of them went my way. I did a few smaller shoots and personal projects, but they barely made any profit. My income mostly came from licensing images, government subsidies, and selling off old cameras and equipment. It was a really tough and eye-opening experience.

In 2022, things improved somewhat, but it still felt like the twilight zone.

Now, in 2023, it’s been more of a mixed bag. I’m getting more inquiries than in the past couple of years, but not a lot of success. It’s been one of the most frustrating years in my career, for sure, and is looking to not be a great one financially.

Photography is my sole source of income. In the last couple of years, I’ve really made a big push to find more stable work within the industry. I have been searching and applying for jobs that come with benefits, like 401(k)s, health insurance, stuff like in-house production or photo directing/editing jobs for big companies. But it turns out, those positions are just as competitive and hard to get into as being a freelance photographer.

There isn’t really a standard for an average shoot because projects vary quite a bit. Typically, a commercial shoot involves a tech day, two to three shoot days, and perhaps a post-production day. The day rate usually falls in the range of $2,500 to $7,500, and then usage fees are added on top of that. The usage fees are typically based on geographic terms and the duration of use. All in, I would ideally hope to take home between $20 – 30k per project, but it varies greatly. The best shoots have been the ones where it feels like the creative team is all in, and the terms are fair for everyone. I’ve come to realize that a good pricing strategy involves having a lower day rate, but with a usage agreement that’s likely to get renewed after the initial period. It also motivates me as a photographer to create images that are unique to the brand and will likely be renewed and won’t be easily replaced by stock photos.

I pay my assistants whatever rate they ask for. I think the going rate for a first in LA / NYC is about $700 – 800 for a 10 hour day. I will always go to bat for my assistants, they are the hardest working and most important people on a job in my opinion and I want them to feel comfortable and well compensated for their work.

The worst shoots have been the ones where they insist on a full buyout. Lately, I’ve noticed a troubling trend where art buyers require all bidding photographers to accept a buyout or else they won’t even be considered for the job. It’s like being turned into a content-producing machine for a big corporation. They walk away with thousands and thousands of your images that can be used indefinitely. This isn’t a fair or ethical way to work with commissioned artists, and the more considerate art buyers are aware of this issue and don’t abide by it.

I do both motion directing and still photography. My projects vary – sometimes I’m both directing and taking photos, other times I’m focused on shooting b-roll videos for social media. Occasionally, I work as a photographer alongside a broadcast film team. I’d say that in the past few years, about 75 percent of my shoots have had some motion element involved.

My marketing strategy has gone through significant changes in recent years. I can still recall a time when sending a single email blast would result in a dozen job offers. Over the years, I’ve also sent out hundreds of promo materials and made many in-person portfolio visits. However, the landscape shifted during the shutdown, and to be completely honest, I’m not sure what’s effective anymore. I do believe having a social media presence is beneficial, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus. Most of the jobs I’ve secured in the past couple of years have come through word of mouth – someone I’ve worked with in the past recommending me to others.

The best advice I’ve ever received is to “make photos that only YOU can make.” There are literally billions of photographers out there, and photography is a highly mechanized process, so you see countless people trying to imitate others or reproduce what they’ve seen before. With the rise of AI, this imitation problem is getting worse. When someone hires you, they’re not looking for a copycat (hopefully!); they want your unique perspective. Regardless of the subject, make it something that resonates with your personal view of the world and it will connect with others.

As for the worst advice, I’d say it came from my younger, more naive self. When I was younger, I thought I understood the industry better than I actually did. I didn’t think long-term and, like many artists, my ego sometimes clouded my judgment, especially during hot streaks that I believed would last forever. Being overly confident is great for creativity and taking risks, but it might not be the best approach when it comes to the business side or navigating industry politics.

I’m also a clinically diagnosed neurodivergent individual. While I don’t use my disability as an excuse or ever share this with potential clients, it has added significant challenges to my career in various ways.

This piece of advice is for those in gatekeeping positions in the industry, such as art buyers, photo editors, and producers. Let’s remember that kindness and compassion are choices we can all make. The culture in our industry can be demanding, cutthroat, often quite cynical, and plagued with cronyism and nepotism. We’re all out here doing our best, hustling to survive in this late-capitalist world.

Yes, we photographers are incredibly privileged to make a living through our work, but it’s a career that many of us have put a lot of effort into. And at the end of the day, it is a job. So, let’s not make it feel like we have to beg and bend over backwards for opportunities to do what we love and what also we depend on to keep the lights on and our families fed.

Unfortunately, there are no unions or standardized practices to adhere to in this industry. That means the gatekeepers hold a lot of power and control.

Please don’t forget the human aspect of your roles. We often problem-solve the budget on your projects, contribute to your creative vision, get on last-minute calls, and reschedule our lives completely, all of this is without any sort of compensation. Sometimes, a simple email response or a courteous notification when a project doesn’t work out is all that’s required, instead of ghosting someone and keeping them in a state of anxiety.

As many have pointed out, while photographers can show solidarity, there will always be someone willing to work for less – that’s the nature of capitalism in a creative field. So, photographers, we also have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to shape the way the industry treats us and those who collaborate with us.

So please…be excellent to each other.

A Commercial People in Environments and Automotive photographer: $400,000 – $900,000 (net)

I shoot almost all commercial work. Net income is a murky number. I pay myself $26,000/year and my wife $35,000/year through payroll. $5,000/month goes to our 401k accounts which leaves almost no cash in the actual paychecks. At the end of the year, the corporation doubles that contribution to our 401k accounts. The corporation also pays all of our healthcare and disability insurance for me (you need to have this if you are the bread winner in your house). One of our vehicles is owned by the corporation and it and every related expense is paid by the corporation. Cell phones, internet, etc.—all corporate expenses. I can also distribute profit as I see fit which being incorporated (S Corp.) is not subject to several W-2 taxes. In addition, I run a very lean ship with very little overhead—my office is on my personal residence property and I have no employees. My recurring expenses are accounting/tax advice, payroll, insurance, odds & ends and not much more. I don’t really count equipment as an expense but more as an investment—all my equipment is rented out to my own productions and after a year it pays for itself and then from there on generates real revenue. When I upgrade, I can usually recoup 50-75% of the initial investment. So, if you ask the IRS, the business net number is a very small number. In reality, it’s probably about 90% of gross as benefitted by me.

Gross income ranges from $500,000 to $1,000,000. The last few years have been at the lower range. 2023 I have only shot 6 jobs and I currently sit at about $400,000 and I would expect to have another job or two shot by the end of the year.

Reps are so key once you get to a certain level unless you could possibly keep up on all that they and their staff do. They have a pulse on the entire industry that you as a single artist probably could not really keep up on. Sometimes bidding on a job can be 2-4 weeks of back and forth—how could you possibly stay on top of that while shooting another job? Who would want to indulge in that? Not me. Most of your jobs are acquired by your reputation but I have booked several jobs by someone just calling my agent and asking, “Who do you have that can handle this job for us?” I would say half my work it is lifestyle/people and half automotive.

My clients are pretty much all national/international Fortune 500.

My general business expenses are close to nill. Of course, when we shoot a job, there are a lot of expenses but it all gets covered by the client. You have to bill for everything and you quickly learn to make line items in the estimate for everything just like an attorney. Don’t ever just chalk something up as an expense of doing business when it belongs to a job. I bill for everything the moment I walk out of my house to the moment I walk back in.

As touched on above, my wife and I are employees of the corporation and we pay ourselves a fair wage according to the tasks that we do. There are calculators out there that will tell you what your fair wage is—the IRS will like that you did this. My wife is actually paid more than me because I only spend half my time at this corporation. We pretty much put all our “wages” into our 401k accounts and then the corporation matches it at the end of the year. I like investing so I have no problem managing and having our retirement grow tax free until a later day in retirement when I can start withdrawing it in a much lower tax bracket. If you don’t like investing, hire a fee-based CFP but don’t hire someone from one of the companies you see in a commercial—those guys are paid to push products that benefit someone else.

I suppose that I am always “working” but in recent years I would say that I am only on shoots for about 30-45 days a year.

I feel like that I am semi-retired as there seems to be less jobs out there than there were just five years ago and the number of shoot days for each job are much less. Or maybe I am just becoming irrelevant? I shoot 5-10 jobs a year. All my jobs used to be 2-4 weeks long and now I think they are mostly about a week long. Commercial photography is extremely competitive to begin with and with what I feel like are fewer jobs out there, it becomes even more competitive. My income used to touch the $1,000,000 mark every couple years but now I barely cross the $500,000 threshold.

