Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

I’m a full-time staff photographer for a quasi governmental institution. I shoot mostly corporate portraiture, events, and reportage. I started out shooting live music, portraits, and weddings. Eventually I found success doing food and beverage work for editorial and commercial clients, and did a lot of corporate portraiture for private clients as well as trade publications. In 2015, I took a full-time job doing in-house illustrative product photography and started learning video on the job while still freelancing. In 2021 I parlayed that experience into a new job with my current employer.

It’s a pretty even 33/33/33 split between portraits/events/reportage now that the “day job” is my only work. Since 2015 I’ve been slowly transitioning away from freelance work as my salary as a staff photographer has increased. This year I shut down my freelance website and sold half my gear since I no longer actively market myself for freelance jobs.

I bought my first camera in 2008 while touring with my band and went “full-time” in 2009 when my day job in the construction biz tanked after the housing crisis.

Most of my freelance clients were small to medium-sized companies based in the Midwest, but my editorial work involved a lot of travel all over North America.

I rented a dingy studio space for $1000/month in 2014-2015 but got rid of it when I took a staff job. Other than that, I’ve never had much overhead aside from the essentials: liability insurance, web hosting, software subscriptions etc. which total about $200/month. I don’t buy equipment often, and when I do I keep it for a long time. Since I don’t shoot video as a freelancer, I don’t need to invest in the latest gear. A 3-light setup, Nikon D850, and a few lenses can go a long way if you have good technique and are good with people.

As a full time freelancer, I would shoot about 200 days a year, but I was always “working”. As a staffer, it’s a 40-hour week most weeks, so 250-ish days a year.

My freelance clients ranged from individuals to mammoth companies like Energizer. I’ve shot tons of different stuff, partly to pay the bills and partly to find what I really like shooting. It turns out that I really like shooting what gets me paid.

In 2015 I took a full-time staff job doing in-house product photography for an e-commerce company. It was only $38k but I was allowed to augment it with freelance work, which I did. I knew I was being grossly underpaid, but a staff gig offered stability at a time when I was frustrated with chasing freelance work in my small Midwest market.

in 2019, I was offered a staff photographer job at a different company but my boss offered to match their $60k salary so I stuck around, even though I now had confirmation that I’d been underpaid all along. The upside is that I’d been honing my video chops along the way and continued to look for a new job.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, my freelance work evaporated. I’d been doing a lot of corporate portraits on the road for trade mags, so that was just gone. But my staff job got crazy busy. We were an e-commerce company, so business was gangbusters for the remainder of 2020. My salary didn’t reflect that increase in revenues, so I kept looking. In 2021 I found and accepted a fantastic staff photographer job.

I currently make $91k a year plus bonuses, full benefits, and even have a pension. It’s a unicorn of a job for a photographer. The subject matter isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is challenging and creatively rewarding. Besides, I never got into photography to be an artist. I wanted to do something I enjoy, and do it well for money.

For years I was a freelance photographer, busy gigging musician, and had a day job. It was a hustle, and usually it was pretty fun too. But I no longer gig regularly and have shifted away from freelance work in favor of a stable income. Getting married and having a kid influenced that a lot.

I know a LOT of photogs are able to have a family and still live that freelance life, but I never saw a way to make that work in my market. Not without driving my wife insane anyway.

An average shoot day for me is 10-12 hours of work. My fee is $1600 plus usage and expenses. Usage varies wildly from project to project.

My best paying shoot in the last few years was for an eyewear company. I got $2000 a day for two 10 hour shoot days, plus usage. It was for digital and print use and they licenses about 50 images so I netted about $30k on that job. Retouching took about 24 hours total.

The worst paying shoot I had was for a giant pet food company. $800 for 4 hours of shooting, another 4 hours retouching/editing. The big problem was that they used the photos before paying for usage. According to them, “someone” in their organization didn’t understand that there was an additional cost to license and use the photos beyond creating them (even though my contract stated there was). I had to chase down my money for months and ended up getting $2500 for usage. I’m convinced they used the photos for more than they admitted to and should have paid even more.

I’ve never shot video as a freelancer, but about 40% of my current job is video.

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

I’ve had great success by shooting and sharing ambitious personal projects that were picked up by local and national press. My background as a musician and salesperson means I’m a shameless self promoter, and getting press places like NPR and the Washington Post is both free and effective if you can pull it off.

I’ve contributed to a Roth IRA for years, but not nearly as much as I should have. I now have a 401k and pension. I know how incredibly lucky I am to work as a photographer and not have to worry about retirement, insurance, etc. and I fully intend to stay with this employer until I retire (in about 15 years).

Best advice: Work hard and be nice. The rest will take care of itself.

Worst advice: You can’t afford to turn down work.

Your artistry can only pay so many bills. If you want to live that unstuck bohemian life, go for it. But you better keep your living standards modest (or have a wealthy benefactor).

If you want to be a professional photographer, you have to be both a professional and a photographer. You HAVE to know how to communicate with people. The ones you’re photographing, the ones you’re working for, and the ones you’re working with. That means knowing how business works and not being a jerk to be around.

Lastly, hustle is a muscle. Build yours by returning emails and phone calls ASAP. Reach out and be proactive about stuff. Use your downtime to relax and refuel, but also to refresh and enhance your skills. Read a book about time management. Don’t wait on things to come to you, but don’t chase something that can’t be caught. And raise your damn rates. You’re worth it!

100% commercial with 50% being photography and 50% videography

My clients are mostly national beauty brands, though I have interest from some small food brands as well.

I do not have employees, I outsource my retouching and sometimes video editing.

I would say I work about 50-60 days a year.

My first working year was 2021. After losing my job right at the beginning of pandemic I decided to start over and follow my passion. My first year I made $27,000 (gross) with about $7,000 in expenses. I had no idea what I was doing and was charging very cheaply per image (I had about 17 clients). I had no retoucher until the end of 2021 and was not doing videography. 2022 was my lucky year and I do think luck plays a part, as well as collaborating with amazing retoucher to elevate my images. I upgraded all my gear and started working heavily with video. I made $121,000 gross and expenses were $20,000. I talked with a couple of photographers about rates, and realized good brands will pay. So my rates nearly tripled and I didn’t have issues securing clients. After securing a high end luxury skincare brand I had more interest, however I still get pushback from clients not willing to pay my rates. Typically if a social media manager emails me I know I won’t fit their budget, but if a producer does than I have a higher chance of securing the job. Confidence and not lowering my rates helped me secure steady clients as well. I do make some extra income from brand re-licensing my images for print or store usage.

With new clients an average shoot is a one 10hr day, with full digital rights, typically only 5 images. After retouching expenses I take home about $5k. However I don’t typically close myself in that time limit, so if I’m not satisfied with my work I will re-shoot extra days/hours. I work from a home studio so sometimes work/life balance is difficult.

I do all the styling myself and that can be a challenge that slows me down, and wonder if I should charge extra for it. If a brand doesn’t have art direction, I have told them I will charge (they usually don’t want to pay and come up with something themselves). With regular clients I tend to work 3 days, full digital rights, mix of photo/video for around $10k take home. I rarely shoot more than 15 images for one shoot. There is no consistency amongst my clients, sometimes a brand I don’t think will hire me ends up accepting my rates, so you just never know.

Best shoot was for a a 1 day cosmetic still life for a national drugstore beauty brand. Full digital usage for 1 year. After expenses (retouching) I took home about $6k ($4k day rate and $300 usage) the client originally wanted 5 images, but ended up taking 7.

My worst shoot was in 2021 when I had no idea what to charge or how to charge. I charged $1,410 for 6 images, take home was maybe around $1,000. That same brand then printed my image and used it in Sephora without my consent, I found it while shopping. I sent them a $3k bill for usage for 1 photo.

50% of my work is video, I try to edit as much myself but sometime outsource editing. I like to collaborate with other creatives.

For marketing I buy ads on IG I find I get a big influx of new followers and interest. So about once a month I’ll spend only $25. I used to cold email, however now I do not want to sound desperate so I tend not to.

Best advice: don’t undercharge, be confident in your style, and try to avoid imposter syndrome.

Worst advice is not really advice more like lack of support in the community. I have had some great connections, but I was also blocked by stylists and photographers on Instagram who see me as a threat (and I have heard this happens to quite a few photographers) I have seen this behavior from other women which is truly disheartening.

Please do not undercharge! I have seen photographers take my clients that I have said no to time and time again, and it is very infuriating. At the same time I think “am I a fool?” They have a new client every week, and I go weeks without one. However, after working over 15 years in the fashion industry being taken advantage of managers, I have no time for brands exploiting us. I didn’t became a freelance to not enjoy my work. Brands have gotten used to “content creators” working for low pay or no pay at all and for some reason think professional photographers do the same. I have no filter or patience any more for this blatant disregard for our hard work.

I would also try to read as much as possible about licensing, To this day I struggle with charging usage. If you can talk to others in the field great! Reach out and connect with as many people as possible, we are all in this together. Helps especially when it’s a slow season and you try to get motivation to keep going.

Early in my career from 2012 and up until around 2018 my editorial clients brought in about 80% of my business. In the years leading up to Covid, that started to flip more towards commercial clients bringing in 80% and editorial dropping to 20%. Post Covid, editorial has almost completely gone away.

My clients run the full scale from Fortune 500 to start-ups with 5 employees. They are mostly awesome. Some are more organized than others. Haven’t really had anything terrible come up.

I starting assisting in 2003 and been working for myself since 2012.

Very little overhead. Home office, marketing, software etc.

Shooting days avg. 40-50 per year. + marketing, pre and post production.

My income has been seemingly on the upswing since 2020 but this current year isn’t off to an awesome start. I think the unstable markets are keeping clients cautious about spending. Everything seems a bit on-edge. Hopefully it’s not long term and things will ramp up in the Fall.
The jobs vary greatly. Some are 1 day flat rate jobs with in-perpituity usage. Others are multi-day travel jobs with industry appropriate usage rates and licensing terms.

My best recent shoot was 15K day/usage rate (2 yr OOH usage U.S. only) for 4 shoot days plus production expenses totaling ~300K budget. Take home pay including any mark-ups, owned equipment rentals and day rate was 66K minus 30% rep fees on day rates = 48k.

My worst recent job was a major magazine portrait assignment. $1500 total flat rate budget. Editorial usage in-perpituity online, 1 time usage in print, unless reprinted in original context of story. Take home pay = 800.

Occasionally I shoot video, but ideally there’s a budget for a DP.

Honestly, I’ve fallen behind since Covid but I’m getting back on track with a regular schedule but I definitely think the general guidelines for marketing have changed. Pre-Covid I was doing regular mailings, following up with emails and doing in-person meetings in all major cities 4 times a year.

I have my savings for retirement but it’s a work in progress. A plan, no. A fantasy of one day not giving a fuck about getting paid for photography, yes.

Best advice: Don’t stop shooting and also keep the overhead low. Worst advice: Put that shit on your credit card.

Definitely keep shooting between jobs and pushing your skill set. Find a hobby that you love and that you can also shoot for fun and completely stress free. Spend less time on social media and more time making pictures. Keep the overhead low and pay your quarterly taxes. Invoice your clients on time and remind them when they are late to pay. Don’t be afraid to turn down jobs that don’t meet your personal ethics. Keep things simple and don’t stress the lows and don’t get too high on the highs. Ride that neutral zen state. Remember, it’s only money and most of it is not yours to keep. 🙂

Before going freelance I was employed full time as an e-commerce in house photographer making $60k plus benefits.

Nearly 100% of my income is amazon listings. I’ve been trying for years to get into higher end commercial and conceptual projects to no avail.

Graduated with a BFA in photography in 2012 and have been trying to make it work ever since. Taking odd jobs like retouching and graphic design along with interning and assisting to get by.

My clients are small individual sellers to mid size CPG companies, based all over as I shoot remotely.

I get most of my clients through a referral partner so most of my product shoots are about $900, and then I keep roughly 80% of that once you take out referral and prop costs. Not including taxes I’d then pay at the end of the year.

My overhead is mostly marketing, along with some equipment, and insurance. I shoot everything at home or on location so I have no studio. I’ve been trying my best to pour gasoline on the fire of marketing to be able to jump from low level e-commerce jobs to serious commercial clients. I’ve been in multiple directories (Found, Wonderful Machine, PhotoPolitic, Luupe, and BLVD), go to portfolio reviews often, and send out printed and email promos. All in it’s probably close to $15-$20k annually for the past two years.

Between shooting, marketing, emailing, retouching, I work almost every day. Shooting days are roughly 130 out of the year (2-3 days a week), but these are all low production gigs with no client present and little to no production cost.

I’ve been dying to get into the game with serious clients that want creativity and complex images, but all of my clients are either Amazon sellers wanting white background photos and some simple lifestyle shots for super cheap or small product based companies that are doing the same bright colored background set ups we see all the time. The good part of this sector is little to no pressure. The clients aren’t picky and are almost always happy with whatever I send them. So in that way it is easy money. However, I’m using like 10% of technical skills and it kills me that I can’t seem to get any further than that with the clients I snag.

I went from a full time income of $60k with a pretty fun little in house gig to losing that job when the company collapsed in 2020. Then my first full time freelance year was pretty busy with a lot of Amazon clients. The next year dipped a good amount mainly I think because I was focusing so hard on trying to get out of that sector and into the more produced and creative gigs.

I do a decent amount of retouching for one other photographer. That has kept me afloat and I’ve included that in my annual net numbers. I work with clients who don’t understand licensing and would refuse to pay them even if I explained it. My shoots all in get either $500, $900, or $1,400 from the client in total. The good part is these shoots typically take me 2-6 hours total for prepping, styling, shooting, and editing. I certainly wouldn’t be putting any more hours of effort into them for those prices.

The best paying shoot was $6k in one day when I actually got to shoot stills on a video set of a serious commercial client. It was a copyright buyout and was just shooting an athlete against a gray backdrop using the lighting setup the video crew had already put up. Handed over the hard drive and was done.

Worst paid shoots are common and are maybe $200-$400 for the shoot and images, but again they only take me a few hours to complete on my own at home.

I’ve been on Found, BLVD, Wonderful Machine, Luupe, and PhotoPolitic. The only one that has gotten me any interaction was Wonderful Machine where I at least got to put in two bids for large projects. I send out printed promos, email blasts, reach out to individuals on LinkedIn, ask local agencies for meetings to show my work and introduce myself, and I go to in person and online portfolio reviews as often as I can afford. The overwhelming feedback I get is “Your work is so cool, I love it! But I have no use for it”. I’m starting to realize I’m creating a product people love and no one wants to buy. It’s a very weird corner I’ve niched myself in to. People are always literally shocked when I tell them how I’m financially failing. For instance I have people contacting me pretty regularly asking to be an assistant or asking me for career advice. I hate having to explain to them that I’m literally the last person they should be approaching for that. It’s demoralizing to both parties.

No retirement plan, I’m broke, and pretty terrified about my future savings.

Worst advice I hear all the time is “you need to have your own unique style and stand out”. It’s all crap. The opposite is actually true. You need to be on trend. Whatever is popular is what’s going to be hired. If you’re different and unusual (even if they like it) they won’t hire you, either because the agency knows they won’t be able to sell you to the client, or because the client you’re pitching to wants what they’ve already seen has worked for comparable brands.

I know my submission is super depressing and pessimistic, but I think it’s important for others who are struggling to know it’s common. My view of this industry has changed so much. I’ve wanted to be creating the super creative ads I’ve seen since I was 12 years old, but now I’m thinking the industry is way less creative than I thought and that there is a lot more luck involved than anyone wants to admit. Some people get their break and some people don’t. I’ve been told by countless well meaning creative directors, art directors, producers, and photographers that I have a real future in this industry and success is just around the corner and I create amazing work with a creative mind. I’ve heard this told to me for 10 years now and I’ve not gotten any further in this industry no matter how hard I hustle. So, it may not be you. It may just be the luck of the draw and luck hasn’t landed on you to give you a break.

My clients range from large national charities and FTSE listed companies to small private businesses. Income is 50/50 between commercial and non profit work.

I try to run a tight ship with just home office, freelance assistants/stylists expenses and have become less obsessed with updating to latest kit.

I shoot approx. 50 days but treat photography as a full time job and work 5 days a week on marketing and my own projects.

I have a lot more direct clients these days especially in the non-profit arena, just about everyone I worked with at Ad agencies and design groups dropped off the radar during covid, still have some small production companies I work with.

Income collapsed during Covid, 30+ years with the ups and downs of being freelance left me well prepared for a lean spell so we survived but burned through most of savings through 20/21 Recovery has been slow with a lot of existing clients who I came up with over 30 years, being laid off or retiring. Editorial which was only a small part of income in recent years has disappeared. Projects that are coming through have generally been with good budgets. I think age may becoming a factor, I’m certainly feeling like the oldest person in the room, clients are now always younger, often much younger than me and I wonder how that is impacting my business.

There is no average shoot, they seem to sit on two extremes, commercial shoot would be 10 hour day with a minimum of a camera assistant and a trolly of kit, 2 year license and clearing £ 1,000.00 a day. Non profit at the other end £150.00 for an hour of me and camera with all uses.

My best recent shoot was pre covid, International campaign for government agency, managed entire production, casting and shoot with 2 production assistants for week of pre production, 4 day shoot, 4 days post. Shoot crew of 2 camera assistants, Digital tech, hair, make up and stylist. 8 hour days, two year all media worldwide license. Cleared 40k.

