Audience with a Tree: Jana Cruder

Audience with a Tree

Photographer: Jana Cruder

Heidi: How did your connection to trees as a nature based solution to climate change and human connectivity begin?
Jana: I’d like to ask the reader to suspend their known idea of the concept and words “Climate Change“. That is simply too big to grasp and leaves many feeling overwhelmed.  The climate is constantly changing, it is the earth’s regulatory systems constantly seeking balance and self regulating. Rather, I want to encourage an update of terminology to “Environmental Degradation“ from multi-generational post industrialization. That way we can truly understand and start to shape the what, why and how.    

I’ve always had a special affection for trees, as a child I grew up in the forests of western Pennsylvania, running endlessly through them, watching the bears, deers, turkey and building forts. We as a family spent most of our free time in the forest surrounding the home I grew up in.   

In 2010 I went to Germany, that was the first time I witnessed a planted forest. I was on a train from Hamburg to Frankfurt and for what seemed like endless miles I could see straight down the lines of the forests swiftly passing by the window, these forests also void of other life, birds, deer, and other plants.   It was confusing and then I realized all the forests here are planted.  After that trip I did more research and learned about GMO forests and the less than 4% of old growth left in Europe at that time.

The inspiration for this project came in the summer of 2017 I was deep in a course learning about the ancient system of elemental theory Ayurveda. In this system of thought we are taught we are not separate from the earth that makes up our internal body systems.  I learned that our lungs are the forests of our bodies and the forests are the lungs of the planet.   Making this connection paved the way for the unfolding of this work. While attending the Spiritweavers Gathering, the founder Mea Woodruff had purchased and relocated the gathering to its permanent site amongst a towering collection of old growth cedars and redwoods. I had visited the Redwood forests before and always loved visiting Sequoia and never felt more alive then in the presence of those magnificent magical old growth trees. At the gathering I had the opportunity to meet and listen to Ayana Young speak about her passion for the forest and her then new podcast and project called “ For The Wild “.  I was so inspired by Ayana and her vision for the Redwoods project she planted a spark in my spirit.  The months following the gathering I listened to every episode she had at the time and dove deep into the challenges and stories of the Redwoods and Pacific Coastal first nations and forests.  Later that fall I relocated from Topanga, CA to the northern Bay Area and landed in a community outside Sebastopol.  I had pulled up in the driveway and left all my belongings, gear, and equipment in the car and went into my new room and fell asleep.  Around 4am my new house-mate was pounding on my door telling us all we had to evacuate. I drove to the nearest ridgeline to witness a wall of flames about 10 miles wide making its way towards the house I just moved into.  This fire would initiate a series of evacuations between Northern California and Southern California that spanned the next two years.  After the devastation of the Santa Rosa, and Tubbs fires of 2017 I went out into the fire scorched forests and cities to document the devastation.  I was never the same after those fires, it’s like my eyes opened for the first time to the magnitude of the threat to our forests and our old-growth forests and the important and intrinsic roles the old-growth natural forests play in the balancing of the earth’s climate.  I was overcome with grief mixed with curiosity, and that is when I was inspired to make this image. It is a self portrait of me on a stump scorched after the fires.

What was your first memory of a tree?
As a child, I grew up in the woods. In front of our home in Greensburg, PA are planted two giant Sycamore trees standing now well over 100ft tall and 10ft in diameter, they are about 80 years old.  Did you know the Sycamore tree is full of drinkable sap. If you’re ever out of water and you see a Sycamore tree you’re in luck. These two trees have stood as pillars for me, the memory of them so strong and so present in my life.   The first picture of me is 1986 in the woods near the lake behind our family home, the second was 1996. I’m sitting on a bucket holding my cat under that giant Sycamore.

Some of your work is based in spiritual practices and anthropomorphization of the tree, can you share more about this?
Nature is spiritual, for me I am at most alive in my being when I am in deep nature. Spend enough time in these places and you’ll understand the interconnectedness of it all. My spiritual fabric is a diverse mixture of philosophies and practices and part of what I bring to every aspect of my life.  In my early 20’s I met and studied with a Navajo medicine man in New Mexico. He started to open me to the realms beyond this physical fabric. He introduced me to the Beauty Way and Red Road, an unfolding of honor that might take my entire lifetime to fully embody.

I anthropomorphize most everything, even as a child.  Partially to create a window of engagement, the other to recognize all things as having life. It is centered around beliefs from Buddhist and also the Native American belief systems. To recognize all things as having life force, taking life force and that is to be respected and not wasted.  These philosophies are hard to balance in a culture where consumerism, and economic gain outweigh the value of other than humans and the health of the environment.

What is your hope with the immersive work?
My latest immersive experience Audience With A Tree, it is my hope that I can reconnect people with the vast  essence of these giant old growth forests. Bring about a moment of reflection and inspire reverence.

Have you ever known something so deeply as a truth in your heart, you just wait for the moment it unfolds into reality on this earth plane? That is how I felt as this project started to take shape, I knew I wanted to use my creative skills and talents for something bigger than me, it’s a walking prayer of mine. To be used, aligned and put into the right space and time for the elevation of these ideas to connect humans to nature at large.  I had at the time two other large experiential fine art installs under my belt and trees seemed like that was my next focus for immersive experience.  I read the book “ The Hidden Life Of Trees “, by Peter Wohlleben.  I was also deep into the realms of plant medicine at the time and kundalini yoga, all practices that open one up to other possibilities and shifting ways of thinking. It was on a medicine journey when I started hearing the root networks of the trees and seeing their interconnected being-ness,  they even started coming into my dreams off the medicine. It felt as if I was being summoned.  I listened and planned a trip to the giant old growth of Redwoods state park – visiting the Grandmother trees in the Redwood state forest all while documenting and listening deeply.   My first trip was a scouting trip, talking to rangers and locals, learning so much about the conflicting agendas for the forest industry, BLM and the state and national park systems. It was on that trip I also learned about the permits auctioned off and some given for free to private enterprise to access state and national lands to harvest resources. I left that trip amped and angry.  I then returned to go deeper into the woods  with my partner Zebu, he himself is a producer and artist. I was sure he’d understand the need to sit at the feet of the Grandmother Trees and listen. He and I took some mushrooms and sat on that beach surrounded by towering old growth Redwoods, that was where I had my Audience With A Tree. I prayed, cried and asked for forgiveness, I then asked for inspiration for what is needed. What can I do? It was quiet for a few moments when I heard loudly the word “ Reverence “ inspire reverence.