Photography has been good to me because in my early days I did fairly well. I am entrepreneurial so I was able to take those earnings and expand. Out of my 4 possible income streams, photography has now ranked 3rd for that past 5 years or so. It is my favorite hobby for sure.

I pour my heart and soul into a shoot. We usually don’t bid on something that I will not be able to pour some passion into. I will spend some considerable days prepping for a job even if my fees are not designated to cover those prep days—I feel my overall fee is there for me to nurture the creative vision from start to finish regardless of X days for prep, X for tech, X for shoot, etc.). So, prep days can add up quickly then travel, tech scouting, more prep, fittings, shooting and then traveling home—a job with 5 shoot days can easily consume 2 weeks of my time. Shoot days are usually 12-18 hours from portal to portal. Take-home pay is always fair to current industry rates (I hope) and the expenses are basically coming out of another budget (I almost never deal with expenses as they are taken care of by the producer). I would say I usually take home $50,000-$100,000 per job. Licensing terms are erratic as some agencies are fine with licensing and others basically want perpetuity for one fee.

I pay assistants $800/10hr day plus OT. Travel, tech and prep days are billed the same.

We don’t really have a “worst-paying shoot” unless we put it upon ourselves. And that would be if I want the creative but the budget is not there because it is pro-bono or a good cause. Even on a pro-bono shoot, they are going to cover expenses—I am just donating my creative and right index finger. If it’s a regular job and they don’t have the budget, we politely let them know we can’t do it.

I would say half my income is video as we have some stills only jobs, some hybrid jobs and some video only jobs.

With marketing I don’t think there is a silver bullet to getting everyone. I can’t tell you that a certain ad or email is the job monster. It’s a consistent culmination of all your efforts that gets you noticed. Basically people need to know you exist in order to bid you on jobs. So, the usual suspects: advertising in industry pubs, email blasts, sources books (mostly online now), Instagram and entering award shows (but don’t enter photo shows—most ad people don’t know what PDN, Rangefinder, etc. is). We used to do a lot of printed promos but Covid pretty much squashed that since I think the majority of all agency people are still working from home. Whenever I am on a job, I take a poll from the creatives if they actually go into the agency and some have actually not been in since before Covid. Also, on your Zoom calls you can see they are almost all still at home.

Best advice is you have to be fanatical about what you do. You have to love the art to become successful (except for the guy that picks up a camera once and then becomes the jewel of NYC without even trying). If it becomes a job, then it shows you are just there putting in the hours. After 20 years, I love every minute of being on set and creating. Even when I am done with this as a career, I will still be out making images.

Worst advice is “you have to specialize in one subject”. Maybe I have misinterpreted that and am too literal but some people will tell you, you have to be The Taco Guy or the The Car Guy. I feel better advice is to define yourself with a style, way of composing, lighting or ? The subject doesn’t really matter. But when someone sees your work in the wild, they should be able to know it is you that shot it (or have a pretty good idea). When they look at your body of work on your website, it should look like one person’s work. It doesn’t have to be a concise collection of butt plugs for someone to be able to define you. There was a point where I never shot a car but now half my jobs are car jobs. People like the way I compose subjects in environments and said, “OK, now do it with this piece of sheet metal.”

The world is changing everyday and right now is a really scary time for commercial photographers. You have to keep up and continue to evolve. Look at artists like Nadav Kander or John Huet—their work is not the exact same as 20 years ago but you can see the evolution of the artist in their new work that keeps them relevant. Keep an open mind as technology changes. Remember when people freaked out when Photoshop and retouching became a thing? Remember when people freaked out when CGI came along? I am sure those took some jobs away from photographers but not a significant portion. And now AI? You just have to evaluate and see where things fit in with your workflow. Erik Almas just did what he does best of merging backgrounds with talent that he shoots later in a studio except this time he made the backgrounds with AI and it looks pretty great. Everyone is so mad and afraid of AI right now. I could be wrong, but I don’t think AI as tool on it’s own is going to take all the jobs. There’s a great meme out there that says don’t worry about AI because there is no way a client is going to be able to concisely describe what they want to a prompt.

Digi Tech based in NYC: $148k

I’m a NY S-Corp and I’m the sole shareholder and only employee. I have a family and I’m the sole provider. My salary is based on the minimum we need to cover personal expenses and 2/5ths of our rent. We have health insurance through Obamacare so the less I payroll myself the higher the subsidy.

I have and will work on any kind of shoot, anywhere in the world. If the money is right, I’m there. As for my style of teching, I am adaptable and versatile with any situation or shoot able to be handled with grace and precision. I can be as hands-on or as hands-off as the photographer needs me to be. My main goal is to use all my skills to make it so the photographer has to only focus on taking the pictures. I work well with assistants and lighting directors to dial in the light and grade. I am a sounding board and problem solver for the photographer, and have many times been an art-director-whisperer if the photographer gets in a rut or the shoot goes off track.

⅓ of my income is rate and ⅔ is from equipment rentals. A small profit comes from reselling hard drives and charging for EQ transportation.

Photographers for whom I work are as varied as they come. Young and old, varied nationalities, male or female or non-binary. There are a few photographers I refuse to work with due to their personalities, but it’s a short list. Sometimes a photographer who is an agent of chaos is fun to work for! Flip that, and a perfectly nice person can be a miserable photographer to be on set with. I only have 1 legacy client I work for where I don’t rent my gear, but they make up for it in rate.

I don’t have any employees, but I hire techs to work with my equipment for my clients from time to time. I always slice them off a bit from the EQ fees, and pay as soon as the invoice is received.

I have a desk in our spare bedroom, store all my EQ at home and use my personal car to transport equipment. My overhead is equipment/rental insurance at about $3500/year, accountant for $2500/year, bookkeeper for $1200/year.

My main costs are upgrading equipment, but that has slowed down in the past year. I only own camera systems I shoot personal work with (No Sony, Canon or Fuji). I’m sticking with the M1 laptops until the M3 series come out next year, so that saved $10k.

I have a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA. I’m barely able to contribute to the Roth because my salary is so low. I can put 25% of my salary in the SEP so that was $15K in 2022 and $24k in 2023. I’ve got $78k in retirement, $10k in personal savings and about $2K in stocks.

I work 150-170 days a yearSteadily increased then took a hit from Covid. Now it’s the highest it’s been.

I think best paying job post-Covid was an 8 day job where the rate was $750 and $1K for EQ. Ended up taking home more than $14k after OT. Best single day job was about $3500 for the day. Rate was $800, EQ $1500 and camera rental was $1200.

Worst paying jobs post-Covid was $500/10, no EQ. It was for one of my favorite clients and it was a personal project so I gave them a deal. They prefaced the confirm saying I should bounce if a money job came in. Worst job of all-time was in 2015, a 21-hour editorial for $350. And, the pictures were terrible too!

I can media manage motion data but I do not bill myself as a DIT or Stills/Motion combo. Sometimes there’s extra money negotiated to manage motion data. Sometimes I volunteer to do it if the second AC or solo videographer is swamped.

I’m pretty much 100% word of mouth and referrals. It feels like, if you’re out there hustling for work, there’s a reason you’re not working.

I have a website I can direct people to that has tearsheets, lists of clients and owned equipment. That’s something I can send once someone reaches out. I don’t have a resume and if someone asks for a resume it’s kind of a red flag. I did an email blast when I first launched my website a few years ago but that drummed up zero business, and I haven’t done it since.

Best advice would probably be that being a full-time tech and not trying to shoot is a great career path. I have less stress and make more money than a lot of my contemporaries who are either trying to shoot or have been shooting for a few years. I don’t have to bust my ass to get clients and at the end of a shoot I never have to think about it again.

Worst advice, that comes to mind, is the importance of working for top-tier photographers. The system of working for a huge photographer as a stepping stone to a successful photography career doesn’t apply as much these days, unless you’re with the top of the top of the top.

For techs, my advice is, when starting out, take whatever comes your way as long as you feel okay about the money. Take non-EQ jobs to hone your skills. You never know who you’re going to meet on set who will recommend you, and help jump start a successful tech career. For photographers, my advice would be to listen to your tech and treat them as a kind of creative partner. Photographers focus so much on their own imagery and how they make pictures, never imagining how others approach creating images. Many don’t take into account that I evaluate, color grade and crop, literally, over a million of images a year, and I am a wealth of knowledge, tips, hacks, workflow improvements, technological advances, trends, culture and aesthetic values.

