An Action/Adventure Sports and Lifestyle photographer with 2 years experience based in Auckland, New Zealand: $NZ 20,879.49

My income is Action/adventure sports-70%, Video (growing)- 10%, Commercial-10%, Editorial-5%, Licensing/stock sales-5%

My clients are NZ based companies, Small/medium businesses and medium to large events companies but I’m looking to expand to the US market.

Major costs (NZD): $600/ year to for website hosting/platform, $175/ month for business insurance, $85/ month for an accountant, $100/ month for networking groups.

My retirement is a mixture of past life teaching retirement funds that are building passively with no new contributions and a personal stock portfolio, but no direct plan related to the photography business yet.

In 2022, I worked 92 days.

My first year I operated at a loss of nearly $5,000 NZD. I was only working $2-500 jobs with the occasional licensing deal and stock image sales, and had A LOT of startup costs (nearly $35,000 worth). So year 1 was difficult because I needed to accept a lot of those lower paying jobs to prove myself in the industry and build my portfolio. I was constantly pitching for jobs, and turned away because I didn’t have enough experience and I didn’t know how to price myself correctly, or near the market average.

By year 2, I had a much better portfolio, and was able to start charging the industry average rate, if not better. I had less expenses, earned more, and profited nearly $20,000. I was able to live primarily on small drawings from the business income.

I am a former teacher, so I have used a lot of my contacts in the industry and my own teaching experience to help gain some work from schools (rebuilding websites, new photo libraries etc). This has helped pad my bank account during the transition phase to full time photography and during the slow or shoulder seasons between adventure sports seasons.

I would also substitute teach 1 day a week when I needed it, and that would cover my bare minimum costs (food and gas). I still maintain my teaching license in year 2 of the business, but plan to phase that out soon.

Average adventure sports event shoot (editorial style):
It’s never just a ‘day rate’ for shooting adventure sports. There is always a pre production day/days, packing and planning gear. Event days can be 1 hour of travel or more (sometimes flying the day before). Average event is 6 hours and then post processing is faster for me then most. I can shoot an average of 5,000 photos per event, and cull and deliver a few hundred final edited images in a half a day. For editorial style events, I always keep licensing terms limited to ‘promotion of the event’ on social media or websites, and make extra money off of separate licensing deals with sponsors who want to use the image for something else. I charge out for travel and editing time and my gear on top of daily rate, so take home pay usually is pretty high. Probably take home an average of $1300 NZD per event shoot, but that usually covers 2 to 2 1/2 days of work.

My best shoot so far was 4 days worked for a large events company, shooting their “hero marketing images.” Had to deliver 5-10 images each of the 4 days within 3-4 of the event each day, and then 100+ overall final shots. Each day was about 6 hours on course, 3 hours editing post event day. So 9 hour days each day. I maintained copyright, images could only be used in event company portfolio in all promotions (digital and print) to promote the event. Sponsors of the event could only use the images to promote sponsorship, anything else would be separate negotiation per image. Travel covered between locations all 4 days, and back home (~$600). $30 for meals each day. $1490+ tax daily rate (included editing and admin time because I wanted to win the job). Overall pay $6,500 + tax, take home pay about $5,000.

lowest paying job was $150 +tax for 4 hour event photography. 2 of those jobs back to back earned me $300 for the day, but after expenses and taxes, maybe walked away with $200. Photos were to be used to promote the event on social media and company website. Sponsor had access to them as well, but only for event promotion.

I have started offering photo/video packages for small to medium businesses looking for higher quality imagery. The video work makes up maybe 5-10% of my work at the moment, but steadily growing.

I have chosen to mainly only shoot RAW clips as add-ons for businesses that want them. I have tried going for bigger projects, but normally have the help of a video production agency to assist in the planning and execution of shots.

I mainly market on Instagram, LinkedIn and my website. A lot of my potential customer base are athletes from races that want to buy photos of themselves and post it to social media, or they are small to medium businesses or agencies that live off of the LinkedIn atmosphere.

I chose to put thousands of hours into learning how to code and properly design my website, so that the experience was engaging, and many types of visitors to my site would engage. I built a portal for athletes to buy their photos, stock photos and prints to be sold, and for people with potential project ideas to contact me if they wanted.

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

Best advice. Do less. When things feel like they are getting hard and you have tried everything…just take a step back and do less. It is almost like the law of opposites will bring you what you were looking for the entire time…you just need to give it time and space and it will work out the way you originally intended.

Worst advice. Don’t bother fighting for your images.

Challenge yourself to speak up. Challenge yourself to become seen, find creative ways to get people’s attention. If you want something bad enough, then go after it and keep going after it.

Realise that in this digital age, your photos STILL have enormous value. Don’t ever let companies try to tell you they can’t pay you a certain amount for your images because they are ‘just using them for social media.”” For a lot of companies, digital is their ONLY way to market nowadays…so your photos mean a lot more to them then you might realise.

Make sure that you do your research on what your photos could potentially be worth. Learning about licensing is KEY to being able to stand up for what you and your photos are worth…so don’t underestimate that.

A female Picture Editor and Book Shop Owner in the UK outside of London: £40k (net)

I am self employed.

My clients are mostly editorial, online and print.

No retirement, the biggest worry of my life!

I work 3 days a week roughly (I have two young children).

Over the last few yeas my day rate has definitely gone up but because of maternity leave, covid, and having left London I have not been able to work as much. Now I have more childcare but work has definitely dried up. Never been so quiet If I’m honest and I’m trying different routes as I feel picture editing is more and more thought of as a luxury, not as something that is necessary.

I have an online bookshop. They are all picture books so I definitely use it as a kind of portfolio.

Work hard and be kind to people ;) Make sure that you are always on the side of the photographer, have their back.

I like to be approached by Email or Insta.

I find photographers on Insta, Arles, exhibitions, books, magazines, word of mouth. But mainly Insta.

To anyone wishing to get into my line of work I would say be a jack of all trades, I have had to learn how to design articles! Also learn basic photography skills, photo shop and In-design. Find your own style and stick to it. Learn how to master image research. Learn about AI. Be open to everything and fear nothing.

A Food Stylist based in Phoenix, AZ who is repped: $92,695 (net)

I specialize in technically challenging projects for TV and print.

My income is 70% commercial photography, 20% commercial video, 10% random. Mostly corporate clients who are based in Phoenix AZ.

I have 2 food styling assistants I hire, when needed for projects but otherwise very little overhead.

IRA & mutual funds make-up my retirement funds. This is something I need to plan out better.

I get about 72-90 days on-set or billed as day-rate a year roughly.

Over the last few years my income has increased steadily, even thru the pandemic surprisingly.

As a food Stylist I start a job with 1-2 hours worth of meetings with the client & photographer or video team. Then a few hours on pre-production working on shotlist and grocery lists. Then one-day for prep-work that includes grocery shopping and prepping any food. And lastly the day/s on-set working as a food stylist.

I charge $1000 for prep day/s and $1000 for day/s on-set as a food stylist. I also charge a small ($50-$100) kit fee + cost of groceries (I generally do not mark these up), + cost of assistant, if used. So on a 1 day shoot I make about $2050 apx.

I pay assistants 500-550 per day.