Worst paying shoots are 1 hour for non profits £ 150.00 all uses.

I don’t shoot video.

Marketing consists of monthly email newsletter, regular instagram posting and interaction and regular Linkedin posts and articles. Most effective out of that is Linkedin, anecdotally I meet with a lot of clients who refer to having seen work by me on Linkedin even though they don’t interact with the content. Only occasionally get that from instagram.

Best advice, be generous with everyone. Worst advice was to take on work for free to get a foothold.

Never be afraid to sack a difficult client and looking at the rates available in USA if your based in UK, move to US!

In 2019 I moved to a new part of the country so that was a bit of a disrupt. 2020 wasn’t great because of Covid.

What I shoot is often intertwined – a hospitality shoot for example could encompass all of the categories. Food/Beverage makes me the most money however. My clients are mostly smaller, with a few Fortune 500 a year.

I travel often for work, mostly back to NYC, with maybe one or two international shoots a year, and a few other cities around the USA. I’m working on building my network in my new home city.

I have a home office and rent studios as needed. I shoot from my home space often for remote shoots.

I work 5 days a week in terms of running my business. Number of days shooting really varies – I’ve had months with zero shoot days and months with 20 shoot days.

Over the last few years my income has stayed pretty much the same. However I am working less for the same amount of money. I used to shoot a lot of 1k/day shoots for small brands/restaurants, whereas now my minimum day rate is closer to 2.5k for the same type of brands. It’s a better work/life balance for me personally. My goal is to continue to increase my income with bigger budget jobs.

Early in my career I waitressed and assisted while building my photo career. Now, my food and prop styling skills greatly contribute to my success with smaller brands. It was VERY helpful during Covid, I was (and still do) conduct a lot of remote shoots. Because of my styling and production skills, I’m a one stop shop for brands that don’t have the budget for a full crew. When I can pocket almost their full 5k budget myself that’s great for me! I’m also good at the production side of the business – there have been many shoots, even with bigger commercial brands, that were still pretty low key – so I produced the shoot myself and retained the money that would have gone to a producer.

Average shoots are for smaller food brand or hospitality clients. Shoots are generally 1-2 days. Food shoots require 8-12 hours of pre-pro. Hospitality usually 2 hours pre-pro, sometimes none. Usually I edit these images myself and take home pay is 2-5k. Licensing is often full usage rights granted to client, I retain copyright and all usage rights.

My best paying shoot was for a repeat client who requested me, but through a new agency they were working with for a new product launch. The agency was producing the entire shoot so they just asked for my rates and preferred crew. I was told the client was not going to pay for individual image licensing, so just to submit a high day rate. The shoot was in NYC so I had to cover my own travel, but take home was ~$18k for one pre-light day, minimal pre-pro, and one shoot day. Client was granted full digital use in perpetuity. I retain the copyright and all usage rights.

A lot of my clients are asking for video so I’ve been working on Directing and video production with stylists and DPs for portfolio building. I have not yet been hired to actually Direct video, but it’s a goal and will make me a lot more valuable to clients. I do however currently shoot a ton of Gifs for my clients.

For marketing I use Wonderful Machine. Every once in a while someone reaches out who finds me there. Not sure it’s totally paying for itself, but I do like the other resources available so I stay signed up. I send out my own cold marketing emails (personalized, not mass emails) and try to stay in touch with past clients or people I’ve had meetings with. I stay reasonably active on IG as well as LinkedIn. I’ve spent a lot of time on my website SEO over the years and I receive a lot of inquires directly from my website/people’s google searches.

Put 30% of every paycheck aside for your taxes and pay them quarterly so you don’t get slammed at the end of the year.

Open a Solo 401k or SEP IRA and save for your future.

This career involves an enormous amount of rejection – don’t take it personally. There are a million reasons why you might not be the right fit for a certain job. Get what info you can about why they passed on you and use it to fuel you forward and onto the next opportunity.

Always shoot what makes your heart happy, even if it’s on the side of what’s paying the bills.

No one knows you exist until you tell or show them – don’t just sit back and think people will find you.

Figure out how to properly run the business side of the job. Lots of amazing creatives fail because they can’t successfully handle the bookkeeping, marketing, etc. part of the business.

ASSIST!!!! If you are green, this is the BEST way to learn. I owe SO much to my mentors.

Working in 4 major segments help me and my team keep busy all year.

For our work break down I would say that we are running a 25% in each category right now but during covid we were looking more like 75% Food and Agricultural work and then 25% Sports. I work with all types of clients, some Fortune 500, Some Major Sports team and brands and then a lot of medium to small companies.

All of our clients are long term clients and repeat with once or twice a year a one off job. This way we get to know how they work and we become part of their workflow and teams. My longest clients has been working with me for over 22 years now.

I have a rep but with that said I have never got a job from any of the reps I have had. This is a whole conversation that could be had as a lot of photographers/directors think a rep is the ticket to lots of work but my experience is very different.

I do have employees and they are a very, very important part of everything I do. I have a full time producer, a full time Cinematographer/editor, 2 part time assistants and many long term freelance specialists. Working together and building relationships is one of the most important things in this industry.

We have our own studio in a building we own, but we are on the outskirts of the major city so costs were lower. I own all our photography and motion gear so we have no rentals and are self sufficient. But all this does cost but a fraction of what being in the city and renting for every job would. I run a upgrading schedule/process where we keep computers and cameras for min 3 years and all gear that we buy has to pay for it self with in the first year of buying it as if we were renting it. All staff salaries are above industry rate, and get profit sharing as well to keep things going. Our core team has been together for 10+ years.

I try to keep things at a 30-35% profit margin that includes my salary.

Work life balance is a very important! For me, I take a lot of time with the kids and my wife, trying work only 8-10 months out of the year and having a lot of long weekends. My staff are all self directed for hours, so as long as the work gets done on time that is all the matters. Shoot days are shoot days and we all understand that but the other time is flex. Work from home or the studio. As a company we try to fill 3-4 days a week of production and the rest is filled with office admin and pre and post production. We do have 2-4 weeks of studio shutdown where we all take time to recharge.

Income has changed a lot over the past couple years, not only due to covid but there is a shift to bring creatives in house and has pushed my team out. But with that said it opened up new doors as well to increase client work in the form of subscription work.

I do have other business that I invest in but they all work together so it keeps things with in the realm of what I know. But the most important thing that has been a constant is my wife has a very steady income and retirement pension there for it has given me the ability to take on more risk in what I do and push the boundaries.

A normal shoot day for me is a 8+1 day with an assistant and my cinematographer, We create a lot of wholey-owned image libraries for our clients so we shoot stills and motion together. This is the same for our in studio food work or our on location sports/corp/com work. Typical shoots range from $5K a day to $10k a day with studio take home 50%-75% of that and then after Studio overhead I take anywhere from 50-30% as profit.

Some of my best paying jobs are medium sized jobs. Some that come to mind are One day image library shoots with full buy out that can rage from $15-20K billable and Take home profit of 50%. These shoots usually have one pre production day with one post production day and a 12 hr production day. They happen about 10-15 times a year for me but they are great fun!

To be perfectly honest some of the worst paying jobs are cookbook jobs, where we work a ton of hours, the publisher has full buy out and take home pay is almost nothing but they are fun! It is always great to get a finished book in the printed form.

I would say up to about 5 years ago we only dabbled in video and now I would say we have video incorporated into about 75% of our productions. It has been a great addition to what we offer and has been a major asset in the past couple years.

We all love gear but only buy the gear you need and will use all the time, if your clients don’t need massive files there is no reason to get that 100mp or 8K camera. If you can get the job done with 2-4 lights you don’t need a full lighting /grip truck. Keep your gear in good working order and only upgrade when you need to. Being good in business planning is just as important as being creative in this industry.

My experience working in various types of photography and ranges of clients, this industry is very reliant on relationships. I treat every job small or large the same as you do not know where the people working on the job are going to end up. There are some jobs that are just too small for our studio to shoot but that is where myself and my producer have kept great relations with freelancers that are just starting out and need the jobs. Finally you are only as good as the team you work with, treat people they way you want to be treated and pay people what they deserve, I have seen many people leave the industry because of low pay and or the treatment on sets so, hopefully we can all try our best to keep things going for a long time.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

These days, about 70% of my income is wildlife photography. This includes both workshops I lead and my stock photography and stock video sales within wildlife work. The balance of that is split between NGO work and photojournalism assignments.

My clients are International and all over the U.S.

Wildlife work has a lot of overhead, mostly in travel expenses and fronting the costs of my workshop side of the business. As a wildlife photographer, I have to be where the wildlife is – I control nothing about the timeline of when animals breed or migrate or anything else that makes for great visual storytelling in this genre. In 2022, I had $39,000 in travel expenses. It would have been more, but I bought a travel trailer (camper) to both give me a sense of having my own home and transfer some of my costs over to profit in 2023.

My NGO work and photojournalism assignments have very low overhead.

I work 300 days a year give or take.

I have a few different types of clients because my business has a few different models within it. For the wildlife photography workshops, my clients tend to skew age 65+ and retired, mostly retired executives, as they tend to have the most time and money. Most of them are hobbyists who have invested $25,000+ into their photography gear and don’t bat an eye at dropping another $8,000-15,000 per workshop.

My NGO clients are international. I was a staff NGO photographer and video producer for 5 years, so my network for that area of my work is fairly extensive. I love working with NGOs and am pushing to expand this part of my business.

I don’t do as many photojournalism assignments anymore, but love it when I have the chance. My clients there tend to be more regional publications or specialty publications around nature and wildlife. Honestly, most of them pay better and faster than some of the national and international publications I’ve worked for.

Moving from a staff job to being independent was a major change. I loved my staff job, but when I went through my divorce, the salary wasn’t enough to live on my own in the city in which they required me to be. I’m lucky – I have almost zero debt. No car payments, no student loans left, and no credit card obligations. It was devastating to leave a job I loved simply because it would have cost me 65% of my monthly take-home pay to rent an apartment.

Moving to my own business, my income has gone up by about 15-20% year over year for the last three years.

Wildlife photography grew significantly with hobbyist photographers during the pandemic, and I feel strongly that is what helped boost my income in the last few years. They’ve invested in their hobby and see photography workshops as a way to now level-up the hobby they fell in love with during that time.

About halfway through 2022, I launched a subscriber-based newsletter for wildlife photographers. It’s educational and a niche within a niche, and I have a monthly/annual option or a mentorship option for purchase. While still in the growth phase, I’ve managed to generate about $35,000 in sales (about $25,000 profit) in the first six months or so, with very little investment up front.

This recurring income model has definitely helped me work toward the lifestyle I’m designing for myself. It gives me a bit more balance and stability from the yo-yo income cycles.

I’m hoping to double this income in 2023.

Since most of my income comes from workshops, and I haven’t seen that discussed here yet, I’ll use those as an example.

Workshops for me require at least one week of scouting and traveling to the location one year ahead of time. I need photos from that workshop to market that workshop. Then, I arrive a week ahead of the workshop to scout the current situation and get my personal photos.

A typical workshop is 10 days and I work about 16 hours a day in that time – from before breakfast to after dinner every day. I’m not only a photographer in this phase – I’m also teaching everything from biology and ecology and why you need to know these things as a wildlife photographer to camera settings (I have to speak Canon, Sony, and Nikon fluently) to the art of composition, etc.

The other thing with workshops is the upfront costs. Most vendors require me to lock-in my dates with 100% payment upon booking. That means I’m investing anywhere from $40,000 to $75,000 to book vendors for the workshop even though I haven’t sold any spots on the workshop yet.

After expenses, I usually bring home about $28,000 per workshop. A couple of my less expensive workshops have me taking home about $17,000-20,000, but they also require significantly less work.

I also license a lot of the photo and video I take during my scouting weeks to these locations. Typically, I can get an extra $5,000-8,000 a year from each of these weeks through rights managed licensing. I have a solid list of photo editors I work with directly. Anything else that I don’t want to keep as direct-to-client licensing goes into Getty. I know, I know, I hate them, too. But since I’m already investing in these trips, I might as well get as much out of it as I can.

I think my best paying day was a private workshop for a client. It was over 3 days in a location I’m deeply familiar with. It took me about 5 hours of planning and I made $15,000 ($5k per day). Since the light is harsh from about 10am – 4:00pm in most places, I’m usually not working at that time. So I typically only work about 5-6 hours with the client for trips like this.

The worst pay comes from stock photos I license as royalty free through agencies, which won’t be a surprise to anyone. My criteria is that they have to be good enough to carry my name, but not so good that I don’t keep them for my direct-to-client collection.

My worst stock year was last year, at $2,300. But, I only had about 100 images in that collection, so statistically, it was higher than average, I guess.

Shooting video has made it easier to land assignments when I pitch. I’m lucky that my staff job turned me into a solid interviewer and storyteller with video. My video work in 2022 was about 10% of my income, but I am on track for that to be about 30% this year. I’m also a private pilot and have a decent drone setup, which adds value to my video clients, as well.

In addition to shooting stock video early on, I also focused on vertical video right out of the gate. That proved to be a smart move financially.

Email is my gold for marketing all of my business buckets, though. It’s the one area where we have complete control, algorithms be damned.

For NGO work and photojournalism, I keep my emails brief and respectfully infrequent – just enough to stay top of mind, but not so much that I annoy editors. For those larger NGOs, I’ll sometimes send email that showcase campaigns or info that’s relevant to their work. I want them to view me as someone who has a finger on the pulse on their particular industry.

I don’t really need to market my workshops anymore, but I still write a bi-monthly email newsletter. I almost never write anything marketing related – I simply keep to my brand as someone who educates others on photography and wildlife. I aim for 1,500-2,000 words per email so that I’m providing an insane amount of advice and education for free. While time-consuming at first, this keeps my email open rates well above average – I see about 75-80% open rates.

This means that any time I do want to market something, it’s almost instantly profitable for me. I’ve built trust with my list because I keep marketing infrequent. I give them a ton of valuable information, consistently demonstrating my expertise in this genre. When I launched my subscription product, I made the first $12,000 in one day from this list alone.

I used Facebook and Instagram ads to build my list. Because of my background, I have an advantage here. My best advice for building a high quality email list via social advertising is to think “psychographically,” which goes beyond demographics and taps into the psychological motivations of your target client.

For example, think about what brands your client buys – how do those brands write copy and what kind of images are they using in their marketing? What does your client read? What kind of hobbies are they likely to have? These companies spend millions and millions in market research every year, so why not take advantage of it and apply your observations of how they advertise and speak to the same client base to your marketing efforts?

In my case, I created five or six groups of people and my most successful grouping was targeting people 50+ who like national parks (I chose a bunch of specific parks), Patagonia, REI, Arc’teryx, National Geographic Travel, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic magazine, AND they had to also like “wildlife photography.”

There were a few other brands in that group, but you get the idea. By narrowing my newsletter ads to this audience, I got a lot of high quality email addresses that fit my niche perfectly. And, I never spent more than $.60 per email, which is well below average.

I’m working on my retirement plan. I have a savings account right now, and I put about 15-20% of my yearly income into it. I was fully vested in my retirement plan from my staff job when I left, so that is still there, too. I’m just letting that idle.

The worst advice I’ve received was to do any kind of photography to make money. While sometimes that’s necessary when starting out (we all have bills to pay), I wasted a lot of time that could have gone toward honing my skills in my niche.

The best advice I received was to build registering my images with the U.S. Copyright Office into my workflow. Because of this, I recover anywhere from $8,000-15,000 in lost licensing revenue from image theft a year without the need for a lawyer or litigation.

I was in digital marketing for 15+ years before making my career change to photography. That helped considerably in that I can “speak corporate marketing and comms” fluently when I’m working with corporate clients or NGOs. Knowing how to work those cross-functional teams and what they both will want out of an assignment makes upselling a breeze because I can usually tap into two different budgets to get more work.

Invest in setting up your business first. Hire a lawyer to write your contracts – it’s the best $1000 I ever spent. I found mine through the free Small Business Administration mentorship via their SCORE program. It’s an under-utilized resource. It’s not photographer specific, but I got incredible value from meeting with the person who ended up assigned to me. I learned a ton about how to structure my business and I think that saved me thousands in costly mistakes over the years.

Treat your business like a business. Outsource the tasks you hate because it will be less costly in the long run from a time-dollar equation perspective. Don’t be afraid to change what isn’t working or fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy.

My personal portrait style is very moody and fashion-inspired, but my client work tends to be very clean and crisp.

The bulk of my income, probably 80%, revolves around headshots and corporate lifestyle images. Almost all of my local clients come to me looking for corporate headshots and/or personal branding images. Regionally, I have a few regular clients in the healthcare space that need regular headshots and “lifestyle” shots showcasing their employees at work. The rest of my income is comprised of editorial assignments, modeling portfolios, and product photography.

Most of my clients are on the East Coast, although I’ll occasionally travel as far as Texas for work. For the majority of jobs, I won’t have to spend more than seven hours in the car to get there. I make make most of my money from big companies that no one has ever heard of.

My overhead isn’t bad at all. I shoot a mix of commercial work and retail work and when commercial work is slower, I’ll do a lot of retail work in my home studio (individual headshots and portrait sessions) out of my garage. Most of my overhead expenses are the software I use to keep the business running, insurance, and accountant/bookkeeper fees.

