Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

Until 2022 I was a staff product photog at an e-commerce/YouTube company. I was also doing more freelance work to supplement my income (events, portraits, commercial, editorial, and food).

My current “clients” are other departments within the organization I work for, which serves the US government and other Federal entities. They require images or video to illustrate their work within sectors serving finance, education, community development, cybersecurity, technology, and commerce. I work 5 days a week and have zero overhead.

I was chronically underpaid at my previous staff job but supplemented it with freelance work that was steady until 2020. I switched employers in late 2021 and have been fairly compensated since, therefore can be choosy about freelance projects.

I’m a gigging musician as well, which adds about $20k to my annual income.

For commercial work, I charge $1600 per 10-hour day + expenses + usage.

My best paying recent shoot was a 3 day commercial shoot for an ag client that was $2500/day, they paid travel and expenses, and I was simply shadowing a film crew and using their lighting setups—dream gig.

My lowest paying recent shoot was dog food with a charitable component: $1200 for a 6-hour day plus another 4 hours of retouching work, plus usage. Client never specified the usage but used the photos, and I had to fight to get paid.

Video is about 35% of my work but growing. I’m salaried, so the percentage correlates.

Work hard. Be nice. The rest tends to take care of itself.

My best year, I made $350,000. That was at the height of my career. During Covid I made about $50,000.

I began photographing dogs in 1996 on black and white film in the studio in San Francisco. I have stuck with photographing only dogs for the past 27 years. I have worked for Hills, Mars and Safeway brand dog food. I have published six books of my dog photography. I have shot for National Geographic, The Bark Magazine and PetPlan Pet Insurance. My style is very simple, photographing dogs against a white background and capturing their personalities and beauty. Currently, I primarily do commission portraits of peoples pets. I charge $1,400 for a portrait session and average about 80 sessions a year.

My portrait sessions are about 80 percent of my income. Print orders and licensing account for the remaining 20 percent of my income.

I work in all the major metros in the United States.

My husband and I run our business together full time. My biggest overhead is travel expenses. I work out of my home.

I work a lot of weekends. I shoot probably two weekends out of the month. Then I have daily work in client relations, promotion, printing and general communication.

My clients are wonderful, dog loving people. They have a true affinity for their dogs and want to memorialize them while they are in the prime of their lives. They are willing to pay for the quality of work that we create.

I did not work much during 2020 and Covid. Then last year (2022) I battled breast cancer and did not work for 9 months. That was really hard and I am just now getting the engines back up and running.

No video work.

I decided to go into a photographic niche early on and it has worked out very well for me. It certainly helped that I have a love and understanding of dogs. Over the years, I have amassed a large image database of dog imagery that I am going to be putting on the market in the near future.

50% of the work is for brand campaigns which include OOH, editorial placements, digital and in-store. 35% is catalog, and 15% is e-commerce.

We have a good mix of larger fortune 500 and international brands. But also have smaller localized clients in NYC, LA, San Fan, and MPLS.

1 full-time employee (retoucher), and we also hire freelance retouchers on a per-project basis as needed.

I used to have offices in both the Midwest and East Coast, but since covid, I have gotten rid of both offices, and we are 100% remote now, working from home. There are great online tools to assist with reviewing images/collecting feedback, and clients are now used to jumping on video calls. Our largest expenses now are payroll, subcontractors, software, and insurance

2023 goal is to maintain our 60% profit margin and average $4000 in billings per working day.

I work 220 days a year 8 hours days. It’s pretty much a 9-5, but of course, some days/weeks are longer if we need to take meetings with clients in other time zones or projects are on a rush schedule. Sometimes we decide to take on extra work because we like the project and we are ok with putting in more time.

For the most part, our clients are very enjoyable, organized, and great to work with! We are very fortunate 🙂. I’d say once or twice a month, we get a project with a new/newer client where we need to “manage up” and help put some guide rails and structure in place to complete projects on time and within budget. Given our schedule is usually very tight, its really important to stay within schedules so there are no time crunches and delays. The majority (I’d say more than 90%) of our clients are from referrals.

2022 and 2021 have been good and steady, took a large hit in 2020 due to covid, most of our larger projects were stalled, canceled, or got pushed out until clients figured out how to move forward in a pandemic.

We estimate on a per-project basis. Even with clients who we have annual rate contracts with, we still estimate because no two shots are ever the same. Our hourly rate ranges from $175 – $250/hour depending on the type of retouching/project, number or assets, number of review rounds, turnaround time, and final asset outputs. We can have anywhere from 3-10 projects going on at any given time, so we keep a very tight and organized schedule. I like to keep our working days to 8 hours, though some will go to 10+ if we need the extra time to meet deadlines.

On an effort-to-pay basis, the best project we had was for a global hotel chain campaign. The client came to us after already working with another retouching studio who was not working out, and they wanted us to take over the project. We didn’t estimate it as they had a set budget of 75K, and the amount of work they needed would definitely fit within this. When all was completed, we averaged ~950/hr.

Our worst-paying and most frustrating jobs have always been editorials, specifically celebrity editorials. Many publications have set editorial budgets, typically paying around $300/image and $800-$1000 for a cover. However, with the amount of work that can go into them, you end up averaging ~$75-$100/hour. Also, they tend to have crazy timelines with no room for rush fees. The only reason we take these is if we think it would be a good portfolio piece or if its a good client of ours who wants us to work on the images.

I think post-production scheduling and organization is greatly overlooked; when done properly, it can save a lot of time, money, and headache. Also, the way in which feedback is communicated to retouchers can have an effect on the outcome of the project. Everything runs smoother when retouchers have the proper time needed and receive organized, detailed feedback and assets!

The worst paying was just working for free to build a portfolio to be able to get paying clients. That was at the beginning. But like I previously mentioned above, my next assignment will pay $5000 for two months of work, but I will be sailing to 4 different continents.

Yes, I shoot video as well. That is part of my take-home as well. In my work, I shoot photos and videos, and at the moment, combined, that is around 40k.

I am a former musician, and since I was a child, my dream was to become an Adventure photographer and travel the world. I quit my music career to pursue photography. I went 110 percent all in. I sold everything I owned, left my place, and hit the road trying to figure it out. I was alone doing it, trying to navigate the world figuring out this new career path. I worked for free at first for a lot of assignments; I lived in shitty places and out of a suitcase. It was really difficult. In 2019 things started to change and look up. I was getting paid for the work I wanted to make, then covid came. During covid, I hustled, and since I lived in a remote village in Iceland, different companies found that interesting, and I was getting work shooting and licensing. Now in present day, more companies are starting to reach out, I barely get by with what I am making, but each year gets better. I think the goal is just don’t give up, progress, and keep going. I’ve raised my price, but unless it’s an absolute project with a low budget that I can’t turn down, then I will do it.

I am a photojournalist and have mostly covered conflict in countries like Afghanistan, Libya, or Iraq. Recently, I decided to only fly in exceptional circumstances. Thus I have reduced my radius significantly and only pitch stories I can reach by train. I did some commercial shoots but have not pursued more, even though it took only a week to make what I normally make in four months. My income is diversified since I do write, shoot video, direct movies, and give workshops and lectures. I do live on a farm and spend significant amounts of time in the fields every year. It keeps me sane.

80 percent of my income is from photojournalism, feature writing, and TV. The rest is workshops, lectures, and sponsorship deals.

My clients are newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and other journalistic outlets.

I keep my overhead low. My accountant is 2,000/year. Otherwise, there is only insurance. I am lucky that I don’t use much gear and get cameras and lenses as part of a sponsorship deal.

I work 160 days a year.