Recently I worked a 12-hour over-night shoot for a rate of $1500. I struggled to find resources to guide me on estimating this rate for the client. I wanted to give the client a good-fair price that had some industry guidlines but found none that apply to me as a food stylist.

Here is how I ended up calculating my rate for myself (I did not share my math with Client):
$1000 day rate (10hrs)
$300 over-time (2 hrs @ $150)
$200 over-night fee (kind of made this up)

I made the mistake of giving a repeat client a big discount on my day-rate. I was charging $1000 a day to all other clients, but this one client I gave a $750 day rate. I still work with this client and have steadily been raising my day-rate by $50 each year.

I don’t do any marketing but could use some tips tho.

Best Advice: Know your value and stick to it. It’s hard to put a $ on your time. I highly recommend taking the time to research your market and find a $ that you are content with. Then STICK with that number. As a freelancer you need to consider all of your life expenses when figuring out your day rate.

A female Digital Capture Tech & Retoucher in Minneapolis: 2022: $200k (net), $242k (gross)

40% of my business income comes from renting equipment to productions (so in 2022 is was around $74,000).

In 2022 I had 3 months off on maternity leave.

80% of my days are for on set retouching, 10% working as a capture tech, 10% hourly rate retoucher.

Majority of my work is for a local Fortune 500 corporation which shoots 90% of their packaging and editorial content in town. On average I have around 4-5 smaller local clients which tend to have smaller projects or just retouching needs.

I have a home office so there is no need to rent space to store equipment. General overhead is fairly low but I do like to stay up to date on equipment so frequently update and replace gear. I spend and average of $24,000 on computers/monitors/accessories (think capture cables/hard drives/dongles/cases). Other expenses come from multiple seats of necessary software (~3,500/year) insurance (~1,000/year) and expenses for being a S-corp (~1,200/year). My partner covers health insurance so I’m lucky I don’t have that expense because I’m sure it’d be a lot.

For retirement I contribute to a SIMPLE plan with a 3% match from my business.

I worked 149 days in 2022 (31 jobs). 98 days so far as of 8/9/2023(21 jobs).

I also provide long term backup and file storage for a fee and charge a flat hourly rate for file retrieval if it becomes necessary.

Larger productions include sitting on on pre-pro calls to understand the scope of the project about a week in advance. Prep days I’ll drop gear and setup all the EQ. Most of my jobs require 2 workstations as well as one on set retoucher station. Make sure all crops/decks/sessions are set-up and ready to go for the shoot day. Once on set I work with the photographer to make sure filenames and crops are correct. Often I’ll do that while also retouching the files in real time for the client to approve. Normally the turn-around time is the Friday of the job so it’s important to stay on top of their needs and to make sure the photographer is being supported also.

Best jobs for me are multi-week packaging productions for our local major corporation. With equipment these jobs can average $10,000 per week.

I am pretty selective about which projects I’ll take on. My rate is mostly non-negotiable but some jobs do need more time than the client is willing to offer so there are times that I’ll have to squeeze in extra work after hours and overnight. I always bill an overtime rate but the physical toll can be a lot (12+ hours retouching for multiple days is hard).

When I first started out I made an effort to really get to know all the producers working in my market. Worked well to get into the last minute/small jobs other digi tech’s didn’t want to take and allowed me to get to know a lot of the photographers in town.

Be kind to everybody on set. You never know what role that person may step into later on in their career. Make it a point to know everything but don’t feel like you need be a know it all (that’s nuanced…. but important). Don’t gatekeep tips or tools that would help out fellow crew members. I think that the first and last points are the most important. It’s a team sport and we all need to be here for each other!

We are in in this together. I’ve found that the more collaborative a set is the better the deliverables look in the end.

A 27 year old female Product, Lifestyle, Editorial, Commercial, Fashion, Events, Runway, Backstage, Street Style, E-commerce Photographer: 10k (net)

In 2022 my business was run as sole proprietorship and before expenses I made just under 40K (USD). However after expenses I only profited 10K and then roughly 30% of that was taxed. I ran/run my business under the 30/30/30/10 rule. Where I pay myself 30%, put 30% back into my business checking for bills/expenses to keep my business running, saved 30% for taxes and then put away 10% into business savings to cover myself for unforeseen expenses such as equipment failure.

My gross income has been steadily increasing year after year but could range anywhere from 10k-40k depending on the market. When I first started I only made 10k total and after taxes maybe profited $40 total. This was while working freelance (sole proprietor) AND as an in house photographer (W2) for a jewelry designer in Austin. Then in 2021 I became fully freelance and made 30k but only profited maybe 5K after expenses, and then $1,500 after taxes. In 2022 I was still structured as sole proprietor and made just under 40k but knew I needed to restructure into an LLC because the amount I was having to pay in taxes was becoming mind blowing.

Currently my business is structured as an LLC with an s-corp exemption. Which has been said that it should provide me way more tax benefits and save me money yearly; however I am not sure if it is beneficial yet. To be real and put this into perspective, as someone who lives in a less creative state, especially in the south, where I have to beg clients to pay me on time, makes under 40k a year and went from having to pay $300 for my CPA to now having to pay 2k in order to even file my taxes as an LLC I am not sure if it is worth it. But I guess that is the price of not having to ever work under someone else or be an employee of a company that spends their life to help their boss live a luxurious life.

I do everything myself like a psycho control freak. Literally everything; business wise, marketing, photography, creative and art direction, set styling, networking, financially, legally, website design, pricing sheets. You name it I am a one stop shop.

80% of my income comes from product photography, and then 3/4 of the 80 would be the fusion of products + models in the form of lifestyle/editorial/ecommerce; while the other 1/4 comes from just product photography in the sense of flatlays/ecommerce/shot in nature or at a venue/rental space/studio. The other 20% comes from random creative direction gigs and then events or videography. When I first started 90% of my income came from weddings/events/family/kids/senior pictures while the remaining 10% was fashion or product related.

The majority of my clients are local small-medium businesses with the exception of random fortune500 jobs in NY, Paris and LA. Typically the companies I work with are small in the sense of employees but structurally they pump out a lot of product and are on the rise into becoming big companies. I like to call myself the photographer who has an extensive collection of working with companies before they blow up.

I do not have any employees but occasionally I hire assistants when I am doing a bigger jobs or when companies hire me as both a photographer and creative director.

My overhead includes equipment upkeep/replacement/rentals/new equipment (anywhere from 5-15k), paying myself a barley livable income (20k ish and that is living modestly), taxes + paying a CPA (1-4k), then spending any extra income on doing creative shoots to build my portfolio or paying assistants (1-2k ish).

To be honest at this moment I am just trying to keep my head up after having to survive covid and then now entering a recession, which honestly may turn into a depression. I think most people under 30 are really struggling with what is going on in our country and older generations are not understanding that most of us will never even be able to afford to buy a home let alone really afford groceries. We are stuck between selling our souls to the corporate world or roughing it as freelance artists; and the worst part is that both options are not ideal when the cost of living at the moment is unbearable.

Ideally I will open a roth IRA for retirement and invest but that is going to take more time and energy having to research and teach myself how to do so and as someone who does literally everything by herself this is one thing that unfortunately will have to be on the back burner a little longer.