I usually net at least 75% of what I bill out to my clients, sometimes much more. I’m very mindful of my profit margin and when I’m creating estimates and bidding on jobs, I’ll calculate what my take home pay will be after paying my assistants and retoucher to make sure I’m staying close to that 25% COGS margin.

As soon as I read the question about how many days a year I work, I instantly wanted to answer “all of them”. I don’t mean that in a negative way, because I love what I do, but there’s hardly ever a day I’m not working on something. Last year, I had about 50 shoot days, and probably 10-15 more days on top of that if you count travel days. Outside of shooting, I’m constantly creating content, networking with potential clients, reaching out to existing clients, and shooting work for myself.

99% of my clients are absolutely amazing to work with. I view my clients like family and I’ll go and beyond for them to make sure they’re getting more than what they need, I think they really appreciate that. Even with my larger clients, I make sure to get to know the people I work with, not just their titles and positions. When my son was born this past Fall, my biggest client mailed us a card and a gift basket and it basically made me and my wife ugly cry, hahaha. I think client relationships like that are really special and they aren’t something that happens accidentally. You can be intentional about fostering those kinds of relationships.

Since 2018 my income has increased year over year, except for 2020. But in 2021 my revenue basically bounced right back like the previous year never happened and it’s been on an upward trajectory ever since.

I offer coaching services for other photographers who want to transition into the world of commercial photography. Interest in my coaching services has really picked up over the last few years and I make a small amount on the side, but nothing substantial (a little under $10k last year). Coaching really energizes me, I absolutely love helping others overcome the challenges they’re facing in their careers. I used to be a little nervous about the thought of potential clients stumbling upon my educational content and being reluctant to hire me because of how often I talk about money. But I’ve realized that openly discussing things like fees, usage, and negotiation is a very positive thing all around. If anything, a client will see that I’m knowledgable and experienced and feel more comfortable bringing me onto a project.

An average shoot for me might be anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. Let’s say I’m shooting headshots and lifestyle images for a local plastic surgery clinic. My creative fee for the day (including licensing) would be anywhere between $3-4k and I’d bill anywhere from $25-30 per image. Historically for shoots like these, the client will choose between 25-50 images, so that’s $625 to $1,250 for the images. After paying my assistant and retoucher, I’m usually walking away with $4k, give or take.

For me, in terms of dollar earned per hours worked, I think in-office corporate headshot days have everything else beat. I recently did headshots for a large home-builder and we finished the job in two and a half hours, including the drive time. Thirty people, $4,000 billed. Take home pay was $3,500 after paying my assistant and retoucher. They’re hired me two more times since then.

The worst job I’ve done was for a very large online travel agency. Massive company. They needed to update their web assets and the job required driving around a major city a few hours away and photographing up to 30 or 40 landmarks PER DAY (three days total). They had a budget of $2,000 per day and tried to cap my assistant’s rate at $250, saying it was the standard rate in New York (that was their way of justifying why it was reasonable?). The job also required that I signed a Work for Hire agreement (not that I’d want to use those images anyway), so everything I shot belonged to them. The production team was actually really nice and I enjoyed talking with them, but the planning and coordination was an absolute shit show. It was the hardest $6,000 I’ve ever made in my life.

I’m capable of shooting talking head videos with decent audio, but I’ll only do it if the budget isn’t big enough to bring a video person on and I want to pad my pockets a bit more. These days, I recognize the value of focusing on what I do best. It’s such a better situation all around if I can bring in a really awesome cinematographer who can create something amazing for the client instead of trying to do it myself. The client gets a better product, I have less headaches and stress from trying to be someone I’m not, and the cinematographer gets a job. That’s a win for everyone.

If you are an LLC, look into electing S-Corp status as soon as it makes sense. It can easily save you thousands of dollars in taxes.

Invest for retirement. You and solely you are responsible for putting money away for your later years.

Take care of the people you work with and you’ll always get called back for another job.

2022 – $210K
2021 – $136K
2020 – $47K (worked from Dec-April only)
2019 – $190K

My income is 85% Commercial, 10% Advertising, 5% Editorial.

It’s been 10 years full-time freelance, but 16 all in – I spent 6 or so years with a part-time side gig waiting tables before jumping in all the way (it was scary but I regret not doing it sooner).

My clients are International and local hospitality/restaurant groups, and PR/Design/Marketing agencies that are primarily based in my city. I work with a lot of Creative Directors, Dir of Marketing, Dir of Branding etc. Lots of regulars with almost decade long relationships, for which I am so grateful. I tend to work with a lot of women and many of my clients become friends in ‘real life’. I have developed so many relationships being in one city for the entire time I’ve been building my career, and its been incredible to have clients bring me from company to company as they move through their careers.

I have about $25K a year in expenses – in 2022 I grossed $210K and netted $185. My biggest expenses last year: $10K in freelance assistants, $3K EQ, $3.5K travel. I have a home studio and hire freelance assistants. I am really overdue for a new set of bodies so that will be a big expense this coming year – its time to go mirrorless but Im dragging my feet because its taken me so long to collect this set of lenses and I’ve grown attached.

Always working at least a little every day! I did about 95 shoots in 2022 but I do all my own pre-pro, editing, retouching, invoicing etc so there is always SOMETHING to do.

The pandemic really shifted my career – there was not much work happening anywhere, and especially in my city. Had no choice but to accept the downtime and chill, reevaluate.

All my clients were frozen. I took on some shoots where I was cooking/styling tabletop and shooting at home with the client via Zoom. It was horrible. I am not a chef or a stylist. I was sweating my ass off, shooting a breakfast spread during the summer and I remember the client feedback was that the butter “looked cold”. Such a disaster, and such horrible budgets!

When things did eventually pick back up in 2021, I became MUCH more selective with who I would shoot for. I now limit days on location to 6 hours, where we used to do 8-9 on average and raised my minimum rate to a $2K minimum (okay, I made a few exceptions and of course no editorial has that budget).

My typical shoot is one day, 4-6 hours on location in a restaurant or bar. Working directly with the Chef or Bev Director – shooting environmental portraits, food, cocktails, action stuff, and lots of interiors. On average, I’m doing ‘Web, Press, Social, Marketing’ rights in perpetuity on about 20, 25 images for around $4K. I don’t bother to limit the duration on lots of my shoots because the nature of the images makes them obsolete so quickly, as menus and chefs change, etc.

These take me maybe 2-3 hours to edit for client review, and then around 3-4 to retouch. Usually my only hard costs are $400-500 assistant and $100 travel, so I’ll end with ~$3.5K profit/shoot.

My best shoot was for a local branding agency, taking environmental portraits for a campaign. Usage was for digital rights and a full page print ad for one year. I delivered 8 final images and shot for a total of 2 days, about 8 hrs each. I walked with $28.5K after expenses.

My largest single invoice in 2021 was probably the worst shoot of my year! It was meant to be a 3 day shoot for a real estate project with short hours, but ended up being 4 long days. After we finally got everything shot, they took 9 months to get all the selects to me, but during the course of the year, would randomly send me just a few selects and need them retouched immediately with insane, borderline insulting retouching notes. Usage was unlimited digital media and print collateral. I’d initially offered a 2 year license for this but the client balked and in a panic to not lose the project, I offered in perpetuity. I did 4 long, tedious shoot days and delivered 30 stills. $22K was my take home after expenses.

I shoot stop motion and super simple video. More and more clients are asking me for it, and I had only dabbled until about a year ago. Now maybe 25% of my clients want a handful of motion, but primarily stills are my game. I have so much to learn in video!

Theres no wrong way to take a photo. Everything is subjective, everything is a conversation. At the end of the shoot, always pack up your most expensive gear first. Treat each client like they are your most important client. Remember names. Underpromise and overdeliver.

My income is split 50/50 between sporting lifestyle, which takes me all over the world, and architectural, which allows me to stay home a decent chunk of the year with my family and still earn revenue. I’ve been working at it for 13 years but only 6 full time.

My clients range from tiny sole proprietors to $5B companies.

I have one part-time contract admin help and other than that my overhead is primarily just gear.

I shoot about 125-150 days a year.

I don’t have a bad client, thankfully. We have clear expectations and good relationships.

2020 was a stinker. Aside from that year it has gone up at least 20% year-to-year.

My typical shoot is anywhere from 1 to 7 full days. My day rate, depending on the client, is either $2000 or $2400. Some of my bigger clients will roll license fees into the day rate, sometimes taking it to as much as $6000 per day. my clients pay for my expenses and also a travel day rate of $500-$800 depending on the job.

My best paying recent shoot was just licensing for client images I had already taken and that added up to $22,500.

I don’t shoot video.

I love that you are getting the business information out there as that is what I have been trying to do with my Instagram account, as well. It’s crazy to me that you can find out how to shoot, light, or edit anything, but the business information, especially rates and licensing dealings, are so difficult to find online. It should be the opposite. the more photographers realize how much they can, and should earn, and the more they stick to their guns on those things, and valuing their own work, the more sustainable the market will be for people to be full-time professional photographers for decades, and not just for a couple of years before they get burnt out. Keep spreading the word!

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

I produce a lot of shoots for my clients so my gross is high, with talent, location, HMUA, stylists, etc. My income is 60% product, 30% beauty, 10% fashion/portrait projects. Most are regional / national beauty brands, I have shot for a few Fortune 500 but not consistently. A couple of my clients are based in South Florida, others spread across the nation. Most of my clients are national beauty brands with 10-50 employees, some are B2B some are B2C. A lot of my clients tend to be repeat clients as well, 75% of them book me again down the road.

My wife works with me as a prop stylist and production manager, other than her I have no full-time employees. I usually hire talent as needed for each job, assistants, digi-tech, etc.

I have my own studio space which all in costs me around 65k a year. Most of my work is shot in studio and I prefer to have my own instead of renting a studio when I book shoots. I charge most of my clients a studio rental fee anyhow so it helps cover cost. Other than my studio, my only other costs are gear & maintenance.

I work full time, usually taking 3-4 weeks throughout the year for vacay. I tend to shoot around 100-150 days a year, other time is spent on post production and business management.

My income has increased steadily year over year.

All my income is through my photography business, however I started offering more services to my clients, which allowed my to increase my income. All in all, I’m a one-stop-shop that offers beauty, product, video and production. It definitely keeps me busy, but it increases my fees, makes it easier for my clients, and makes me less replaceable.

Most of my shoots tend to be 1-3 days, capturing different style of content each day:
-Models in studio shooting video and stills.
-Product only, usually in studio Lifestyle content capturing models and product, usually on location.

I spend 1-2 full days culling and editing images to send to my clients. After that, I charge by the image for retouching and outsource it 90% of the time.

My day rate ranges between $2500-4000 and I usually charge usage on top of it. For my smaller clients I pad my day rate and include usage with it. My wife works with me as a prop stylist and production manager, between the two of us our average take-home after is expenses is usually $4-8k per day.

Best paying shoot last year was a 3-day production shooting lifestyle content for a luxury brand. Day rate was $3500, usage was 3 years @ $5000. All-in, my take-away was $17k.

Worst paying shoots for me tend to be editorials for local based regional magazines, I did a portrait feature for a cover shoot that only landed me $500 for a half-day shoot. I often don’t mind working with these magazines because I look at it as a form of marketing that pays me and sends clients my way.

Video is currently only about 10-15% of my income, but I see if increasing in the coming years.

Know your worth and charge accordingly, an under priced production isn’t only hurting you, it hurts the entire industry. In a market where everyone has a camera in their pocket, it’s getting harder and harder to charge for professional photography. Set yourself apart and charge for it, damnit!!!

My income has only grown in the last 5 years, covid didn’t really slow down the home photography sector much.

I aim to book clients on a full day shoot (8 hours shooting + normally 8 hours editing) where licensing terms are pretty generous (print, web and social marketing), editorial publishing is a separate fee to be negotiated by the publisher. Additional licenses can be purchased depending on number of parties interested.

My best recent shoot was a one day $6500 shoot with one day editing with a few licensed users on the shoot.

I don’t shoot video.

I’m honestly pretty terrible at marketing, so much has been through word of mouth. I do minimal (read: lazy) Instagram.

For retirement I use a company called Ellevest that allows me to easily put away money to invest on a monthly basis.

Worst advice I have received was to keep working a full time editing position right out of college because i wouldn’t be able to make much more than that on my own. Some of the best advice was to be open with other photographers in your market about pricing – the only people benefiting from us being secretive about pricing and back end details are those paying us.

Be an active part of / create a community within the photographers in your market. Working solo requires you to make these connections which can be invaluable when seeking out advice, or just wanting to talk about all of the very niche day-to-day within the industry.

I love a creative job, but i find that i most enjoy working with clients that actually respect me, as a creative but as a human being, and working with nice people can sometimes outweigh anything else.

Create work/life balance and healthy boundaries. iI have a separate phone for work/clients that I don’t really check after hours or on the weekends.

I’m a full-time, in-house photographer for a small-medium sized company in Florida. Total compensation is about $83,000 ($70,000 salary base + $13,000 benefits). I get yearly raises at about $4,000-6,000. Bonuses are also possible in years where company profits are good. Company revenue ranges from 20-25 million annually. I shoot Product and Lifestyle for the company I work for and then some food and real estate on the side.

I don’t use any of my own personal studio equipment. The company purchases all equipment I need to do my work. The company, at my request, bought me a Canon R5 + lenses when I was initially employed. I work out of a dedicated studio at the company’s headquarters.

I’ll work from home on days that I’m editing photos and/or video. I’ll travel abroad for shoots once or twice a year, for no more than 5 days at a time. We usually travel to a large city (Chicago, Miami, etc) for those shoots. I’m always home for the weekends.

I’m part of a small creative team, including a creative director and a producer. Together, we make up an in-house agency of sorts to execute the content needs for the company. We produce everything from simple social content to full-on TV commercials that run nationally.

I work Monday-Friday 9a-5p (paid holidays + 16 days PTO).

The company I work for is wonderful. They’d be a dream client if I shot for them freelance.

I’ll shoot local food and real estate gigs on the side when they come up and when I have time.

I do not own the copyright to any of the work I produce for the company that employs me. That’s one of the defining differences between in-house, salaried photographers and freelance photographers.

The majority of my in-house work is photography, but it’s probably a 60/40 split with video work. Nearly every shoot incorporates both stills and motion. The company may hire a dedicated in-house videographer in the future, but in the meantime, I produce the video in addition to the photography. I came to the company with only some video experience and I’ve learned much since being hired.

Freelance vs in-house photographer: each has its pros and cons. You have to weigh each of the pros and cons and decide which one works for you and your desired outcome and goals.

My income would be pretty low in a big city where cost of living is high. Fortunately, the company I work for isn’t located in a big city and my cost of living is pretty low. It’s one of the many variables you’d have to consider if you were to choose an in-house position.

Don’t be a photographer is simultaneously the best and worst advice I have received.

8 years total, 5 years in-house (making 90k), 3 years freelance.

Most of my clients are small to medium business based on the East or West Coast. A few larger commercial clients.

Between 2-4 shoots a month.

My best shoot was 15k for a two day shoot, 8 hours per day, 3-4 days of post, 1 year licensing.
My worst shoot was 1500 for a 1 day shoot, 10 hour day, 3 days of post, unlimited usage rights.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

Product photographer is a great style to work in because it’s an umbrella term. So all my work is product photography but I can shoot it in studio, on locations, with talent and without. A guess is 70% of my work is some version of product still life and 30% is product with models/talent.

I’m in the Boston area but my clients are up and down the east coast ranging start ups to well established international brands.

I used to have and agent but currently prefer not to have one because I get to know my clients better.

My overhead is low. My studio rent is less than $1/sqft (I got lucky finding a spot in an artist building during the pandemic when a lot of people left). Most of my costs are production costs since I handle a lot of that myself.

I’d guess my profit is around 80%. Last year I billed $250,000 and my taxes were on $200,000.

I work 35-40 hours a week about 49ish weeks a year. Some weeks, like when I travel, I might have more hours but that’s probably the average. I rarely will work after 5 or on the weekends. I’m a mom and that’s my highest value family time.

Most of my clients are building some type of image library for online usage. There are occasional simple product photos that are also frequent calls which I can do pretty fast. The majority of my clients are repeat. Some book me for a few days every month, others maybe 5x year for their seasonal campaigns and quite a few are 2-3x a year and somewhat smaller companies. The thing they all have in common is I tend to be low maintenance with my clients and run smaller productions. I do a lot of remote shooting where the clients review relevant images as we go so they can stay in their cities, take regular meetings and have a normal, albeit somewhat disruptive, day at work.

Over the last few years my income has been going up consistently. I spent a lot of time in the south and gathered some amazing loyal clients down there but moving to the Northeast was a huge bump for me.

I run most of my shoots almost from top to bottom so I’m often doing the productions/styling/shooting and retouching. When I start to get too busy to do all those, I’ll hire my assistants hourly to do some of this running around. I think it’s been part of my success being involved in all those aspects. I know my repeat clients so well that I can minimize what I need from then to deliver on brand content.

I’ll get an initial shot list and review it with the client. I’ll do the production which will usually take less than a day, maybe 3-6 hours depending on the shoot, (billed hourly). Then we will shoot and after I’ll retouch the files and deliver them. I bill most of my work as hourly with online usage added into the hourly shooting rate (I know about how many pictures we can do in an hour). Extra usage is added per image to the invoices.