My income has been increasing slightly every year. This year began very good since I had relatively well-paid assignments back to back.

I am privileged since I am from a wealthy family. I don’t rely on them financially, but I know that it is insurance in case I get sick or lose significant parts of my income. It also frees me to some extent to not work for clients I don’t like to work for.

What is important to understand in my case is that living expenses here are significantly lower than in the US. Rent here is probably a third of what you would pay in comparable US cities. Even though I am a freelancer, half of my health insurance and retirement plan is paid through a publicly regulated system. Both together cost me $550/month without any deductibles or co-pays (except for aesthetic dental procedures).

My shoots almost always include long travel under difficult circumstances. In some cases, travel to the location takes three to four days. I normally stay between one week and three weeks. Day rates start at around $450. Travel days are normally paid half. Conflict situations are paid double. What constitutes conflict is sometimes disputed. Do you have to be in a country at war? Do you have to be close to actual combat? Or does it have to be both? This has improved in recent years, though, because of pressure from photographers.

This past week, I made $5,500 net. That included four days of travel to and from the country and three days of shooting. The shooting days also included hours in a 4×4 on bumpy dirt tracks. The client has unlimited usage rights, though I can license images myself as well.

It is hard to say, in my case, what my worst-paying shoot was recently. I do write feature stories as well and sometimes do package deals that include images and text. A few years ago, I did a story that I shot and researched in about ten days. But the written story was legally challenging, went through various editing rounds, and took weeks to finish. I don’t keep track of my hours, but my estimate was that I ended up getting paid minimum wage.

I do shoot video as well and also direct TV features. That has picked up recently. I try to use print stories as recce for potential documentaries.

After reading what commercial photographers in the US can make, it feels like this is a completely different financial world. But I think it is hard to compare.

Even though my profit is comparably low, I am very content with what I make and can live a comfortable life. I only work on projects I stand fully behind. I don’t work for clients with questionable labor or environmental practices. And most importantly, I like what I do.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

Every year has been a little better than the previous.

I have a solid base of repeat clients that keep me busy consistently. I probably have, on average, 10-15 in studio days a month. Client work rates range from $3000 – $6000 a day.

I also fill in with session/testing. After I pay my teams, I take home about $500 per shoot session (an hour and a half of shooting). That amount includes shoot time, processing, and retouch. Last year $75k on session testing.

I have a rep but get most of my own work currently.

Most of my clients are in New York and the Midwest, and they range from very large corporations to smaller fashion brands. I have a few clients overseas that ship me product, and I produce the shoot through to image deliverable.

I have built my business on my own and only recently got an agent, so I have long terms relationships with just about every client I have. I seem to work for companies that need someone who can do multiple hats. I do more than just shoot for them…creative direction, shoot planning, casting, etc.

I hire a ton of freelance team members. Last year I paid out $45k to freelancers. My overhead is studio rent, studio supplies, travel, internet, cell – monthly, probably a total of $3000.

I work every day at least at the computer on processing and retouch. Shoot days are about 120 a year.

Shoot days are 8-10 hours, depending on client. Usage is usually just super standard because I shoot a lot in the fashion industry, where after the season, the imaging is no longer used. So it’s 1yr, social, web, print lookbook, etc.

My best client is a big national retailer at $4k a day, plus $2k for both travel days. All expenses covered. Multi-day shoots regularly.

I do not shoot video.

Typically I’ve derived almost all of my income from editorial photography (mostly multi-day features). By 2019 I was getting more commercial work, which amounted to about 30% of my total income. In 2021 editorial was down to 10% and has now disappeared entirely, replaced by a rouge’s gallery of commercial projects.

Historically my profit margin is about 50%. My fixed overhead is low and includes a home office, insurance, software, marketing, etc. Keeping the lights on costs me $20k a year at most. In addition, I usually spend $5k a year on tests and personal projects. In recent years I’ve spent much less on physical portfolios and promotions and much more on portfolio reviews.

In 2019 I spent 83 days on set or on assignment. In 2021 it was 22, and 2022 was similar. In some ways, I think it’s a lot more exhausting to not be working much because I’m in a relentless cycle of marketing. The client-direct work I’ve done has been great. I’ve worked with well-staffed teams with decent budgets, though generally, they are getting really broad rights for fees that are somewhat lower than I see on A Photo Editor.

The agency work I’ve done has been hit-and-miss. In 2022 we bid on a lot of shoots, but we hardly landed any of them. Some of the smaller agencies have been really frustrating, and we got ghosted a lot at various stages in the process. That’s somewhat understandable if we’re just submitting a PDF, but in two cases, we’d gotten some verbal indication that the shoot would go forward but then never got a signed estimate or any explanation of what happened.

My business fell off a cliff during the pandemic, and I’m still trying to figure out how to right the ship. Editorial work dried up overnight in 2020 after years of being very busy in that arena. My existing commercial clients also changed direction during the pandemic, so that work went away. It’s frustrating because, pre-pandemic, I was really gathering momentum in the commercial/advertising world. The $60k I made in 2020 was almost entirely in January and February of that year before the lockdown hit.

I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, trying to find the cause. I think it was a hard time to be transitioning into the commercial world because I’m neither an established option or a new face. I don’t know what happened with editorial, where I was very established. Of course, I worry that my work is the problem or a million other factors. At the same time, I’ve heard of a lot of other photographers in the industry having similar struggles. It’s why I wanted to share my story, which is considerably different than the rosy pictures presented recently.

Despite all this, I remain optimistic. I’ve had a lot of meetings lately, and the response to my work has been enthusiastic. I hope that translates into work and that I can make ends meet until it does.

Pre-pandemic editorial shoots would bring in $1000-1500 a day between the day rate, owned equipment rental, digital processing, and high-res fees. The shoot days were very long, often 12 hours or more, and there was a lot of pre-production and editing work that wasn’t really compensated, but I loved it. I worked a lot, and I could make ends meet, even if I wasn’t getting rich.

Post-pandemic, it seems like editorial budgets are completely untenable (sub $800 all-in for shoots that require equipment or travel), and a lot of the coordination and production is falling on the photographer. Contracts have gotten even worse. I’m not sure how anyone could make a career doing editorial as more than an occasional lark these days. I haven’t chased editorial work as hard for that reason, though I still wish they’d call me.

My best-paying shoot was 5 days at $10k a day. It was a project fee that included some expenses, though they were minimal. It was a buyout for broadcast, so the fee was somewhat low from that perspective, though the actual use was limited. The project had a lot of creative freedom with a great team, and it was a huge payday from my perspective.

I’ve had a very low-budget editorial shoot ($500 all-in range) that not only paid barely anything but paid me through an invoicing portal that took a lot of time after the fact to set up. The portal then had a technical problem, and it took months of back-and-forth with the IT until they finally paid me 13 months later.

One of the (few) great things about the pandemic was shooting a lot of video for myself and getting much more confident as a DP and editor. Previously I’d directed videos but brought on crew for a lot it. That said, video is mostly an add-on for me and not yet a big part of my business.

In 2021 I was still making about 50% of my total income from steady food and beverage clients, about 40% from commercial or editorial lifestyle/people, and 10% from image licensing and art sales. I started working with an agent last year.

Most of my clients are international or bi-coastal known brands or publications (large athletic apparel brands, consumer beverage, home goods), and a few are smaller startups.

Advertising is my largest overhead. I commit to a print book each year and a few smaller items, LeBook show through my agent (1k), entering photo competitions (around $300), and pour a decent amount of money back into testing, personal and editorial work. This is often shot on film, so I end up spending about $500-1000 per shoot. I see this as an essential creative outlet and the best form of self-promotion. Another large overhead for me is the ongoing need to apply for an artist visa every 3 years, which is around $6k each time.