The hard thing with photography or being an artist/creative, is that jobs are very seasonal. Especially in Texas. Most freelance business’ or people I know, are either stupid busy where we work 7 days a week, 10-12 hour days, for months at a time or we are sitting at home twiddling our fingers staring at the wall wondering when the next job is going to come in. Especially in the south where life is generally more slow paced and laid back and not as highly creative or providing as much opportunity as other cities or states.

My income the last few year has steadily increased but with the current state of our economy I am fearful that there is going to be a huge collapse in income for all creative people. I am at the point where I either need to physically move out of Texas or mess around and start a movement for all photographers/artists/creatives to join in on the writers strike and stop providing services until the non creatives understand how imperative our work is. To me it is baffling to see photographers take images for companies, have to beg to either be paid/justify our prices, and be the ones struggling to pay rent or buy groceries-and yet somehow these companies are thriving. Can you imagine any company trying to run an business or sell a product without the use of imagery or videography or any of the creative services that make photoshoots possible?? It would be impossible yet we are still highly undervalued and underpaid.

I think there is a lot of time wasted in full day shoots and bigger productions so typically I hustle to keep my shoots under 4 hours at a time because I do not like wasting time. Typically I charge my client $150 per hour and this includes the photography services during the shoot, pre shoot consultations, mood board creation, and pre shoot preparation such as renting lighting equipment or booking studios/venues. Then I charge a per photo editing rate that ranges between $10-$50 per image and this compensates for the amount of editing and forces the clients to be mindful in their image selection. This price also includes the time spent post shoot sorting/proofing/uploading and exporting into an online gallery. Lastly I charge for commercial usage if the client intends to use the images outside of organic usage. All of my clients receive organic usage (simple insta and tiktok post-no ads, and website use) for 12 months; and if they want to use images commercially they have to pay either a per photo per month price or I offer a one time package price that includes usage of all images selected for editing to have commercial usage for 1 year. This is also dependent on the size of the company. For example most of the small business I work with only do 1-2 photoshoots a year so they are not using or needing new imagery very often. Then it increases as the business size increases and their intended usage increases.

My best paying shoot was not the shoot I made the most money on but the best experience. A company hired me to fly to LA 2 times during the summer and only shoot for 2 days, 4 hours each. They respected my hourly rates and even paid for my flights/accommodations while I was there. I think I roughly made 3k between both jobs and got to take home 1k for 2 1/2 days of work.

One of the worst paying shoots was with a small business who threatened to sue me because I would not release the images until they paid their invoice in full. They also wanted me to do creative direction, photography, and videography for a 6 hour shoot; receive 35 images, 96 videos and have commercial usage of all for 1 year. When I got sick with covid and had to reschedule the shoot they also tried to force me to pay for the airbnb they booked, even though I found a suitable photographer/viable options to keep the shoot going. Mind you the pay was only $2,300 for all of that.

My highest paying job was $5,600 for a fortune 500 company and while it was the coolest because I got to travel to France for a week, it was one of the worst experiences ever due to the guy that hired me for the job (not affiliated with the fortune 500 company or the media company they hired). The guy who hired me and the team told me I would make $5,600 for roughly 5 days of work (essentially following rich people around France and taking pictures of them experiencing the spoils of France) and that I would only need to take pictures and would not have to edit any images post trip. However he waited until we flew to Paris to bamboozle us and inform us that each team member would have to do photo and video, as well as edit the images; but would not compensate us for the extra work. He also told us that food would be entirely covered and then waited until we were there to tell us not all meals would be covered. Mind you it was an incredible experience to be in France but not worth the pay when the days ended up being from 7am-10pm at night and then having to deal with traveling for a week with a misogynistic egotistical male.

When I shot weddings and needed a second shooter I paid them $500 for 4-6 hours and then let them present their images to the bride/groom as their own business, in their own editing style. I did not use their imagery as my own work and viewed it as a way to help other photographers advance/get practice in their own career without having someone above them steal their work and pass it off as their own or underpay them/force them to adapt to my editing style.

When I moved into more product/fashion work I would pay assistants $100-$200 for roughly 2-5 hours of work during a shoot day. Their roles consist of helping with lighting, prop retrieval, checking in on hair and makeup or aid in helping finish those roles, using a timer and schedule to help keep me on time when shooting, backdrop set up, behind the scenes iphone videography etc.

Video makes up 10% of my income. I honestly hate video but people love BTS content or short clips to use for reels/tiktok so I often throw that into my services to make extra easy income. Most of the work I get is through word of mouth or through unpaid social media posts on insta and tiktok. I will be honest I am lazy when it comes to marketing but am a firm believer the best form of attracting clients is through word of mouth. It creates loyal relationships.

To be completely honest, being a female in this industry I have not received much worthy advice from anyone. It has shown to be very exclusive and secretive, and “I had to struggle so you will have to as well.”

The best advice I would give would be that in order to be successful or profitable, you need to differentiate yourself as a business owner and learn how to turn off the inner sensitive artist. I used to get so offended over my work and this caused me to undervalue myself and allow people to run over me and underpay as well as over work me.

The worst advice I have received was an old white man told me “keep your day job” and I did the exact opposite and am forever thankful that I did not listen to him.

You also will need to become more strict, obedient and consistent in standing up for yourself because most clients in this industry will try to take advantage of you. Especially if they see real talent, but undisciplined talent. Also remember that there are always going to be people who are far less talented than you but have more confidence and audacity and that is why they are more successful. The phrase fake it till you make it is real and talent doesn’t necessarily mean you will be successful. You have to be savvy and think as much technically, if not more than you do creatively.

This is also a highly dominated field for males and the best advice for women I can give is building a strong network between the girls, gays and theys and really focus on making meaningful connections with not only important people but more so the nobodies who grind as hard as you because; you never know who will become more powerful or influential later on. I have noticed the majority of the time when I help others out in an authentic organic way because I genuinely want to help others, people are more willing to pay it back tenfold and at the end of the day the way to advance further up career wise is getting to know the assistants, lighting crew, and anyone who is key in making photoshoots happen but may not be influential in any manner. Yet.

Become comfortable being uncomfortable and hearing no. Coming from someone who knew nothing about the industry besides watching America’s Next Top Model/Devil Wears Prada growing up, who knew nothing about running a business, who knew absolutely no one in the industry, who had no one to look up to or get help from; do not let anyone tell you you cannot do it. Also have more audacity in general. Most of the biggest moves of my career have been from being crazy and just throwing myself out there and not caring of looking stupid or being told no.

A full time salaried photographer at a New England based branding and design agency: $65k

I’m a full time salaried employee at a New England based branding and design agency. I am the only photographer at this company, I do photo and video work. I mostly interact with graphic designers and 3D artists.

We have our hand in a variety of industries and seem to be dipping into more every couple weeks/months.

Our clients are East Coast mostly ranging from start-ups to more national companies.

I have no employees under me, but as a company we range from 20-40 full-time.

I work the normal 5 days per week, year round with federal and local holidays off. Sometimes I work weekends. There is a lot of overtime and some weeks I work between 50-60 hours, but typically I’m 40-50.

I have occasional freelance work but that stays below $2K unless I do a wedding.

Too many variables to have a typical shoot, it can range from months shooting on the same property, to a 15 minute shot. It’s all over the place.

We pay assistants $250/half, $500/full day.

Video is 35% of my work.