As for the mediums, and progression of my craft, I feel I outgrew the label of “ Photographer “ many years ago, when I was learning film and started directing more commercial multi media advertising shoots and branded content creation. I’m identifying now as a multimedia artist and creative director who uses photography and video to create experiences I and my  teams then document.  For my fine-art experience Audience With A Tree, I used both photography I captured in Sequoia National Forest before and after the devastating fires of 2021 as well as images from Redwood National Forest and other Redwood groves along the pacific coast highway. I also used video I captured mixed in with some stock images to create an immersive forest experience.

How have you tried to communicate scale and majesty with your art?
Scale is very important to me, when I created Natural Plasticity I remember when the idea came it was so simple, I wanted to make these pieces so big the public couldn’t ignore them.  That’s how big plastic felt to me, I wanted to create a disruption and for that project scale helped convey that.  I’m inspired by many great artists that have preceded me using scale to make bold statements. In my practice I’m not afraid of scale and I use it to convey feeling. These things are very big for me and visual scale is a way to communicate that. For Audience With A Tree scale is a poignant and impactful way to convey scale of the old-growth. For  the Berlin installation we chalked a 30ft in diameter Giant Sequoia stump print. This not only reflects the actual size of the Sequoias but also stands conceptually for the magnitude of their threat and to call attention to the honoring of the trees that once stood in these very spaces.   Being in California and spending time with these tree beings, I took for granted the opportunity to be in their presence. I assumed others around the world knew about them and how big they are.   While at the Berlin install I remember standing with someone when they made the connection to the scale of the stump print and the projections inside the exhibition.  They couldn’t believe it, they said to see them in a picture then to stand amongst the imprint of scale was monumental.  There was a moment of recognition that I think could not have been had with just an image.  In future installs I envision several of these stump prints making their ways through the city and leading up to the install sites, perhaps honoring various fallen old growth.

Your first proof of concept installation was in Berlin, an industrial concrete environment, are you always planning on installing in cities where trees once stood?
In 2016 I created my install Way Of The Modern Man, this got me recognition in the Vice Creators Project. From that article about a year later  I got an email in my in-box from NY/Berlin based architect Umberto Freddi.   He simply said, my work was brilliant and that he wanted to collaborate in the future.  Later that year when I was in Berlin on a photo assignment, Umberto and I met over coffee and he asked what I was interested in and working on next. I said Trees, I wanted to bring the vast essence of our old growth to dense urban environments to remind people they exist and that we need them.   I shared with him early ideas of what this experience could look like and he took out his sketch book and started drawing. Below is that first sketch of trees and scale.  We kept in touch moving the vision forward over the next many years, applying for funding, and fine tuning the idea.  The vision for me started so big and then finally though distillation and process it was able to be deduced to its essence. To the elements of impact. That is what I shaped and brought to life with the help of Umberto, Ufer Studios the PSR Kollective and The Foundation For Contemporary Arts in NY.    

At the moment I’m envisioning this to be installed in dense urban environments and available to the public to come and sit in Audience.  Installing into cities is ideal for the concept. The contrast of gray, urban, concrete is needed for the impact of the work.  In Berlin the contrast was incredible, we were in a very industrial and concrete part of the city. To have visitors come into a space where it was warm, smelled like the redwoods, with a towering canopy of nature and nature sounds provided a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a welcomed reminder and reset space.

What tools did you give the audience to honor the trees?
I don’t want to beat people over the head with fear, the mainstream media and political and corporate agendas do a good job at that already. I’m also not approaching this challenge we face as humanity with fear. I’m most interested in opening a curious and contemplative space of self reflection. Opening a welcoming safe space for different points of view where people can come and touch into these conversations without guilt and fear.  This is a big conversation, it’s a topic we’re all thinking about, affected by and the elephant in the room.

My intention is simple, to inspire reverence. To do that I created a sacred and visually interesting space. I pulled upon the idea that in times past people would bring grievances to the attention of the Queen by requesting an Audience. In Audience With A Tree its almost a reversed request, the trees are asking the public to come and sit in audience with them and learn and listen for answers.  The immersive experience is layers of projections towering above with scents of redwood and cedar in the moist air coupled with the “ Voice Of The Forest “ a guided meditation from the Mother Tree, she brings people into relationship with the understanding of how important mother trees are to the balance of the forest ecosystems and their roles in the forest hierarchy.  When we take these mother trees aka old growth we can permanently alter and scar the health of the entire forest network.  I also brought into this experience an altar. I was very inspired by the great altars to the memory of loved ones at the San Francisco Day of the Dead, also known as Da de los Muertos.  I wanted to create an altar for trees, a space to bring our grievances and concerns about the environmental destruction and changes we are experiencing as a collective and listen deeply for answers.   On that altar I placed sacred items, sage, palo santo, crystals, sacred mala beads, flowers in honor amongst the news clippings about old-growth deforestation, clearcutting for lithium, how governments are selling resources to private companies and the impact of deforestation on our first nation peoples globally.   I worked with photographer Mike Graeme   to present some of his before and after images of the Giant Cedars and the devastation of Fairy Creek, Cayuse wilderness of British Columbia.  I witnessed people come to the altar, and sit in reflection, look around at the projections and then back to the altar. It was a gentle and poignant way to share the why. People wrote messages to the trees, offered a candle and some even a prayer.  It was so beautiful to provide a space for reflection and reverence.

How long is each tree portrait?
The experience is open and rather fluid, the guided meditation lasts about 17 minutes depending on which language it is presented in and the viewers are then invited to sit in the space and reflect. Some rest, on the giant bean bags on the floor listening to the forest soundtrack, some visit the altar. Overall I’d say the average visitor spends about 30 minutes to 1hr in the experience.