My shoots range from a half day to weeks and weeks of shooting so average isn’t really a thing.

The bigger the project the more hours it take and work it is. I have projects that were over $40k by the time I invoice for them but they might have been work that went on for a while. A couple weeks ago I did a shoot where the estimate before retouching was $20k for a week of shooting with fairly low usage. Next week I have a shoot that might be a in the hundreds of dollars that’s 8 pictures of 4 products for a website. By charging hourly I feel like I am accessible to people of all sizes and my motivation as a photographer is to help out whoever I can. I try and be completely fair to everyone in what I charge and if I can squeeze someone smaller in and help elevate their images for them, I will.

My worst paying shoot lately was one the client (an agency) produced and styled. When I got on set quickly what had been discussed as needed on calls was the tip of the iceberg, but I had a creative fee with my day rate on the estimate, based on what they had discussed with me and had been on the shot list. Each shot on the shot list looked was worded as 1 image but on set they realized they had the language wrong and meant for overhead to mean straight on camera angle making it two shots and that each shot was for 1 product with 6 color options and for both the new and old model. So the math on that was what looked like 1 image and was estimated to be usage and time for 1 images was 24 images. There was also a request for the raw files which hadn’t been discussed. It was an ambitious project for a one day shoot before multiplying the shot list by 24 and the day went long. But that wasn’t where issues ended.

I billed as fairly as I could including travel and overtime. The client came back and argued that they were over budget already and I hadn’t ever clarified a day had an hourly limit to it so I couldn’t charge any overtime. I assumed as they were an agency and we had 4 models it was understood that 10 hour days were what we were working off of but I did remove the overtime charges. They also wanted me to take off the travel fee, because a lower level employee never mentioned to them I charged that. Since we did have written discloser of that (despite it being to a lower level employee) I kept that on. I still paid my assistant overtime because obviously I want to do right by my assistant and they shouldn’t be effected by this stuff. Then they were about 60 days past the payment terms when they finally did send payment. I also waived their late fee but honestly, I’ll never work with them again. Lesson learned there.

I think my average cost per delivered shot was one of my lowest in a long time. Also having them style the shoot was a bit hard to watch and there wasn’t time allocated for me to try and fix things for them. I can’t imagine their client was super happy with the results.

I will occasionally do some video but I’m not shooting it. I’ll hire in a team and we’ll work together with me as a director. This is very sporadic though. Most of any motion work I do is created from stills.

Worst advice I’ve received: You have to pick one thing to shoot and perfect it. You can’t move once you have established yourself either.

*So I picked products because I can change what I’m shooting all the time, keep on challenging myself and getting creative. I’ve lived in 4 different cities around the country now. I focused on creating a business model before the pandemic that did remote shooting so I kept most of my clients and moving allowed me to get a presence in more markets.

Best advice I’ve received: Love what you do, have gratitude for every day and experience.

*I will set intentions before my shoots for the best possible outcome or to exceed the expectations of myself and my clients. If things don’t go as planned, allow it and it might surprise you how it works out. But life has too many things that can go astray to let our creative processes become stressful. Being creative in a joyful and grateful state always produces better images for me.

My most effective efforts in marketing are SEO work: optimizing my google listing and being intentional with what my SEO is targeting. I have and had some memberships to organizations like Found and Wonderful Machine but I don’t think they’ve ever really been worthwhile. I have hired photo editors to help me redo my website which I’ll redo every 3-5 years. I moved away from website template platforms like Squarespace that just can’t get their SEO game up to where WordPress is, which is what my site is build in now. I can make the site look exactly how my consultants and I want it to but have all the SEO optimization that the template sites aren’t doing (I know they say they are but they really aren’t as good). A good website with strong SEO is amazing.

My retirement is traditional at the moment, 401K and Roth IRA. I’m exploring passive income streams but haven’t settled in on any yet. Everything I do is B2B and the passive income I keep thinking of is all B2C which I’m not as crazy about yet.

I’m particularly interested in this topic among photographers as it’s often not considered. It’s a question I ask when I meet up with other photographers in my cities (which is something I try and do, I don’t want to compete with them but I want to know who they are, what they are doing and build team mentality if possible as we all bring different skills to what we do and I can often refer work to someone else better if I know them). I collect their plans and have heard everything from selling stock and harvesting usage for years to come to marrying a lawyer!

My thought of what might help photographers is a request of you, actually. I think you touched on it by recognizing that there might be an earning disparity between female and male photographers. I am wondering (and not going to lie, this curiosity is part of what prompted me to participate in the survey) if across the board other photographers are noticing this pattern: 95% of my clients are female. From the 5% that consists of my male clients none of them are from the US. They often live here now but were raised somewhere else.

Of course it is possible that my style resonates with a female audience but I’ve seen this for the last 10 years or so. It’s another question I ask fellow photographers that I become friendly with. When I’ve chatted with friends who are male photographers, they see a good mix of both female and male clients. However my female photographer friends I’ve asked also have a large gender difference not dissimilar to what I am experiencing. It’s peaked my curiosity and I wonder if someone asked photographers about what gender and nationality is hiring you, if this pattern would be widespread or regional. I think adding that question and learning if there is a pattern would help photographers.

I have a diverse collection of clients ranging from Luxury Brands to Fast Fashion to Beauty Brands. I shoot Advertising campaigns, Editorials, Catalog (both studio and location) Executive portraits, Point of Sale, Branding, Marketing & Web and occasional Video. My personal work is a mix of portraits and landscape photography. My clients are all over the USA. My rep takes 25% of the negotiated day rate.

Before COVID, I had a full time First assistant.

My overhead I try to keep minimal. I have a storage unit, and a small office. My biggest expense would probably be updating equipment & transportation.

I have averaged 50 days of work in 2023 so far (On 3/24/2023). Every year is different, but I try to average 2 to 3 weeks of work per month.

My income dropped significantly due to Covid. I found creative ways to make money in photography and luckily I am so diversified in my work, I had opportunities with a few clients that took me on location but I had to isolate for weeks before I could arrive on set.
In 2022, I rebounded and my income has been slowly increasing since Covid. I suspect there will be a few rocky years ahead.

I have a small production company that I use to sub rent part of my photography equipment and pay my freelance staff. This helps not dipping into my photography rate. This supplements the high cost of updating equipment and paying freelancers a higher day rate than what clients are willing to pay.

Average shoot day on location is 12 hours. I do not charge OT as a photographer. My freelance assistants charge OT after 10 hrs. A lot of clients are reluctant to pay OT to crew. Terms vary for client to client and usually there is a 1 – 2 year embargo on the images. Most fashion clients don’t need to renegotiate usage but occasionally they will for an extended year or two. The biggest renewable usage personally comes from Beauty that want to extend their product packaging. Occasionally, celebrity images can get syndicated and there can be additional money compensated.

My best rate in the last two years was a National Advertising Campaign that paid almost 20k a day (minus commission) and the best usage was a multiple images syndicated for a National Marketing fashion company that paid 32k.

My worst rate in the last few years was a National syndicated Editorial Magazine $600 a page plus expenses limited to 2k.

I’m a Director of video and I also shoot Video. It’s something I’m exploring more and more.

My marketing is primarily relationships and social media.

I hope not to retire, but I have something similar to a 401k plan for freelancers.

The worst advice I’ve received was:
1.Move to Europe.
2.Shoot one thing really well. Specialize in it.

Best advise was:
Own your own Eq and start a LLC.

My biggest advice to photographers is to diversify and learn video.
-Diversity !!!!
-I almost don’t turn down any job no matter the rate. Unless I feel like I’m being taken advantage of.
-If you take the assignment, job – deliver 200%.
-Raise the bar so high that they can never go back.
-Know your worth and how much value you bring to the table.
-Be kind. Always. Take good care of your crew and pay your freelancers more money than what the clients are willing to pay.
-Don’t take things so literal- bring your creative talent to the table but understand what the clients vision is.
-Learn lighting techniques and understand how lighting can really enhance your work without doing it in photoshop
-Have an emergency fund (it was a hard lesson).
-Never take your clients for granted and appreciate every job that is awarded to you.

12 years ago I got my first paid gigs and I’ve been working 5 years as full-time photographer.

My clients are small and medium farm businesses, larger food and farm nonprofits, food councils, etc., mostly paying for my work through grant funding. They mostly have a pretty chaotic/sporadic communication style and approach to planning and scheduling (because that’s farming) and that works well for me, too.

Estimates of how my income is derived:
20% Ongoing contracts with just a couple of farms for comprehensive marketing photography including product photography
20% One-time half day doc marketing job for small farm businesses
20% Infrequent but higher paid jobs for food organizations, local food businesses, or food nonprofits
13-15% Assisting/seconding other photographers
10% a seed catalog
10% or less – pickup licensing or publication, random print commissions
10% or less – Editorial assignments. My average pay per editorial job is $600, which I think might even be above average, with most jobs taking multiple days of work.

I do not have a lot of overhead:
$1-200/year on weather gear: boots, socks, rain suits
$30/mo health insurance for me (thanks, lower income bracket)
$300/year on computer maintenance and software
$1K/year on gear & liability insurance
$1-2K/year average on hardware: memory cards, hard drives, occasional lens or body replacement, thumb drives for clients, camera accessories like cleaning stuff and replacements for things I break and lose
The mortgage on my house + utilities comes to around $12k/year, split evenly with my partner (this is the only debt we have)
I have a paid-off used hybrid vehicle who’s gas mileage makes me money after the federal mileage reimbursement. Maintenance + tires is around $500/year
My office is in my home, so utilities for the space are a write-off.

I do not know my profit margin but the goal is to have enough to get to do it again next year.

I work maybe 300 days a year. Networking within my community is a huge part of my work, and that happens when I’m hanging out with friends or shopping, etc. I use social media almost every day, which drives word-of-mouth referrals. I’m always scheming. I work with a camera in hand about 90 days a year, and at my desk about 180 full days a year. The rest of the days I work when the mood strikes. Being able to change plans last-minute is important to my niche.

I’m up about 20% from the first two years going full-time, and pretty steady the past three. I dropped family and event work, which has been awesome for my mental state and endurance, but those were the better-paying jobs. It balances out with new clients because my reputation is still growing.

My other source of income is second-shooting for an awesome high-end wedding photog and I assist for a couple of pro commercial photogs. I make around 6K annually between those. It’s paid professional development!

My partner makes less than me, and neither of us have family money coming in. For indirect income, though, we both get free local food through our work and I love to preserve seasonal produce, so our grocery bill is less than $200/month.

The usual is a half-day for average $900 last year. Usually includes an hour of travel and 3-4 hours of camera work. Then archiving and editing can be another 6-15 hours including paperwork, drives to the library to upload or post office to mail thumb drives, and being at the mercy of being in the right mindset to grind through creative work or do it in small spurts.

First 40 images are usually included. My rural internet upload speeds are atrocious, so only higher-paying clients who need it get galleries to select for licensing. The rest get what I choose. Licensing terms vary by client, sometimes 2 year, sometimes 5 or 10.

In the past I’ve tried to do the math and make sure I’m paying myself at least $50/hr for creative work but I think it’s probably time for an increase.

My best paying recent job was a restaurant group that hired me for authentic doc images of real farms they work with. $4,500 for three half-day shoots, 50 images per day, 10 year nonexclusive license. Take home was over $4K.

Worst paying jobs are always publications. The single worst was a 5am start 90 minutes away in winter (bad weather on roads). I stayed photographing for 2 hours, spent another 2 hours archiving and editing, and two more hours driving to a library and uploading files to deliver (yay rural living). Pay was $225, magazine retains one-time print use and indefinite web use, I can’t re-license for 6 months past publication. It would be great to get fair pay, but I’m glad I did it because the editor is rad and my client base pays attention to the magazine and is impressed by seeing my work there.

I have occasionally shot and delivered raw video footage for client to edit as part of a larger photography job. Not super into it but would do for the right project.

I have a very small retirement plan from a previous day job, plus SSI (I hope) from all the other odd jobs I worked between ages 13 and 30.

For the real pros like most of these interviews, I have no advice except that if you’re able to take a pay cut, doing only the jobs you really want to do is exhilarating! I’m super curious to see how people will respond on here to my lower income and rates.

For newer, younger, or transitioning-to-professional photographers:

If you ever want help or referrals from other photographers, do not ever advertise or mass-solicit free work. Get involved with local businesses or organizations in other ways, become a person people know, and then show that you do photography. You can’t fast-forward community relationships. If you don’t need to make money but want to be a working photographer, charge a fair rate anyway and donate it, or self-publish a photobook.

You need to remember other working photographers are your colleagues, and undercutting them is not only evil but it will hasten the death of the industry you’re trying to get into.

No one talks much about class disparity in photography careers, and the only people who seem to be aware of it are of a lower economic class. In the beginning I was lucky enough to have my health, a stable living situation, low debt, and no dependent family members. I started out working as a second for a wedding photographer I found on craigslist, with a D70, used D300, a $90 50mm and a kit lens. I lucked out again in that she was an awesome mentor who helped whip me into shape. I continued taking small odd photography jobs for people I already knew while working full-time day jobs, buying better equipment with the money from gigs. By 2017 I made around $25k with annual rent of about $6k–another thing that’s really tough to come by now.

After I had a year’s expenses in savings, I quit my day job, and let everybody know I was going full-time on photography. I took a lot of jobs I shouldn’t have because they weren’t work I cared about, but it showed me that the money would come. You don’t necessarily need to be a rich kid or have a higher income partner to be a working photographer, though it felt like that to me all the time as I was trying to get into it.

A lot of what you see other local photographers doing on social media might be an illusion of work or success: publications don’t pay a living wage, and there are a lot of people who frame personal projects as hired work without explicitly saying it. If you love your work, bite down hard on it and don’t let go.

Top three best advice I’ve received for my career:
-Show what you want to do more of, don’t show what you don’t want to do (in your portfolio/website).
-Do the best that you can in the place where you are
-La fruta madura cae – “ripe fruit falls,” which reminds me to let time do its work as I build my career.

Worst advice (for me): Follow the money if you want to make it. I’d be doing wedding videos if I had followed this, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Instead I made up a role for myself and the money followed me.

Knowing my shit about my niche is what sets me apart from other photographers. There are hundreds of photographers here doing top-quality work and running legitimate, professional businesses, but if you’ve never worked in farming yourself, you have no idea how much you don’t know about it. I’ve heard stories of photographers getting sent to local farms and bragging about their contract with a cheap national restaurant chain, publishing non-food safe images that could cost a farmer their licensing if the wrong person saw it, having no concept of the pace or pattern of work on a farm, no understanding of biosecurity between livestock herds, licensing an image of a farmer for a billboard about health insurance in another state, when the farmer themself didn’t even have health insurance, and on and on and on. Local farming is also a super tight and tight-lipped community, so doing an assignment about someone everyone else knows is a real a-hole will reduce your legitimacy. Not being aware of class differences is also a barrier for outside photographers to earning trust.

I lived and worked on a farm here for four years, and have continued to work with the same farms and markets for over a decade. My integrity within the community combined with the quality of my work is my best marketing effort. TLDR: It’s 100% word-of-mouth for me, and it works because I am actually a full-time member of the community I photograph.

I’m a Editorial, Documentary, Culture, Wildlife, Landscape, Underwater and Travel photographer whose income is 40% from NatGeo Editorial or Grant, 50% from NatGeo Brand Partnerships, and 10% NatGeo Expeditions, Fine Art sales, and Speaking fees.

I have 10 years experience but only the last 4 were exclusively photography.

My overhead is high.
Underwater camera and diving equip- approx 20k/yr
Wildlife specific equipment- approx 10k/yr
Arctic and expedition specific gear- approx 2.5k/yr

My profit margin varies- 30%-60% dependent on grants vs commercial budget.

I work 330 days a year with approximately 280 in the field. National Geographic Magazine – all editorial, long-form multiyear projects, typically 250 days in the field annually. National Geographic Brand Partnerships- on-camera talent, Social Media photo/video, typically 30 days annually.

The last few years my income has been highly variable depending on number of NatGeo commercial brand partnerships, random fine art/nft sales.

For the first 6 years, I also ran a second business making 40k/yr to stay afloat. This career would have been impossible otherwise.

Average National Geographic magazine assignment is 2 years long with a day rate of $650 (now $775), in theory after expenses, but I am aways working many additional assignment days off-record to ensure the quality of the story and images. A better look at the average take-home is amount of income made on grant funding which comes out to about $250/day in the field.

Average brand partnership job is 5 days at $4k/day after expenses.

My best recent job was 9 days with travel, plus 3 days edit/post which brought home $90,000 after expenses. This was for on-camera talent, still photography, and some writing.

Worst paying jobs are grant funded projects for 240 days at around $250/day in the field, $210/day if editing/captioning included (worst but also typical).

I used to do video just for social but it’s now a regular ask as part of the regular job.

The best advice I have received is that it will take longer than you think to succeed in this industry, so make long-term decisions and plan for 5 years before making a living. And to work on personal projects and fund them yourself.

I don’t do any marketing, just the occasional contest entry.

My retirement plan is to work until I die… but seriously I save about everything I don’t invest back into the business.I have few personal expenses because I am always working.

Having a successful long-term career in photojournalism or documentary is difficult. You have to want to be a journalist and be passionate about the good that it can do more than anything else in life.