Best Advice: Diversify your offerings.
Worst Advice: Shoot weddings.

Fight for your worth. I stayed at this company hoping for a raise each year, and each year I would have to broach the subject. No cost of living raise despite each year our profits going up. Agencies offer benefits and stability but demand long hours and in my experience less pay. I find the admin/marketing and customer service efforts of freelance tiresome so I opted for an agency job. I may rethink this in the next year or two if things don’t change given I can’t progress financially at this income with where I live.

We should talk about the barrier to entry for neurodivergent photographers

I received the following note:

I think it’s essential to talk about this amongst all the illustrious “35 year old male, net $500k/year”.

I am both autistic and very talented, and the former has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to keep my head above water. I am currently scraping by at the poverty line and am on Medicaid. I am so poor that I get free internet and subsidized electricity bills. I am incredibly good at what I do, and when I have a client, they are always thrilled with my work. But my brain just doesn’t grasp professional-speak, networking, corporate patterns of communication, or entrepreneurship. I feel as if I am working as hard as I can while watching people less skilled than I am make a killing.

I should clarify that I am not inappropriate with my clients, nor do I make anyone uncomfortable – if you met me, you’d have no idea I’m on the spectrum at first. But my brain is markedly different and provides very unique impediments, and the industry is simply not set up to accommodate people like me.

The industry as a whole is incredibly confusing, complex, and cutthroat, and highly ableist.

I have reached a tipping point in my career of realizing I cannot go another day accepting things the way they are, but I also recognize that, if people can’t identify with what I would reveal, it probably doesn’t make sense to torch the last gasping remnants of my fucked career and publicize this struggle for a bunch of people who would be like “…um, what?”. So, I’m going the anonymous route for now. I’m curious what people might say.

I also want to clarify that I think my situation in particular goes beyond a ‘dislike’ of the business part (although that’s a component as well). It’s more just that there are very specific unwritten rules of pitching and interaction that are prohibitively incomprehensible to someone on the spectrum. And it’s awful, because, as I mentioned, I have *never* had a dissatisfied client. People love my work. But presenting as an autistic person who doesn’t “look autistic” is incredibly off-putting for most people. They think they know what they’re working with, and then they get to know me a little more. I never intend to fuck anything up, but this is inevitably what happens, simply because I’m neurologically unable to follow certain (nonsensical???) structures of interaction and interlocution. It’s frustrating as hell.

I should also mention that this is also what caused me to lose a major camera sponsorship. I say the wrong thing, have no idea, and six months of complete radio silence later, I find out I’ve been blacklisted. I learned this from a friendly acquaintance on their PR team who had just gotten laid off, so he had no more secrets to keep. I mean, the industry is wild. Like, I have no idea what I did, I didn’t mean to offend, can we just talk about it first? Lol. People only like the flavors of disabled that make you meek and small and pitiable, not the ones that make you alienating (read: a confident autistic woman who occasionally makes gaffes and misreads social cues). So – I would very much love to talk more about the intersection of photography and disability. There’s a lot that needs to be said here, especially because many of the voices that should be amplified are instead squelched under the weight of industrywide ableism.

A male Commercial/Editorial photographer in the Adventure/Outdoor space with 2 years part-time experience: $5.9k

I decided to turn a photo hobby into a professional endeavor in late 2020/early 2021. For the last two years, my goals have been to build out a professional-level portfolio, supplement my income to cover all photography-related expenses, and work with people that I can learn from.

I maintain a full-time, corporate job (40-60hrs/wk; earning over $100k), so my photo endeavors have to work around the constraints of that commitment.

I generate jobs through pitching potential clients on trips/activities that I have planned (or want to plan) (e.g., a fishing trip to Canada or hunting in Texas). My hit rate is admittedly pretty low, so I usually treat these trips as spec shoots that I later send to clients as my proof of concept/capabilities. I am very lucky to be able to juggle my job with these activities, as my job offers a relatively flexible leave policy and allows me to run a side business. Since I don’t rely on photography for all of my income, I have the luxury of being very choosy about what I shoot, who I shoot with, and who I work for. This has allowed me to take on long-term personal projects (including documentary film making), as well as paid work.

My financial goal on a yearly basis is to cover all photography-related expenses, which I did not accomplish in 2021, but (barely) accomplished in 2022.

My income is 90% Commercial, 10% Editorial.

Clients are US-based, national brands in the outdoor space (outdoor technical apparel, fishing, hunting).

I have low overhead. Yearly expenses are the usual suspects — cloud storage, website, etc. The last two years I have done one gear upgrade/year (lens, camera body, etc) in order to build out my professional kit. $3-4k/year.

Its hard to say how many days/year I work, since I am only part time. Since starting my business, I have averaged 7 days of *paid* shoots per year. If I add on spec shoots, that number grows to 30-40 days/year. Its worth noting that I view the majority of my spec shoots as leisure/fun (hiking, fishing, hunting, etc).

My income grew by 29% in the last year, but income remains low as I continue to shoot professionally in a part-time capacity.

My full time job is both key to my success, but also a major constraint. It benefits me because it allows me to step away from photo when I feel burned out (without losing income) and pays for spec shoots. However, it also constrains me because I’m unable to accept last minute jobs and I’m unable to take on as many projects as I’d like to.

Average job: two full days of shooting (morning and evening, with downtime during midday). Average day rate is 1500/day, based on licensing for 2 years, social and web. Expenses are also covered. Take home pay would be around $2-2.5k.

Best paying shoot to date was actually my third paid gig. I charged 1500/day for 3 days of shooting and received an additional 200/day for lodging/travel/meals. Since it was just me (no second shooter) and very low expenses, I pocketed $3700.

Worst paying shoot (besides the ones that were free) was my first ever paid gig: $400 for a 1-day shoot. No expenses covered. 9 hours of work. Client was local tourism board. Licensing was for all mediums in perpetuity. My take home pay was -$100.

I have recently taken up video through my work on short documentaries. I haven’t generated any income from video/films.

I have never viewed Instagram/Social Media as a viable tool for me. I don’t have the patience/time/interest to put into the platforms for the purposes of gaining followers/interactions. Instead, I focus my efforts on using those tools to network with other photographers and the marketing managers of brands that I’d like to work with. 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.

Worst advice: Licensing doesn’t matter.

Best advice: You’re at a delicate place in photography. You have all the technical things figured out, but what makes your photo different from anyone else who was there with that gear that day? If you want to move forward and come away with photos that stir emotion, you need to answer the following: Why are you shooting this? Why do you want to photograph this? What makes your photographing this unique? The process of answering these will help you find your voice.

If you’re new to this, don’t feel the need to jump into this as a full time job. There are a lot of benefits to a slow burn, including finding your voice. My skill and portfolio has increased dramatically since I first started out… and to think that I was considering jumping into this full time two years ago is truly laughable. I was not ready, and if I had attempted to do so, I believe I would have lost my love for the art. Keep that love and passion alive.

A female Associate Photo Editor on the East Coast: $67k Salary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A female Photo Director and Photographer working in the Outdoor Industry: $130k salary, plus bonus + stock and $50k freelance

I work with various domestic + international publications and in my salaried position I report to the Chief Brand Officer.