In 2021 I shot roughly 8-12 days a month, and in 2022 it was 1 or 2 days per month.

Recently my income has changed drastically. Last year marked two huge changes and energy shifts for me:
1. I signed with my rep, which meant a drop in my revenue and some low or mid-range clients with smaller budgets disappearing.
2. I had a baby. As a freelancer, it is near impossible to plan with no paid maternity leave. While I imagined I would be back in full swing, it’s taken much longer to figure out that balance without childcare. I ended up juggling full-time parenting and fitting my business around that where I could (which wasn’t much!). We really need to change the rhetoric around parenthood in this country so that it isn’t viewed as a career setback.

Another source of income for me is one-off workshops and print sales. These aren’t huge money earners, but they are creatively fulfilling and give me space to hone in my style and personal vision.

Average shoot is 1 day up to 10 hours and day rate including licensing for around 10 images for digital, averages out at 2k-5k.

The best-paying shoots have been a 1-day shoot for a beverage client for 1 image for OOH advertising (billboard) for 1 year at 9k, and a 1-day editorial shoot for a lifestyle book at 12k. Both were before I was signed with a rep.

The worst paying was a food shoot for an editorial client, web use only at $650 per day.

Video is around 5-10% of my income. This is split across stills shoots that also require a motion component such as gifs or straight-up directing and bringing on a team with a DP, 1st AC, gaffer, etc.

I hid the fact I was pregnant from my clients because I was so worried I’d be deemed not good enough or up to the job physically, but I wish I could go back and change that. We’re in an industry that celebrates individuality and self-expression, and this conversation on the support of family needs to be had loudly until the narrative and policies change.

I shoot a lot of portraits and other more corporate things, but the main thrust of my business is lifestyle shoots for large advertising clients. Lifestyle is 70%. I have a recurring catalog client that is about 15-20%. Editorial is about 5%. Corporate is about 10%

Before covid, my clients were almost entirely big national: financial institutions, health insurance companies, retailers, etc. Since covid, it has been dramatically more local and overall much smaller brands.

I have always kept overhead to a minimum with just a home office and no staff, and I do almost everything myself. I own a small amount of equipment and rent when I need more.

I shoot 30-50 days/year.

Pre-Covid, I worked a relatively small number of days at a high rate. I bid against other national photographers. In the last few years, it has been a lot of smaller jobs. Still a comparable amount of overall income but more days at lower rates and a larger variety of clients.

An average shoot for me is 1-2 days, 5k/ day rate, which is just my rate, then another 5-10k for usage on the library. Usually, the usage is in perpetuity. Sometimes there isn’t an additional add-on for usage, and it is included in my day rate.

Best paying series of shoots was for a large financial institution. I shot 9 days over the course of 3 months. For those initial shoots and one year of usage, I made 90k. The following year, I re-upped the license for 70k. All expenses were billed separately.

The worst paying shoot was my first shoot after the pandemic, I shot a 12 hour day, without an assistant or any crew support, for $2500. Perpetual usage was included in that.

I shoot very little video. This is probably the thing that has surprised me the most in my career. When I was assisting and just starting to shoot, I was under the impression that if I didn’t master video, I would be left in the dust. I have only shot video for a client one time. I have worked as a director/photographer several times; in those instances, I work with a DP, and I don’t shoot any video. Even that arrangement has been less frequent than I initially thought it would be. I am always trying to do more video and get better at working with a video crew, but for the most part, if someone is hiring me, it’s to shoot stills.

Be flexible about what “success” in your career looks like. Is success making a lot of money? Is it making work that is inspiring to you? Be ready to be wrong about what a successful career looks like.

Also, keep your overhead low. I have been able to last some pretty lean times because I live way inside of my means. If you have a good year, buy yourself a new pair of sneakers and save the rest.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

Last year I shot primarily editorial work. My clients are Local, generally small-scale companies.

My expensenses are Business Insurance: $1,850 (CAD), Adobe subscription: ~$972 (CAD), car expenses, occasional gear repairs and upgrades.

I’m not sure I’m making any profit at the moment. If I am, it’s barely worth mentioning.

I might work 25 days a year. I’d love to improve that.

Prior to January 2022, I was working regularly as a photo assistant at a large commercial studio in Toronto, while doing my own shoots on the side. The assisting work made up the majority of my income. When I decided to strike out on my own last year, my income dropped by about 25%.I sometimes do private photography lessons, although I don’t advertise this. It’s not a significant contributor to my income.

For a typical shoot, I will spend a few hours location scouting, half a day shooting and up to 8 hours editing (as needed). For a commercial shoot I charge $1,050 per day (expenses like H/MUA, assistants, etc. are on top of that). My editorial rate is a bit lower at $800 per day.

The best job I had in the last few years was a day I spent photographing an automotive product demonstration. One full day of shooting, one day of minor editing. I made $1,050.

The worst was a bat mitzvah. In my contract, I specified that I would do event coverage using available light and up to 4 studio-style portraits with backdrop and strobes in an alcove at the venue. On the day of the shoot, the mother of the young girl insisted I take photos of just about every permutation of the extended family. I ended up doing 53 group portraits. The editing took me 2 months, and I didn’t feel comfortable asking for extra money. I made $800.

I don’t shoot video. I leave video work to the people who have spent at least as much time learning that craft as I have learning stills photography.

My advice to photographers is to raise your rates regularly. Your experience is valuable.

Covid wrecked my business.

I shoot 80% Editorial and 20% Fine Art. My clients are all over the US and International. I am a C Corp and myself and my husband are employees. Overhead: Equipment (mostly computer hardware/software), health insurance is a giant expense, camera insurance, liability insurance, payroll, internet/web, materials for fine art work, non-billable hours for business promotion. I need to gross approx. $5k per month to make expenses, which include contributing to a ROTH IRA, payroll, taxes, equipment, etc. I work around 250 days a year.

My clients are cheap, constantly asking for “trade” in the form of a “photo credit”.

I am married to someone who has good real estate investments. Prior to Covid, I only had to consider the most basic business expenses, however now that we lost the income from the investments, I have had to try and make up in areas that I previously did not have to fund, (such as health insurance).

On an average shoot before Covid I would have assignments where I would made a tidy profit which included the ability to bill for equipment, pre-production, location fees and other reasonable costs or have a flat fee that covered those expenses. Now, the majority of the requests I get for shoots are flat fees with no reimbursement for actual expenses.

My most profitable shoot since Covid was for a major US Newspaper where I was working locally, got to go home at night and the net income was about $3K for 3 days’ work. The hours worked each day were about 8 – 10 because I spent a lot of time prepping the images for publication. Otherwise I had a couple of assignments that were profitable because I negotiated based on their budget and kept my actual expenses very low.

The worst shoot day was for a major Newspaper based on the West Coast. The day rate was $150 for a portrait shoot about a 45 minute drive from my home city. The paper ended up using a bunch of images, the terms of the contract were horrible, but I was desperate to get some work going due to the losses from Covid shutting down everything. I don’t think I actually earned any money, maybe $35 total profit.

Yes I shoot video, but I have not had many assignments that include video,. For the majority of video I shoot, the client just asks for raw footage and sound, then their editors put the final piece together.

Advice I would give to anyone considering this line of business – stand up for your copyright and understand that this job, photography, is a business. Photo credits are useless. Try to comprehend that the decisions you make do not just effect you, but effect everyone in the industry, not only at this moment, but well into the future.

I shoot 50/50 food and architecture. All my clients are local restaurants, food manufacturers/distributors, interior designers, and architects.

