How much money does a photographer make? When I first contemplated leaving my corporate job to start a photography business, this was my number one question. I scoured Google and set up as many coffee dates as possible with local professional photographers to pick their brains over their experiences. Still, no one had a direct answer to this very important question.
In the spirit of transparency and helping other aspiring photographers level set expectations, this blog post breaks down my annual photography income for 2016. Due to the variety of photography industries out there and types of clients, there will always be a wide range in photography income. Thus, please use these numbers as a guide or reference.
Photography Income Report for 2016
- Corporate Event Photography: $24,471.00
- Photo Licensing: $16,573.00
- Food & Restaurant Photography: $9,210.00
- Stock Photography: $2,416.00
- Editorial Photography: $2,085.00
- Real Estate Photography: $1,760.00
- Portraits: $750.00
- Photo Assisting: $420.00
- Total: $57,685.00
All numbers are in USD and were pulled from my FreshBooks account.
Hours Spent on Photography
Looking at my Toggl reports, I spent 862.12 hours in 2016 working on photography (shooting, editing, delivering photos to clients). If I divide this number by my annual photography income, my hourly rate comes out to $66.91 per hour. This doesn’t mean I am charging $66.91 per hour for my photography, but it is another way to calculate my overall productivity and how it compares to my pricing. consider the average full-time job in the USA that demands 40 hours per week of work. This would equate to about 160 hours per
To put these numbers into perspective, consider the average full-time job in the USA that demands 40 hours per week of work. This would equate to about 160 hours per week or 1920 hours per year. In comparison, the time I spent on photography is significantly less than the typical full-time job.
Factors that Affect Photography Income
Consumer versus Commercial Photography Clients
One of the main qualities that drastically affects your entire photography business is what type of client you choose to pursue. Generally speaking, there are two types of photo clients: consumer clients who use photos for personal use (ie. wedding, family photos), and commercial clients who use the photos for their own profit-making activities (ie. advertising, corporate photos). I’ve chosen to pursue commercial photography. Had I gone the consumer client route, my numbers might look a little different, and I almost certainly wouldn’t have as many diversified income streams.
Like most industries, photography definitely has its peak and low seasons. Taking a look at my screenshot above, it’s apparent that May through September is my busiest time of year, whereas winter and spring are significantly less busy. Seasonality for your business will vary according to your photography specialties and the area you work in. Wedding and event photographers, for example, might thrive in early winter when holiday-themed photo shoots are abundant. However, there is almost always a lull right after Christmas stretching into the New Year when demand for photography goes down. It’s important to analyze the trends in your photography field and region where you are based out of to know when to expect slumps in business.
Don’t fret if you go through photography slumps, especially during your first couple years of being in business. Do, however, make use of downtime to revamp your website or marketing plans.
Payments Don’t Always Arrive on Time
When you bill a client for your photography services, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they will pay you on time. In some cases, there’s very little you can do to speed up payment. Editorial photography, for example, operates on a different publishing timeline where they typically won’t issue you a check until after they publish your photos. If it’s a print editorial client, then this can be months down the road. However, most other clients outside of the editorial industry operate on a tighter, more realistic timeline and will pay you according to the terms you set in your photography contract. When you issue an invoice, always include a payment deadline and terms that specify late-charges.
Factor in Time Spent on Non-Photography Tasks
It’s a reality that professional photographers do not spend 100% of their time behind the camera. There are other not-so-pleasant tasks that go into running a photography business including accounting, marketing, meeting with clients. Thus, it’s important to make time for these extra tasks or consider hiring other professionals to do these things for you.
However, the total amount of time I spent working last year was 1788.51 hours. This extra time was spent doing activities that did not directly involve a camera and photos, so accounting, lead generation, client meetings, and side projects (namely freelance writing, blogging, and website design).
Never Stop Learning
I believe that the future of professional photography remains bright, but only if you are willing to adapt and grow with the industry. Online education is free and easy to access, so definitely take advantage of creative slumps and learn something new. Camera technology keeps getting better and better, and more people have access to amazing imagery. This means competition is and will continue to be extremely stiff. That’s why it’s important to keep up with industry trends and adapt your photography services accordingly. Instant Wi-Fi delivery of photos to clients continues to be an upward trend, as do drone, time-lapse, 360-degree photography, and tethered shooting services. While you don’t need to run out and adopt these new technologies immediately, you should be aware of them and consider adding them to your services if you need to set yourself apart from the competition.
It’s nearly impossible to determine how much money a professional photographer makes due to the numerous variable factors at play. However, I shared my annual photography earnings in this post as a way to set some level of expectation out there. If this post is helpful, please share this with someone who might benefit.