The most important thing I ever did was find a reliable accountant who has plenty of experience with creatives that do both salaried and freelance work. He has given me so much valuable financial advice over the years especially with taxes—all the important things we should’ve learned in school. I’m an LLC business elected as an S-corp, a move we made once my freelance income reached a certain point a few years ago (when I freelanced more than I do now). If you’re making over $30k in freelance income and you haven’t looked into converted to s-corp yet, I would highly recommend it.

I have a 401k with company match, and have about $100k. I also have a separate Roth IRA that I started this year and it has about $20k. I didn’t know what to do with my personal finances until very recently, unfortunately. THEY NEED TO TEACH THIS STUFF IN SCHOOL.

I work between 160-180 days a year. I work in an awesome company that has unlimited paid vacation and encourages everyone to take as much time off as possible. It’s been a weird transition for me to just be able to take time for myself as I please because I used to get cold sweats just thinking of the most polite and gentle way to ask for time off in my previous jobs. If I was sick, I had to act REALLY sick just so my boss would believe that I really needed a break. Now, I just peace out when I need to.

I doubled my income in taking this position. I used to be a photo editor in an international news organization that didn’t pay very well and gave very insignificant raises.

I still do freelance work on the side, but in the past couple years, I’ve finally given myself permission to say no to projects that I don’t necessarily feel excited about. I’m in an extremely privileged position to not have to take on shitty jobs for money.

I used to say yes to everything because I was living paycheck to paycheck. My mental and physical health suffered a lot in the beginning of my career. The weird thing is, looking back now, I had so much pride in my “hustle”. I was so proud of the fact that I worked almost all year long, even during holidays sometimes, as if I was doing world-changing work. I wasn’t. I was doing $450 assignments. And I would say my peers at the time felt the same too. And we were ALL quietly suffering, but none of us admitted it to each other.

I spend a lot of time working on art direction for future shoots, brainstorming with my team, and pitching projects. If I’m actively working on a project, I’m usually planning for shoots with my producers. We have a pool of freelancers we like to hire from, but I also spend a lot of time looking at Instagram accounts and websites. My team is made up of incredibly nice + high performing people, and we prefer the same when hiring freelancers.

If you want to get into my line of work be nice. You don’t have to be a saint, but just be a decent, nice person. I’ve unfortunately met a good amount of talented but not very nice folks. Because I’m a woman, I’ve had my fair share of mistreatment. I’ve been mansplained to by someone I’ve hired. I’ve been sent rude emails. And I always say, that’s totally fine. I’m just never hiring you again and if someone asks me about you, I will definitely share my experience.

This industry can be very stressful, but it doesn’t make it okay for anyone to be shitty to people they’re working with especially because photo editors + producers talk to each other. We all move around to different companies, but we stay in touch. If someone gave you an opportunity, at least try not to be a dick. Is it obvious I’ve had a lot of experience with this?

Best advice: set aside money for taxes!

Worst advice: go back to school and get a master’s degree.

I prefer photographers reach out via emails or Instagram DMs. I don’t really like LinkedIn messages. I use Instagram and emails to find photographers, and I like to look at people’s websites.

Please make sure your portfolio’s tightly edited. I always look at the cold emails I get and I’m often shocked at how poorly edited the websites are. First impressions are very important. Let your website reflect the kind of jobs you’re aiming for and learn to kill your favorite images. Some images you’re attached to won’t look the same to a stranger who doesn’t know the back story. Edit and re-edit, see how all the images blend together. Find an editor you can work with to look at your site and give you brutally honest feedback.

Depending on the scope of work, our photography rates start at $1500 plus expenses.

A female Newspaper Photo Editor in her late 20s with 5 years experience working in NYC: 92k salary

I work for a major national newspaper in NYC.

I work full time job with 3-4 weeks PTO.

I started my current job in the low 80s, then received a few small bumps over the past couple of years to reach 92k.

I have no other sources of income this time, but would love to start a newsletter or offer 1:1 sessions with photographers who need editing help on personal projects, portfolio, or grant proposals.

For retirement I have a 401(k) with company match. I contribute 12% per year, with a company match up to about 3% which is not great, but it’s something.

I spend about a third of my day in meetings, talking with reporters, editors and other photo editors about upcoming coverage and how we should approach it visually. Another third of my day is commissioning and briefing photographers, and producing shoots for upcoming stories. The rest of my time is spent reading story drafts, researching and editing photos for quicker-turn stories, building online articles and collaborating with art directors on layouts for print. Also, processing invoices, tracking payment, sending contracts, onboarding vendors, all the admin stuff. It’s a lot.

There’s a slightly romantic view of photo editors from the outside, but some days our work feels so operational and further away from photography than a lot of us ever imagined. The pace, constantly shifting deadlines, newsroom bureaucracy, and aesthetic boundaries can be a bit crushing, but there are some really magical moments of creative collaboration.

There is no set path to break into photo editing, which can be incredibly opaque and frustrating. It took me years of networking to get a full-time gig. Some people enter the industry in more traditional ways, such as art schools or photojournalism programs, others break in through an industry mentor, internships, fellowships, lateral moves in a newsroom from other functions, or years of freelance photography.

While they are super competitive and few, photo editing internships are the most reliable way to establish the portfolio and skillset for a full-time editing job. It is certainly possible to develop your eye and learn the skill of editing, sequencing and visual narrative in a workshop or developing your or a friend’s personal project.

That being said, a truly effective Photo Editor is built making edits in minutes rather than hours, in hard conversations we have around ethical and accurate image making and selection, and constantly advocating for photography in newsrooms where words often come first. You must learn to articulate the value of an image to reporters, editors, etc. with limited visual vocabulary, and often make artistic compromises for the fit and betterment of a story. For the record, I find a lot of this very frustrating. I wish you didn’t need experience (and a whole lot of luck) to get experience. But it’s true.

Best advice: Surround yourself with photo and non-photo folks who support you, inspire you, and offer a safe place to brainstorm ideas freely without competition. This industry is very small, so be kind. Establish strict work-life boundaries. Have a hobby outside of photography, get outside, and take care of yourself.

Worst advice: Settling for the safe, easy option. Often times photo editors get a bit stagnant with commissioning and creative direction because the role is so demanding and they become too risk averse. But every story is an opportunity to push the industry and publication forward, from aesthetics to representation, even if it can be difficult internally sometimes. You have power, so use it productively. You will become a better creative professional learning to have these tough conversations respectfully and collaboratively.

I am never annoyed with emails or even DMs, Instagram is a major tool for me to find new talent and get inspired, plus engage with people in a way that isn’t super time consuming like an email can be. I can’t respond to every message, but I always read them, and will often give someone a follow if I see potential in their work. Getting DMs on the weekend or after work hours isn’t the best, but I’ve kinda accepted my fate there and try to keep my own boundaries because people are on different time zones and are busy too.

The most successful cold emails are highly specific, know what subject matter I cover, and include a pitch idea that is thoughtful, well-researched, and recognizes the need for some sort of hook and a visual narrative that can stand alone without a reported article. If we have an established relationship, I’m more open to looser pitches/ideas and will do more initial legwork to develop the pitch and get buy-in internally. I don’t expect you to be an expert in our coverage, but some awareness around that goes a long way!