A Commercial Lifestyle, Fitness and Sports Photographer/Director based in LA: $181k (net)

My first actual biggish commercial job where I had a digital tech for the first time and a few assistants was in 2015.

2022: Gross $388,000, Tax (30%) $107,000, Agent (25%) $89,000, Take Home $181,000
2021: Gross $705,900, Tax (30%) $208,000, Agent (25%) $179,000, Take Home $309,900
2020: Gross $427,200, Tax (30%) $128,000, Agent (25%) $106,800, Take Home $307,600
2019: Gross $551,500, Tax (30%) $165,450, Agent (25%) $137,800, Take Home $248,250

Above, I listed out of my income for the past few years. It has my gross income from my fees. We set aside 30% for taxes. We never pay that whole amount for taxes, but it’s a good forced savings account. My Agent gets 25% of all fees.

My partner is in the creative industry but doesn’t work directly with me. We jointly own our S-Corp and bill our fees through the same company. We use a payroll company to pay ourselves $6,000 monthly to cover most of our personal expenses.

Our business expenses are around 10K per month. This accounts for general business expenses like insurance, online storage, and other essential things. It also accounts for those random months when we buy some new equipment, hard drives, send out promos, or do a test shoot.

Altogether, we want to make around 20K monthly ($240,000 per year) to live relatively carefree. That income would let me generally shoot any test shoot without worrying about the cost too much. We could go on a vacation or two, but nothing too lavish. We could buy some nice furniture for the house or something like that.

I know that sounds like a ton of money, and it definitely is, but running a photography business can be expensive. For instance, I’m writing this from my 2019 Macbook Pro on a laptop fan stand to help keep it cool. Work has been too slow for the past year for me to get a new computer comfortably. We spend money now only on what we have to, not want to.

I don’t own a studio or too much gear. Our expenses are general business expenses like insurance, online storage, and other essential things.

We put as many expenses on the business as possible. I always take photos while we’re out, so it’s easy to justify.

Photography is about 90% of my income. I do direct, but generally, we lump that into the shooting rate. I do my retouching sometimes for clients which we bill for.

My clients are Fortune 500 companies that span from sports, fitness, technology, and pharmaceutical. I like to say, if it’s got people in it, I’ll shoot it.

My partner and I have 401K, and we contribute each year. We don’t do individual stock buying or anything like that.

Shoot Days:
2022: 48
2021: 62
2020: 59
2019: 87

It has fluctuated a lot, as you can see. It felt like I hit a high point in 2021, and now I’m riding the rollercoaster downhill at the moment. A few of my big clients underwent some changes, and I’m no longer shooting with them. I felt a significant shift in the summer of 2022. That’s when I noticed a real slowdown. Personally, I don’t think it’s picked up to where it used to be. The economy scares hit the folks I usually work with. One big Fortune 200 company I’ve worked with a lot relicensed almost everything I’ve shot for them instead of creating new work. That has helped my bottom line this year and is a testament to not giving up usage rights for unlimited time. Of course, we do that on some jobs, but we obviously see the value in limiting that usage, so things like this can happen.

My partner works in the creative industry but not directly with me. They still bill through our company for their work. I’m the general breadwinner in the family at this moment.

It ranges all the time, as I’m sure everyone does. I’ll talk about those bigger jobs that require treatments and lots of prep time. So when those jobs come in, this is how it all breaks down time-wise and financially:

– We get approached about the project and have our first creative call with the client/agency.
– We bring on a production company to work on the bid with my agent while I work on the treatment.
– Before we submit, we align on the creative and production process we will take with the job. I don’t want to say we’ll shoot all with HMI’s, and production has a strobe package put into the budget. It’s important to tell your production company everything you plan to do creatively because that can affect the budget.
– We submit the budget and treatment, and sometimes we get to have a second call to review both, which is great.
– We get awarded the job and immediately start on casting, locations, and the rest of it.
– We’ll do in-person location scouting and sometimes in-person casting for talent.
– These jobs at this scale are generally at least 3-5 days.

Jobs at this scale financially are generally pretty great. Let’s take a job I did recently at this scale with the same prep work as stated above. It was for a Fortune 100 company. The shoot was four days. I worked on this project (including treatment) for around 15 days off and on.

Rate: $10,500.00 per day for four days
Tech Scout: $3,500
Pre-Production/Fitting: $1,500
Total Fees: $47,000

This license is strictly limited to the terms and conditions below, and governed by the Copyright laws of the United States, as specified in Title 17 of the United States Code:
Duration: 3 Years
Exclusivity: Exclusive
Region: Worldwide
Media: Unlimited Media
Photographer retains ownership and copyright.

I pay $750 for my first assistant, $650 for second and so on. My digital tech gets $750 for his rate and at least $1,500 for his equipment. Generally, it’s around $1,850-2K depending on what we need. These rates are for 10-hour days.

My best paying shoots over the years:

2019: $80,000 – This was an 11-day job in Spain for a Fortune 200 company. My fees would be over 100K when we won the job, but the company had to strike some shoot days for budget reasons.

2020: $61,000 – This was five shoot days with two tech scout days alongside motion for a Fortune 50 company. I shot with motion, but when they moved on, we set up our own lights and reshot other things.

2021: $75,000 – This was additional usage of a complete buyout of work I had done for a company that year. We shot the job with a one-year usage agreement for $53,000 in fees. The company returned to us later that year and requested to buy out the library of images for an unlimited time.

2022: $41,500 – This was for a sports/fitness company. It was a travel job with four shoot days.

Worst shoot:
There’s one I’m about to shoot tomorrow that’s pretty bad. It’s a one-day shoot with two years of unlimited usage for $2,000 that I spent three days creating a treatment for and have already been on two pre-production calls, and I’ll be leaving my house soon to go on a scout. The entire production of the shoot is $70,000.

But here’s the thing: the creative is good, and the work could lead to some much bigger players in the space. Of course, the company said that if this shoot goes well, they will be shooting a lot more, which we never really take as a solid offer.

If a job has great creative and could lead to more work in a sector, we jump on the opportunity. We never like to give away usage for that cheap, but sometimes, you have to play the long game in this industry. If they come back, we will not do the shoot again for 2K. We always bump our fees up higher because we’ve proved ourselves.

For personal projects, I shoot the video myself. It’s not a huge percentage of my income at this point. I’d like it to be higher, but currently, it’s primarily stills. All of my personal projects now have a motion component to them.

For marketing, there’s pre and post-COVID lol. Pre covid, I was creating books, newspaper promos, and things like that. In this new world, I make promo items for clients I know personally. I last did a newspaper promo a few years ago, but I send out other fun things to them that they like. It’s all branded with my logo and contains a lovely postcard of a favorite image of mine.

I haven’t seen anyone else do this, so I’m not going to dive too into specifics on what I’m sending and how I’m sending it. But mainly, I send something out a few times a year and make it very branded.

I’ve started sending out a newsletter, which has been fun. I’ll take meetings when I’m in different cities. I keep up with clients on Instagram.

My agent does most of the marketing. They send out newsletters all the time, and they take meetings constantly.

I don’t know about the worst advice, but I have heard of a way of running your business that I can’t entirely agree with. There are people out there who take a slice of the whole budget for themselves. By that, I mean they will tell their crew their rates are one thing, but they’ve actually budgeted more and will keep that difference. I run my business differently. I make decent money, and I love my crew and want them to thrive. I will always give them as much money as possible.

That said, if we do a shoot with a budget of 100K and come in at 95K, I will pad the final invoice to get closer to that 100K and keep that money for myself. If the client has already allocated that money, we’ll use it! Of course, I like the extra money, but it’s also suitable for the client. If we come in under, their bosses will think that’s what it will cost going forward. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

As for best advice, god, I could go on and on about what I think is essential, and I’m learning new ones every day. I have a personal mantra: “I’ve just begun.” That allows me grace when I don’t love a shoot that I did, or I make a financial mistake. I’m constantly learning and trying to grow.

If I were to give advice, it would be the following:
– Always be creating personal projects.
– Treat every job like your last (I still need help to follow this).
– Shoot what the client wants and then try to find the time to shoot it the way you see it.
– Treat your crew well, and they will treat you well. I’ve heard so many horror stories from my assistants about photographers who are such assholes. How these photographers keep working, I’ll never understand.
– Figure out how to manage your money and do a personal budget.
– Figure out how to manage your money and do a personal budget.