What calls you to a specific tree or grove?
It is an absolutely combination of heart and my eyes. Sometimes they come in dreams, or messages. I’ll see something, read something, learn about a group of trees and know I want to go visit them.  It all depends where I am and where I’m collecting images, films and sounds. Sometimes I’ll be driving and see them and immediately have to pull over to visit them. Other times I search them out talking to rangers and locals to find places not often found by everyone.  So far I’ve visited many old growth groves in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania as well as the Amazon in Peru.   It is a big vision for this work to continue and I hope to visit more pockets of old growth on the planet before they are gone, especially the Baobab old growth in Africa.


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!

The Art of the Personal Project: Stephen Wilkes

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Stephen Wilkes


I began this project a few years ago, while working on my Day to Night™.   Photographing in Italy, I visited the Vatican Museum and became fascinated by the extraordinary tapestries.  I was inspired by the layering of imagery, the narrative storytelling and color that appears throughout the woven texture of the yarn. I began to wonder if I could create a similar effect, incorporating multiple exposures, in a single image.

So began my exploration of “Tapestries”. I always say that if Day to Night™ is like a symphony where I photograph for 24-36 hours, then the Tapestries are like a piece of jazz music. Being totally in the moment and capturing the images in camera and in short periods of time.  In both bodies of work, I’m dissecting the very concept of time in different ways.

Stephen Wilkes’ work is included in the collections of the George Eastman Museum, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Jewish Museum of NY, Library of Congress, Museum of the City of New York, 9/11 Memorial Museum and many more. His editorial work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Time, Fortune, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated among others. Wilkes awards and honors include the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography and TIME Magazine Top 10 Photographs of 2012, Sony World Photography Professional Award 2012, Adobe Breakthrough Photography Award 2012, Prix Pictet, Consumption 2014.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: John Dyer

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:   John Dyer  

            My love for photography comes from seeing what something looks like when it’s photographed.  The camera sees differently than the human eye.  Different lenses see differently from each other.  Shooting color (at least for me) is not the same as shooting black & white.  Placing the frame of a camera and freezing a bit of time and space creates something new, something different from what was photographed. That something has its own rules and esthetic: a transformation that I find intoxicating.  A photograph has no narrative ability so it cannot tell you what was happening at the time the shutter was released.  The photograph must exist on its own, justifying itself by the intrinsic elements that it is composed of.  Whenever all those elements are in complete balance, a photograph becomes something more, something mysterious, something fascinating.  The best photograph is an enigma that asks more questions than it answers.

            Whatever that dynamic is, I can’t get enough of it.

To see more of this project, click here

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Daily Edit – Crude Aesthetics: Kaya & Blank

Kaya & Blank

Marshall Gallery presented “Into the Uncanny Valley which featured three artists: Cody Cobb, Alex Turner and Kaya & Blank. I was confronted with a striking interpretation of something that’s all too familiar on bike rides and commutes along Highway 33 in Ventura county: Pumpjacks.
These dot the hills and neighborhoods between Ventura and Ojai. I caught up with creative duo known as Kaya and Blank about their work.

Heidi: This work revolves around the urban oil fields and refineries in Los Angeles, which image resonated the biggest contrast around consumption and boundary for you?
That might be the image showing a single pump jack in front of a massive container ship in the port of Long Beach. While the pump is stoically working, the global trade system appears in the back. Every time we look at that specific one it gives us a feeling of cause and effect. The same would be true for the frames of pumpjacks with highways or a McDonalds in the background. All of them show the extraction of a resource and the world it created. There is something very strange about these specific frames.

What drew you to nocturnal landscapes?
Işık has always been fascinated by nocturnal landscapes and all her projects are created at night, and Thomas has a background in stage performance and theatre, so both of us are drawn to dark spaces in which artificial light dominates perception. Something strange and beautiful happens with colors, and modern cameras with extreme low light performance can capture things that are beyond human perception. The sensor amplifies traces of light and the resulting images become somewhat unreal. And then the darkness of course helps to reduce visual noise, it is easier to focus on individual objects in the dark. Furthermore there is this notion that the night is the time to rest, however, capitalism is a 24/7 system. We want to emphasize that in our work.

What are your observations regarding our relationship too crude and how does that unfold in the work?
Although oil plays a massive role in the creation of every product we as humans are surrounded by today and fuels our entire contemporary culture, we never come into direct contact with the raw material itself. It is always already utilized, mediatized, transformed, or deliberately concealed. There is very little awareness in the broader public for how essential this one resource is for literally everything and therefore massively informs global politics and especially US politics. But even on a much smaller scale, the local one, it is impressive to see how little people know about Los Angeles as a place of extraction for crude oil. Showing this deep and historical connection is one of the reasons why we show the pump jacks that are basically in the backyards of residential buildings. The detachment from this resource is a huge issue, yet at the same time we as individuals enjoy the comfort that it brings and love exploring the landscape with our cars. Because our own relationship to crude is a complicated one, we wanted the work to reflect that by being haunting and beautiful at the same time.

The pump jacks take on a zoological aesthetic, how did your framing reinforce that?
Showing mostly individual pump jacks or small groups of them gives a feeling of observing actual characters. Their shape and movement has something inherently animalistic, that’s probably the reason why people also call them nodding donkeys. There is a phenomenon called pareidolia, which describes essentially what happens when we recognize a face in an electrical outlet or a human outline in a cloud. As humans we are prone to see familiar things in random shapes or patterns, which certainly helps to enhance this effect in our video.

What obstacles did you encounter photographing at night?
Working together certainly helps to feel safer at night, but it still is somewhat scary at times. At least in densely populated areas like Southern California there is no dead of night, there is always something happening, making sounds, crawling around. And that just triggers your imagination. What is out there? Is it dangerous? The biggest fear at any given moment though was that the police would come and question what we are doing, which happened a few times. Especially in residential areas we would try to be as quick as possible before we would be asked to leave.

How does your collaboration unfold in the field, are you both framing images?
Işık mostly operates the camera while Thomas scouts for different angles or pretends that the engine of our car broke down so we could film from the side of the road. We always discuss framing and decide together how or what to change in a scene, try to refine framing and check for details in the frames together. It is a very fun process and sometimes we dance or do squats while the camera is recording.

What were the determining factors for which areas to photograph?
In 2020 LA Times published an article with a map by Ryan Menezes and Mark Olalde that shows every single active and idle oil well in California. We used their map to identify clusters in greater Los Angeles that we would work our way through over the course of a night. It was clear relatively quickly that for us the most interesting frames were those that show the extreme proximity of extraction and everyday life and so we focused on clusters in populated areas. However, we did drive out to work in remote oilfields as well, closer to Bakersfield for example, but we ended up never using that material.