One gripe, and I say this with so much love: please do not bcc a bunch of editors on one email–we can tell, and we all talk! I know- writing individual, tailored emails is very time consuming. But I think targeting a few specific editors you want to collaborate with, articulating why your work is a good fit for them and their publication, and focusing your email and meeting efforts there will drastically increase your success rate.

I find photographers through Instagram, agencies, lists like Diversify Photo and Women Photograph, art programs, portfolio reviews, bylines in other publications, other editor’s recommendations.

I pay $500 day rate plus expenses, multi-day assignments or longer term stories often result in a negotiated project fee.

A male Digi Tec in his 40s with 22 years experience based in NYC: 70k-90k (net)

I work almost exclusively as a digital tech in NYC (about 90% of income). I shoot some video projects (less than 10%) and do occasional set design & production work (to get away from a computer screen); combined between business income and paying myself a minimal salary (after expenses). I also own a small amount of gear that I sub-rent.

I’m set up as an S-Corp and I pay myself a small salary. I am the only employee; a handful of times each year I hire freelancers for video work. Keeping my personal salary low allows me to qualify for low cost healthcare.

The type of shoots I digi tech on run the gamut – Lifestyle, Fashion, Product/StillLife/Cosmetics, Celebrity, Occasional E-comm; mostly NYC, occasionally LA and Miami jobs.

Minimal overhead; no studio, some gear I rent out to clients. Try to keep my overhead to a minimum.

My retirement is an IRA that I manage.

I work 130-140 days a year.

The pandemic years between late 2020 and Late 2022 were some of the busiest years of my career as a DT. This year has been up and down.

My day rate as a DT: 650-750/10 hour day. Set Design/Production days: 500/day; Camera Op/livestreaming: $1000/Day.

Best gig recently, last September 2022, 6 day gig as digi tech $6000 including some OT.

Worst recent gig was a photographer I work with regularly who took 6 months to pay a $650 invoice. After that I added a $100 fee on top of all his invoices to guarantee on time payment .

My jobs come from word of mouth/recommendations from colleagues.

I believe the photo industry needs a movement to unionize. Too often it’s every one for themselves. The younger generation undercuts those of us who’ve put the time in; the photogs sometimes forget the crew that are the backbone of the industry and we need them to stand with and stand up for their assistants/techs/producers etc so that we can all flourish. We need a sliding scale that makes sure everyone is taken care of and a way to reward longevity and experience in the industry. We also need a way for clients to know they can hire crew with confidence, while they also pay industry standard rates with a base for minimum rate they should expect to pay.If not I expect the industry will continue to be a race to the bottom.

Producer for Still Life, Interiors, Food & Beverage, Beauty, On Figure based in NYC: $180k (net)

My business is structured as an S Corp.

My clients are East Coast Fortune 500.

I have a Roth IRA for retirement.

I work 50 days a year.

The last few years my income has been up and down.

Average job is 10 hours days and I take home about $10k per three days of work.

I pay assistants $450/day.

Best paying recent job was $20k for a 3 day project.

Jobs are all from word of mouth and networking.

Worst advice: Don’t do grunge work.

Best advice: Under promise and over deliver.

How Do To Determine Usage/Licensing

My go to answer:

You can search though these instagram posts as most people have described their typical shoot pricing.

You can also search these articles on my blog for examples:

You can hire @wonderfulmachine to help you

You can hire a consultant:

@blinkbid and @cradoc_fotosoftware fotoquote have software with pricing

You can ask your peers.

1st Assistant and Photographer working in Editorial, Commercial and Underwater photography with 4 years experience based in Orlando, FL: 2022 $58k

My income is 75% first assist, 25% photography (20% commercial 5% editorial). For editorial, I cover a lot of Florida based conservation projects. Sponge divers, oyster farmers, controlled burns, etc. For commercial, I cover a lot of outdoor brands. Paddle board, surf, and lifestyle brands that fall into an outdoor realm. Underwater usually plays itself into both categories.

I deduct 30% from each paycheck for taxes. I write off the bare minimum in hopes of buying a house one day, which is why my expenses are low.

When assisting, it’s all over the US. Large outdoor brands and Fortune 500. Personally, I have one Fortune 500 client, and a handful of small companies I’d shoot for throughout Florida.

My overhead is usually travel expenses that get reimbursed. My main overhead is website, Dropbox, insurance, intuit, etc. Comes out to around $2k a year.

I’ve been stashing as much savings into a high yield as possible this year in hopes for a home. I have 0 debt though, so that helps increase my savings.

I work roughly 100 days a year.

I detail cars and boats on the side. I pay myself the bare minimum from my photography business account, so this cash flow helps if I have unexpected cost that come up, extra savings I want to put away, or the extra money to take a small vacation. On average, I detail around 8 days a month. (96 days a year) this income is not reflected in my photo salary. I typically make an additional 12k a year from this side hustle.

Average assist rate is $500 for 10 hours. Anything after is OT. If it’s out of town, travel days are half rate, expenses such as gas and food are covered.

Photography rate is $1k a day. Working on getting my rate up. Typical shoot is 6-8 hours. Travel days are half rate, travel expenses and post days are added in as well. For every two days on a shoot, I bill for one post day @500/day. Take home for a two day shoot is $2,500 (not including expenses). After taxes, $1,750.

Best paying shoot was for a fire truck company. For a three day shoot, travel days, post and expenses included, $8200. Take home after expense and taxes was $4305. No licensing terms added.

Worst paying shoot was a four day campaign + 2 travel days for a very large, very successful CA based surf brand when I was first starting out. Rate + expenses was $2650. After taxes and expenses I took home $1400.

Video makes up 5% of my income.

I’ve learned that cold emails don’t work for me. What’s worked best is meeting people in person and working on personal projects. I’ve learned that the best way to get new business is to provide value, and I think that comes across better for me in person.

Best advice: be a person that people want to be around.

Worst advice: ask for more money when I was first starting out.

Don’t be an asshole. People will treat you like shit in this industry, but that doesn’t mean you have to do that when you’re finally established. Be kind to the new people coming in. Give back and be willing to help. You never know what roles those folks will take on as they advance in their career.

An African American male Commercial, Sports, Portrait, and Lifestyle photographer: 200k as of 6/4/23 (net)

As you can see, on paper the numbers look a little all over the place, but the year that represents “normal” business for me the most is 2021. A lot of my years prior to 2020 are closer to 2021’s numbers or slightly above. I included 2023 numbers so far because things are on track to be “normal” for me again. In 2020, there was an obvious slow down from COVID, then in 2022 I voluntarily took off about 6 months to help with the birth of my son.

In a regular year, my gross income is around $450k to $550k. I don’t have a lot of overhead. I mostly travel for my jobs, and pass on all the related expenses to my clients. I don’t own a studio, and only have a small home office. No full time staff. I hire all my assistants, techs, producers, etc on a per job basis. I have my regulars that I work with often, and have different crews local to NY and LA and decide which to use based off where the job is. Outside of that, I’m usually looking for any reasonable business expenses I can safely write off. I have an agent that gets 30%, and my gross number already reflects that since I don’t take in their portion of a project’s fees.

Speaking of 30% agency fees; I read the comments on these and often see this as a point of debate. You can book some amazing, well paying jobs without an agent. This plays no part in whether you get hired, however, if you value your time like I do, then the right agent can be helpful and worth the money. My agency in particular makes me feel secure about our relationship. I talk with them all the time about strategy, and other things I’m curious about as far as how to better my business. They also add a huge layer of infrastructure that I feel like I need to handle my client base.