Gross last year was $120k. Crew, camera kit replacement (after 10 years of D800’s), equipment repairs, flights, studio rent were the main expenses.

In 2022 I had 106 shoot days.

My income has increased roughly +15% year over year of you exclude 2020.

Average shoot unless I’m bidding to an agency, I’ll always have a combined creative and licensing fee to cover my take home. Often in Portland, for local clients, $2500-$3000/day is the ceiling for my client base. Expenses are usually passthrough because I’m already maxing out clients budgets just on my creative rate alone.

Usage is almost entirely website and social, sometimes POP, occasional packaging, rarely national, never global.

Non-exclusive usage in NA in perpetuity is common with most of my clients because they’re local, have never heard of usage.

For agency work, every job is different and will negotiate rights on a per-job basis. That said, I’ve negotiated buyout twice in the last 5 years, and those were significant pay days.

Average hours worked is probably close to 20 between prepro, shoot, and post.

My biggest shoot was for a national agriculture organization promoting food products. I took home $27,000 after 5 days of in studio POP still life work. Agency was to handle retouching (they didn’t touch them, disappointingly), expenses were close to $15,000 in addition to the 27k creative and licensing rates.

Worst shoot was for a well known global company with $6k budget to shoot packaging in studio with 15 deliverables. I wanted the client, blew the whole budget on the set dresser, studio rental, retouching, and lunch orders. There was no agency involvement. and I lost about $1500 on that shoot.

I don’t shoot video.

Play the long game. That job that I lost $1500 on, netted me $15k from other work I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten with other clients.

I was making 85k with full benefits in the US then moved to NZ which increased my income but the exchange rate means my purchasing power when I come back to the US is diminished. The company supplies all my gear and computers.

I work 42 hours per week, regular full time. Busy times of year can push into 50+ hours.

My personal photography is long-form documentary (I like to return to subjects over time), but professionally I work in Film and TV. I have always been an in-house photographer. I spent six years at a science museum covering everything from headshots to complex studio shoots as well as accompanying researchers in the field. I also ran a robotic camera system doing gigapixel images of scientific specimens. This variety has led me to some interesting opportunities including the job I have now.

I know my income could be much higher if I went freelance, but the continual change in what I get to shoot keeps me learning and growing skills. I don’t know I would get to explore this as much if I needed to brand myself as a particular kind of photographer. So far this year I have done everything from costume finals in the studio on a model to high-end product photography of swords. Being in-house what I shoot changes every week which I love!

Through my employer I have done work for Disney, Marvel, and other Film and TV productions. Daily clients are internal, mostly other departments and project supervisors who need images taken.

My days are 60-40 shooting vs admin usually. Some days I’m shooting almost back to back for hours, some days are just spent on processing and getting through backlogs. Most shoots are either quick 30min turnarounds or 2-4hr shoots with fit models. About five times a month I have full-day shoots that include video.

I love video work. I fill in for the in-house videographer occasionally.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

I first picked up a camera in early 2000 and pushed my way into assisting some top tier photographers. My first assignment was 2004. I got on with a big rep and landed a huge pharma campaign. Just as everything was falling into place and I was feeling on top of the world I ran into life changing family problems.

I decided to make a radical change. I left New York, put away my photo gear and started a seafood business. For the first three years I loved it. But then I tried to up scale. The next 3 years were hell. It ended when I caught my employees doing lines of coke at 4 in the
morning.  Their incompetence and drug addiction combined with my lack on experience running a business wiped me out. I lost all my savings and I had no choice but to sell off all the assets. In the end I owed $60k to the bank.

So I picked up the camera again, contacted everyone I had ever worked for, and got the same response from everyone. In those 6 years the industry had changed a lot. Most clients had moved on, magazines no longer had budgets, and I had no new work to show.

So I moved in with my parents. At first I couldn’t even give it away. There just wasn’t a market for my type of photography.  My images were too expensive to produce and no one was interested.

I decided to reinvent everything about my images. I put away my lights and taught myself how to take simple, naturally lit portraits. On Facebook I offered to take free portraits of any woman who owned their own business. I did that for two months. With those images I started a portrait/headshot business.

Then the pandemic hit. So I was dead in the water before I ever made a dime. But I kept trying.

Finally with the vaccine becoming available, I made a huge push, did $500/month in google ads and took any job that came my way. I’m talking birthday shoots, pet portraits, I mean I did any job at any price. The mid-Atlantic market is so incredibly saturated with headshot photographers that people constantly tried to get me to lower my price. It was humiliating.  But I didn’t know what else to do. So I just filled every day with 4-6 portrait sessions at $99/session.

Eventually I was getting enough calls that I was able to raise my price to $400 a session and companies started to have employees come back into the office and I started to get headshot jobs where I was shooting between 10-30 people in a day.

With this little bit of success I was able to spend a little more time looking for commercial clients.  I pitched to every startup I could find, and I connected to a small bio-tech/pharma firm. I have now taken over all their branding photography and am doing 1 shoot almost every month. I charge $15k/day to create a library of images licensed for branding, not advertising.

I am now busier than I’ve ever been. I keep my overhead very low, I don’t use assistants or digi-techs. I pretty much just show up with two cameras and two lenses. I’m not even bringing a laptop.

I have no stats for before Covid, but last year I made $230k in profits.

For me, the days of big productions are over. I know that my new work is nothing special. It’s just simple, sort-of-stock type images. But I’m not spending any energy creating bids, or producing anything. I am spending $500/month on google ads.  I’m not creating promos, I’m not even spending much time retouching. There are times I wish I was creating more unique and artful pictures, but this is where I am right now.

I’ve been a hybrid photographer/graphic designer for a really long time. I found it to be too much to try and manage both, so I jumped ship from graphic design entirely only over the last couple of years. In a lot of ways I’m a bit of a newbie on the market.

I started in stock photography long ago around 2010. I also shot for smaller local companies as well as a small company within a Major Fortune 500 for almost 10 years. It was consistent, reliable photography work that I could dovetail into my graphic design work and I didn’t need to do any marketing to sustain it. In 2019 I began the process of polishing up my online presence, creating test shoots to improve my portfolio, and began reaching out to larger brands and corporations with the hopes of going full time into photography (which is where I am now).

My client base varies from fortune 500 to smaller brands all over the US

In the past most of my income came from food and product, lately it seems to be leaning more towards lifestyle. I’d say 30% food 30% product 40% lifestyle at the moment, but in the past 40% food, 40% product, and 20% lifestyle.

Definitely have more overhead than I had as a graphic designer. Last year I invested heavily in marketing, listing sites, portfolio reviews, SEO website overhaul, personal projects/test shoots, promos. Ordinarily my total overhead is closer to about $50-$60k a year

Big chunks include:
Marketing expenses came to about $20-$30k in 2022
New equipment (computers, monitors, lenses, cameras is about $9k
Accounting, software, website hosting $8k
Insurance $2k

How much I work varies and I’m always looking to work smarter, not harder. So better clients that understand licensing that have better budgets. During the pandemic I took whatever came my way, now I’ve got a minimum I won’t book without. Ideally 1 (2-3 day) shoot a week is the sweet spot, but off weeks are perfect for marketing and admin work.

While my income was down last year, it was partially due to my taking time off for a personal project and then having a perfect storm of a few repeat clients changing direction creatively either away from professional photography or shooting their own content. That put me in a real dry patch for a while, but I used that time to hit marketing super hard which also cost some money. Overall I think this year could have surpassed last year if I had been on call for the entire year and I think there’s room to grow from here especially if my marketing keeps exposing me to new people.