My income is 40% education, 50% wedding, 10% editorial

My clients are Ivy league institutions, plus some small businesses, niche publications, and down-to-earth wedding clients with mid-range budgets.

I have minimal business expenses. I save 22% of every check for taxes, 15% for retirement savings, and 6% for business expenses. So I’m taking home about 57% of my annual gross income.

I work about 150 days a year… 2-3 days / week for my photography business.

My inquiries and workload dropped significantly in 2020 because of COVID, but I was also raising my rates and changing work style, so my income didn’t drop much. I’ve been able to work far fewer hours (I work an average of 10-25 hours / week on my photography business) but maintain the same annual income as I had pre-COVID when I was working almost full-time.

I also do project management for creative studios. I genuinely love this work, it’s not just filler. And it allows me to only do the kind of photography work that I really love. This work is not included in $$ range I quoted above.

Average academic shoot: 6 hours on campus photographing classrooms & research groups in action, some portraits. $300/hour of photography time works out to an $1800 day. I don’t have any shoot-specific expenses (I work alone and I don’t often rent supplemental equipment). This comes with a non-transferable, non-exclusive license for the department or school that I’m working with, though the university is gathering the releases so I don’t have explicit permission to resell except within the university community (which does actually happen frequently).

Average wedding shoot: 8 hours on location, no second photographer. $5,400. +$2k if they want a second photographer. Delivery in an online gallery within 3-6 weeks, digital downloads included, prints and albums at additional cost. If I’ve hired a second photographer, I typically pay $600-800 for the day. Otherwise no shoot-specific expenses.

If we’re talking about best ROI in terms of time, it’s weddings. But outside of that realm, I had an editorial shoot for an alumni magazine that paid $2k, which included features in interior spreads and on the cover. An alumni class president saw the cover image and purchased 150 mounted prints of the photo for the class reunion, which netted me another $7k. Another great ROI in terms of time spent.

I photographed a cookbook with a net of about $10k. I had just had a baby and was otherwise not working, but the cookbook was written by moms and for families, so they were so accommodating and cool with me bringing baby along to many of our shoots. The book focuses on seasonal recipes, so I did 10 days of shooting spread out over a whole calendar year, plus LOTS of coordination, planning, and collaborative editing. The work really speaks to my values and style, but financially it wasn’t a great return on my time.

I don’t shoot video.

I live in a small city where I’m one of the highest paid local photographers in terms of hourly and day rates. I don’t aspire to work outside of my geographic region (I value the work/life balance I’ve been able to build with my young family) so I feel pretty much capped out in terms of raising my rates. But it works for me.

My income is 20% interiors and food from restaurants with a social media presence, 20% from Ecom where I travel to a studio or shoot at my home studio, 40% from a perma-lance 3 day a week gig where I shoot social media beauty images. 20% from one off clients (medical clients… interiors and some portraits, headshots for bands and actors, etc …).

My clients are small to medium and local. Small e-commerce companies, large fashion brands, start ups, independent architects and interiors designers, medical, restaurants, bars, fragrance, beauty.

I use freelance assistants and retouchers, and freelance consultants to help with marketing (how to contact new clients, what images to put in my emails and mailers).

My main overhead is equipment, I’m always needing another few pieces to keep up, sometimes I get to rent them back to myself for shoots and that helps cover the cost. Spent 7k on equipment in 2022 (I also bought a drone and became licensed) I have a home studio so I don’t count that as overhead. Maybe spend 2k on marketing every year (mailers, consultant, social media ads).

My profit margin pre tax is 90%.

I work 4 days a week most of the time.

I went from a staff full time photographer (7 years paid salary bi-weekly), to a freelance photographer when I was laid off March 2020 (Covid). I’ve always wanted to be independent and that time helped me pivot. I have 4 consistent clients every year that make up 60% of my income, assisting and teching is 10%, other clients 30%

I average 3 days every week 9-5 $1200 a week. Ecom work is usually 9-3 @ $500-$1000 day rate sometimes I travel to a studio, sometimes the client sends me samples and I shoot and retouch at home so I can work as needed. My food and interiors work can vary greatly but on average $1200 as a day rate, have to travel with gear, set up, and break down in 8 hours and I do a 1/2 day of editing for these. Bigger shoots I usually clear $3000-$5000 and have a day of shooting with usually two days of editing after. I’ve also started to assist other photographers and teching with my gear that added about $10k last year.

My best shoot last year was a $3500 day rate and $3500 for licensing, I also rented my own equipment, and charged an hourly production fee rather than hire a producer. This took 3 full days to edit and another 2 days to produce, but I had zero overheard and made some money back on equipment purchases. Client paid the crew separately. This would be an ideal way of working but I can’t seem to get more than a couple of these every year.

My worst was shooting Ecom for $350 a day for 8 hour days, plus I had to pay for $20 for parking, $20 for tolls, 2 hours of commuting and work in storage warehouse all day. Sometimes I got a window to look out.

I do some stop motion but no video yet.

I think owning my own gear and having my own space for shoots has been huge in my work. I sometimes go weeks without a day off, and sometimes weeks without having any gigs. I feel like my breadth hurts my brand for bigger clients but it also opens myself up to more smaller clients. My goals are to learn more about the business of photography. I’m just starting to learn about licensing and how I’ve let people over use my work in the past. I feel like I can create with the best, but I can’t seem to reach my target clients, and when I do I have trouble landing the gig because I don’t know how to close the client.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

My clients are all over the US; local to larger national (and sometimes global) brands. We partner directly with brands and creative agencies on projects big and small. From local cannabis producers, to iconic brands like Nike and Adidas (those last two are also local to our area, so that’s pretty helpful for Portland creative industries). In just the last 6 months we’ve done work for E&J Gallo, PetSmart, Tony’s Chocolonely, and Dr. Bronner’s.

No employees. Just me and my partner (it’s a family business). We share the production work; I handle all the photography, and he handles the set design and shoot-day producer role.

We have a small production studio and a workshop space that we rent. Add the utilities and insurance and it runs us about $5k/month.

Profit margin: 2020 – 19.5%, 2021 – 22.5%, 2022 – 26%, tracking at 26% so far this year

We technically are in the studio/office at least 3-4 days a week but the days a year I am actually shooting… 2022 I had about 30 shoot days (not including the production or prep/wrap days).

Once I changed my business model from that of a freelance photographer to one of a production company/studio my income and profit margin really started to see a positive and much needed change. Mind you I’ve been in the business for a long time now and have managed and produced my own photoshoots since I was in my early 20s. I decided it was time to start charging for all the production work I had be previously doing for free.

Those choices, along with bringing on my spouse as a support and collaborator, has made a drastic difference in both our income and how we navigate the future in this industry. I say all of this knowing that my ability to grow all came from some amount of dumb luck, a lot of rejection and hard work, and a certain place of privilege.

Our workshop/set designer also takes on other projects outside of the photo work our studio produces, so this accounts for another very helpful income stream (about 15-20% additional billing).

Here’s an example of a typical shoot we just wrapped:

2-day stills shoot for a locally-based (but nationally sold) non-alcohol beverage company that has been in business for over 10 years.

For our in-house product shoots we typically only hire a prop stylist and a photo assistant. My partner takes on the role of producer on the shoot days to help manage our client and the crew, keeping us all happy and on schedule. A shoot like this will have us in the studio for a prep + prelight day before the first day of shooting (and our stylist will usually have an extra day or two for shopping/crafting). We had about 15 shots to create over the 2 days: 6 custom scenes, and a “super close-up” setup.

The client received 21 images in total. Licensing terms are 2 YEARS: web, social, PR, print, and BTL use.

Estimate total: $15k. Take home after expenses: $11k

When we won this job we also knew there would be a “phase two” a month later, which we’re shot (same deal, 6 additional skus) in March.

We just wrapped a personal best last month for an iconic national wine brand. This was a one-day studio shoot here in Portland, Oregon. Both the clients and agency creative team traveled from across the country to shoot with us. The main focus of this project was to create six color-blocked “backyard” scenes, in-studio and to capture 3 lifestyle images and 3 product-focused images on these sets. The client received a total of 6 final retouched images for their POS campaign, with 6-months requested usage, BTL print and digital (we consider strictly-POS as BTL in this case).

The agency also requested a second “digital asset” product/tabletop set to capture 10-12 social media assets for the client, during our one-day photoshoot. We did a thing we love doing, which is hiring one of our talented photographer contemporaries to join us for the day on her separate tabletop set. The client walks away with a hard drive of all the captures from this set at the end of the day to do with as they please (including any retouching). The selects from this digital shoot come with unlimited, perpetual use, strictly digital, no print.

Here’s an estimate breakdown:

Photographer day rate: $6500
Licensing fees: $5k
Photographer Prelight: $2k

Studio Services: $1k/day for 3 days (prep, shoot, wrap) covers studio use, in-house lighting + grip, and production fees.
In-house Photo Producer: $750/day for 5 days (casting, production, on-set producer)
Production Coordinator: $650/day for 3 days (prep and shoot days)
In-house Custom Fabrication: $600/day for 3 days (custom wall flats, set build)

Second Photographer: $4k (fees + digital use)
Art Department Lead: $1k/day for 5 days
Wardrobe Stylist: $1k/day for 3.5 days
H/MUA: $1200/day for 1 day
First Photo Assistant: $600/day for 4 days
Second Photo Assistant: $500/day for 4 days
Art Dept Assistant: $500/day for 3 days
Wardrobe Assistant: $500/day for 1 day

Talent Fees: $8k ($2k/each (including usage) x4)
Agency Fees: $1600

Set Design Budget: $5k
Wardrobe Budget: $3k
Prop Budget: $2400
Craft Service: $1500
Misc: $1k (kit fees, expendables, mileage)
EQ Rentals: $600

Post Production: $2700 (6 images)

TAKE HOME: $22.5k

Now I’m sure we could’ve charged more for usage or what have you, but the reality is we always try to get a rough budget out of our clients so we have a number to work towards (or back from). I also like to live in the reality that I am getting paid A LOT OF MONEY to make images for a living. Images that typically have a commercial shelf-life of much less than one year (if we’re being honest about how capitalism constantly forces new products to market). At the end of the day, if I feel what we’re charging is fair and reasonable to us and fair and reasonable to our clients then we should be satisfied.

Our worst recent shot was in the summer of 2020 (at the height of all the uncertainly surrounding the pandemic) a skincare brand reached out and offered me $2k a month to create up to 16 images for them (per month). It was hell, and as you can expect nothing was ever good enough from them. They we’re fired after three shoots.

We can shoot video (simple tabletop stuff), but choose to focus our motion work on stop motion animations and “motion-burst” photography (high-speed strobes with a human-motion component that can be edited into a short video).

My years of photo assisting and working as an art department assistant really gave me the confidence and knowledge to know what I was getting myself into when I decided to go the freelance route. Too many people end up in this industry these days without taking the time to learn how it functions and what people’s roles are, especially when you get to the bigger clients and higher levels of production. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

My clients are Regional 50%, National 50%. I have a number of large repeat clients who I enjoy working with. Well known international brands who sort of have me on retainer as they use me constantly without putting out the job for bid from other photographers.

I have one freelance assistant who is with me for 70% of my shoots and I hire other freelancers when needed.

My expenses for last year were $70k, with $35k going to freelancers. The rest was a good split between new gear, marketing and travel.

I work around 4 days a week averaged over the year. I can have 2 weeks with no work and then 6 shoots in 7 days. But it averages out to 4 days a week.

My income has raised steadily since my start in the business. The last few years has seen a slight increase.

I have no other sources of income.

Best shoot from recent past was May of last year. I shot 3 days for a national sports organization. I hired 2 assistants and a MUA. The total invoice for the shoot was $28k, 200 images were licensed with light editing for 3 years of usage. After paying for gear, assistants, MUA, my take home was $21K.

I don’t shoot video.

My income is 40% product, 30% food & drink, 30% lifestyle. I get hired for my creativity and my attention to detail. I am pretty open to shooting anything as long as I feel confident I will do a good job. I don’t let the idea of a “niche” limit me, if they want me to bid I will bid!

I spent 1 year in house as a “content creator” 2023 marked my 7th year freelancing.

I have clients all over the spectrum, small biz all the way to fortune 500. I have been working with lots of startups, which has been fun because I play a large part in the creative identity of these new companies.

My studio is about 15k a year because it is shared, I outsource 90% of my retouching which adds up, and because I do not have a rep I take on all production costs associated with my jobs. Expenses are over or close to 100k a year.

I would say I am on set maybe 4-10 days a month. Some months I am on set for a day…Consistency month to month is hard to come by, but yearly it is pretty good.

I have a lot of direct-to-client work, start-ups with decent budgets, and small businesses that understand why we invest in photography. I love working direct with clients, I love having a vision and executing I also enjoy building relationships with clients. I like agency work too, but I find it discouraging to triple bid and play the game constantly. For a few years, I knew I was the “low number” because of my experience and it made it hard to enjoy the process.

From my first year on, income has steadily increased. From year to year, my rates go up, project sizes go up, and of course, so do expenses. 2022 was the first year I was down in my years of freelancing, I brought in about 20k less than 2021. I expect that to be a little bump in the road with 2023 going right back up to meet 2021 or exceed it, or at least I hope!

Photography is my full-time gig! When I left my agency job I just went for it. It was a learning curve for sure, only a few resources out there gave me some insight into how to run a photography business. I didn’t have any industry friends to lean on. I was charging like $800/day in my first year and just tossing RAWs out like candy. Some days I am still trying to figure out if my rates are fair because no one talks about it. That is why I am so thankful for this new resource!!

On average I am working a 1-2 day shoot, with about 20 deliverables for social and web. Smaller teams, props, food and talent. My day rate averages $2,500-$3,500, and retouching is around $200-500/image depending on complexity, I include organic web and social in that fee. Paid ads or print ads range anywhere from an additional 5-10k on the job. After hard costs, I bring in about 50-70% of the project.

My best-paying job was 14 days, 9-5, on set for one client – 100 simple assets for $100k I took home at least $50k. Images were used for an e-book. I loved the routine! I blasted music and had a good time.

I am pretty good at saying no to jobs that don’t suit me, which I know is a privilege. Honestly, the worst paying jobs are editorial, which I do mainly for the experience and challenge anywhere from $300-$1000 for a half day and I am lucky if I get an assistant rate on top of that.

I am starting to direct but I never hold the camera on motion jobs. A lot of my jobs lately have been asking for motion and I have a few video teams I call on to shoot in tandem with me. I have a good relationship with a motion production company that I call on for the bigger gigs. Maybe 10% of my income right now but I hope to get that up to 30% this year.

It can be lonely out there, so prioritize finding a community. Be it your classmates from school (if you went) or other photographers at the same level as you. Friendliness and warmth trump competition. Reach out and go for a coffee, stay in touch, and refer jobs to one another.

I worked ten years as in-house marketing photographer for a small, private university in a large city. The first three years I did photos, video, social media, some website updates and a touch of graphic design. The team grew and I eventually got to focus solely on photography.

I made $43k, with zero overhead. Gear was supplied, when I could make a strong enough case for it. Salary for my position was low compared to folks in my role at other universities, and about $15k lower than the guy they hired to do video and to be my supervisor. Budgets were always tight and raises were unheard of.

I supplemented my income with weddings and some varied freelance work. At my best I had a couple years of earning 20-25k outside of the ‘real’ job.

I always tried to advance my work, staying on trend and upping the production value. The graphic designers loved it, but nobody else really saw the increased quality; often times quantity is all that was needed. I even taught myself headshot retouching along the way. Again, not a selling point to those in charge of my employment.

When Covid hit, I was very rapidly jettisoned. The videographer/anyone with a phone would take my place. From the looks of it, the image library I created is still very much in use. After ten years, it was a hard way to go, but it was something I didn’t know I needed. We had a six month old at home, and I immediately became a stay at home dad, gaining an irreplaceable bond with my daughter while saving on daycare costs. Had I stayed, we would have spent almost all of my paycheck on daycare. Leaving gave me the chance to reflect on what I wanted to do in the future.

I walked away with an incredibly diverse portfolio and a wealth of experience. I now know where my specialties lie and what types of jobs I’d be happy to do without. When time allows, I still pick up freelance gigs, and in the next few years, foresee myself jumping headfirst back into the market, freelancing full-time, doing what I love.

Last years income is after my agent has taken 25% of creative fees. After agency fees, I consider that my gross, from which about 30% goes to expenses, leaving me with my net.

I would say the bulk of my work is Lifestyle with a still life component. When I was only shooting still life (food), I found that there was a cap to the scale of productions, at least for me. I also direct motion, going on 3 years, and at this point it’s about 60% stills only, 35% stills + (directing) motion, 5% motion only (directing).

I’ve been with my current rep for 2 years.

No employees, though I do have to run payroll on smaller shoots that are not handled by a production company.

Aside from what I consider regular business expenses (equipment, insurances, payroll, software, sub contractors, travel, etc), I don’t have any overhead. Overall, 30% of my gross is expenses (last year that was 90k of expenses).

I’m counting this as shoot days on set only. Obviously a lot of work happens on non set days in pre-production and post:
In 2021 – 64 shoot days
In 2022 – 58 shoot days but earned more overall
I know people sometimes balk at photog rates but there are a lot of days we work that we don’t get paid for, especially in the bidding/treatment process, which can take 1-2 weeks and only has a 30% award rate, as well as 2-3 weeks of pre-pro time.