Something like that. As I said, I’m still learning every day, but those are important.

I feel incredibly grateful for where I am in my career. When you read these numbers, I wonder what life you think I have. You might assume I’m rolling in cash and must not have a care in the world. I’m a represented photographer who works with some huge companies. I must feel like I’ve made it.

By no means is any of that true. Life can throw a bunch of crazy things at you at once, which will drain all your savings, which has happened to us. We were fortunate to survive, but we’ve been financially struggling for at least a year. Work has slowed down, and mixed with things that have happened in our life, it’s been pretty stressful. I have multiple photographers muted on Instagram because I swear every time I saw their posts, they were working. I couldn’t take it anymore. I constantly feel like my work isn’t good enough and strive to create work like I see on my feed every day. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve peaked in my career and taken those good times for granted. When the money was rolling in, I became complacent and stopped pushing myself as hard as I could. I’ve lived with this stress for years. I constantly think, what if the work stops, what am I going to do.

I am so grateful for where I am in my life, which are two opposite sides of the coin. I’m grateful that I can make a career out of photography, and I’m grateful for being this stressed about work and finances. I know it may seem funny to be grateful about stress, but it’s pushed me so much harder with creating new work, updating my website, starting a newsletter, and being more active on Instagram. I need to work on handling stress better as a human, but I’m going to try to hold onto that fear of it all going away. As a photographer, I’ve always been extremely hungry and pushed myself. Now, however, I’m pushing so much harder!

From this rambling part, if I were to instill one thing in anyone who reads this – next time you’re getting paid to shoot photos – STOP…for just a moment. Look around. You might be on a big shoot with tons of people or a small one. YOU are making money from photography! How fucking cool is that! Still, to this day, it amazes me! I absolutely love every second of it. From being on sets with tons of people and pressure to perform, to shooting personal projects with just me and an assistant. I love every second of it and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

So just know, a photographer like me, who you might think had made it, is still just as hungry, full of self-doubt, ambitious, and passionate as when I started.

A Photo Assistant based in Northern California: $28,700 (net)

These numbers are mostly from assisting, but also includes some of the photography work I did.

Technically, 11 years as a photographer. 8 years as a photo assistant.

My income is Photo Assistant – 90%, Event Photography – 5%, Portrait – 3%, Food – 2% All of my clients are local. The pay range for assisting is anywhere from $350-600 depending on the type of shoot.

I don’t have a lot of overhead. Either I do work in my apartment, but I am mostly on location doing my own work though mostly assisting.

I have retirement accounts, but unfortunately, I’ve had to dip into them so I really don’t have much.

I really try to take on what I can within reason of course. I make sure to have boundaries so I don’t get burnout and try to stick to other obligations.

My income started off really low when I first started freelancing. 2019 was a good year and my goal for 2020 was to gain more income than the previous year. Of course, we know how that went. This year is kind of feeling more like when I first started. There’s a lot of uncertainty and not a lot of income coming in.

I’ve sort of taken on a temp job, which has been helpful when things are slow. And though there’s no income in it, I’ve been volunteering at a local organization when I can.

Most of the shoots I’m on average about 2 days. But they can range anywhere from 1 day to 8 days.

My best recent job was a 2 day shoot with talent and two different locations. This was for personal care products. We had 10 hour days, which included wardrobe and HMU. Licensing was only for social for 2 years, but later the client wanted to add for web to the existing license. The brands could only use the images for web as well as internal use. Take home after (including the addition to the license) was $19,400. This was in 2021.

I don’t shoot video, but this is something I want to start getting into.

I need to work on marketing. I’ve been focusing on building up my portfolio again as most of my work is kind of old. But I plan to reach out to potential clients about possible future work.

It’s okay to want to perceive yourself as not being on the same track as your peers. We all work at our own pace and deal with our own setbacks. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Do what works for you. Try to set aside those feelings. Keep your focus on your work and the work your peers are doing so that you can better yourself as a person and an artist.

A Commercial & Editorial Food Photographer based in Atlanta: $215,000 (net)

I do shoot food related subjects too (Chefs, Bartenders, Farmers, Makers, some liquid’s etc). I’ve been lucky enough to be able to really specialize and think it has helped with longevity.

I do have a presence on Wonderful Machine, but not a rep currently. I have had maybe 5 reps over the course of my career. Some good, some not so. Some international and some regional. I think if you have a good relationship with a good rep, then it’s a win/win, but if the relationship is unbalanced, then it will never work as well as it should.

My income is 80% Commercial Clients, 20% editorial clients and of that 80% about 75% is stills and 25% motion. I am structured as an S-Corp.

I have a range of clients from global brands to small independent businesses like mine. The majority of my clients are corporations, so don’t do a ton of agency work-maybe 20%. Occasionally I’ll get an agency project, but honestly prefer to work direct with client. There seems to be less stress and clearer flow of info. A lot of agencies i’ve worked with over the years seem unorganized and unrealistic with their expectations-especially when it comes to pricing. Even though I’m based in Atlanta I don’t do much, if any agency work here. It tends to be other markets for me. I do feel that generally Atlanta agencies don’t have the budgets NY/CHI/West Coast have, so find myself getting priced out of the Atlanta market to a certain extent. If I do work locally, I do feel there’s a lot of pressure to price myself competitively with the local market, but I feel my experience and knowledge are what clients should value and if I’m expected to price myself to be competitive with some of the local shooters, then I’m already feeling slightly under appreciated. I’m more than happy to work locally, but there has to be some compromise, at least as far as i’m concerned.

I have 1 permalance assistant, 1 part time book keeper and permalance producer as well as a plethora of freelancers on a job by job basis.

My biggest overheads by far are studio & payroll. Studio Mortgage is reasonable at $1700 p/m, but the studio sucks cashflow out of my account as soon as it hits. I buy all my equipment and research thoroughly to determine if I will get value for money from it. Just today, I dropped $4300 for another Canon R5C as I have a video project looming and want to shoot it all on 3 R5C’s. Props & surfaces are a huge investment to stay current and contemporary, so that takes at least $1K a month & if I am shooting a larger project i’ll invest in props that I know I’ll be able to reuse, so will often spend well over that in a given month if there’s a big project going on. Marketing is another cash drain. I am committed to At-Edge which feel gives me a presence in agencies I wouldn’t necessarily get a ton of success marketing to directly and find their speed dating reviews to be great and really beneficial. Thats around $800 per month. I was doing Agency Access at about $165 a month, but just stopped this as I wasn’t getting a lot of traction and have replaced this with a custom marketing plan from Wonderful Machine which is too early in the process to know if it works. Studio insurance that covers both property and liability is about $500 per month. I pay myself through payroll so thats another $8K per month and supplement this by paying through distributions. My car is also paid by the business, so thats another $800. I pay myself via payroll and top that up with distributions.

My retirement is a combination of IRA, 401K and investments.

It’s around 6 days per month of actual shooting, so about 70 days a year, but there is so much to do in pre pro for my shoots, I’m always seemingly busy. This year, I wanted to spend more time in studio, so set myself personal projects when I’m not working on commissions, which has been great to rediscover some of the hunger that maybe got a little lost over the previous 6 or so years.

My income has stayed about the same for the last 8 or 9 years. We all took a hit during covid, but even though my hospitality clients stopped everything, the grocery store clients were keeping me busy. I have enough experience with all aspects of food photography I could work by myself and do the food & prop styling during the first few months. As more of us became vaccinated it was easier to hire crew again and get back to normal service. I do infrequently rent my space to trusted friends, but so far, luckily haven’t had to supplement my income.

Honestly every shoot is different. These days I seem to be ‘work for hire’ almost as much as I work via estimates/licensing, but even so, my work for hire clients generally pay my standard day rate. Obviously I don’t get to negotiate any licensing fee’s for these. For the clients I do work with via estimates, again each one seems different. My biggest paying client is global and I work for a day rate to include unlimited use in perpetuity that is $10K a day. On these shoots, we usually shoot between 6-8 images per day. Its not a huge project though, normally 2-3 days 3 times a year.

Most of my shoots are from 8am-6pm on shoot days, so a 3 day shoot would likely also have a full prep day, travel if on location or with one of my OOT clients, post work (I do my processing, simple retouching & color). The bigger retouching/compositing is sent out of studio. So a 3 day shoot really is about 6-7 days of my time. My prep/travel/pre light rates are $1k per day flat rate and for each 10 shots I charge 10 hours @ $100p/h for retouching.