Average shoots are 2-3 days, lately on-location. 8 am call time (but I usually arrive a bit earlier so I can scope things out and get setup), my day involves hauling all the gear and tech into the location (with assistants) and getting everything lit, getting the tether station up and running, handing out ipads with live view on them, etc. and then coordinating with talent and stylists as we work through the shot list. We’ll work typically until 5:30 or later… sometimes to 7 pm (so that’s a 10-12 hour day). After wrap it’s a lot of work combing through the selects and retouching. I’ve been doing a lot of my own retouching, but I’m branching out now to outsource that when I can afford to.

Average take home per shoot day is somewhere in the $7k range depending on expenses and client contract.

I can tell you my worst shoots were during the start of the pandemic when I was just happy to have work to shoot. I had one client take screenshots while I was sharing the shoot remotely. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but they proceeded to use those images in their marketing without paying for them. Most shoots during the pandemic covered only a day rate, better jobs in that time included the day rate, equipment, travel, and post production. Editorial shoots paid me $200 a SHOOT and I was doing the food styling, prop styling, everything. Awful.

Know your worth, make sure you get paid a fair rate. If you’re wearing multiple hats like many do when starting out, CHARGE for those services (styling, propping, set design, etc.). And never forget to keep marketing yourself. Just because you get busy doesn’t mean there won’t be a dry spell, so every day you have off set without retouching to do, put your head down and get those emails, postcards, mailers, etc. out… update your listing sites, and scour LinkedIn for possible opportunities.


I kind of turned on the fire hose when things got quiet on me. The positive side of that is I could tell what worked and what did little to nothing for me.

1. Paid an SEO expert for my website $$
2. Did LeBook event $$$$
3. Upgraded Workbook to a higher level (not seeing any results in that investment) $$$
4. Listed with Production Paradise (didn’t feel like that was a fit, ultimately and not a fan of the layout/delivery) $$
5. Listed with Found $
6. Listed with Komyoon $
7. Listed with Wonderful Machine $$
8. Worked with a consultant to refine my portfolio & help direct personal work $$$
9. Invested in email services and contact management $$
10. Invested in listing with regional business listings for SEO $
11. Physical promos $$$
12. Website/domain name expenses $
13. Monthly agency fees (no longer with agency) $$$
14. Contract with marketing assistance $$
15. Social media scheduling service $
16. Occasional stock image/graphic/font purchases for marketing materials $

The single most helpful thing was SEO and then starting to understand how my specific regional market works.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

Visit Instagram to see all the commentary from these posts:

The 70k year was 25k shooting, 25k re-licensing work and 20k side gigs

My clients are fortune 500 and occasional international (Finance/Insurance/Healthcare/Pharma/Travel/Etc.). Going into Covid — shooting large campaigns and bidding often. Getting new opportunities with dream jobs right into the shutdown. Post shutdown: gigantic drop in income, and bidding opportunities got less and less. Bidding opportunities seemingly paused over past year. I had a great rep until somewhat recently. Editorial work has gone from 25% to 5%.

Have had to pick up other jobs in the industry to make ends meet.

Overhead is insurance, website, offsite archive backup, cloud storage. When I was repped it was a bit higher with marketing expenses, but since covid, those went way down anyway. No employees.

Each job is different and I’ve always been pretty flexible. Typical is hard to classify, but examples of the range of jobs has been: just a digital tech + myself getting stills on the set of a motion shoot for a client— To as large as having my own production with 80+ cast and crew members (stills + motion). To somewhere between: with myself and a producer — and bringing a first assistant and a digital tech and picking up local crew on a multi city, multi week shoot for a major corporation. I’ve done campaigns with solid 6 figure budgets and with the same clients, I’ve done projects that are less than $10k all in. (Fees ranging from $5k-15k day with one year usage (see below).

On the most lucrative campaigns: they’re often multi day (10-12 hour days) with fee & usage working out to $10k/day with a 1 year usage on all images for most uses (minus broadcast). A typical day might net $10-15k in fees/usage (depending on outdoor usage). Extended duration for usage pushes take home up.

I might walk with: 2 day shoot = ~ $20-25k. 4 Day shoot might be in the range of $40-$45k. And perhaps a bit more depending upon rentals or post production involvement.

A few shoots ran into the $60-70k range after paying out my agent, and then adding in rentals / prep days / tech scouting / post production fees. Usage 1-3 years online + print. Days were usually 10-12 hours.

In the past few years some of the biggest bids I was in on had fees/usage totaling $50-100k+ range, depending upon the usage. But they didn’t go my way.

My lowest paying shoots have been direct local clients – online + print usage: walk with maybe $1100-1200 for single 8-10 hour day.

Video is 15-20% of my work but most often I have a camera operator or DP, and I direct, but don’t generally operate a camera.

This post pandemic experience has been somewhat surreal, but very real. From a photographic point of view, I still love it. I’m still pushing forward, creating new work, and experimenting. From an income point of view, it feels like my career has disappeared. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. Don’t underestimate the power of influence and of building a recognizable name. If you don’t do either of those things, try to have as many clients as possible and to be shooting as often as possible. Make yourself anti-fragile.


$ are CAD. 1 CAD = .75 to .80 USD.

In 2022 I made about $65K in Commercial Jobs, $20K in Events and $16K in Portraiture. The remaining was smaller photojournalism work. I have no employees and pay $450/month for my shared studio / office. It’s large enough for portrait work and then I’ll rent larger studios for commercial jobs if required. The only other expenses are my book keeper and then the usual, Capture One, Adobe, Phone, Etc. I don’t feel like I have a lot of overhead. My total expenses in 2022 was $15,889.33 – bringing my gross to approx. $112,000.

Mostly large local clients, some international and US clients that come to the city. I also have a lot of clients that are small local creative agencies that essentially give me first right of refusal to jobs they bring in. This has been really impactful on my last few years because we already really align on the types of clients we want to work with.

in 2022 I had 59 jobs, most were a one shoot day, some were 2-5 hour events. I probably work 3-4 days a week planning shoots, editing or shooting. I don’t work a lot in January traditionally and spend a lot of that month emailing past clients, revamping my website and setting up my year a little.

I wouldn’t say I have a typical client. Event clients are either individuals that are throwing private parties, which is what a prefer to shoot over public events, or they are Associations or Non Profits doing a Gala. I have three gala’s that I shoot every year, I won’t be taking on any more. They’re great at this point because we all know what to expect from each other and it’s very little work for both them and me. They also expect rates to go up every year.

The commercial clients are medium sized local businesses, usually working with a marketing company.

My portrait work is a huge array of individuals, from law firms to individuals who want a new LinkedIn photo to everyone in between.

I thought I was really hitting my stride with events right before Covid, then I lost all my event work and really pivoted into Commercial work. I was lucky because businesses were looking for more ways to interact online so I was able to pick up work really easily. In the following years I’ve increased my income each year, mainly by being less afraid to quote higher and by saying no to the smaller clients who don’t understand usage or want large photo libraries but don’t have the budget for it. I think I’m working smarter and more confidently.

I wouldn’t say I have an average shoot. I’ve survived by making sure I’m willing to be flexible with what I’ll shoot. My average event is 2-5 hours long @ $300-$350/hour with basically zero expenses. My average commercial day is probably 1 day @ $2000-$3K day rate + expenses & usage. I try and take home at least $4000/day shooting commercial work.