Once I was able to start charging appropriate usage, with the help of an agent, my income increased substantially. This also coincided with larger scale production budgets based on my career’s momentum. For the first few years, I was living off just day rights.

All my shoots are so different, so I’ll talk about my most recent shoot, which had a decent budget but by no means extravagant. It was primarily a motion job, so I was directing, with a minor stills shot list that I captured as well. I haven’t kept track of hours worked, but it was about 4 days of work for the treatment. Once awarded, we had 2.5 weeks of pre-production which required me to be at my computer or in meetings a few hours a day. This one didn’t overlap with an existing shoot, as it’s much harder to do all this stuff on top of a 10-12hr shoot day. The shoot was 2 days and was a travel job. Total, I received 2500 @ 6 days for travel, pre-pro, scout, etc, and 8,500 @ 2 shoot days. Total take away of my fees after 25% agency cut was 24k. Overall shoot budget was 215k. Licensing was all assets captured, unlimited digital for 1 year.

Best paying shoot – 3 day shoot, 12 hour days, doing stills on a broadcast commercial with a full buyout of all imagery captured, I made 80k, agent took 30%. Expenses handled by producer.

Worst paying shoot was a 1 day 8 hr. shoot, maybe 2 hours of pre-pro, licensing was web, marketing, printed cards for in store, I made $750, agent took 25% 😂. I thought it’d be a fun passion project but I ended up having a miserable time.

I truly think that if you stick with it, put in the work, and build a solid business, you can find success. Don’t feel entitled to anything off the bat. While I find this career to be super fun, it is NOT easy. BTS shots on insta look like work is a blast, and parts of it are, but there’s a lot of hard and stressful work surrounded by those highlights. It’s a slow road, requires a lot of time (and money) invested, and it’s a challenging and ever evolving industry. Continue to put in the hard work day after day, year after year. There will without a doubt be extra hard times where no work is coming, you feel taken advantage of, etc. Also, sharing is caring!! Fuck gatekeeping – it only leads to undercutting (both intentional and unintentional) and it really affects the industry as a whole.

Photographers NEW to the business How Much Do You Make?

My income is mainly from commissions, although recently, I’ve been uploading my archive to an agency.

Editorial shoots 1-4hr / Commercial 10hr / Motion 12hr.

My best-paying recent shoot was 3 days for a major international brand and 2 travel days. Creative was client-direct, so there were no big agency budgets, and unfortunately, a buyout (Due to their ancient legal team). I’m able to use the images for my promotion, though. 4.5k day fee+usage and 1.5k travel. I charge on personal equipment and normally try and make some off the expenses if there are costs I can cut.

My worst-paying recent shoot was 2.5k for a national brand’s new “editorial” magazine. 2 shoot days, paid assistant out of my fee, and didn’t make any expenses. Took it solely for the value of the creative & access to talent. I made images I’m very proud of, and so it made the fee worth it, but it seems to be a trend with companies making these “editorial” magazines to create imagery they’re also able to use commercially (this one, thankfully, I was able to push back on with usage).

Recently transitioned into directing as well. Only shot 1 paid project and have financed 2-3 others to build my reel.

I spent 4 years as an assistant in LA, which I look back on very fondly. The ability to travel & work for some of the best photographers today was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I quit as an assistant when I felt like I had stopped learning, and it felt more like a job. I needed to fully dive into my photography and invest time in marketing and shooting personal work. The first 2 years out of assisting were the most stressful of my life. I was barely making money and living off savings. Every dollar I made was invested in portfolio showings or personal projects. I still feel like I’m trying to make it, but this was the first year I didn’t lose money, and my work has been very well received in agency meetings, so I’m hopeful for the future.

This year I also learned that the industry causes me immense stress and depression when things are slow. Working on inspiring personal projects for the love of it or donating my time to non-profits immediately inspires me to keep going.

Adventure – 90%, Portraiture – 10%

My clients are all over the US. I am still acquiring and upgrading my gear so that eats up quite a bit of my profits.

I also work a full-time job, so I work 7 days a week most of the year.

Photography specifically – on location 60 days; marketing, social media, emails, and bookkeeping – the other days.

I try to align myself with clients who have the same values that I do. So they are sustainable, earth-conscious, and lovely humans and companies. I have been able to find my niche and my people, and that has made my income almost triple in a single year.

I have a difficult time not knowing where my next job is coming from, so the stable paycheck from my full-time job gives me peace of mind. It’s a lot to manage both, especially this past year, but I love what I do.

I feel like there are no typical days in my photography career. One thing that is constant is the long hours, 8-14 hours, and quick turnaround times. A lot of jobs are for social media or advertising purposes.

Just barely dipping my toe into video, not doing it for work yet.

My advice to other photographers just starting out is: you got this! Put your head down and do the work, network, and you’ll find your way.

80% commercial, 10% food & bev, 10% event/other. My clients are local to NC or SC and the Southeast. Most are local agencies, a few out-of-town agencies each year, local brands & commercial projects in tandem with film productions.

My only overhead is gear upkeep & upgrades, software & insurance .

I’ve re-invested significant portions of my first years of income back into my equipment, so it’s a little hard to say what my profit margin is.

2021: 134 days (incl. edit days) / 42 projects / 21 clients. 2022: 118 (incl. editing days) / 58 projects / 31 clients.

Generally speaking, I’ve been working less & earning more as I find my footing in photography.

My other income source is digitech/assisting support roles, occasional video support positions and I co-own a vid production company.

To local/regional clients, I frame my rate as $850-$1750 dependent upon project scale (typically stating the lower end is for small business, nonprofits). A vast majority of my shoots are without assistance, and so my quote is my take-home-pay. My average pay for on-set days in ’22 was about $875, but this is averaging in my photographing days with my digitech/assisting days.

My best recent shoot was for a regional brand: single-day shoot (<10hr), budget $5975, take-home pay $4575 (1750 rate, 300 equipment, 2525 licensing in perpetuity).

My worst recent shoots are $200 PA days and $300/day unit stills w/ no box rentals for an ULB feature, etc.

I do not shoot video.

I’m “newly” repped (but not officially on the roster yet) since early 2022 but have not worked on a job yet with my reps. All the jobs I’ve gotten have been on my own and my reps are now working to bring new bids to me etc. Because I’m not officially on their roster I’m able to choose which jobs I bring to them currently. If I don’t need their help for a job I often won’t bring it to them to keep that 25% of my earnings. I won’t have that freedom once I’m officially on their roster, but I won’t officially go on their roster unless the work they bring me and assist me in marketing myself to get, pays well enough to justify the 25% they take.

I shoot 50% food, 50% product/still life mostly with national/ international/fortune 500 and some more localized mid size businesses sprinkled in there.

My clients are generally great. They’re either coming to me brand direct or through an ad agency. Most are mid-large national/international companies so they’re well versed in being on set and the costs that come associated with that. Not to say they’re not starving to reduce their costs all the time, because they are. Most of my shoots are timed pretty well without being TOO stressful, but there has definitely been an upward trend of inquiries and clients asking for really crazy shot counts for 1 or 2 day shoots and we just have to go with it.

My overhead is generally low, and was low for most of 2022. My largest incurred expenses were new equipment purchases on bigger ticket items like a macbook, iphone, aputure, lights, and modifiers. Equipment costs vary every year for me. Sometimes I’m buying lots of new stuff for a specific purpose and sometimes I’m not buying any new equipment. I try to only buy equipment when I really need it, and not because it’s new and exciting because that can get out of hand quickly. Travel was the second most expensive expense as I traveled back and forth between NY and LA frequently throughout the year for shoots. I work as a local in both cities so travel at my own expense. Otherwise I had the cost of insurance which was around $1000 a year, and all the little expenses that add up like test shoots, marketing, portfolio reviews, etc. Biggest overhead costs in 2023 are studio and equipment/liability insurance right now. I’m part of a studio share with 3 other people and pay $1000 a month for at least 5 full days of studio use, if not more. Insurance costs me $1330 a year right now.

I started working commercially full time In 2021 so my earnings took a steep increase in 2022 when I worked commercially full time the whole year.

An average shoot for me is going to be a 1 or 2 day in studio shoot. All my shoots are 10 hour days. Most of my jobs are in the production budget range of 14k-120k. 14k would be a pretty pared down one day shoot in studio with a prop stylist, prop stylist assistant, photo assistant, and digi tech. We’d likely shoot anywhere from 10-20 images/stop motions in tabletop or small built out sets. If the styling or creative is particularly complex that shot count will reduce to something like 5-10 images/stop motions. Take home pay on jobs like these is usually something like $4-9k with a $2000-4000 day rate, $1500-3500 licensing costs for website, organic and paid social, email marketing, (and maybe 3rd party press) and $1000-3000 in post production costs which I do myself. I usually take home something like $500-1000 for my equipment as well. 120k would be a 2-3 day full production that’s more lifestyle esc and has more involved sets and propping and usually a crew that includes these positions: 1st and 2nd photo assist, digi tech, prop stylist, 1-2 prop assistants, food stylist, 1-2 food styling assistant, producer, production coordinator, PA. If the set includes any talent then add on costs and crew for that: manicurist, hair/makeup, wardrobe, etc. Take home pay on a job like this would be in the $10-25k range with a $3-5k day rate, $3000-20,000 in licensing costs for website, organic and paid social, email marketing, some print, some other paid advertising use and $1500-5000 in post production take home. I probably take home something like $1000-2000 for my equipment as well.

My best paying shoot in 2022 was for huge fortune 500 food brand and my take home pay was $23,000 which includes my day rate + licensing only. I did not do post production on this project. We had a 2 day shoot in a studio in LA with one day going 1 hour overtime (with 1.5x hourly rate pay for myself and the whole crew which is accounted for in my take home pay) and the second day capping at 10 hours. We had to cut 2 variations to the stop motions we were shooting, but were otherwise able to get everything else we planned for. They received an exclusive license in perpetuity for 12 stop motion assets for organic social media, paid social media advertising, client website use, PR use and award use. All Videos were owned outright. I don’t normally like to give licensing in perpetuity, but had no choice and wanted this job and the pay.

My net has fluctuated + or – 5k the last few years and I’m just starting to land some proper advertising work.

My income is 70% Ecom, 30% editorial. Ecom rate is $1100/day. Editorial can range from $450 flat for a NYT assignment to $1500+ in pocket after day rate and charging for gear rental for a client such a Hearst publication.

I don’t currently have a rep, but have had two in the past. Worked with a freelance agent to help negotiate the most recent ad job.

My client are all over the US, some international.

Overhead includes gear upgrades every few years which usually cost 7-15k. I recently built out a cinema camera to start exploring personal projects that are video based. Crew depending on the project. Which ranges from $400-750/ person per day. Also food, travel, research etc.

Actual shoot days for Ecom are around 65 a year, Editorial about 24, the recent ad job was 1 scout, 1 fitting/prepro and 4 shoot and about 5 days worth or prepro, treatment creation and zoom calls. But I’m continually putting many hours and days into my craft. Whether its working on personal projects, promo emails, research and education. For example, became a drone pilot a few years ago and currently taking an online doc film making class.

My Ecom client is a high end athletics brand, landing them several years ago I was able to fully move from assisting to shooting which helped give me more freedom for personal work and editorial assignments. It’s also my bread and butter, I’m freelance but the client is very flexible. I can often get a day covered if an assignment comes up.

My editorial assignments are usually a lot of fun, I of course love being creative but also the personal experiences I often get from them are super important to me. I’ve often shot multiple 12 hr days in a row, for very little money, but it can be really rewarding.

End of 2021 and then the beginning of this year I shot two projects for the same client and creative agency. A tech company with a very large creative agency. First time fees were around 35k after an agent fee, this time around it was close to 100k. I really enjoyed shooting both those projects both on a creative level and in terms of career building, getting better at making treatments, conversing a lot on zooms and working with a crew of 25+ to get the shoot done. Its very different than my solo adventures in editorial story telling but I love the different challenges this kind of work brings.

My income over the last few years has been pretty steady. I was really lucky during the pandemic that Ecom work didn’t really slow down but for a few months. I also took advantage of two PPP loans that were forgiven. This year I will see a significant change from the large ad project I shot. I have a great accountant that I trust and helped me incorporate this year, that should also help me save some money.

I am starting to work more on venturing into film making. This is suggested by every agent, career consultant, etc. But I am honestly coming at it from a creative outlet standpoint. I’ve enjoyed telling stories through stills for several years now and I want to challenge myself and expand my story telling capability through motion.

I took a pretty standard path of assisting, to eventually landing editorial work based on my personal projects and then with some luck and personal relationships I made during my assisting years landed a steady Ecom client. Now the editorial body of work is landing me ad jobs. I’m grateful for this path, its been a slow but steady climb but all the experiences have made me very confident in what I do both logistically and creatively.

I think the most important thing is be passionate, don’t just shoot a test or get into video because its what you are being told that’s what you should do. Do it because you really want to. I think your potential clients, followers, editors, art buyers etc, can feel the passion behind a body of work. I’m currently reading The Anatomy of Story by John Truby and he talks about “write(ing) something that may change your life.” That this kind of story will resonate most deeply with an audience and has the highest likelihood of success. Maybe that’s a bit heavy, but you get the idea. Be passionate.

Photographers In The Business For A Long Time, How Much Do You Make?

I would say that 60% of my annual income comes from my commercial clients. Both larger ad campaigns and bigger brands to my small business clients. 25% is editorial, and 15% are my fine art sales.

I have never had another job, and sometimes am in amazement that I have made it work as a freelancer for this long. The hustle is real!

I am located on the east coast, but also have worked with clients around the US and globally over the years.

I am not represented and never have been. However, I do now use a temp rep on some of my larger jobs to help me bid them out!

No employees, just an incredible team of general contractors when I need them!

My monthly expenses are approximately $2200. I don’t own my own studio and rent when I need one for product etc. Most of my work is on location. I do not overspend on gear. I don’t have to have the newest of everything when it hits the market; I USE my gear. I also charge my clients for my equipment when it is used; I think that is a mistake so many of us make.

I would say I average about 12-15 days a month shooting, and the rest of the work week is spent editing and marketing. For the past two years, however, I made a commitment to myself to try and keep my weekends open, for the most part, for personal time. It has been the best decision I have ever made, and wish I had done it sooner!

I have great clients because I work a lot with small businesses. They are excited to be able to build their brand identity, and it ends up always being such a collaborative, creative endeavor. My bigger brand clients are how we all experience, great, but a lot of moving parts. The navigation of that can get challenging at times, and we often feel like the “button pusher,” but those jobs are what make it financially possible to pursue less lucrative opportunities.

My income after covid went up about 15% for some reason and has stayed that way for the last three years.

An average shoot for me is 8-10 hours. I charge my creative fee that either incorporates the license for smaller businesses or is broken out for larger brands plus all expenses.

My best-paying shoot was for a large national brand for two days, and I received 54k. I licensed 40 assets for one-year national use. After expenses, I walked away with about 40k.

We all know that editorial does not pay well, but it has always been such a great catalyst for me to meet independent business owners who then become my clients.

Commercially I would say my WORST paying gig was for health care through an agency. I worked five HALF days (yes, I know, no such thing) with a license for 20 final assets in perpetuity, plus 3 days of pre-pro, rental, assistants, gear for 8k.

I do not shoot video.

I think it is important to note that understanding the market and industry standard is so important. We have all taken gigs for pay that makes our stomach turn. However, we live in a season where clients and agencies take advantage of us because, well, they can. I think it is our responsibility as photographers to educate each other (per this platform Rob) so that we have more of a fighting chance…a rising tide…

The income reflects the changing nature of the client roster over the years.

I am a commercial photographer whose career has mirrored the local market place which is dominated but the home fashions furniture industry. I have had several clients for 10 yrs plus, including power motor yachts and multiple furniture manufacturers and mattress companies. Most are small businesses with gross revenues between $300 million to $2 million.

I briefly had an agent in the early 2000’s.

Never had an employee but had the great fortune of a dependable roster of freelancers. I just recently downsized to a detached garage/office (newly built) at my home from a 6000 sq ft studio. Annual costs for this studio ran about $30,000 a year. That was my largest overhead expense. Everything else is the usual; insurance, vehicles, phones, computers, equipment, etc.

My profit varies greatly from year to year. The key is keeping profit consistent on a job-to-job basis. More jobs you have, the better the total profit.

My number of days worked varies by year and the number of clients. Some years are super busy, and others, you are scrambling. In a typical year, about 35-50 shooting days and 100 -150 pre and post-production days.

My income changed dramatically in the last couple of years. The pandemic was difficult, and the nature of media is constantly changing clients’ needs.

Some shoots are structured heavily, and others much smaller and more personal. In general, my clients are personable, smart, and very much like to control things.

A typical shoot is a large (that is a relative term, I’m sure) production on location, where projects are usually a week (5 shooting days). Overall budget would run from $40k to $80k, and profit would be $15-25k. But also many smaller projects involving one or two days of shooting with an equal amount of prep and post.

Licensing isn’t really relevant for furniture as the product has a shorter life span. It’s more about the overall work you get from a client on a yearly basis.

My best shoot in the last few years was a 9-day project on location with a profit of around $35 to 40k.