Tell us about the heliographs and why this was important to this body of work.
Crude Aesthetics was created as an installation that addresses the direct connections between visibility, photography, and petroleum. What is known to be the first photograph in history, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras, was created using bitumen, a naturally occurring petroleum tar which hardens in proportion to its exposure to light. To recreate this historic photographic process, we used tar collected from La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to print photographs of the USA’s cultural elements that are deeply embedded in excess oil consumption, such as suburbs, drive-throughs, interstate systems, overcrowded parking lots of shopping malls, and Carvana “vehicle vending machines”. Fixing these images with petroleum on a polished, mirror-like aluminum surface allows the viewers to see their own reflection on this raw material and the images of a culture shaped by it.

The Art of the Personal Project: Kahran and Regis Bethencourt

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Kahran and Regis Bethencourt

NPR Story by Destinee Adams

A husband and wife reimagine fairy tales with Black children in mind

This is Goldilocks like you’ve never seen her.

Bathed in a golden light, she looks out from a photo resembling a fashion magazine spread with a commanding stare, surrounded by massive teddy bears. Instead of yellow curly hair, she wears thick, afro-textured, honey blonde locks.

This is the Goldilocks of CROWNED: Magical Folk and Fairy Tales from the Diaspora by husband and wife photographers Kahran and Regis Bethencourt. The two have reimagined familiar stories with photographs of Black children and, occasionally, new plot points, in an elaborate book of 141 photos.

It’s the sequel to 2021’s GLORY: Magical Visions of Black Beauty.

This is Goldilocks like you’ve never seen her.

The book is broken down into three categories: Classic fairy tales, African and African American Folktales and original stories. The couple intentionally casts Black children of different ages, skin tones and hair textures in traditionally white roles, like Cinderella.

In the retelling of Cinderella, “Asha the Little Cinder Girl,” Asha wears an extravagant blue gown with purple tulle shooting from the bottom as Jamal, her Prince Charming, slides on a white high-top sneaker instead of a glass slipper.

Perhaps the most striking element in the picture is Asha’s hair, a structure of carefully placed black braids and white pearls piled high on top of her head.

“I think it’s important for, specifically, Black and brown kids to be able to see themselves reflected in the stories that they read growing up,” Kahran said.

The Bethencourts began their photography careers in Atlanta in 2009. For a while, they worked in the children’s fashion industry, capturing headshots for adolescent actors and shooting campaigns for kids’ brands. But they noticed a specific and unsettling pattern among Black children in the industry.

“We realized that a lot of the kids that had natural Afro hair would come in to get their headshots and the parents would have their hair straightened because they thought that’s what they needed to do to get their kids into the industry,” Kahran said.

“We thought, ‘Gosh, wow! At an early age we’re teaching our kids that they’re not acceptable, that their looks are not good enough.'”

The two began doing personal projects where Black children were encouraged to wear their natural hair in fashionable settings. Staying connected to the industry helped them build enough clientele to create their own photography company, CreativeSoul.

CROWNED is a visual representation of the CreativeSoul original mission: celebrate and embrace natural Black beauty. But the book also showcases Regis and Kahran’s ability to imagine and translate new worlds.

“Goldi: The Girl with the Golden Locks” was the favorite story for Regis to retell because the original story “didn’t really have a lesson at the end.”

“It pretty much was a story about a privileged girl going in and just eating everything and just leaving and going back home,” he said. “No lesson learned.”

In CROWNED, Goldi is still a privileged girl, but she is welcomed into the bears’ home. The bears don’t have much, but they have each other and a once-haughty Goldi leaves the house with three new friends and an appreciation for nurturing her relationships.

Changing the ending “was so cool for me because I feel like we’re actually changing history,” Regis said.

The book was released May 23, three days before the live action film The Little Mermaid premiered with Halle Bailey, a Black woman with natural locks, as Ariel, a princess and the main character.

Like the live-action adaption of The Little Mermaid, the Bethencourts’ version is setting the standard for Black representation in traditionally white spaces.

The husband and wife duo dress Aliyah, the little mermaid, in silver jewels and colorful pearls from head-to-toe. As she floats under the sea, she plays in her big red flowing hair filled with loose braids, shells, leaves and bright red tulle.

Aliyah holds her head high in every shot like the most confident, royal figures. She stares off into the distance and also directly at the camera, as if to say this story was always her own.

Lisa Lambert edited this digital story.

To see more of this project, click here

To purchase Crowned

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

Pricing & Negotiating: Retail Store & Product Images For An Athletic Apparel Brand

Bryan Sheffield, Wonderful Machine

Concept: Photography of employees and brand ambassadors showcasing their new product line within a new flagship New York City retail location

Licensing: Web Advertising and Web Collateral use of up to 25 images for one year from first use

Photographer: Architecture, Interiors, and Still Life specialist

Client: Large global athletic apparel brand


I helped one of our New York City photographers build an estimate for an athletic apparel brand that had just opened a new flagship store in NYC and was launching a product line to coincide with the opening. In our conversations with the client, they described the need for photography of the retail store and on-location still-life images of their new product line being worn and used by their staff and brand ambassadors. The final use of content would primarily be used for web collateral purposes, but the client had plans for a few web advertising placements within regional news and sports sites, as well as paid social media placements.

The photographer reviewed the time the sun would come through the buildings and determined that a 12-hour day would be needed in order to capture sunlight on the storefront and conquer the entire shot list. I added a note of Client Provisions to describe what the client was to provide, including all location coordination, products to be photographed, all staff/talent to be photographed, and all hair/makeup/wardrobe/product styling.

Take a look at the estimate below:


I put the Photographer’s fees at $7,000 for the 12-hour shoot and licensing of up to 25 images. The client was very complimentary of the photographer’s portfolio and had mentioned on a call that they had wanted to work with the photographer for some time. We took this into account, but at the same time, we understand that the NYC market is a very competitive one. While this photographer might very well be the absolute best for this project, there are many other photographers in the area that could accomplish this job. The saturated market (unfortunately) put downward pressure on the photographer’s fees. While the per-image rate is quite low, at a couple of hundred dollars an image, we felt that it was a fair and competitive fee for the bulk images and duration limited one-year use. The client did not offer a budget for the project, but based on our experience quoting similar projects and the intended media buy, I estimated that they would want to spend between $12-14,000 total.