The best paying shoot I’ve had was a contract with a large firm to travel across Canada and shoot approximately 70 traditional and environmental portraits and about 60 lifestyle images across 4 locations. I shot 6 or 7 days, had six travel days and edited everything myself. I billed out $77K for the job and took home probably $70K, covering food, a photo assist and some small rentals – flights and hotels were paid for directly by the company and weren’t included in my fees. They licensed the photos for 5 years for their website / marketing materials. I think it’s important to note I originally quoted MUCH lower on this job and the woman who was the lead coached me along and requested I re-estimate based on numbers they’d used in the past. She really cared that I was paid fairly.

My worst shoot I was brought on board to do the stills portion of a commercial very last minute and the budget had already been set at $750/day INCLUDING the licensing 5 x photos a day. No editing. I was told this was for their website. I found out months later that my work was on buses all around the city. I felt like I had been tricked, nobody wanted to take any responsibility for the issue and in the end I just gave up trying to get any payment for it.

I don’t shoot video.

I read once that it’s important to make sure everyone you meet knows what you do and who your ideal client is. I’ve used that often and I’ve found that by sharing what I’m looking for, I’m often helped by the people I least expect to have incredible contacts. I also think it’s very important to speak with other photographers in your area and find out what they’re charging. Be open to talking about rates and USAGE! Don’t undercut your peers, don’t feel like YOU have to take the pay cut because a company can’t afford the kind of photography they want from you.

$140-160k gross.

I shoot 80% journalism, 10% Event, 10% Commercial. I have no employees. I buy a new set of cameras every 2-3 years, it used to cost around $7-10k, but since switching to small mirrorless it’s been closer to $3-5k. I used to buy $4-5k of lenses every year or two now it’s closer to $2-3k. I invested around $8k in lighting gear over the course of 5 years, but haven’t needed to buy much more recently. I bought a 50k SUV which I use everyday for work. $4k Laptop every 3-5 years. My profit margin is $25-30k/ year.

There was a lot of overheard in the beginning of my career and also thinking that a better camera or lens would make my work better but lately I’ve realized that the cheaper gear works better (smaller, lighter, less conspicuous, etc). I also used to travel a lot for spec projects which I don’t do much anymore

My clients are large national US publications, large US corporate event clients. Within photojournalism 95% large national tabloid 5% wire services/broadsheet papers. Event is mixture of education and marketing firms.
I work around 230 days a year which is about 4-5 days a week.

In the past few years I’ve been able to raise my rates and evolve my style which has allowed me more flexibility and a higher income.

I split mortgage payments and living expenses with my wife. In previous years copyright infringement cases netted large sums for me but no longer.

Shoots range from 30 minutes to 12 hour work days. After 8 hours it is a higher rate, but not often more than 20%.

My best shoot in terms of time was when I did a portrait for a corporate client which was $3K for 45 min shoot. I retained rights they were granted internal publication rights no advertising or external use. A normal journalism job netted $500 for the day rate but I was able to license the image for $2000 and $3000 to two TV networks a week later (single time usage in one episode, but all platforms).

I’ve done shoots for free in the past thinking it would lead to work which it didn’t .

I do very little video, 1-2 shoots a year. Had some new video work with an existing client but it got destroyed by Covid.

The most salient thing I’ve encountered is that the more respected publications have the worst rates and copyrights grabs, especially in journalism. The NYT used to have the worst rate, for YEARS it was $200. They finally raised it to $450 with a work-for-hire joint copyright. Most wire services like Reuters, Getty, will take all copyrights for $350. Maybe throw you 100 bucks if you go to 10-12 hours. Tabloids will pay 400-500 sometimes more all expenses, travel, etc, and you will retain all copyrights after 24 hours with almost no restriction on resales. The most important factor though is volume: the tabloids will hire 200-300 days a year for YEARS. There is a lot of loyalty within this group, they will hold onto you for a long time, whereas the top journalism clients NYT, WashPo, Wires, all go through their freelancers very quickly and they will only offer a handful of people anything close to full time work. Most of my colleagues who freelance for these top companies work 5-10 days a month, which to me is unsustainable. The top level freelancers are either wealthy or have a wealthy partner/spouse or they live in abject poverty just living on the edge. Similarly with the photo editors.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

My income went up every year from 2016-2020 then dropped significantly during covid and when I moved to another state. Now in 2023 my income has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

My clients are are small to midsize fashion brands based on the west coast. Because they’re smaller we have to cram a lot of looks into one day which drives down quality overall. I shoot 60% eComm and 40% Lifestyle, fashion and still life.

My other source of income is Retouching which has been a great fallback for those tighter months.

Average shoot:
eComm – 10 hours, 60-100 looks per day, 1 year digital only usage, 3 retouched images per look, $3300/day for shoot, $1000/day for retouching (usually 2 days), $650 for first assistant, $2.5k for EQ

Lifestyle campaign – 10 hours, 15-20 looks per day, 1 year digital only usage, 100 lightly retouched images, $3,500/day, $1000/day for retouching (usually 2 days), $650 for first assistant, $500 for second assistant, $2.5K-3.5K for EQ

Campaigns for national beauty brands – 10 hours, 15-20 shots per day, no retouching included, 1 year digital only usage, $3000/day, $650 for first assistant, $500 for a second assistant, $2.5K-$3.5K for EQ

My best shoot was for a Sports brand, 2 athletes, 1/2 day shoot on location on west coast, 10 retouched photos for one year digital only usage, $5,600

Photographers make sure you raise your rate to match inflation at the beginning of every year, don’t be afraid to negotiate for travel days and renting out your own gear, raise your team rates when you raise your own.

My profit margin is 40-45% post income taxes. Try to run very very lean. I work 40-50 days a year with many more for pre and post, travel, etc. But we’re always workin, right? Revenue has steadily declined. Income has declined slower percentage-wise due to aggressive cost savings and always evaluating how to run lean in my business and my life. But I’ve cut my way to all the savings I can realize. I have no employees and work from home office. I’m a self proclaimed fiend for finding super clean used equipment. Lean and mean.

My clients are Local to New York State, exclusive of NYC. My work is 50% Corporate, 20% Editorial and 30% Corporate Events/Conference. Editorial is largely national trade mags with needs in my area. Some corporate is for major nationals who have needs in my area. Business conferences are everything from state trade associations to massive corporate conferences.

I have a spouse, thankfully, so health insurance comes from their job and cash flow comes from their job. And I also have my savings. I worked extremely hard early on to get to a point where the money I put in my pocket this year is used to pay living expenses next year. And metered out carefully, that savings account sometimes increased year over year. But not after the pandemic. It’s nearly gone now.

My shoots are most often a full day, or maybe a couple, and I do a full 8 hrs creating lots of content as a library of their operations. Client will cover all travel, hotels and some meals. I run solo so no assistants or crew, etc. Often I can bill a couple hundred bucks to travel in ahead of time and maybe for some travel back to home base on the back end.

My fee for the day is 2K all in with usage and 4-500 for post. And I’m very productive. Licensing is generally 5 to 10 years unlimited. No advertising rights included and no right of distributing to third parties (like to a company who has equipment in the photos, say). I’m Ok with it as the photos age-out either because of tech or clothing, or because they use the heck out of them and wear them out. So in reality they have maybe a 3 year lifespan.

Any attempts to drag my rates up from there or bill for usage on top of that and I’m instantly ghosted and lose the work. Repeat clients balk if I’m any higher than that, even if I explain that inflation is killing me and we haven’t raised rates in years.

Would feel fairly treated if I was able to bill $3500-$4000 per day for the production value and level of content they are getting.

Best paying shoot was for one of those library days mentioned above and my take after all expenses was about $5500. But that went into the business to help make my break even point where my overhead for the year was covered. About 6 days total: 1/2 on either end to travel in and out. 3 on site and traveling between locations within a couple states (making for 10-15 hour days, usually up before dawn). About 2 days for post and delivery of several hundred images. Licensed unlimited for 10 years as listed above with no advertising rights or rights to distribute to third parties.