I don’t find sitting in front of the computer communicating with clients all that fun, or working on scheduling details for hypothetical projects which happens a lot. It sounds small, but when you’re working multiple jobs going from city to city, the last thing you wanna do is spend an hour answering emails once you have a moment to chill out. At the end of the day I consider this a highly personal decision, and not all agents are created equal, but if you have the right one then it can be something that adds to your bottom via a time return which in some ways can be more valuable than money.

I spent the majority of my career working in advertising with a concentration on sports and athletics. At the time that I got into it, it wasn’t nearly as popular of a category as it is now. Athleisure wasn’t a thing yet, but with my style and perspective I brought something different to a space that was overlooked by others who wanted to be in fashion and celeb entertainment. Eventually, I got my business to a place where I regularly work with celeb talent for big brands exclusively. Today, the category is more popular than ever and for that reason I’ve invested time in expanding beyond just sports. I now work with clients in tech, finance, pharma, and entertainment. This business moves in waves, so my expansion and ability to bring my style to other genres have helped me stay as busy as I want to be. A typical month for me can include working with a celebrity athlete for a big international client, then the following week working with non celeb, real people talent for a completely different kind of client like a bank or pharmaceutical company, then another week later shooting the keyart for a tv series. I think that this kind of versatility in my work and skillset is a unique edge that helps me earn the way I do. The key is that I shoot all these different types of subjects without changing my creative voice or point of view.

I’ve had a CPA from year 1, and right away she advised me to open a SEP IRA which I max out every year. This helps me save a nice amount on taxes by deferring them to when I start making withdrawals. This process has helped me build a rather nice sized retirement account which is valued at about $650k now. The first year I opened it with about $7k, so I’m proud of how much I’ve been able to grow it in such a short time through saving and investing. I pay pretty close attention to my investment portfolio outside of my retirement account, but this is more so a long term vehicle that I don’t really take money out of, and only continue to add to it when I have any extra money.

I normally do 1 or 2 multi day shoots a month that amount to about 2 weeks of physical work. Maybe 3 if things are really busy. Otherwise, I spend my days off on creative calls, and production related calls for any projects I’m working on. I also spend a good amount of time researching and understanding whatever is happening in the industry that affects me. This includes doing a lot of reading or even being on IG researching what agencies clients are working with, and trying to understand who I need help getting work in front of. In the past, more towards the beginning of my career I did a lot more shoots per month, but they were lower quality as far as day rate, and usually less shoot days. That meant I had to do around 5-6 shoots per month to equal the monthly return I get now. My current workload is perfect for me and my family’s lifestyle. I work just enough to not feel like I’m getting burned out.

I had a couple of years in the past where I netted $750k, or close to $900k. I was a bit younger then with a more intense drive because I knew how hard it was to get started. I was saying yes to nearly everything with almost no regard for my body or well being. I was on a mission, so none of that mattered. I just wanted to make as much money as possible. In that phase, I wasn’t necessarily looking for balance, where as in this current phase of my life I value the time I don’t spend working a lot more. I enjoy being home, and spending time with family and friends.

There has been a deliberate decision to pull back and focus more on the quality of jobs versus the quantity. In turn, that has lowered my bottom line but I couldn’t be happier. Granted, I used the income from those “go hard” periods to pay off student loans for myself and my wife, buy a home, and knock off other big financial burdens which allow me to take it a little easier now. Now, I’m making a really good living without the pressure of needing to find a way to get bigger.

My best paying shoot was for a tech client. The shoot was about 2 weeks long including all the travel, prep, and shoot days. My fees were $170k after expenses and rep commission. This is my best paying job as far as the amount, but I had another job that paid around $80k after fees, and it was just a two day shoot with about 4 travel days. This was my best job as far as how much I made against how much time I actually worked.

When i first started I did a shoot as a favor for an art director, and got offered a pair of sneakers. I never got the sneakers lol, so this was my “worst” paying shoot. Honestly, I was super young, and the pics I got from it ended up being worth more than the sneakers. I used the shots to get so much more work after that, and thats the lesson I would pass on to any one reading this. Free work is almost inevitable, but be strategic about it. You need to assess how you can leverage a small opportunity into something bigger. The something bigger might not be the shots you get. It could also mean getting on set with an agency, or art buyer/art director you really wanna meet. Also, you still wanna do proper paperwork/estimate for this kind of exchange then show how you discounted you normal rate to meet whatever payment you agreed to. This helps you not short change yourself if you continue working with these same people again in the future.

I also direct video, but it’s almost a separate thing from my photography. I never personally shoot video, and sometimes get added fees as a director on my photoshoots. I always bring on a DP that can match my style, and direct them on what I want. I’ve directed some decently budgeted commercials before too where I did no still photography, and could do this more but I don’t love the process although it can be fun sometimes. A pretty small percentage of my income comes from this setup. I’ll likely explore straight up directing more in the future.

In the age of everything being digital, I’m a huge fan of trying to meet as many people as you can in person. No matter how good your work is, a huge part of being successful in this business is who you know, and who knows you. I have a rather easy going personality, and have been told that I have a calming presence. A lot of my clients describe situations that are chaotic or need me to work with celeb personalities that can be unpredictable. It helps if you are not adding to this stress, and they know you can handle a high pressure situation with ease. This is something thats very important, but hard to get from an email or DM. When there’s a client I want to meet, my agent usually leverages their existing connections to get me a meeting when I’m in town, and more recently Zoom/virtual meetings if schedules don’t allow for in person. In addition to that, my agency advertises as a group through newsletters, social media, and events like Le Book along with specific blasts about what each artist is working on. I used to do printed promos and mailers, but stopped after I took a break for a while on doing it, and business stayed strong. Instead, I invest money occasionally in personal shoots that interest me.

I started my professional career in 2011/2012, and as many other Black photographers have experienced at some point, I was told back then that I needed to shoot more White people and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be successful in this business. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, that was a common thought back then. Black faces in front of the camera for ad campaigns just wasn’t a normal thing at that time, so when you presented a book full of them, some people didn’t know how to critique it without making the work about that. Needless to say, that was the worst advice I was given.

I have so much to say here, but I will try to keep it brief and concise. I’m very proud of the career I’ve had thus far. It can end tomorrow, and I would be happy with all the things I’ve done. A relentless work ethic in developing my skills, a keen understanding of business, and a bit of luck are all the things I think were key in getting me here.

Bury yourself in the craft, and develop a strong creative voice/perspective. I think too many are concerned with getting work too fast, instead of focusing on building their taste level. A strong creative voice will bring you more work than you can imagine, but getting there takes time. Once you get into business, and start making money the pressure to continue making money only increases, which in turn takes away from the time and energy you have to really focus on getting better and understanding what you like. That cycle can be hard to break, and can create an environment where people find themselves stuck at a certain level and/or unhappy with the work that they attract.

Next, get out and meet people within the industry face to face. Emailing, and dm’ing is great for opening a conversation, but I found a lot more success from meeting people in person. I think its because you become a real person at that point as opposed to being black and white letters on a screen. Art directors, art buyers, etc are busy people and get emailed a lot so it can be hard to stand out. Don’t get discouraged by not hearing back right away. You have to stay persistent and keep trying.