We added a first assistant at $550/day to help with lighting and camera equipment management. We also included a digital tech to manage the files and display the content for the client while it was being captured. Two hours of overtime were added for both crew members at a 1.5 increase in their hourly rates. These fees were consistent with the photographer’s crew rates on past projects of this nature.


We included $650 for camera, lighting, and grip rentals. The photographer brought their own cameras and lenses and intended to obtain a few orange cones and reflective safety vests for when they would need to be on the street/sidewalk photographing the storefront. We added $300 for the digital tech workstation rental laptop, cables, etc., and included $160 for a hard drive to backup files.


We added $300 for meals and craft services to cover the three people who would be on set for the 12-hour shoot day.


We added insurance coverage at $250 and added $240 for the anticipated taxis/car services, additional meals, and other miscellaneous costs.

Post Production

We added $500 for the photographer to perform an initial edit of all the content and delivery to the client and retouching at $120/hr for an estimated 30 minutes per image.


The photographer was awarded the project, and the shoot was set for a gorgeous day in New York City. The photographer let me know that while on set there were initial discussions about future collaborations with this brand and we all are looking forward to working with this client again!

Need help pricing and negotiating a project? Reach Out!

The Art of the Personal Project: Scott Lowden

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.


Today’s featured artist:  Scott Lowden

1050 Ponce De Leon Place is a famous – some would say notorious – old section 8 apartment building in my neighborhood in Atlanta GA. I’ve lived here since 1992 and have seen many characters come and go and I’ve also met some amazing people. One of the more surprising things I’ve noticed over the years is that many in this community are always smiling. I wanted to get to know the people who lived at 1050 and ask them – why, with all that is against you, financially, physically – are you smiling a genuinely beautiful smile? That was the beginning…

This project focuses, in broader terms, on the happiness and contentment found in Americans that seem to have nothing to smile about. Particularly the older folks, the handicapped, and those dependent on government aid for help. At first glance, the people who live at 1050 Ponce De Leon Ave fit this description. To those more fortunate, while driving or walking by, it may seem that there is only sorrow and desperation living inside the hulking red brick apartment building. But to every yin there is a yang. There is happiness found there, a bubbling up of the human spirit. Many of these amazing older folks are fighting battles with poverty or illness, yet they are truly happy individuals. They always seem to be smiling, and helping each other, a community. I’ve seen them impacting our neighborhood with their personalities, grins, and hugs since I moved to Poncey Highlands. In their happiness we find ours.

Smiles are contagious.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

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.

The Art of the Personal Project: Brian Kuhlmann

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.


Today’s featured artist:  Brian Kuhlmann


I started photographing transgender individuals in 2015, and the goal has always been to normalize their existence and humanize their stories. Since that time, it is no secret that transgender people have bore the brunt of extreme political whiplash in this country, as well as increasing violence and hostility in the streets. These photographs celebrate freedom of expression, and stand as an act of defiance against attempts to vilify and erase gender nonconformity in the public sphere.

I believe that knowing how we or others identify is important, as are the stories of how we’ve arrived at that place. Before any shutter is clicked, I listen to their stories. We meet, we talk, and get to know each other. What strikes me the most about their stories is the level of abuse simply for being who they are–everything from being disowned, being forced to live on the street, sexual abuse, and even broken bones from assault. And sometimes there’s stories of families coming together, of bonds strengthening, and what it means to discover support.

The resulting portraits are simple and direct, classic yet modern. Choosing to eliminate the background and photograph each person on white forces us to look at them, at who they are and, beyond the ideas we may have, ultimately recognize that we are all humans.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry fordecades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Daily Edit – Ken Karagozian: Underground Subway Series

Ken Karagozian

Los Angeles Metro Art website showcases Ken’s work and a PDF around his body of work called Deep Connections

Heidi: Congratulations on your long and rich photo career, you had incredible mentors, what did each of them offer you that you still practice today?
Ken: Ansel Adams had an incredible impact on my interest in photography. On a high school photography field trip in the early 1970’s to visit Ansel Adams studio and darkroom it was my first experience seeing a beautiful B & W landscape print displayed on the wall at his home. I was just amazed the clarity of richness of a fine art print and then thought maybe that it something that I would like to emulate for myself in a making a beautiful print.

Another important factor that I learned in the 1980’s was when taking a workshop with the Owens Valley Photography instructors (John Sexton, Bruce Barnbaum & Ray McSavaney) that when you do a photography project that you have to always photograph in different lighting situations & seasons to really see the different changing of light upon your subject matter.

Another workshop (film & darkroom printing) was with Oliver Gagliani. I remember Oliver told me that when he was a guest instructor at the Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshops Ansel was photographing the landscape while Oliver was photographing the texture of the tents at Curry Village. For myself I enjoy photographing people in their natural environment.

From Bruce Barnbaum he would state that these three human ingredients will combine to produce success in any field of endeavor: Enthusiasm, Talent and Hard Work and that a person can be successful with only two of those attributes as long as one of two is ENTHUSIASM.

My personal photographic project has been photographing Los Angeles Underground Transportation and that has attributed to my Enthusiasm for this project and my love for Black and White film photography.

What was the focus of your photography workshop in Bishop and how did you come to photograph bridges? 
After taking the Owens Valley Workshop I became good friends with photographer Ray McSavaney since he lived in Los Angeles and would do a workshop called Urban Los Angeles where on Friday evening we would meet at his studio and meet the workshop participants and bring some prints to share with the group. On Saturday and Sunday we would then photograph in Los Angeles. Some of those locations would be Victorian Square, under the bridges of the Los Angeles river, Bradbury Building, etc. For myself the first time photographing under the bridges or freeways was this does not look interesting with all the concrete but when I went home and developed my  B&W film the concrete had a glow to it with light underneath.