Generally I pay assistants $500 per day for commercial clients and $350 per day for editorial clients. My permalance assistant also often doubles up as Digi Tech, so will also pass on that line item to him, so he can make $1000 a day on big shoots.

My best paying shoot in the last 2 years has been a menu/web redesign for a global QSR chain. It was 12 days of shooting 8.00am-6.00pm, 2 sets of stills (me on one set and my old assistant on the other), 1 set of motion. Not a very organized agency to be honest and partly explains why I appreciate working direct with client. They couldn’t give me an approved shotlist until the Friday before the shoot began on the Monday. So we were winging it and changing what I had proposed as the shoot order. They also couldn’t supply the quantities of food we requested so had to keep getting one of the restaurants to supply extra food. This did not go down well and we were thrown under the bus several times during the shoot for ‘not being organized enough’. I am too old to be thrown under the bus, so I did not accept this and immediately pointed out all the things they failed on to their client. They also kept adding shots, or tried to. Not even sure if this agency and client still work together. Needless to say though, we didn’t have any further problems during this shoot. The shoot overall was about $200K and after my overheads and crew costs, I made about $50K but with all the extra work reorganizing schedules and late nights reworking production books it probably took about 4 weeks of my time all told. so although a pretty big invoice, a lot of it went out to crew.

Editorial is so poorly paid now that I will shoot if its a story I’m excited about. Generally paying about $600-$1K per day. On those though, they are usually really fun so the pay off is work I’d likely use in my book and relatively stress free days.

I was doing WFH for a small agency working on a national chain for $1500 a day as I really liked the people I worked with, but after a disagreement with their client, who basically told me how to light his shitty product I told them I was done with giving them an unbelievable rate and they’d have to go with my regular standard rate. Needless to say, I’ve never worked with them again.

For marketing I’ve tried most things over the years. I’ve done all the source books at one time or another. I’ve done face to face with At-Edge over the years both in person and virtual, I’ve done printed promo’s at regular frequencies, i’ve done sporadic promo’s, i’ve done very targeted custom lists and also done the old school cold calling. Generally though I find most of my work comes through referrals from past/present clients. About 60% of my work comes from clients i’ve been with for 10+ years, so maintaining those relationships is important. I’m no kiss-ass though, so don’t send gifts, or take them to dinner unless we already have a project to discuss. I always liked face to face meetings & without things like At-Edge its really hard to get face to face meetings these days from cold calls. Obviously having a stellar website with good SEO optimization is probably one of the best marketing tools that works for me. I actually stepped back from Instagram as I don’t think my typical clients would source their photographers through this medium.

Best Advice: I always say something that was instilled in me when I started assisting and that is ‘you are only as good as your last shoot’. Meaning I won’t be remembered by a client for what I shot 10 shoots ago, so I approach each shoot like its my first one with that client.

Worst Advice: We can fix it in post.
It’s made us lazy IMO, and although there is some need to retouch & fix, its usually because we don’t have either the product or time to get right on set. Back in the day when shooting film, we’d probably only shoot 2 or 3 shots a day, but now its in the region of 6-8 generally, so don’t always have the time to get it right first time. Also as I deal with food, almost every food item will be different to the last. As an example, if I’m shooting steak, we could have a really beautiful steak, perfectly seared, fat lines in all the right places and when its cut it could look horrible. In the past, we factored this into how many shots a day are achievable and have the time to find the perfect steak, but now with more shots expected and smaller budgets for everything, we don’t have the time or in many cases, enough product to ensure we get it in camera.

Honestly this is all subjective, but for starters don’t be a jack of all trades. Even though I have the experience to shoot, food style and prop style, I would only do this if it was totally unavoidable such as when covid hit. A great food stylist will almost certainly give you better results than doing it yourself. Same applies to prop styling. A great prop stylist will almost always go the extra mile for a thin glass if we’re shooting drinks. I remember saying to an emerging prop stylist that I don’t expect them to style and purchase from chain stores as I could do that. I think that was a light bulb moment for her and although I can’t be credited with her establishing herself, she took on board what I said and has become quite well known and when we get to work together, she often brings this up as good advice.

Also, test as much as you can. Its so easy to get complacent-i’ve been like that many times, so keep engaged and focussed. I offer my space to any of my assistants to use if theres no shoots and most don’t take me up on it. Some do-which has always been great to see.

The biggest advice I have though, especially to those trying to take it to the next level is to really understand your market. Price yourself appropriately. Ask questions of your client. Before you even submit an estimate ask the client what their budget is. You might be surprised. If you low ball its really hard for you to get rates you probably could get. It hurts everyone. Some clients take that and use it against the entire community. Also, If you low ball and mess up, it doesn’t leave much in the pot for someone like me to reshoot. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve been asked to reshoot a project only to find out there is no budget because it was all spent on the first go. I know that doesn’t help nail the job first time, but it at least provides a bar for everyone to be more or less competitive with each other.

I honestly don’t know how we got to be shooting more than 8 shots a day, but again, it happens. Don’t be desperate and offer more than you can comfortably offer with the quality the client expects. I got offered a project last year through a huge agency and they wanted 16 shots in a day with video for 2 of them and they said this was standard. Not in my studio it isn’t. It’s less than 30 mins per shot with set changes and is impossible to do with any lasting quality. Once I broke it down like that they said I could bid it as a 2 day shoot. Needless to say I didn’t get that project & honestly didn’t want it, but at the very least I bid it as it should have been bid. I know they said it was too expensive, but in my mind it’s their loss. A slightly better budget would have proved beneficial for everyone. No-one wants to work 16 shots a day especially food stylists. It’s really demanding on them and I personally have their backs and know with almost certainty what it should take.

I have a saying I use as a mantra: ‘You can have cheap & you can have good, but you can’t have them both’.

A Commercial Director/DP/Photographer based in LA: $175k (gross) $135k (net)

My business is structured as an LLC .

My DP work is more Docu-Style. My Photo work is a mixed bag.

70 percent DP work, 20 percent Director work and 10 percent Photographer work.

Clients: Fortune 500 West Coast and East Coast.

Overhead: Cinema Cameras, Cine Lenses, Lighting and Grip gear, Camera support and Studio Rent.

Retirement: 401k nothing fancy at the moment.

I work 40-55 days a year.

My income has gone up quite a bit since the pandemic. I think being multi-hyphenate has been a blessing. I’m able to use my entire skillset and work many different jobs.

My average shoot is 1-2 days. As a DP, I usually pull in $2500 day rate + kit fee (ranges from $750-$1500). I typically take in most the earning due to investing up front in equipment once I put up 30% for taxes. I pay assistants 350-450.

My best paying shoot was a Commercial Director/DP job for a Fortune 500 airline. I worked about 3 days in total with meetings, scout and shoot day (1). I went home with $23k.

My worst paying shoot for a major streaming service. The day was hard and drawn out for no reason. It was a terrible production company who usually does music videos. The vibe was all off. I only made $1600 all in. I’ll never do work for them again.

Marketing: Word of mouth and Cold emails. Nothing beats word of mouth. How you show up and deliver is your reputation. Make it count.

Best advice I received was to be confident in myself and my skills and it will lead the way forward. The worst advice I received was to not take risks. Without risk taking, I wouldn’t live the life I live now.

Before you blame someone/something/that piece of gear, question yourself. Ask what could I have done differently to change the outcome I desire. Looking in the mirror often will push out insecurity and anxiety. We have one the best careers in the world. Enjoy your time here.

Photographers, Can We Talk About Working For Nonprofits?

I am a 43yo photographer working on the west coast for nearly two decades. I often receive requests from nonprofits to photograph for a discount or to “volunteer my time,” aka shooting for free. I have yet to take a gig without pay, and I still stay very busy.

Look into the company. Ask them what other vendors are volunteering their time or offering what discounts? Chances are they are paying for a venue, food, bar, mc, a/v, etc. There is a *big difference* between supporting a local non-profit or start-up that you believe in or benefits your community directly with a discounted rate, or, say, a free hour of your time after booking x amount of hours, as opposed to offering that same deal for a national company that pays their CEOs huge or doesn’t have the best track record. Personally, when I am passionate about a nonprofit, I offer to volunteer or help in other non-photo related ways. It keeps me grounded and I like the separation from photography work.