I don’t really have a worst-paying shoot, as I keep all pricing consistent.

I do not shoot video.

Cash flow is the key to any long-term success. Stay out of debt. Build relationships. Find a client that needs repeat business, as this will set you on a successful path.

Income by style of photography 2019 (since this varies year to year): 65% commercial / 33% corporate / 2% editorial. My clients are all shapes and sizes (small biz to Fortune 500), but most are in healthcare and finance industries.

I had 2 employees for several years, down to 1 through Covid, and now I have none.

I have a lot of overhead. 2019 numbers: Insurance, gear, studio space, utilities, marketing/promo, wages/payroll, taxes – $275k; yes that is approx what my 2019 overhead looked like; it’s high.

Pre covid I would shoot at least 50 days a year; now it is more like 15.

Covid was awful for my business; my in-house producer and I got PPP which was amazing, but jobs are still way down compared to 2019.

I have some rental property income and have started trying to get more revenue out of relicensing/stock.

An average shoot is all over the place – commercial is usually 10+ hr days, corporate/Editorial might be half days, and pre and post-production takes up the rest of my time.

It varies year to year, but at least 1/3 of my projects include motion.

If you are making great work, spending on advertising really does produce results. Never underestimate how much time and money should be spent on marketing/promotion.

Lifestyle makes up 90% of my income. My clients are Fortune 500 (through advertising agencies) and local small businesses.

My overhead is less than $2k a month for a small space.

I shoot maybe 4-5 days a month on average.

Last year I paid myself about $140k; the year before about $110k.

On average, I charge about $4500 a day for a limited number of images, I will always try to limit Usage to 2 years, but sometimes I give them unlimited if they push for it. Of course, that changes depending on the client and the situation; sometimes I get $3k and sometimes $7k. There is no consistency from client to client.

This past year I shot for a Fortune 500 company for 3 days.

4,500.00 /day for 3 days: $13,500
Unlimited Usage: $6,000
Photography Prep/Scout: $1,500
Image cull: $3,000
Archive images: $1,800
Camera package: $6,000
Lighting/ Grip package: $6,000

All my own gear, all take home. $37,800.00 There was one scout day and probably four 1 hour long Zoom meetings. No motion.

I will usually take projects for small local businesses for $1,000-$1,500 a day to help them out. Sometimes it’s all day and then another day retouching files.

A lot of time, there is a video component, but I don’t make money on it because I hire a DP with a camera.

Always try to limit the number of final images delivered with a cost listed for additional images.

Since I live in my own studio, a lot of my “home” expenses (mortgage, car & car insurance, for example) are business expenses, and that was my saving grace last year.

I shoot a bit of everything all the time because no area alone has been sustainable. Pre-pandemic music (video + photo) & advertising were the bulk of my work. But I had to go back to a variety of projects now to stay afloat.

My clients are all over the world & US. Notable clients in 2021: Tecate Beer/Heineken, Don Julio Tequila. But also lots of local small companies, businesses, and musical instrument manufacturers (I shoot endorsement ads for musicians)

I am guessing, since my invoices tend to be mainly one-day shoots, that last year I shot about 45~50 days but in the past about 75 days a year.

I used to have constant growth, about 5% per year but 2022 I had a drop of about 40% in income.

To make ends meet, I’ve gone back to some photo assisting and digi tech.

Average shoot is 10~14hr days. Photo/Video. Licensing depends on the job; some clients have full ownership (especially if they are small, I usually don’t fight them). Bigger clients like Tecate/Don Julio or some bigger Music labels will pay usage etc. The usage I have experienced recently has mostly been online advertising usage. No print as of recent.

Take-home pay is at the lowest $500/shoot (small clients, 3~5hr shoot sometimes 14hr day), medium (mainly music clients) $1500~$3000, advertising $10k ($5K rate + $5K usage) for Tecate & Don Julio (Digital social media usage – 1 year).

Right now, shoots are 60% video.

Be patient & keep at it. If you don’t love your craft, you will not survive.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

1£ = $1.24 

2020 includes grants, Gov’t aid, and paying work.

I get 80% of my earnings from travel photography, with portrait based ads at 15% and product at 5%

I travel often to the US for work.

I don’t have a rep. A good friend who is a superstar fashion photographer said, “Why do you want a rep? What are they going to do for you that you’re not already doing for yourself?”

Most of my clients are mid-ranged national companies and gov’t agencies.

My only overhead is my studio, that I rarely use but creates its own income through rentals. It pays for itself.

My profit margin ranges from 40-60% depending on the year(new Mac, new camera system etc.).

2019 I worked 49 days. In 2020 I worked 12 days, 2021 I worked 42 days and in 2022, I worked 38 days

At this point in my career, my clients finally understand usage and the value of good photography. Over the past 16 years, I have honed my business to a “charge more, work less” motto. My market is quickly filling with foreign clients who are understanding of usage and licensing, so negotiating goes quickly, and we spend most of our time being creative with the projects. I do service my clients pretty well, though; if they call/email/text at any hour, and if it’s feasible, I’ll get them what they need. I have never been abused by this offer, and most clients like the fact that it’s there even if they don’t take advantage of it. My clients range from small business owners(who I love to help out and make the most of their products/services) to big gov’t agencies who know I will come through on budget and on time. With my “charge more, work less” motto and my licensing agreements, life is great. I enjoy working with people now. Previously, ten years ago or so, I dreaded working with new clients and trying to educate them about licensing. Now 90% of my clients are fine with usage, and the other 10%( usually local biz), I just leave them with an in-perpetuity license (no 3rd party usage) agreement, and they’re fine with that.

My normal shoot would start around 8-9 am and go to 5 pm. There would be an hour of editing and uploading to a client gallery on Photoshelter. Once they choose their images, there might be another 2-3 hours of grading and simple retouching. Any heavy retouching is sent to one of my outside retouchers.

Licensing is usually 2 years for one media or one year for 2 media, that’s included in my fee. As I’ve said though, most of my clients are now well educated in it, so they know that the images are usually only good for a few months before they should refresh them; so most go for the one year/2 media plan.

Larger clients will come back to me to negotiate for other regions, and that is where I make some real bread-and-butter revenue.

I worked on a project with an EU client for 18 shooting days. I was paid €2000/day for 10 selects from each day, with simple retouching. The usage fees were €20000 for the selects with no 3rd party sales/use. I took home every cent of it since they covered all the travel and expenses, so net €56000 for 18 days.

I work locally with an entrepreneur who is always starting a new business. I like the guy, “He’s a good egg,” so I give him a lot for a little. I offer him portrait-based ads for his start-up at €350 per ad with in-perpetuity licensing for the immediate region.

I had a client who first introduced themselves as a renowned charity looking to cover off case studies. I wanted to give back, so I agreed to her terms and rates.€150 per location/case. I was fine with it; it took me an hour to shoot and an hour in post. It wasn’t until I was in with them for a year before I found out they were another vendor for the charity and were using the charity name to get discounts on other work. I told them I need to be compensated from this point forward, and, well, I’ve never heard from them again; maybe karma will catch up with them.

My video work is about 20% of my business.

The best advice I received is never ever show anything but your very best work, the stuff you would hang on your wall. So many times, I see others posting work of their’s, that doesn’t reflect themselves at all or is just plain bad. I tell students and up-and-comers the same.

I don’t do any marketing outside of my website. I do make meetings to show potentials my printed portfolio. Nobody can sell you like yourself and your images. Each image has a story, and the potentials love to hear them. I also make a point of asking them before I leave if you liked my work and do you know a couple of other friends/companies who might benefit from my work.

I’m socking away money in retirement savings, investing in the stocks every month. My overhead is soooper low, so I almost always know my margins on any project. At the end of the month, whatever is left, I put aside a portion for taxes and some for investments.

Share your knowledge with others around you, invite your colleagues and competition out for lunch/coffee/drinks. A better-informed market is good for all. Ease new clients into licensing images; tell them the benefits of renewing images every 6-12 months etc.

And “charge more, work less.”

My business is set up as a Trust, so my trust also pays a wage to me as its trustee, which is an additional $50,000AUD per year.

40% Large advertising clients (Top largest companies in Aus) – most briefs have people, kids, and families as focus.
40% Large fashion retail, commercial clients- mainly captured in studio (more detailed than e commence but used to support online content.
10% Social/influencer work.
10% teaching/mentoring online to other photographers in the industry.

During Covid, due to very strict lockdown rules in Australia, I could only make an income from shoots I could facilitate on my own in my own home, reuse of past shoots licensing, and mentoring online.

Mostly work with the largest companies in Australia. Our economy is not on the same scale as Fortune 500 due to the much smaller population/economy.

Very minimal overheads. I don’t have my own studio or any of my own gear. My main expenses are hiring equipment for shoots, assistants/digital operators, and retouching. I prefer to outsource the retouching to give me more work/life balance. My profit margins would significantly increase if I owned all my own gear however, I am required to travel interstate very often for shoots, and Australia is a very large country to travel in. I find it physically challenging to transport heavy equipment around, to and from an airport on my own.

My profit margin is approx 50%. Last year my photography income, supplemented with teaching and influencer work, was approx 300K, and after expenses was $180K.

My agent adds an agency fee to all my jobs, plus they make money on the production of my shoots.

I work approx 80-100 days a year.

My clients are very loyal. I have a handful of clients who have been with me for over 10 years. They used to shoot 3-4 times a year, and now they are shooting up to 10-12 times per year. Due to the industry being very small in Australia (but equally competitive), I have found it extremely important to maintain relationships regularly. I’ve never very been a photographer who would ‘wine and dine’ with creatives or attend any agency parties. I work very hard on keeping in touch by scheduling one on one catch up’s with art directors and producers. I also make a point to continuously shoot new personal work and promote this beyond just my agent’s promo/advertising.

My income has changed quite a lot in the last few years. I am considered a fairly ‘young’ photographer in the industry. I feel like the last couple of years have seen me grow as a person, businesswoman and artist. I feel the economy here in Australia has been given a boost post covid which has also helped me. Covid was an extremely difficult time due to the strictest lockdowns in the world. Where I live, we were not allowed to travel further than 5km away from our house for well over 12 months in total between 2020 and 2021. Almost all shoots stopped (apart from some in Queensland – out of our industry moved north in this time). I had to become very savvy to survive during that time.

The cost of living has become astronomical in Australia. I am very lucky I have minimal overheads and own my home, so I haven’t felt to pinch as much as others.

During covid, I started offering one on one mentoring to other photographers. My main type of buyer/student is usually someone (usually Australian) who has an existing photography business but wants to move away from weddings/portraits and into the commercial industry. I also mentor photographers who are already in the commercial industry but feel a bit stuck- most of these students are from overseas (US, Sweden, UK, NZ).

I also make money from some small influencer jobs – I create images using my family and home to create online content for brands. I only align myself with brands that fit the overall aesthetic of my commercial work.

The average shoot is 10 hours. Some are longer some are shorter, depending on the shoot. Mostly my shoots are 1-day shoots and occasionally 2-3 days.

Licensing terms literally change for every shoot. Sometimes I am able to charge 100% of my BUR for loadings, but mostly it ends up being negotiated. Many of my shoots are for Australian territory only, but sometimes they are licensed for the US as well.

Shoot Rate is anywhere between $2.5-5k per day plus loadings.

Best paying shoot this last year is for a top 7 Australian company 1 day for use on 7 stills images- $25K shot on the back of TVC. Licensing period for 1 year.

The worst paying was online catalog work for a very large fast fashion Australian brand but international selling. Paid me $2500 (and they complained about that being expensive). Refused to pay loadings or any pre/post work. They used the images for 1 week only.

I am just starting to shoot video. I would like to expand on this. Have shot with DOP and directed in the past.

My advice would be to keep your overheads as low as possible in the economy and world we live in today. Covid taught me the importance of this as I didn’t feel the impacts finically due to having very minimal expenses. I do daydream about having all the amazing equipment and owning my own shooting space, but in the end, I’d rather have cash in my pocket and minimal debit to see me through the tough times.

I mostly shoot editorial, and my main clients are national newspapers and magazines, wire services (Australian and international), national corporate clients and medium-sized businesses, associations/business groups, architects, and builders.

My overhead is car repayment $500/month, petrol, insurance and registration $650/month, public liability and equipment insurance $200/month, phone bill $80/month, internet $60/month. I used to have a studio rent assisted at $300/month. Then there’s regular things like rent $500/week average in Australia plus gas, electricity, food, entertainment etc.

I work on photography pretty much every day, but actual commissioned work is about 70-120 days a year (varies).

Freelance editorial rates in Australia have not changed in 20+ years. In the early 2000’s the day rate was $450 + expenses (phone, mileage @.75c/km). Today day rates range from $350-$400 + expenses (which are often questioned and met with push-back from picture editors). Corporate rates have increased about 30% in the last 5-8 years.

I also do occasional teaching, a print sale here and there, larger project commissions on occasion, assisting, and laboring.

There is not one normal day in editorial. Sometimes a job is one portrait that takes 20 mins plus post-production. Other days it is multiple jobs for the same day rate. In the last few years, the two major news outlets for freelancers (News Limited and Fairfax, now 9) have pushed for half-day rates $200/half day. Many of us have rejected this, but there are people who accept it.

With regards to licensing, it is a case-by-case basis, commercial clients seem to accept it but it’s an add-on of 20%-50% or something like that for use in perpetuity.

A shoot for a building client usually involves a site inspection (recce visit), one or two shoot sessions (3-4 hours each), and about 2-3 hours of post. For these jobs, it is usually about $2500 + expenses including licensing.

My best recent job was a corporate shoot over four days at $2500/day + post-production $600/day + travel expenses + licensing in perpetuity (not copyright) for $1500. The days ranged from 8 to 12 hours. A shoot like that every few months goes a long way to propping up the bank account and also maintaining a sense of self-belief and self-worth. I cleared $12,000 for that job.

I do about 4-5 weddings a year and I charge between $4000-$6000 (includes all-day shoot and post-production). Even though these are good earners, I’m not keen to do more than this per year.

My worst recent job was a day for a newspaper at $400 that lasted eight hours with very little travel (stakeout) and no photographs taken.

Less than 5% of my work is video.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is the national union and workers’ representative body for journalists and photographers in Australia. Their recommended freelance rates are 3x the actual rates paid by most editorial outlets. If any photographer were to charge what is recommended, they would be laughed at.

With a relatively small media landscape, the editorial market in Australia is not a place aspiring photographers should be looking as a viable career option. Multi-skilling and diversity of income is essential.

As well as being the worst payers, editors and picture editors on most newspapers do little to show support for their freelance photographers. Discussions, queries, and rebutting of invoices is common.

There is a definite power imbalance for freelance photographers and employers in Australia, and I can’t be enthusiastic for photographers who want to work in day-to-day editorial journalism world in a freelance capacity. While editorial is often more rewarding (working on stories with real people in situ and having more agency over the photography), I believe photographers must learn to use their documentary skills (including personal skills) in corporate and commercial environments to make a decent income.

A message to everyone: Never accept half-day rates in editorial!

I mostly shoot advertising images and creative content images for social media and websites.

My clients are mid-sized companies based in the UK, US, Europe, and Australia that are in the cosmetics, skincare, and health product space; although I also shoot other types of products, but they are more ad hoc.

No employees since the pandemic.

I work from a home studio, so my overheads are fairly light. I was about the move to a studio space before the pandemic, but very glad I didn’t, as it probably saved me a lot of headaches.
In the UK, we have a VAT (value-added tax, which is currently 20%) threshold of £85k GBP/$102k USD. Before moving into commercial photography, I used to do wedding photography and was VAT registered. When I started doing product photography, I de-registered from VAT, and I intentionally wanted to stay below the threshold because I found it quite stressful, so I now turn over around £80k GBP/$96k USD per year. My gross profit is around £70k GBP/$84k USD, and my net profit is £60k GBP/$73k USD. As a sole trader, I consider this a fairly good wage for the area that I live in.

Hard to calculate days worked per year but around 230, I’d guess. I tend to take a couple of weeks off around Christmas and New Years and a couple of weeks in the summer, plus random days here and there. I book two shoots per week, and on the other days, I do all the other jobs such as admin, pre and post-production, marketing, etc. I try not to work at weekends.

My turnover dipped by £10k in the first pandemic year but picked up again after.

I also do art direction and styling, and depending on the client and the brief, I can charge more for these services. Probably 60% of my clients also want art direction.

An average shoot is roughly for around 15 images depending on the brief, with at least one pre-production day, one shoot day, and probably half a post-production day. The average fee would be around £2000 GBP/$2400 USD. I include 2 year’s license for digital mediums in the initial fee. Print and OOH etc., are separate licenses. Gross profit from the base rate is usually roughly around £1700.

My best recent shoot was with a US-based client in the health supplement space. Two separate shoot days, one with a model. 1-2 days of pre-production, 1-day post-production. Full art direction and styling. Total initial fee with a 2-year digital license was £7000 GBP / $8400 USD, with a gross profit of £6300 GBP / $ 7600 USD. Further licensing for OOH £3000 GBP / $3600 USD.

My lowest paying recent shoot was an EU-based tiny start-up company with a new shampoo. I like to sometimes book very small shoots for brands that I think have potential in the hopes that if they become successful, they will continue to work with me on bigger projects. 4 images with a 2-year digital license, £500 GBP / $600 USD. Couple of hours of pre-production, 2 hours of shooting, and no costs as all props were from my own collection.