How did your Underground Subway series begin?
While driving to work everyday on Hollywood Blvd I saw a carwash go out of business and thought that was strange especially with all the cars in Los Angeles. Then saw construction fences going up with a sign saying this is a Federal Funded Transportation Project that included Los Angels County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. I then wrote to the MTA Arts about obtaining permission to photograph. One year later I heard back and they told me I could come for a day and that day turned into over three decades of photographing LA Metro Underground Transportation Projects.

Why was the Huntington Library interested in collecting his work and what was your role in all of this?
I had contacted the Huntington Library about showing them my portfolio from my Underground Subway series and met with Jennifer Watts (Huntington Library Curator of Photography) where some of my artwork is now collected. I mentioned  to Jennifer about looking at Ray McSavaney’s photography and then the Huntington Library started collecting some of Ray’s photographs. Ray passed away the week after I retired in 2014 and John Sexton asked me to help with Ray’s estate where now with help Ray’s artwork, is collected at  Huntington Library, Center for Creative Photography, Portland Art Museum, Los Angeles Central Library and University of Utah Marriott Library.  Explorations is Ray’s book that he self published and is available here.

Ray McSavaney

What would you tell your younger self?
I would probably try to keep up with the digital world taking more classes to better my skills in Photoshop, Lightroom and designing a website. I wish I did more oral interviews with my subject matter. Now I look forward to publishing a book on my different construction projects that also includes the the rebuilding of the iconic 6th St Viaduct. I do have some older projects where I photographed the vendors and buyers at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market and Harley Davidson Riders.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently photographing the Underground Construction along Wilshire Blvd where Metro plans to build seven new Subway Stations by the Summer Olympics in 2028

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.

The Art of the Personal Project: Zac Henderson

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:   Zach Henderson


Dark Matter III Artist Statement

In 2017 I was in the midst of a creative drought. I had no vision, no subject, and no inspiration. I had recently become interested in natural science and was voraciously consuming information on astrophysics, particle physics, gravitational waves, black holes, and anything else I found interesting that a photographer had no business learning about. In an attempt to bring together this interest in natural science with my work, I set out to create an abstract representation of something that, by definition, is impossible to photograph dark matter, a theoretical form of matter which doesn’t interact with the visible spectrum and can’t be directly detected, yet is responsible for keeping galaxies, like our own Milky Way, glued together with its gravity. I began experimenting with ceramic magnets and iron grains, relying on the invisible force of magnetism to coerce the iron grains into unique forms in a way that I imagined dark matter particles interacting with normal matter as viewed from a bulk, in which both are visible. Inspired by science, yet unencumbered by its rigors, I set out to make something visible and tactile from that awe of the nature of reality while still nodding to its intangibility.

Now in its third iteration, Dark Matter is beginning to transcend its original purpose. The sculpture’s ambiguous scale sometimes illustrates itself as massive celestial space stations, suspended in nebulae, able to reorganize themselves depending on the task, and capable of bending spacetime in ways we can’t comprehend. When viewed at their intended size, I recognize a similarity to images created by electron microscope and imagine the structures as odd, microscopic life forms having evolved from a completely separate evolutionary tree, able to thrive in the micro-gravity of space by using magnetism to maintain their composition.

Whatever thoughts come to mind from viewing these images, for me they represent a celebration of the knowable and unknowable forms of nature and their ultimate ability to pluck at the strings of human curiosity.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

Pricing & Negotiating: Marketing Materials For A Medical Device/Software Manufacturer

By Bryan Sheffield, Wonderful Machine

Concept: Multi-day photo/video shoot of medical equipment in use

Licensing: Unlimited use (excluding Broadcast) of all content created for 5 years from the first use

Director/Photographer: Brand Narrative, Technology, and Health Care specialist

Client: Global medical device and software manufacturer


I recently helped a photographer build an estimate and negotiate a project for a notable medical device manufacturer. The client brief described the need for photography and videography of talent and client technical staff showcasing their machinery and software products. The final use of the content would be primarily used for collateral purposes, as well as advertisements in industry trade publications, and web advertising use.

While reviewing the initial shot list and scope of the project with the client, the photographer estimated this would need to be accomplished over two shoot days, with a tech/scout day prior to visiting the location.

I added a note of Client Provisions to describe what the client was to provide. In this case, they would handle all location(s), machinery and equipment to be photographed, all client-branded wardrobes, all client staff/equipment technicians, and all photography/video post-processing and retouching. Within the Job Description, we added an option to extend the use of the created content for 15 years for an additional $15,000.

Here’s a look a the estimate:


I put the Photographer/Director’s fees at $20,000 for the 2-day shoot. The photographer had previously worked with this client, and the client was accustomed to the photographer charging $6k per day for still photography and similar use license. While the requested client use was Unlimited, when determining appropriate fees we took into consideration that the intended use wouldn’t contain any direct-to-consumer advertising or pricey media placements. I felt that, with the included video needs, $10k/day was a fair fee for the photo/video work creation and licensing. This was in line with fees I have seen for other projects with similar clients. I added $750/day for the 7 photographer/director pre-pro, tech/scout, and travel days.


We added a first assistant at $600/day to help with lighting and camera equipment management, and to attend the tech scout day to familiarize themselves with the location and equipment needs. We included the director’s DP at $1,500/day for the shoot days, as well as four pre-production/scout days at $750/day.

We included an assistant camera operator at $750/day to aid the DP, as well as a grip/gaffer at $650/day. We also included a digital tech/media manager to manage the files and display the content to the client while being captured. We added a producer and anticipated 12 days anticipated for the project, and a production assistant for the two shoot days, as well as prep and wrap days. These fees were consistent with appropriate rates in this market.


We added $7,500 for camera, lighting, and grip rentals. The photographer and DP brought their own cameras, lenses, and intended to rent a few specialty lenses, as well as all lighting, camera support, and grip from a local rental house. We added $750 per shoot day for the digital tech workstation rental to consist of a laptop, two client monitors, a wireless director monitor, a cart, cables, and any other necessary equipment. We also included $950 for hard drives, and $1,100 for production supplies such as styling racks, steamers, and production book printing.

Styling Crew

A wardrobe stylist was added to dress our five hired talent, and we anticipated wardrobe costs at $900/day. We estimated wardrobe at $900 for the relatively simple scrubs, gowns, socks, and shoes/slippers needed for five models. We also included a combo hair/makeup stylist at $900/day. The director’s vision included a pure white room, and we added an art dept team to cover the floor/walls/ceiling with white materials that would be removable and non-destructive to the location.