As a working artist, the insecure feeling of “it can be over tomorrow” never leaves. It’s a feeling you must learn to live with, and work through. I have learned to use this feeling as motivation versus it being something that debilitates me. The task of becoming and continuing to be a working artist can be overwhelming, so I committed a long time ago to doing at least one thing a day that helps my business, and it doesn’t matter how big or small the one thing is. I do this because it helps me stay focused on the process and know that even when I’m not seeing the results everyday I’m still moving forward.

Lastly, know your client’s love language. For most of the projects I get, I have to go through a bidding process that includes a creative call and sometimes presenting a treatment. My win rate increased a lot when I became good at understanding from job to job what qualities my potential client valued. From there, knowing how to articulate my understanding of those values in real time gave me an edge. Reading people, and knowing how to sell yourself is a huge part of being successful in this business. Having good work is just one part of the equation, but once you add the confidence to sell yourself you’ll be able to take your opportunities to the next level.

P.S. ChatGPT wrote all of this, just kidding! Thanks for reading.

Photographers, Limit Your Clients AI Rights By Adding This To Your T&C

I reached out to the Artists Management Association and this is the language they have shared with members (short and long).

1. Deliverables not approved for AI use and/or AI training

2. Unless explicitly stated in an invoice, licensee may not use the assets in connection with an immutable digital asset intended for sale, including but not limited to non-fungible tokens. All rights not expressly granted to the licensee are reserved to company and the copyright holder. No machine learning, AI, or biometric technology use. Unless explicitly authorized in the invoice, licensee may not use the asset (s) including any caption information, keywords, or other metadata associated with content) for any machine learning and / or artificial intelligence purposes, or for any technologies designed or intended for the identification of natural persons.

visit to learn more.

A male Commercial and Editorial Portrait and Fine Art photographer: $80k (net)

It’s been quite humbling reading through these and realizing how business savvy so many photographers are. I have not been particularly smart about running my business. I feel like it’s been 12 years of focussing on the creative side, then just crossing my fingers and praying that people pay invoices within 30 days. I keep everything to the bare minimum with low overheads. I have many different clients in different industries but the bulk of my work is shooting portraits within entertainment/music/arts. Sometimes direct for client sometimes through ad agencies. My income is 65% commercial, 25% editorial, 10% fine art.

I don’t want to be a small business owner – I want to be an artist who can live an acceptable lifestyle solely through my art and I want to have spare time to travel and pursue hobbies. Yes I would like to earn more money and be more successful but I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to be doing this and making any kind of living at all.

I was a professional musician in Europe in my early 20s which lead to my photography career. So I have always had steady work for major record labels and music management companies in the US and EU. Some of my music clients moved into advertising so I began shooting for ad agencies – stills on set mainly. Around 2018 this eventually led to good work with large alcohol and tech companies shooting smaller campaigns.

Then most of these clients disappeared entirely during the pandemic. A lot of my contacts lost their jobs, left the industry or simply changed creative direction. It was worrying for a while.

In that void I have built a little editorial career I never had, shooting for major newspapers and some established magazines. The money is not good but its not too bad and most portrait shoots are short, easy and inspiring. I still do a lot of work for record labels and smaller creative agencies.

I rent a tiny art studio for desk work and fine art stuff. Its a luxury and I love it. Its $425/month. I stopped shooting film this year which has been life-changing financially (and artistically!). I have owned a medium format digital system for a six years now and it is paid off. I own a lot of pretty basic lighting and video gear. I rent it out sometimes which helps.

I am an only child from a single parent. We were comfortable but not wealthy. However I live my life knowing one day I will inherit a house in a major city and that allows me to take risks with my career that many others may not have the privilege to. I am enormously thankful for this.

Also important for people to note that there is a huge amount of unspoken, generational wealth in the photo world. A lot of nepotism too. Especially the more glamorous fashion/fine art side of things. If you feel bad for not publishing that book or finishing that series just know that a lot of people you are comparing yourself to may not face the daily restrictions that you do.

I’m lucky to have a partner with a slightly more stable income who is very supportive.

I shoot about 50 – 70 days a year. Then a lot of editing and admin time in the studio.

I have just reached my pre-pandemic income again. 2020/21 was incredibly tough.

In 2017/18 I had some health and financial problems and a friend got me a job as a camera operator for (some terrible) reality TV productions which paid well for about 30 days of work.

Never forget that as a photographer you have technical knowledge that is valuable to people and you might be able to find some niche work if you ever feel stuck.

I shoot a few editorial portraits a month. These range from $450 to $1k. They usually take 1-2 hours, then I deliver the contact sheet and 1-6 final images. Travel can often be the most time consuming part!

My current commercial jobs are usually 1-2 days, 8-12 hours per day. My base rate is $2500 per day. I make sure that is minimum take home. It is sometimes more, rarely less and never below $1800.

Edit and delivery will often take a day or two. I make sure I charge between $400-600 for these days. If clients want multiple retouched images then more.

I only do all-in budgets or buy-outs really. I need to get better at understanding licensing.

My best paying job was a campaign for a large alcohol brand. 2x travel days, 3x shoot days, 4x edit days. I agreed an all-in fee of $25k and needed to deliver 4 images which were total buy-outs.

I do a lot of favors for friends and my wider network when I have spare time. I never go below $350 for a few hours. If its a full day I’ll charge at least $750. Whether this is headshots for actors or little music videos etc.

People will always ask you for favors as a photographer. Have the courage to say no if you feel so inclined. Just make sure nobody is using your work to make income directly, if they are or if they have personal wealth then ask for your commercial rates.

I used to shoot a lot of video up until 2020. I found it an easy way to make money but weirdly unsatisfying. I have a good portfolio of music videos and branded docs as both director and DoP but really want to focus on stills right now. I would say I was 50/50 in 2019 and in 2022 I was 80/20 stills/video. I think my video career harmed my stills career and stunted my growth as an artist. I am trying to focus on stills from now on but video work will come calling I’m sure.

In this fine art/editorial/commercial world – 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. The last time I did this, it lead to some really great commercial work. I think a lot of people in positions of power, need to see initial recognition from somebody else before taking that leap and commissioning you.

Instagram is of course the necessary evil and undoubtedly the most important marketing tool for a photographer – I put in minimum effort and try to have fun with it. I would say I have a good following for my type of work, but I would also like to get better at using it. It can be real bad for confidence though, just know that a lot of people with big followings are just playing to algorithms or buying followers. Its a fine line between using the platform smartly and keeping your distance from it.

Best advice was to have a positive routine before traveling to a shoot. For me this includes looking through my recent comparable work, thinking about what I should do differently and what I should repeat. I might look through a photo book for inspiration and I’ll try not to think about any stressful everyday life stuff too close to the shoot!

Worst advice was my Dad telling me to “take any job for money”when I was young and inexperienced. I did this for years, it slowed my progress in crafting a personal style which is key for long term success. Don’t listen to your parents too closely if they haven’t had a creative career ha!

Take inspiration from outside photography. Look at paintings, watch sports, get into gardening. Photography careers are evolving rapidly but I still think it’s a long game and the most curious people always win in the end.