I don’t shoot video, but I do create stop-motion animations, and I’d like to do more of this. Currently, only around 15% of my income.

It’s not always about forever growing and making more and more. I have a happier, more balanced life since I decided to stay below the VAT threshold and be satisfied with the pretty steady income I make.

I set aside the profit every year after expenses as cash flow:

2020 profit: -$2k
2021 profit: $17k
2022 profit: $40k

Note: numbers are USD.

I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, but I try to focus on food and product photography. Though I find specializing is close to impossible because clients care more about getting a low price than amazing results. As a photographer, you’re more likely to get hired because you know someone looking for a photographer over being the best in your niche.

15% food, 30% product, 10% portrait, and 45% commercial.

I only hire freelancers when I need them, and my overhead is:
Studio: $25k
Leasing: $8k
Employee fee: $9k (basically what you pay to be employed – it’s weird, I know..)

Profit margin varies but is about 12-18% each year after expenses and salary.

I basically work every day, but that includes everything from administration, accounting, and other boring stuff. In pure shooting days, probably around 60-80, with the majority of them shooting along side a film crew. I also do my own retouching, which adds in about 70-100 additional working days.

My clients are nice and easy, but also very boring. They lack creativity or even the ability to be creative, so when you present anything creative, new, bold, or whatever – they find it scary. That goes for both ad agencies and direct clients. The Norwegian style in advertising has been the same for 20-some years. I almost got in a copyright lawsuit a few years back when a new and fresh ad agency wanted to do something “cool.” They had basically drawn a photo they liked and presented it as their sketch for me to do. That is how creative some art directors here can be. But there is also the 1% of clients who wants you to go nuts. I call them the holy clients. They’re rare, far between, but they exist. Just have to search and market correctly to find them.

My income over the last few years has been pretty steady but not high. Roughly an average yearly salary here. But in the last two years, it’s been going up, though in 2023, there have currently been no jobs and none in sight. So a solid $20k minus already. Video has killed photography I rent out my gear and studio as much as I can to bring down the costs.

Usually, one day of shooting is roughly $4000 for 10 images.
Day rate: $1700
Retouching @ $150 pr. image (varies from $80 to $300)
Studio @ $400 per day
Equipment @ $300-500 total (camera, lighting, digi etc.)
Licensing: First year included, 50% of day renewal fee.

My day rate varies from $1500-$2500, which also includes a one-year full buyout. Licensing has basically been wiped out, and if you can charge it you’re lucky if you even get the job.

I had a shoot for a German company. It was two days of shooting at $1500 per day with $3000 in retouching and a 5-year worldwide licensing at $18k. That was my first and only time getting a license fee at a really good rate.

Even though the fees are low here, it’s pretty stable. I name my price, and I either get the job or I don’t; done deal. I think that’s pretty common in all of Scandinavia. Based on the price examples on your site, it would seem to vary more in the states.

Video is about 10-15% of my income.

As much as everyone preaches for specializing, make sure you’re in a country or a market where specializing is actually possible. Adapt accordingly. Shoot more personal projects to become better. Work harder on your portfolio than on paying jobs. That’ll make you happy when you work in a place where the clients don’t care about the end result.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

My income is 40% Architecture and Interior Design and 60% Real Estate. My clients are all local. I have 1 full-time and 3 part-time employees. My overhead includes systems, team equipment, and payroll. I work 260 days a year. My Profit is 70k.

My clients are loyal but very budget aware and like to haggle. My market is very competitive.

My income didn’t change much over the last few years because I’m in a growth market.

An average shoot lasts about 3 hours on-site, in which I am paid hourly + per image use. The average final invoice is about $1,200. After overhead, I take home about $300.

My best shoot was 1.5 days plus 4 hours of in-state travel. 8 hours total shooting, about 8 hours in post with social, web, and marketing usage for 5 years at $50/image. The total invoice was $5300. Take home was $3100 after expenses.

My worst shoot was 2 days with travel; the client told me they wanted one type of shoot, and the reality was they wanted another, so I did not have the correct equipment and had to return to the site the next day. It took up an entire Saturday and Sunday in which I spent three hours shooting and delivered 33 edited images and 33 watermark proofs; I was only paid $1000 and took home $250.

I don’t shoot video, but my team does. About 15% of our deliverables are video, but about 30% of the income is from video.

Research and compare your pricing and terms with your colleagues and competitors so you are not the photographer bringing down everyone’s value.

My income is 70% Commercial/Lifestyle and 30% Real Estate. My clients are mostly local small businesses and a couple of larger Chamber of Commerce types.

I hire a part-time assistant/grip on bigger Jobs maybe 10% of the time; besides that, I don’t have much overhead.

Between shooting and editing, I probably work around 250 work days a year.

Most of my clients are easygoing mom-and-pop types, but I do have two retainer clients at $2250 per month each. One is an influencer for which I do two 2-hour shoots a month, and for the other, I do five 1-hour shoots a month.

I was netting about 45K a year pre-pandemic, but the pandemic scared me, and I upped my hustle game and picked up real estate photography to make ends meet because the local housing market was skyrocketing. I have many years of experience shooting for higher-end builders and designers. I dumbed it down for quick and easy, in-and-out Real Estate clients that did not want to pay high dollar. By late summer of 2020, a good bit of my normal work came back, and I kept the real estate photography in my back pocket for extra quick cash. So, I have almost tripled my income from what I was making pre-pandemic.

As mentioned earlier, I have two retainer clients, which gross me 54K a year, Real estate Photography grosses me around 45k (I have not even really pushed this), and other normal day-to-day commercial/lifestyle work grossed around 75K.

For bigger commercial client shoots (local restaurants, golf, interior designers, headshots, and a couple of bigger production ad agency shots a year), I will have a few hours invested in developing a treatment after zoom meetings and emails to figure out the client’s needs. Then we usually have a scout day which I charge around $800-$1200 and then I average around $2200-$2500 per shoot day (8-10 hours per day) for my time, $300/day for assistant and then usually charge $300 per day for camera/gear allowance/rental. I will often times add in $500-$800 on the quote for editing and delivery. Each shoot day yields 25-30 final licensed images. They can select more at $100 per image. This would go up for national clients.

My best-paying shoot was for a golf tourism company. I grossed $6800 for a 2-hour scout day and 1.5 days of shooting. I probably netted $6200 after paying my assistant. Pre-tax.

The worst paying was a 3 hour restaurant shoot I did trade for and got a $300 gift card. But it is a long-time client, and every once in a while, they will hit me up for trade.

I don’t shoot any video.

My real estate side hustle I picked up in 2020 during the pandemic to make ends meet because the housing market was booming. I have never advertised it and just kind of word of mouth. This is ‘filler’ when I am not busy. Quick 30-45 minute in and out jobs, but they do add up. I did around 230 listings last year at an average of 200 bucks a pop for a gross of 46k. When I can, I try to stack all the listings for the week into one day. 5 or so max. A local colleague of mine did 1200 listings last year, but that is ALL they do. There is money there.

This is not for everyone and not the best business model, but it is pretty good money if you are not afraid to work. Looking to up some pricing this year and hopefully find a 3rd retainer client and phase the real estate back out. I just wanted to throw all this out there to let people know you can side hustle within your photography if you need extra income.

I just signed with a rep, but we have not worked together yet.

My clients are smaller architecture/design firms, mostly east coast, some west coast, and throughout the US. Occasionally I will work with an agency or brand, but my focus has been on doing high-end, modern architecture, so my goal is to primarily work with just architects.

I have no overhead besides maintaining equipment.

Last year I shot 33 days, but I’m in my home office most days either doing post-production or other admin or portfolio work; the goal has been to earn more per commission and shoot less so I can be more selective and spend more time on each project.

My income has increased a lot over the last few years; referrals have helped, as well as my plan to charge more and work less. I reworked my rate sheet and contract at the beginning of 2022, and it helped me attain my goal of being more selective about the projects I take on. Higher rates helped weed out lower-end projects and helped me to focus on larger cost share commissions where there are 3-4 project partners paying for licensing.

The only marketing I do is keeping up with Instagram posts. Most of my work comes from referrals, Instagram, and Google searches.

An average shoot in 2022 was 2 shoot days with the fees totaling approx. $15k-$18k with 2-3 additional licenses added in. My assistant and any travel was additional, although travel has been minimal since 2020. Take home was pretty close to that, as the only overhead/expenses I usually have are taxes.

The best-paying job in 2022 was $18k (expenses not included) for 2 shoot days; licensing had 4 total partners on the contract, two 10 hrs days; take home was $18k less taxes.

The worst job was one I took in San Francisco. I compromised my day rate to get the job because it sounded like a “cool” project. However, this is something I’ve learned to NEVER do over the decades I’ve been in business. It always leads to the client not respecting your rates, and everything, including your time, becomes negotiable. Expenses excluded, my fees were billed at $9950 for what turned out to be almost 4 days of shooting, with one additional license included. It was chaotic and stressful with a client who is fairly new to the design world. This was really their first “big” shoot, and they overspent their budget on stylists, moving companies, props, etc., etc.

No video work.

The best advice I have received: show what you want to shoot. This came from the first photographer I ever assisted. He told me never to show work for the sake of showing work if it wasn’t something I loved. I have held onto this for my entire career, and it has been the guiding light. If I’m not happy with what I’m shooting, really, what is the point? This business requires too much time, thought, emotion, and effort – just to be a means of making money. It satisfies my need to create.

The worst advice I have received is: “The client will never notice”…this was in a recent conversation with another photographer. I won’t specify what it was in regards to because I don’t want to put that person on the spot, but my gut rejected this mindset immediately. The client might not notice, but I will, and most of the time, I’m trying to please myself and my standards first. I need to know it is the best that I can do, always, because I will know the difference – regardless if the client does.

I had a conversation a couple of days ago with a photographer who reached out thru Instagram. The conversation quickly diverged into a long discussion on feeling adequate or good enough. I’m finding that this is a universal feeling that all creatives have, no matter the genre or level of success. Second-guessing what we are doing is the norm. Feeling like a fake… normal. Feeling not good enough or that others are succeeding more than we are… normal. We have to almost put our hypothetical blinders on and stay focused on OUR goals, on OUR opportunities, on OUR strengths, on OUR successes, and learn to be happy with where we are at. There is always room for growth, but sometimes it helps to take a look back thru the archives and see where we’ve come from and the progress we’ve already made. Ok, done preaching. :)

Our income is 30% Commercial and 70% product photography.

Most of our clients are regional to the southeast area of the US, but we are moving towards larger national clients. We mostly work with advertising agencies.

Every year we don’t have a baby, our profits grow.

We have no employees and hire freelancers for every job.

We fully renovated our studio in 2020, and we pay $1500/month in mortgage. $1100/property taxes. Utilities less than $300/month. Subscriptions and taxes vary.

We work 200 days a year.

We are the only Savage backdrop paper supplier within 200 miles. We really wanted our own stock to pull from without shipping individual rolls. Then started selling to the community. We also rent our studio to other photographers. The majority of our profits are still from shooting.

An average shoot for us is an 8-10 hour day averaging $3500/day in studio. Unlimited licensing around $2000.

Our biggest recent shoots:
1. For a cannabis company, we worked one week in Denver 10 hour days and made $33k in profit. Unlimited licensing.
2. Every month, we shoot 2-3 days in studio for a snack cake client and make $2500/day rate +$2000 in licensing + $500/styling = $5000 all profit per day. 8-hour days. That’s the cushiest job because we work with the same creative director and just have fun. Unlimited licensing.

Our worst-paying recent shoot: Headshots. $150/headshot. Thank goodness we stopped doing headshots this year. I mean, it’s easy to do in 20 minutes, but it costs our soul.

We don’t shoot video anymore.

The most valuable advice we have heard is from Art Streiber’s seminar at the Palm Spring Photo Festival. “Work on your systems.” I will bend over backward for a client but never forward.” “The product should be as good or better than what was in the client’s head.”
The worst advice we got was that you have to be in Los Angeles or New York to make it in this industry.

For marketing, SEO is everything. We also put out promos, but I find most of our best jobs come from Google.

I’ll retire when I’m dead. Irving Penn worked until 94.

50% of my income is from Commercial, 25% Editorial, 15% events, and 10% product. My roots are in photojournalism.

My clients are mostly local and statewide, with a handful of national clients. For one of my national clients, I travel with them 6-10x year. And they are an amazing organization. I’d jump through hoops of fire for them. I do not have anything in the Fortune 500 range. I have found out over time that the bigger the client (or agency) and the bigger the budget (and crew) translates, to bigger headaches. I prefer smaller clients who know exactly who they are and exactly what they need.

I am an army of one. But I do hire contractors, mostly HMUA and photo and lighting assistant. I also hire out some post work.

I work from home, but I do rent a large RV-sized climate-controlled storage unit that I share costs with my husband, who is in video production. We keep a lot of overflow equipment there. Plus, it doubles as an excellent studio for when I do product photography.

Nearly all of my monthly expenses I run through my business: advertising, healthcare, insurance (equipment, business and workers comp, health, dental), car repairs, gas, cell phone, etc.. Any recurring monthly cost gets run through my business.

My average monthly expenses range about $1500 – $2000

I run nearly all of my expenses through my business. I pay myself a meager weekly salary that equals to a whopping $30K a year. After expenses and my weekly salary, any leftover money stays in a business savings account for any just-in-case needs. Right now, I have about $40K in business savings.

In 2022, my expenses were higher than usual. I upgraded to the Canon R5, an R-series lens, a new laptop, and additional Profoto lighting and grip. I also had surgery which was costly, even after insurance, and that kept me out of work for about six weeks. So grossing $128K with being out of work for six weeks isn’t too bad for where I live. It’s just my husband of 17 years and me. We have no children (only pets). I have no business debt, and aside from our mortgage, we have no personal debt. Both of our vehicles are paid off. We live frugally and are at the point in our lives where we don’t need not want *stuff*.

For most of my photo shoots, 100% of my profits stay with me. It’s usually just me at the shoot. On larger shoots larger, or when there’s budget, I hire an assistant and occasionally HMUA . My assistant (photo grip) is usually my husband, so I don’t pay him. I do contract out some post work, but I do the vast majority myself.

I typically work 3 days a week. If I can book 5-7 full and/or half-day shoots a month, I’ll be happy. While over the last 2-3 years, my client list has been smaller, I am shooting higher paying jobs for the ones I do have. Work less, make more. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

My clients run the gamut: local and national publications, city and state government, small ad agencies, healthcare, industry, interior design, and B2B. I consider myself a generalist. I don’t specialize in one thing. In a small market, you have to be versatile.

Over the last five years, I’ve seen a steady 10-15% increase in my gross income. Covid didn’t affect me at all. In 2020, I saw a 14% increase from 2019.

I also teach yoga, but that’s two days a week and only if I doesn’t conflict with photo work. I make very little teaching yoga, and that goes to my personal slush fund. I don’t teach for the money, I teach because I love the practice as well and the amazing yoga community where I teach.

I do have a minimum of what I’m willing to take a shower and put on real pants for. The average half-day shoot (four hours) with equipment and post runs about $1800-$2200. For a full day (eight hours), if it’s just me, about $2300-$2700. If I have assistants or HMUA, then around $3100 and up. As far as licensing goes, it’s really hard to get people/agencies to pay licensing. Too many young and inexperienced photographers who give away their work ruined that a long time ago in my region. However, everyone pays a little something, even if it’s minimal. But I do charge a larger, more reasonable fee — and I often get it – when I have a bigger client who understands and respects the value of why I’m charging it. That number varies based on the job and need. For most, I often lump it in with my post-production costs when I estimate a job based on the information they give me when they first reach out. I don’t have cookie-cutter days or jobs. Every job and client is different.

I was hired by a local, small oil company to photograph seven of their better-looking gas stations at sunset in two states. The original job was only to provide seven digital images. They were opening a new HQ and wanted to have large prints made for their office. The original job was for $3K. After I photographed and proofed the photos, which they absolutely loved, they asked me my advice on getting prints made. At my own expense, I sent them three options for prints: a basic, lusture finish 8×12 print, a print with a metallic finish, and an actual metal print with a high gloss coating. They loved the metal print demo print so much that they asked me to take care of the prints. They ended up buying 3-4 prints PER station.

So an initial digital file-only job of $3K snowballed into 24, large metal prints to the cost of just over $17K. My only real expense was the $2K I paid to a digital retoucher who edited out power lines, cleaned up oil stains from the parking lots, etc., I charged back to cost of the metal prints, plus a 20% markup for myself. Since that job in 2018, I’ve photographed three more locations, and they’ve bought six more metal prints.

I can honestly say I haven’t had a *worst paying job*. I just turn away work where the money, need, terms, don’t align. If someone seeks me out, and really wants to work with ME and they have a budget $1000, I’m happy to work with them, but they must bring their photo needs and desires to a reasonable level for that budget.

I am married to a man who shoots video. I also work with him as a producer, teleprompter operator, PA, and the occasional grip.

Know your worth. It’s OK to say no. Turn work away when the budget isn’t there. Because once you work for cheap, they’ve got you. It’s incredibly difficult to go up on your rates. Also, you don’t have to have always have the latest and greatest gear. Refine your skills with the tools you have. As my photojournalism professor taught us, “It’s not the gear, it’s the person using it”.

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?

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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.