Casting & Talent

The client shot list described a wide range of gender, ethnicity, age, and body sizes to be used across their varying markets, we included $3,500 to cast these everyday individuals. We anticipated all five talent on set each day and included $500 plus a 20% agent fee for these day rates. We included $2750 plus 20% as a use fee and all talent usage was guaranteed.


The traveling party consisted of a photographer/director, DP, and producer. To accommodate this group we included airfare, lodging, airport transfers, local transportation, and per diems for each person.

Catering & Craft Services

We added $3,400 for meals and craft services to cover the 21 people to be on set over the three scout and shoot days.

Covid Safety

Because the crew would be working in a hospital, the client required all on set to be fully vaccinated with proof of a negative PCR test within 24hrs of their first day on set. We added $130 per person to compensate for these test costs and also included $350 for PPE and supplies.


We included $850 for insurance coverage and added $500 for the anticipated additional meals, expendables, and other various costs.

Post Production

We added $500 for the photographer to perform an initial edit of all the content and delivery to the client via hard drive. The client would handle all editing and retouching needs.


The photographer was awarded the project, and the production was a huge success. The client came back to the photographer with a retouching order for 18 images, and a separate quote was presented. The video content is currently in edit, and all will be used within the client’s product launch Q2 this year!

The Art of the Personal Project: Arin Yoon

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.


Today’s featured artist:  Arin Yoon

A Korean American connects her past and future through photography  (NPR -The Picture Show)

I arrived in this country when I was 5 and my brother was 7. The first place we visited was Disneyland. I thought we had hit the jackpot. America was even better than I had expected. Soon after, we settled in Warrensburg, Mo., and a new reality sank in. I was transported from the cityscape of Seoul to the American Midwest. I have clear memories of walking through the vast prairie and the mazes of cornfields as a child.

My mom, Young Ok Na, had a studio photo taken in preparation to come to the United States — for her passport and visa applications. My dad was going to graduate school and we had come to visit. We didn’t know that we were never going back to Korea. He didn’t want us to leave. When I made a picture of that photo, it was drizzling. A tiny fortuitous raindrop fell right under my eye. I didn’t realize until I was editing that this had happened. I ask my child self, “Why are you crying?”

I notice my kids Mila and Teo interacting with nature, playing together and seeing how they create their own worlds and make their own memories. It is when I give in to seeing the world through their eyes that I find it easiest to parent. And then sometimes, their magic seeps into my world, when I let go of trying to be in control. I project my past onto them but I know parts of them remember it too.

In Korea, there is a concept called han, which roughly translates to a collective feeling of sorrow relating to having been colonized and oppressed. It is a sentiment that connects Koreans to each other as well as to our ancestors. For members of the diaspora, han can also relate to the immigrant experience — to feelings of loss and displacement. But we can release some han in making new memories on land that feels more familiar to my children than it did to me at their age. As we walk through the tallgrass prairie, my daughter asks me, “Are we in a dream? Are we?” I wonder if she is starting to remember.

What does this land represent? I think about the house we are staying in — a casita built for Mexican rail workers a century ago, one of the last ones to survive. There are three units in the bunkhouse. From the drawing in the room, it looks like there could have been up to 10 units at one point. I had packed a Mexican dress that was gifted to my daughter, Mila, without knowing the history of the bunkhouse. I feel like it is an homage to those workers. The kids are obsessed with the wild garlic here, possibly brought here by the Mexican laborers. A part of their history continues to grow and nourish.

The more trains I watch pass behind the casitas, the more details I notice. I realize the ones carrying oil move more slowly than the ones carrying coal. My children recognize the logos on the trains moving consumer goods across the U.S. after just a few clicks on someone’s phone or computer.

I think about the Chinese rail workers who built the transcontinental railway — how they were omitted from the 1869 photo commemorating the completion of the railroad. Everyone is celebrating, opening champagne as the final golden spike is hammered into the track. How easily have our experiences, as immigrants, been erased from American history. Corky Lee recreated that photograph in 2014 with the descendants of those Chinese laborers, 145 years after the original photo was made. We can take back some of our histories in commemorating the forgotten, lost and erased. Remembering.

Through this work, I re-examine my connection to this land, reconsidering overlooked histories, as I tap into my own forgotten memories, conjuring the past, creating new memories, all while exploring my connection to the natural landscape, to my children, and to our past and future selves.


To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

The Daily Edit – Alex Buisse


The Buisse family plays in the spray of the exceptionally heavy Yosemite Falls.

Emma Buisse, 4, slides down snow on the approach trail to the Weeping Wall, Icefield Parkways, Alberta, Canada.
Emma Buisse, 4, sleds (with and without the actual sled) in Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Emma Buisse, 4, hikes and climbs in the woods near her Chamonix home, France.

Luca Buisse, 4 months old, heads up Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Emma Buisse, 4, skis her first black diamond run, the Grands Montets homerun, in Chamonix, France.

Alex Buisse

Heidi: Congratulations on Mont Blanc Lines , how did this second book come about?

Alex: After I started the Mont Blanc Lines project (drawing climbing routes on high resolution photos of mountains) during the first covid lockdown, the idea of a book came quickly and felt like a natural progression. It was published in late 2021 in French and Italian, with English coming later in 2022, and was extremely well received, with strong sales during the holiday season.

The French publisher, Glénat, felt like the concept, mixing line drawings, action photography, historical overviews and famous climber interviews, could be extended to other areas than just the French Alps. They floated the idea of a world book several times, but I didn’t feel like I was in a position to say yes. Finally, around Christmas last year, with our lease in the Canadian Rockies coming up for renewal and one last year before our daughter Emma had to be enrolled in school full time, we felt like it might be the right time for a family round-the-world adventure.

Is the photo direction evolving from the first book?
The first book relied on a decade worth of photos I had shot while working as an adventure photographer in Chamonix. For this new book, however, I won’t be able to spend weeks and months gathering landscape and action shots of each location. I have made the decision to focus on getting the best possible base images to draw the lines, and will have to license some images from other local photographers to fill in some of the blanks. Thankfully, there are tons of talented people working in the adventure domain right now.