True story: another photographer called me the day before his nonprofit event asking if I could shoot for him because he was injured. He casually said the rate was $250 for a couple of hours documenting some kids for a nonprofit. I countered with a higher offer, wanting to help him in a tight situation, but still making it worth my time. Turned out it was the client’s yearly fundraiser event, $$$-per plate luncheon, formal attire, raffle tickets costing more than what they were paying me, and the org raised loads of money in 45 minutes. They treated me poorly, I wasn’t paid on time, and when I was, the check bounced, which is a career first for me. Pure madness…

This brings me to my second point: please be transparent with other photographers/creatives when you ask for their assistance. What I thought would be me covering children in our community event turned out to be so much more in scope, and I had to compartmentalize my anger the entire time I was there. In the end, it was my fault for not clarifying what was actually transpiring at the shoot because I was busy when he contacted me. Have I learned a lesson here? Definitely.

You can be friendly and still require fairness in business. Pick up the phone and ask questions. Above all, know that it is okay to say no to shooting (true scenario) a 3-hr cocktail, black-tie affair for a national nonprofit you’ve definitely heard of at my city’s most-expensive venue for FREE and instead, take the night off or work for a different client. Your mental health will thank you.

A Photo Editor working for a print and digital media brand with national circulation: 63k (salary)

I have 15+ years experience in the photo industry. I used to work as a freelance photographer but have not done so in several years.

I work approximately 260 days a year. We receive PTO and holidays. I’ll say though that for all my vacation time last year, there were really only 1-2 days where I didn’t actually work at least half the day.

The salary has risen slowly with consistent, but small, merit raises every year plus a couple of promotions. I feel like my salary is still low, especially in comparison with male peers in similar positions. But it’s hard to say, as we’re in a Southeastern city and cost of living here is lower than NYC or LA.

I have a 401k that the company matches up to 4-5%. I can’t remember–the amount changes every time our brand is bought and sold so it’s hard to keep up.

I work for an editorial brand that covers lifestyle, food, etc. We hire photographers for a variety of shoots like travel, food, homes, celebrity, etc. We have a roster of freelancers that we work with regularly and are always looking for more. I look at Diversify Photo, Color Positive, Indigenous Photograph, Wonderful Machine, and various email promos I get from agencies.

Travel is hardest to hire for. You’ve got to be good at food, outdoors, interiors, portraits, etc. It’s hard to find shooters who do it all well, quickly and reliably.

Saddens me to say but I wouldn’t recommend anyone pursue a career in print media at this time, especially for photo. IME, the photo departments are first to get slashed when cuts come around. We’re all operating with fewer and fewer people, yet the workload keeps increasing (hello print AND digital).

The toes you step on today could be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow. Be kind. and treat people with respect – my grandmother (but I think it’s great career advice for creatives).

An email intro with link to your work is great, just make it clear that you know the brand. We get lots of emails from people who’ve clearly never read our magazine.

Instagram works great too. The main thing for me is that expectations regarding response need to be reasonable. Should anyone really feel entitled to a response on an unsolicited email or phone call?

The truth is: I try very hard to respond to everyone. I get it because I’ve been on the other side. But we get so many emails and messages. Some are borderline harassment! If you only knew the kinds of phone calls and emails your photo editor/producer/art director was getting. Unsolicited messages have to fall to the bottom of the to-do list, which unfortunately, is bottom-less. We just don’t have the bandwidth.

That being said, if I contact you first then I promise that I won’t ghost you. If I do, roast me. It’s rude and unprofessional. I’ve had to have uncomfortable conversations due to last minute changes but so far, everyone I’ve worked with has been gracious and understanding.

I lean on Instagram and magazines pretty heavy to find photographers. I do my best to pay attention to photo awards, photo websites, and blogs (like A Photo Editor).

Be easy to work with.
Be kind.
Respond in a timely manner to emails. It’s so important. If you’re consistently slow to respond or hard to reach, we’re can’t keep reaching out to you.

If you’re rude, you’re gonna lose out on gigs. People won’t want to work with you. Be nice to people. It is not hard.

And please talk to us! If you need something or have ideas, speak up. My favorite photographers to work with are the ones who call me up and talk to me like a friend. They know how to collaborate. They’re always looking for solutions instead of complaining or telling me why something can’t be done. This is how you earn our trust.

A Commercial Lifestyle photographer in his 30s: 2023 (YTD) Net: 550k, Income 425k 

Photo has basically been my whole life. Fell in love with photography in high school, assisted during and out of college. Started to get little assignments for the local rags, like $50 (in 2009) to shoot an entree at a restaurant for the regional paper, but I’d pretend I was shooting it for the New Yorker. Would embellish, ask the chef for a portrait even though I didn’t need it, just to build my portfolio. The paper would run the photo of the burger but I’d walk away with 5-10 new images for my book. Hustled a ton. Always sending emails of new work, always going to NYC for meetings. 

That approach lead me into a solid run of editorial work starting in 2009. Unwittingly/unknowingly, the style I was shooting in lent itself to commercial work. I got picked up by a rep in 2011 at 23, purely bewildered as to how I would fit into advertising. It was equal courtship and we talked for about a year before official signing. Looking back through those emails, I was so green. Not only in production experience but also communication. Many folks think getting picked up by a rep is just on the merit of your work, but it’s also about how you conduct your business, and how you communicate with clients on calls and emails. You are your own creative arm, but also communications and PR and admin and financial arms too. If your work is bad, if you can’t communicate well, if you’re careless with finances… these are all things a rep cares about. 

My work has slowly shifted from 90% editorial 10% commercial to 5% editorial 95% commercial. I miss the assignments and feel like it’s the absolute best training for commercial work. Nowadays with less editorial work going around, it’s a rougher transition from personal projects right into commercial. Editorial is boot camp, in the best way. You often have little time, not a huge budget, but you need to make something amazing. There is a growing gap between experience and expectation on commercial shoots. I have heard of photographers that literally can’t hit focus more than 10% of the time on their first commercial shoot or can’t run a crew or handle the time pressures. Just because your personal IG feed is cool doesn’t guarantee a smooth commercial shoot;  editorial used to vet and smooth that gap out.

I haven’t spent any money on marketing since Covid; I generally believe your time and money should go into your work and your work should be your marketing. That said, in person meetings are incredibly powerful and the only marketing I would consider. IG as a platform is trash but it’s free, the reach is huge, and I focus my time there in comprehensively sharing work. Lastly, I hate math and numbers and honestly thinking about money, so I have a CPA as well as a bookkeeper, but I do my own books that she looks over, because I like to stay tight to the numbers. Also I don’t want to have a Rihanna situation. When I hit my 30s, living in the States, my focus shifted away from trying to get cool clout-y fashion-y design-y assignments and towards just being able to fund my retirement, donate a good chunk each year to causes I believe in, and cross the finish line without debt. Sorry, Dazed. So I fully fund my SEP IRA each year, live within my means, and stack acorns. 
I don’t have a dream client or a number I want to hit for the year. My forever goal is life balance and happiness and to sustain a solid, long, consistent career.  Photo is fickle and challenging and all of the things, but it has given me a really incredible life, shown me the world, and I have domain over my time and schedule. I am grateful for that, and I keep the sentiment at the forefront of my mind. I keep negativity far, far away from me. Longevity and relevance are my biggest career goals. I often have 5-10 year old images in my treatments alongside work from a month ago. There are definitely clients looking to chase visual trends but there are also clients who need to use the images beyond the season and I look to meet them there.

Having an ego is dangerous. I begin each year expecting nothing work-wise and build up from there. Keep the hustle going. You can’t control much in this industry (jobs coming in or not, types of shoots that hit your inbox), but you can control how much you apply yourself and your mental state, which often informs the quality of your photography. My main mantra is ‘own your shit’. Don’t make excuses. Make every shoot count. If you’re shooting and are not interested in the photos you’re making, figure out why and change it on the spot. Don’t waste your time or your clients money making work you don’t like, or not being 100% dialed 100% of the time. Commercial shoots are like a one-time circus performance that has no rehearsals so pre-production prep and a focus on the details are huge. 

It’s pointless to gripe, complain, or expend energy on being negative. Similarly, don’t compare yourself to others, and be supportive of your peers. Share contacts, give advice, be excited for folks in this industry when they make amazing work or get the job you were both bidding on. It’s not all about you, and they deserved it and worked hard for it. Photographers are awarded jobs because of the whole package: their work, their treatments, their communication, their experience… what they bring to the table overall. Speaking of treatments, I put a shit-ton of work into them. It’s the document the whole client and agency team will see, and it’s super helpful for non-visual people (like a CMO) to read your writing because they might not get the photos but they get the words. And they weren’t on the creative call this is your one shot. Treatments are highly personal; I have spent hundreds of hours on mine over the years and words are easy to lift, so it’s the one thing I don’t share. 