Second best paying job would be a “trade” (educational institution) magazine which needed an alumni portrait. 2 locations nearby with one outfit change. Under 3 hrs to travel, do the job, and return to home base, then a couple hours post. Assistant which was billable. Able to schedule at my preference when light was nice. University has done research into living wage and offered $1600 for fee, plus mileage, billing for some post, assistant, etc. Would 10/10 do those all week long. First usage rights to them, embargo until 90 days after they publish. Clause by them that no secondary publication of images that could hold institution or the subject in a bad light.

My worst paying job $350 for a half day+ for a trade magazine. Multiple things needed to be covered at one location about 45 mins away. Beat back a request to create some cover candidates by saying the job would start at 1200 to even be considered if a cover was involved. Very rushed. Work. For. Hire. Complained and complained. Miserable publishing group to deal with. All in, was probably about 10, 12 hours from start to moment of invoicing. But work comes in and you’ve had nothing for 40, 50, 60 days you take it. Owner of mag called months and months later to complain I didn’t create enough detail photos for their files from that job. Rest of the abbreviated convo didn’t go well as I offered, uh, ‘input’.
No I don’t do any video.

My advice for photographers is to run lean and buy used.

If you think you need gear, rent it until you are using it all the time. Never ever think you have to “upgrade” (argh!!!) just because a new camera comes out. In fact, chase all the clean barely used stuff everybody who “”upgraded”” last time around is now selling cheap.

Learn to save and invest, and the difference between the two. Work so that the money you make this year goes into the bank or your investments, and you have it there to live off of next year so you don’t have to freak out about cash flow or dry spells. Took years to get to that point …

Get a side hustle or second skill. As a photojournalism exile that used to be weddings, which at the time were great but suck now. Have a second skill like bartending or something. Need to make those personal bills? Well parachute into being a bartender or server or landscaper or accountant for hire or whatever for a day or a month and get those bills handled. That way you don’t devalue yourself or the industry by being desperate.

Learn video. Offer it. Even on a rudimentary level.

Share. Even with competitors. The more we share, the better. Especially about business.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

I’ve probably increased by about $50k/year for the past few years. Covid did not effect the design/home industry so that worked well.

I have very little overhead: I work from home, have insurance, and travel costs are all reimbursed by client. Profit margin is 85% Grossed $300k, profited $250k. I have no employees, a freelance assistant on shoot days, and an editor/retoucher on maybe 10% of projects.

My clients are Amazing! So easy, nice to work with, lots of women (many mothers too), creative, successful. I have the best clients! Mostly interior designers along with a few projects each year for companies in the design/home industry (ie cb2, saatva, interior define) and a few publications each year. I also license one off images to companies in the design/home industry like lighting companies, tile, etc. 95% of my income comes from small independent interior designers of around 5 people within Texas. Last year I traveled to NY once, LA twice, Colorado once.

On average I have 2 shoots per week, sometimes 3-4 in busy seasons. I edit every other day and am in the studio like a 9-5 job when not shooting. I take probably 12-14 weeks off to travel or to be with family/kids. I work hard when working, but when I am off, I am off.

Average shoot is about 8 hours for the day, arrive at 9, end at 5. Around 15-20 images shot with a team of me, my assistant, sometimes a stylist and their assistant and 2-3 people from the designers team. Images are licensed to only that designer for web usage only, and I make around $3500-4k. That is the average shoot/client for me. I never work on weekends or after 5 pm.

My highest paying shoot of the last few years was $10k, 2 day shoot, 25 images, licensed to interior designer and architect, easy, fun, laid back, 8 hour days

My lowest paying shoot from the last few years was $1500, just 5 images, shot over maybe 2-3 hours, licensed to designer for web usage only. still nice, quick and easy, so the lower fee reflected that. less images, less time shooting, less time editing

I do not shoot video, but would like to start.

As far as pricing goes, talk to other people in your industry in your area and get on the same page. Don’t give away your images. They are valuable. It is not an honor to be featured by a company like Cb2 or Serena and Lily if they are not paying you- they are taking advantage of you. Also, if you like the slow pace and control that comes with shooting interiors, it’s an awesome path to take. Start assisting for someone who focuses on what you want to do and learn all you can. Especially as a mother who values family and space, I have found the schedule is amazing- not too much travel (but some), no work on weekends or evenings (unless you are doing more architecture and taking lots of exteriors), you can say yes or no to anything, and clients almost always ask when YOU are available, so you have complete control over your schedule.

$150-175k taxable income paid to myself most years, taken out of $225-250k each year in creative & licensing fees, stock sales and print sales after expenses. My gross invoices are $275-325k a year with all expenses included. Most of my expenses are fuel for my truck, flights and hotels and meals for clients (nearly all of that is reimbursed) and camera and computer gear upkeep and replacement. I pay no rent, no employees but myself and very few professional fees of any kind. I run a fairly tight ship as far as needless expenses go.

70% of my income is from commercial and editorial assignments, the remaining 30% from print sales and stock sales. My clients are mostly agricultural and outdoor lifestyle in nature. Some industrial. Some college work.

I maintain strong relationships with two Fortune 500 clients and most everyone else is mid-sized. I shoot all over the country for the larger clients and mostly in the Midwest for the smaller ones.

I have no employees and virtually no overhead. I work out of my home office and I don’t maintain any studio space. Cameras and computers and a pickup truck are my only expenses.

I’m probably shooting or traveling to shoots 140 days a year, and then doing work in the office, printing, networking and researching another 100 days a year.

My income took a 30-35% dip in 2020 but other than that it’s remained the same. I was able to collect two years of PPP worth around $37k total and then our state had a covid grant with which I was able to collect $65k. The Covid grant required me to have a sales tax license in place during 2020 and at least one really bad quarter that year, both of which I had. My business is an S-Corp, which I’ve maintained for 25 years and it’s been very beneficial in several ways, including the PPP, the Covid grant and many other corporate tax savings throughout the years.

An average shoot for one of the larger clients is 2-5 days and around $5k/day, with $1500/day for travel days, and $2k for scout days. Licensing is very minimal because these clients freak out about it. The midrange clients are usually 1-2 days and mostly within driving distance.

My best job was a 5-day shoot plus two scout days and two travel days in Washington state in 2022 for a large ag tractor company. Shoot days were mostly dawn to dusk, travel days were just flight times (5-7 hours each), scout days were only 3-4 hours each. After travel expenses my biz took home around $33k.

Every year I take on a handful of tiny shoots from a local community college to profile alumni in their jobs. $650/shoot, plus mileage and $100 digital editing. It’s easy shooting for a couple of hours and comes during slow winter months.

I do a little b-roll here and there for clients. I doubt if it’s even 1% of my income. But I do shoot some short pieces as I build my video portfolio.

Look into incorporating. There are many tax benefits to it, and it adds a firewall against libel and other legal issues. Don’t rent a bunch of space, studio or otherwise, that you don’t use a lot. Maintain a good set of camera gear and good computers so you’re not dealing with tech and gear issues on shoots. Don’t be snotty or uppity to clients no matter how crappy they are… there are many instances in my 30 years of freelance where a client peon on a shoot calls me years later because I was easy to work with and now they run an art department somewhere else. Words to live by: “You reap what you sow.”

I do a lot of non profit work but the majority of my income comes from commercial. My clients are all over the US. Pre pandemic, I worked 3 weeks a month now it’s 1 week. No employees anymore just freelance assistants and digi tech. My profit margin is not good.