I know you originally declined, what was your hesitation?
The main hesitation revolved around finding the time to visit and photograph enough places. I didn’t want the world to be the US, Canada and the Alps. Since we decided to spend a whole year on the road, we will have time to see some of the climbing areas everywhere: Namibia, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tasmania, Madagascar, Jordan and many more places are on the list.

We also had concerns about how long it would mean being away from my family, until we realized that it was possible to do almost everything all together, perhaps going solo the last technical mile or two. The main exception would be the Himalayas, as the kids are still too young for trekking at high altitudes.

Two young children, two working parents on a world tour, what were the ingredients to say yes?
The book feels almost like an excuse to go have a grand family adventure. We have done enough traveling already to know that adding the needs of a four year old and a 10 month old, on top of our full time work (and Erin’s PhD!) and all the regular constraints of traveling, is a huge and exhausting challenge. But we also felt strongly that sharing this fast-changing world with our children and having adventurous lives was more important than ever. It’s just that what used to mean skiing to the north pole or going on Himalayan expeditions is now hiking to Lower Yosemite Falls or car camping in Moab.

We also had to find ways to make the logistics work, which means basing ourselves in a single place for weeks at a time rather than constantly be on the move. This allows us to slow down, catch our breath, catch up on work, and get to know the places better. We just have to be laser focused on the important spots, and not try to be tourists and see everything.


How has your photography evolved now that you are a parent?
Even before having children, my photography has been on a steady shift toward the more human aspects of adventure, at times turning away from the grand and wild landscapes to refocus on gazes and emotions. Having children has accelerated that process and forced me to slow down and really take in every fleeting moment. I am still a visual storyteller at heart, but with children am finding myself telling smaller and more intimate stories. I am constantly trying to capture my children just being themselves, and I think there is real beauty in that.

What are your hopes for kids during this time?
Emma loves nothing more than being outside and exploring, getting dirty and occasionally falling down from rocks and trees. We want to encourage that as much as possible, and through the red line of our book as well as our natural inclinations, gravitate to the wild places of the world. Our kids will have plenty of time to sit down in a classroom (or in front of a computer) when they are a little older, but for now we just want Emma and Luca to explore the world with us.

We also want them to meet and interact with people from all different cultures, and prioritize trying to get Emma playing with other kids, even if she has just met them.

How has being with your kids shifted how you approach making images?
To state the obvious, kids don’t take direction very well (mine certainly don’t), and I wouldn’t want them to act differently just because the camera is there anyway. It really is about being in the moment, interacting in a natural way, then noticing the little thing that give me a hint that something might be happening very soon, then managing to get a camera pointed in the right direction.

Before photographing children, I would naturally gravitate to choosing the right background,  usually some epic mountain scene, then finding a way to get my subjects in front of that. With kids, not only is that exponentially harder to achieve, but it doesn’t lead to images that make sense, as they don’t relate to the landscape in the same way as us. When we were in Yosemite last week, El Cap held Emma’s attention for all of 30 seconds, while she spent a solid hour on a 10 foot tall boulder at the trailhead.

I also love hiking has completely changed. We just don’t go very fast, or cover much ground at all, but we notice so much more than I had become used to. And I have also learned that trying to hurry because “papa is going to miss the light if we don’t keep going right now” is not a recipe for a happy family…

How has your career as an alpinist influenced your photo opportunities outside of outdoor photography?
I am always on the lookout for stories that involve the outdoors and are more than about just the adventure itself. One aspect I have been fascinated with for a long time has been mountain rescue, especially as we are lucky to have some of the best trained and most professional units in the French Alps. I started following the PGHM unit in 2015, spending four weeks embedded with them, and am doing a follow up this year. My experience as a climber gives me some legitimacy in this universe, as the rescuers don’t feel like they have to babysit me constantly, and it gives me opportunities to really follow them in the heart of the action. It feels great to flex my photojournalism muscles once in a while, and there is something special about capturing the raw emotions of a dangerous rescue.

In a totally different direction, something else I am trying to push right now is using my climbing skills and comfort working at height to do more industrial work. My ideal goal  would be to focus on the infrastructure of renewable energy, especially wind turbines, as they neatly intersect with my personal values and, indirectly, with conservation and my love of wild places.





The Art of the Personal Project: Maansi Srivastava

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.


Today’s featured artist:  Maansi Srivastava

From NPR Picture Show:  Through her grief, an Indian American photographer rediscovers her heritage

Editor’s note: May marked Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which celebrates the histories of Americans hailing from across the Asian continent and from the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. NPR’s Picture Show will be bringing stories from these communities to our audience this month.

I developed this photo essay, Roots Hanging from the Banyan Tree, over the past three years. Photography became my therapy as I grappled with loss, grief and racial reckoning over the course of the pandemic. Searching for my identity as an Indian American woman became intertwined with the struggle to ground myself after losing my grandmother to COVID-19.

After her passing, my understanding of life and death shifted. In conversations with my mother, I learned that we both felt a sudden severance of our roots. In my grief, I grasped for memories of a simpler time. I connected with the Patil family, hoping to find a semblance of my childhood in their homes. Through documenting their daily lives, recollections of cultural rituals from my childhood began to flood back in. I also found that I was not alone in my experiences and fears of losing my connection with my heritage.

These images represent my experiences growing up between two cultures while navigating girlhood and early adulthood. I saw myself in the Patil family’s young children. While looking back through my old family albums, I found that our shared rituals and experiences were nearly identical. I suddenly felt less isolated in my experience as an Indian American and as a third-culture woman.

In their home, I was able to revisit memories as a young adult and recognize the beautiful aspects of the Indian American experience. What began as my thesis work grew into a labor of love that has shown me that my roots and cultural connection have been with me all along. As children of a diaspora, our cultural roots continue to grow and spread, but the soil is ours — we flourish where we are planted.


To see more of this project, click here


Maansi Srivastava (she/they) is an Indian American documentary photographer and photo editor focusing on widespread social issues through a lens of family and community. She previously worked at the Washington Post and NPR. This June, she’ll begin a yearlong photography fellowship at the New York Times. See more of Maansi’s work on her website,, or on Instagram,

Zach Thompson copy edited this piece.

Grace Widyatmadja oversaw production of this piece.


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.