If I had advice for aspiring/emerging photographers it’s to avoid spending too much time online/proverbially in the comments. Instead, sharpen your eye and develop your visual voice and personal sense of taste. This is especially important as IG is a continual echo chamber of work viewed on a tiny phone that begins to bleed together. It’s hard to get hired for anything remarkable until your photos can only look like they came from you. Look at every author, every musician, it’s the same way. 

As I’ve worked my way into bigger shoots, I’ve learned that I can shine if I am a very dedicated collaborative partner through the whole preproduction process right through the shoot. 95% of what I focus on is everything peripheral to the act of taking photos, 5% is holding a camera and taking photos. The 95% is meeting deadlines, being dialed and prepared for calls, giving 1000% attention in casting and locations, organizing, assembling, communicating and setting up the crew for success, being a calm communicative air traffic control on set. 

Photo assistants are the most important members in my crew. When there are no margins in the schedule on some of the late stage capitalism commercial photoshoots I’m on, where everything has to run as tight as a Beyonce concert, I absolutely need a dialed team of assistants. A good 1st/gaffer can direct a whole crew and pre-set the next shot, which frees me up to think/work in the present, so I’m trying to get them between $800-1000/day for shoot days pending complexity. That rate cascades down the rest of the crew. Assistants are some of the hardest workers on set and deserve every dollar. 

I follow a strict Monday to Friday 9-5(ish) schedule, unless I’m shooting or scouting, I don’t do email or even post work to IG on weekends. Computer gets turned off. I have told many a producer to stop emailing the agency on a weekend because then the agency emails back and it becomes a 24/7 work-a-thon to the bottom and we all end up on Lipitor in our 30s. Everyone’s life is more important than their work. Thanks for reading :) 

A Music packaging/music publicity, commercial, fine art and portrait photographer who is Nashville based: $66k (net)

I work as a photographer in the music industry (album packaging, publicity) as well as a 1st/2nd assistant in the tv/film industry.

My income is 60% tv/film assisting 40% key photographer in music industry.

My clients are Indy and major label for music. Top tier Hollywood studios for tv/film (Disney, Marvel, AMC, FX, Sony, Netflix, Hulu, etc).

Overhead is business insurance, online website costs and file delivery fees. (About $200/month).

For retirement I have long term stock market investments.

In 2022 I worked about 80 days (much less in 23 due to writers/actors strikes). 2020 was nearly wiped due to pandemic. 21 and 22 showed increase in tv/film travel productions (added 3-4 new clients/producers)
2023 has been at a near standstill for tv/film due to the strikes.

As a photographer I’ve shot a lot more bigger music related jobs for Indy and major labels but with smaller budgets.

For a recent music publicity shoot:
1 day shoot with two location and studio shots. One assistant. Budget was $4,500 with allowances for digital billboards and up to 5 magazine cover licenses. All glam/wardrobe and day-of expenses were handled through label. After my assistant ($500),I made $4,000.00. Included multiple phone meetings and concept discussions. Shot, edited and delivered high res files within 10 days.

For tv/film assist jobs:
Average 4-6 days, including two travel days, one/two prelight days, 1-2 shoot days. Based on 10 hours but it’ss usually 12-17 hour pre-light and shoot days. My assist rate in tv/film is $750/10 (1st) and $650/10 for 2nd assist.

Best shoot was ad campaign for Jack Daniels. Included 2 half day travels, 2 shoot days. After expenses (digital tech and assistant, plus producer), I took home about $22,000.

Worst was probably a $1,000 publicity shoot for a well known musician. They (management) ended up licensing out 3 billboards and at least 5 magazine covers without additional fees to me.

I shoot video, but very little on purpose. Other than a few music videos I’ve done some recording session video footage for a few artists while also shooting stills.

My best marketing is reputation and acknowledgment/credit from other projects. Tags and mentions on social media is huge.

Best and worst advice: say yes to everything and shoot more than expected.

Know your worth. Be willing to work for less if it’s a project you want to be associated with. Be willing to walk away from a job that you don’t want to be associated with (no matter the budget). Your reputation is everything.

Marketing methods from photographers in my salary survey

Here’s a selection of marketing methods from photographers I’ve surveyed. Head over to instagram for more discussion:

I am strictly word of mouth.

My philosophy in general has been “throw enough shit at the wall and some of it is bound to stick.

At the end of the day, I’ve found the most success with in-person events (trade shows, speaking panels, etc) where I can get face time with the right people.

I have better luck with Instagram and LinkedIn.

I mainly market on Instagram, LinkedIn and my website.

Putting time and effort into a strong and visually appealing website has done more for my business than anything else.

My biggest effort goes into SEO where I rank number one in google for several key terms in my target markets.

I find most of my work comes through referrals from past/present clients.

Word of mouth and Cold emails.

I’m a huge fan of trying to meet as many people as you can in person.

word of mouth.

I think that creating coherent bodies of personal work, then submitting them for features in prominent online magazines is pretty much the best marketing you can do.

Instagram is of course the necessary evil and undoubtedly the most important marketing tool for a photographer

Instagram, Google, Facebook and word of mouth are my highest returning markets.

I would prefer to invest energy into LinkedIn being a B2B business this gets the right eyeballs on my work.

I rely on social, website and word of mouth

I really built my brand heavily thru instagram. Everything else has been word of mouth

I have an Instagram, which is meh, and I go out and approach people, or cold call people, which is better.

Word of mouth is my best marketing. I make sure that I do my best to please any client, but or small as they might tell someone else about me. I also do a lot of emails to photographers, agents and producers.

Just posting candidly on Instagram. Haven’t sent personal marketing out besides what my agency shares.

I’ve started sending out a newsletter, which has been fun. I’ll take meetings when I’m in different cities. I keep up with clients on Instagram.

My agent does most of the marketing. They send out newsletters all the time, and they take meetings constantly.

to be completely honest, I’m not sure what’s effective anymore.

I invested a lot in my network in the beginning, reconnecting with old contacts, posting a lot on social media, and cold emailing/newsletters.

Other then maintaining a current website and posting on Instagram, we have not marketed in the traditional sense for years.

Typically word of mouth and when people who hire us change jobs is how we pick up new clients.

Most effective out of that is Linkedin

Only marketing is keeping up with Instagram posts.

Email is my gold for marketing all of my business buckets

Wonderful Machine – every once in a while someone reaches out who finds me there.

I’ve been on Found, BLVD, Wonderful Machine, Luupe, and PhotoPolitic. The only one that has gotten me any interaction was Wonderful Machine where I at least got to put in two bids for large projects.

doing in-person meetings in all major cities 4 times a year.

Since I was never chasing giant commercial clients, most of my marketing focused on building personal relationships with people within my market.

I’ve had great success by shooting and sharing ambitious personal projects that were picked up by local and national press.

SEO is ever

A male Digi Tech based on the West Coast of Canada: 95 – 110k (net) CAD

I’m a Sole Proprietor and looking into incorporating, but held off to maximize my income on paper in the interest of getting a mortgage (In Canada, for sole proprietors, most banks take your previous two years income, average it and multiply by 5 to determine the mortgage amount you are eligible for). I recently did and will likely be incorporating at the start of the coming year

90% is digi tech work, 10% is photography. I occasionally shoot editorially and sometimes get the opportunity to shoot for small brands or small/pick up portions of a larger commercial shoot. I worked 4 years prior as a Photo Assistant.

80% of jobs are for clothing brands based on the West Coast of Canada that sell internationally.

I own a lot of digital tech gear, but not as much as a lot of other techs I know. Most of my shoots are on location and “medium budget” shoots, usually a tripod mounted tech station, a fleet of ipads, maybe a cart and monitor. I own and maintain enough to service clients needs for these shoots and rent anything that I won’t be able to get on set regularly or pay itself off efficiently.

I don’t have a studio or office space, but I do have a home office. My personal vehicle is insured for business use and is a great gear hauler. Small costs like new tether cables, hard drives, memory cards, digi accessories, etc. are the most frequent. I usually spend 10K~ per year on digital tech gear.