My overhead is mostly marketing and advertising. My rep requires we pay $1000 per LeBook show and make 4 promos a year. Plus advertising in LeBook online and many other channels and shows.

My clients are Catalog, Department Stores, and not necessarily anything I love. To supplement income I do weddings and portraits when times are slow

Average rates for me are 2,500-4k a day right now. I work at least a 10hr day plus several pre calls and scouts and tons of editing on the back end for the client. So I would say my “day rate” pays for about 3 days of work, on average . But my agent also gets 25% of that. So I probably take home $800-$1000 a day if that.

Speedo, Sketchers, and Pandora have paid me the most in the past. My highest day rate for fees alone has been 10k with advertising usage for print and billboard, 2years, all inclusive. I would say the take home pay is 50% of that after my rep, expenses, and marketing

Worst paying job I have accepted lately is shooting e-commerce for $750 a day (my agent gets paid their fee separately) I only take it because it’s local, I can drive to work and shoot 9-5, and they sometimes book a week at a time. It’s filler work that pops up regularly and helps me fill the gaps between advertising jobs.

I don’t shoot video, but I work with DPs and book jobs that require both, often.

This is an expensive career, especially with a rep, and the pay is getting significantly less. I still hustle, shoot for myself all the time, and am not ready to give it up. I love what I do too much. But man, is it tough out there!

How Much Do You Make – A Male Southern California based Commercial Advertising and Fine Art Photographer with 22 years experience and no rep.

My clients are Fortune 500 and run the gamut from awesome to terrible. 60% of my income is commercial and 40% fine art. I have zero employees and 12k in overhead. My profit margin is 65%. Around 25% of my work is video.

I shoot 50 days a year but am working 365 on everything else. 

An average shoot day is 10 hours, sometimes more. I work on a day rate plus use model. Most use is between 2 and 5 years in North America or globally. I usually have a producer handle all expenses, and I bill back for lighting equipment and other tools the production uses. I own all my own gear, so this is a profit center for me.

My best shoot was a one-day pre-light and one-day shoot for a global consumer brand, where I licensed 10 images for two years of global use and got paid a 25k day rate and another 5k per image, so 75k total, and then I made 10k on grip lighting camera and digital. 

My worst shoot was a 14-hour day for a major brand where I was paid $7500 for filming and directing a tv commercial for broadcast. I was hired as the DP, and the “agency was going to direct,” except they were clueless, and I ended up directing, so I basically got taken advantage of by an agency. 

Photographers need to charge more and expect more, and do the right thing. Also, copyright your images and hold agencies accountable when they steal them and use in decks without your permission. 


Ed Note:

I would love to have more women participating in this column and more niches within the industry (newspaper, event, senior portrait, wedding, etc.). Email me:

I will send you a link to a google form that will ensure your anonymity. 

How Much Do You Make – A repped female Beauty and Lifestyle Photographer based in Boston with 22 years experience

2020 – 78k

2021 – 140k

2022 – 95k

I shoot photo and video Commercial Beauty and Lifestyle predominantly and can shoot still life as well. In Boston, you gotta be good at a lot to survive. I started as a retoucher 22 years ago and have been shooting for 19 years. I have a rep, and most of my income comes from lifestyle work. My video work is about half my income.

I have no employees and share a studio with others to help with overhead which averages $60k. My profit margin is usually a third of revenue.

I work nonstop, and my clients are primarily female. The younger they are, the less budget they seem to have.

It’s been about 7 years where my gross Income averaged 200k, but my bills keep getting higher. And the budgets are getting lower. I normally divvy up my video post work to other creatives, but sometimes I do it just to put more money in my pocket that month to survive.

I have recently lost 2 bread and butter clients—one to in-house hiring, and the other folded.

One-day shoots average about $25K WITHOUT models, catering, props, backgrounds, etc.

My Shoot days average $3500 – $5000 day rate. Plus $5000 – $10000 in licensing fees, usually 1-3 years but no broadcast. I also do my own retouching, which I usually just give a per-image rate—those average $150-$500 per image, depending on how complex it is. I do give breaks if it is multiple days on my fee. I give my rep a quarter of my day rate and usage fee.

My best-paying job, I never knew the overall budget. But I got a buyout on a 4-day job for about 140 assets for 60k

The one that stings the most was a 4-day $270k job That I made $25k in the end. I was supposed to make about $50k on it with retouching. The producer asked me if they could cut my rate because they were way over budget. I wish I had slept on it and thought hard about it. I didn’t have a rep at the time, and instead, I immediately answered you can take my retouching fees out of it and in the end made half of what I should’ve made on an already underpaid rate. The producer even asked me to cut my rate a second time, but I gave him a hard no.

I think people just need to talk more. I have always been honest with my friends and tried to help them and vice versa. The industry doesn’t need to be cutthroat. We should all help each other. I also think people need to assist and find a mentor. Seems like people these days just get thrown into it from Instagram and don’t know what’s right or wrong. Find someone in the field for more than 15 years to help guide you. I am almost 20 years into this, and I am still learning about business and craft.

NOTE: Income is NET.

How Much Do You Make – Milan Based Fashion and Lifestyle Photographer

A male Fashion and Lifestyle Photographer based in Milan, Italy, with 20 years of experience.

100k pre covid

130k during covid

I’m repped by a small agency and have been full time for 13 years.

During covid Italian companies needed to remain local rather than shooting in NY or London which increased sales by 30%.

I shoot a lot of ecom at 350-500 per day, then mid tier social media work which goes for 1500-3000 a day plus usage which is usually about 100% of the day fee for 1 year.

I get about 3 large agency gigs a year the last of which was a cellphone company doing a single city ooh campaign and that was 5000 plus 3000 usage for the one city. 

I have a studio which I rent out to cover its costs but apart from that and a few leasing deals for cameras and computers, I have no other fixed costs… I charge rental for all my personal gear and will often retouch editorial or small commercial jobs myself. 

Since December 2022 work has dropped sharply due to markets opening up again and a deep sense of instability due to inflation and war and whatnot… everybody in Milan is in a holding pattern except for the very big boys or the very cheap boys

I do video but it’s more of an extra, I would say less than 10 percent of my income but it’s a big growth market that if I got my finger out my bum and did some proper tests i could probably increase that. The big issue is that volume clients like ecom take up so much time when things are cooking that working on new business becomes difficult. Photographers aren’t supposed to work every day… hahahahah.


If you want to participate in this column email me: 

I will send you a link to a google form that will ensure your anonymity. 

How Much Do You Make – Massachusetts Based Fashion & Lifestyle Photographer

Massachusetts-based fashion and Lifestyle photographer (NYC-based rep) with occasional ad agency gigs working professionally for 10 years.

Pre Covid: $180k taxable income
Last couple of years: $80k

2023 is starting off well. January billing was $37,500 from 6 shoots and only $3k in expenses.

My best-paying job was working with an ad agency for an eyewear brand. Global usage for 2 years, 5 days of shooting which paid $76k. I shot for that client for years, and every 2 years, they would re-up a lot of the usage.

Average fashion shoot: $4,500/day 1yr term (they change the collection every 6 months)

Average lifestyle shoot: $4,500/day +10k usage.

Ad agency jobs: Last year, my best one was 1 day, 15k for an OOH campaign in 3 cities for an energy company. The worst was $1k to shoot stills on a TV commercial shoot.

No employees… just freelance assistants

I’m all about working with any budget because, in my experience, small gigs have led to big ones either directly or through word of mouth or contacts made. The agency that gave me the 1-day 15k job this past fall is the same one I shot a day for 1k and have a 1-day 5.5k gig coming up.