I’ve only recently got to a point where I can comfortably contribute to an RRSP, I aim to put 10% of earnings per year into it, hoping to increase that and create a more solid plan in the coming years.

100 average digi tech days a year and 10~ as a photographer.

To be very honest, I got lucky with the timing of Covid. In the previous years, I had invested a lot of time and money into tech gear and transitioning from primarily an assistant to a digi tech. Early 2020, I had paid off most of my current gear and found clients that hired me semi-consistently – if it had of been a year earlier, I would have been in a much more precarious position. When work picked back up again, I was busier than ever with digi tech work as creating space by providing screens and alternate ways to collaborate was more necessary. The clients that were busiest and have continued to be my most frequent were primarily clothing brands with most of the campaigns targeting online sales.

Most shoot days are on location, usually right on 10hrs, some more with travel time to locations. Roughly 60% of my bookings are 1-2 day shoots, while the other 40% are 3-5 days. Most shoots have two photo assists on our crew, sometimes three, sometimes just one. We rarely have video, sometimes incorporating a day or two of it into a multi-day shoot, but more often than not, purely photography.

My digital tech rate is $750CAD/10hr, except for some clients I have worked with since I started teching, the lowest being $650CAD/10hr which will raise at year end. I aim to raise my rates every year or two to account for inflation and for the most part, clients are receptive to the increase. My basic digi tech gear kit starts at $550CAD/day for a tripod mounted laptop setup and increases with additional add ons (ipads, cart, monitor, battery power, etc). As an average, gear rental usually amounts to roughly $650CAD/day. Most photographers I work with use their own camera(s).

I sometimes have the opportunity to hire photo assistants for photographers I work with frequently, if so $550CAD/10hr or higher depending on the budget or the assistant.

There hasn’t been much variation in my pay as a digital tech. On the rare occasion I tech for a commercial job from the US that is shooting in Canada, it can be more lucrative where rates are the same number, but in USD ($750/10hr CAD becomes $750/10hr USD or higher). Most of the time production will come to me with a rate they have already budgeted for. Those shoots usually require a lot more digi gear, but that doesn’t make much a difference to my take home pay as I’m usually renting that extra gear to supplement my modestly sized tech kit.

Nothing stands out as the worst paying, but everything low paying for me has been associated with editorial work. Whether it is teching or assisting for a photographer friend with a small budget or shooting my own editorial, I have taken budget cuts to make something creatively satisfying happen for myself, a friend or to try and distribute a slim to non-existent budget evenly between a small crew.

As a digital tech, almost all of my work has been word of mouth. Consistently trying to meet new contacts and being a reliable, friendly person to work with has done well for me.

Best Advice – be friendly, helpful and support the people you work with! No one wants to work with a jerk. Be aware of the varying reasons you might be a part of a crew and try to excel at those. Support your talented friends and help them make connections that will help them grow in the industry. We’ve all got different stories and are all trying to make this work. Also, most things on Jake Stangel’s instagram are great advice!

Check your ego with your crew – not just digi techs and photo assists, the whole crew. We’re all here to help you do this job in the best possible way if we’re given the space to. Be direct and honest, but there’s no need for unnecessary shade to be thrown.

A Visuals Editor in NYC: $120k

I work at a mid-sized NYC-based news outlet with a national distributed staff. Most of us work remotely.

My company offers 100% match on our retirement fund up to 5% of your base salary and the money vests immediately so it’s yours, even if you leave the company. I also have about $30k in a Roth IRA from my freelance days. Getting a retirement account with a company contribution was a big factor in me taking a staff job. I didn’t see a way to save enough for retirement as a freelancer.

I work about 315 days a year. We get 6 weeks of PTO (including sick days) + company holidays. It’s very difficult to take time off without falling behind on work but my manager and company try really hard to encourage everyone to use all their PTO.

I’ve aggressively negotiated to raise my salary more than 20% over the past few years at my current company. I love to see colleagues at other outlets being paid more than me because it gives me a data point to bring back to my managers to ask for more. Rising tides lift all boats. My income was no where close to what it is now when I was a freelancer living off maxed out credit cards and taking out loans to cover basic living expenses.

I still do a little freelancing on the side that brings in $5-30k/year depending on the year.

We pay photographers $500/day + $250/day for travel + meals and expenses. If days are longer than 8 hours, we will pay extra. We’ve paid as much as a triple day rate for a super long day. I try really hard to be humane to our people by proactively communicating what I can do (like booking their travel expenses on my corporate credit card if the expenses are a burden) and reminding people to invoice as soon as they file (we don’t require people wait for stories to publish before they invoice).

Photo editing is a really gratifying job if you love it, but it’s very different from being a photographer. I think a lot of photographers consider photo editing to be just a plan b photo job but if you got into photo because you want to be outside in the world, ask yourself if you’d really be happy with a corporate desk job being stuck behind a computer and in meetings all day. There’s a LOT of office politics to navigate and the work is really difficult. You have to look at a very high volume of really distressing content and there’s a lot of pressure being responsible for the wellbeing and safety of the freelancers you hire. But if you love telling stories in pictures and love supporting photographers and coaching people to create something special it might be a really good job for you.

Whether you decide it’s the right fit for you or not, be generous because everything in this industry is about relationships. The more you’re willing to give of yourself to others, the more others will want to return the favor when you are in need. For photo editing specifically, good relationships will get you in the door but you also need good relationships to be effective in the job. So much of setting photographers up for success comes down to photo editors having good personal relationships with reporters and word editors and colleagues across the newsroom so we can get the information and resources you need (soon enough) to do your best work.

Best Advice: The best professional opportunities of my career have been totally unexpected but they came about because I was headed in a particular direction. Work hard in the direction that feels right to you but be open to pivoting when something unexpectedly wonderful comes up along the way.

I also heard Bill Cramer say at an NPPA conference years ago that you are not entitled to make a living doing what you love. It’s so true. If you’re able to making a living doing what you love you need to consider yourself immensely privileged (as I do). My immigrant ancestors didn’t have that luxury and most workers in America don’t either. I think photography (news photography especially) is very important to society but passion is not enough for success if the market conditions are not right. I don’t know any photojournalists anymore who make a living 100% from editorial. So you have to take a cold hard look at yourself and your situation and if it’s not working, something needs to change. I see a lot of very miserable (mostly older white male) photographers who lament that the industry isn’t what it once was, walking around with a chip on their shoulders as though in a ruthless capitalist industry, they should be entitled to more than they currently have. The photographers I see who are happiest are the ones who have embraced learning new skills and reinventing themselves, subsidizing their editorial work with other sources of income. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these tend to be people whose identities were excluded in the “good old days”.

Worst: I was raised to believe that working hard and following your passion is enough and that it’s crass to pursue money. That’s not true. I got into a lot of debt working very hard for many years doing work I was very passionate about without valuing money sufficiently. I wish I had learned earlier in my career that money buys you choices. Not making or having enough money can trap you in bad, sometimes dangerous, relationships and work situations. The easiest way to save enough for retirement without being a super high earner is to leverage compound interest by starting to save and invest a little bit of money as early as you possibly can. If you’re in your 20s, start now. Max out your Roth IRA if you can. And invest as much as you can so your money can start earning interest, and your interest can earn interest.

I prefer photographers reach out to me by email or in person at conferences or gatherings but I also know it’s hard out there and I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable for editors to expect photographers to cater to each of our individual communication preferences. However you reach out, please remember that I am a human and be kind. It feels gross to be approached in a transactional or extractive way. I really encourage you to find ways to connect with editors beyond “I’m a photographer and I want you to hire me”. I like to get to know photographers as people because a lot of my hiring decisions are about more than just what your pictures look like. I’m looking to know what you are passionate about and how you would handle different situations. And I’m always looking for people I can trust to be kind and sensitive to the people I send you out to photograph so I need to see that energy from you in our interactions as well.

I find photographer anywhere and everywhere. Women photograph, diversify photo, indigenous photograph, instagram, other publications, portfolio reviews, word of mouth, at conferences and festivals.

Working in photo and journalism can brainwash us into a scarcity mindset but there are a lot of flourishing industries with higher pay, more job security, and more room for growth. If you absolutely love what you do and are finding a way to make it work, that’s a beautiful thing. But if you’re not, know that you’re not a failure. You’re a victim of a collapsing industry. And there’s no shame in closing the door on one chapter and moving onto another chapter of your career. There are many ways besides photo or journalism to contribute meaningfully to this world.