Your Photographer Salary: How Much Do Photographers Make?
Estimating your photographer salary can be one of the greatest challenges — so much comes down to pricing your photography services, which can feel like an absolute minefield. It’s easy to look around and find a wide range of pricing across the industry. You may find yourself asking, ‘How much do photographers make?’ “How does everyone else stay afloat?” and “How on earth did they come up with that pricing structure?
A photography salary will vary depending on the artist, their experience, location, and specialty. Whether you’re exploring the financial feasibility of starting a photography career or you’re simply interested in comparing your photographer salary to the national average — we’ve got answers for you. We’ve gathered data from a few different sources so you can get a more complete picture of where your income (or potential income) sits.
How much do photographers make in the United States?
According to Salary.com, as of January 2023, the median annual photographer salary in the United States is $57,245. According to ZipRecruiter, as of February 2023, the median yearly wage for working photographers in the United States is $46,446. And according to Indeed, as of January 2023, the median annual photographer salary is $43,963. The average of these three figures is $49,218. However, Narrative’s Professional Photography Census of 2022 gathered that the largest segment of photographers (35%) are making $29k or less. And that 19.6% are making $100k or more.
Note that this is only an approximate average — just a starting point to answering the question: How much do photographers make? It’s entirely possible for you to make more than this.
The figures above do not account for unreported salaries, nor is there a clear way to differentiate between full-time and part-time photographers, creating huge variances between reported photography salaries. The range is between (roughly) $15,500 and $103,500. That’s a significant difference in income brackets, to say the least.
So if you’re wondering ‘how much do photographers make?’, remember that everyone charges differently, based on several considerations. Photography niche, the geographical location you serve, whether you shoot film, digital, or both, the type of clientele you desire, and the number of hours you work per year are all factors when determining your pricing (see below for more).
While we provide data and information on national averages, deciding how you’ll charge for your photography services is entirely personal. If you’ve got the skill, service, and professionalism to back up what you’re charging — and you can consistently attract and book the clients you want — your photographer salary can be much higher than any ‘national average’.
What contributes to how much a photographer makes and the wide variance in reported photographer salaries?
Many factors contribute to the variance we see in reported photography salaries. These factors include — but are not limited to — experience, education, certifications, location or market, and photography specialization/niche.
Much like any other career, more experience can yield a higher income or salary. If you work for yourself, you get to decide your hourly (or project) rates, and you can raise your prices whenever you want, directly influencing your photographer salary. As you gain more and more experience and recognition in your particular market or niche, you’ll be able to charge more for your services.
The visual arts (photography included) are special because formal education is not required for you to succeed. There are no standard educational requirements to start working as a professional photographer. Most of your clients are primarily interested in your talent, style, portfolio, and level of service. But, skills acquired through a formal education could very well warrant charging clients more. Alternatively, if you want to be employed by a photography agency, their various education requirements vary.
Much like with formal education, certifications are not required for you to work as a professional photographer. However, if you’re brand new to photography and want to build your skills, enrolling in a course may be a good idea. Displaying your certification or degree on your website might help attract your first few clients.
Like most service-based careers, photographers in major cities report the highest photographer salaries. This is not to say you cannot make a decent living as a working photographer in other areas — you certainly can. In fact, as long as you’re able to attract clients and can travel to them, you’ll be able to do well anywhere.
The last contributing factor responsible for such a high variance of reported photography salaries is specialization/niche. Wedding photography tends to be more lucrative than other specializations of photography. We looked at the average wedding photographer salaries from three different (recent) sources — it’s quite a bit more than the average general photographer salary.
How much do wedding photographers make?
According to SLR Lounge, wedding photographers earn an average of $62,445 in the United States. This annual income is significantly higher than the general national average for photographers (it’s $49,218 to refresh your memory). Overall, wedding photographers do tend to make a bit more money than other photography niches.
It bears repeating that any *average* photographer salary figure should be taken with a grain of salt — regardless of niche — as photographer salaries vary significantly (see above) and can be difficult to gather comprehensive data on. But, it is worth noting that wedding photographer salaries do tend to be higher. This variance is likely due to the immense value and stakes placed on one of the most important days in a person’s life. Hopefully, you only get married once, and many people put a very high value on those irreplaceable photos.
Is Photography a Good Career?
As with most jobs, there is a cost of doing business as a professional photographer. You'll have equipment costs, software subscriptions, office space and supply costs, advertising, tax, postage, insurance, travel expenses, and payroll or labor costs if you have employees or contractors in your photography business.
Obviously, all of these costs will vary for each photographer, so you'll need to figure out your exact expenses and then subtract them from your photographer's salary (or your projected photographer's salary if you're brand new). Subtracting your yearly business expenses from your annual revenue will give you your yearly net income — or your photographer salary.
We highly recommend establishing a 'cash runway' for your photography business. The term' cash runway' simply refers to the amount of time a business can operate before running out of cash. Having this timeframe in mind, as well as the figures that support it, will seriously help you keep your photography business on track financially.
Photographer expenses: One of the most expensive things you’ll ever do as a photographer is get started.
Cameras, computers, software, insurance, registering your business — your photographer expenses all add up. But once you’ve paid for the foundations of your photography business, you can earn back that money, and then some, through your photographer salary. It takes a lot of hard work and planning. But that’s true for any entrepreneurial career — there’s always an initial investment of time and money (or both).
If you’re a committed photographer, you’ll likely discover that you may need to invest in business and marketing education. With ever-evolving social media, marketing, and software tools, additional training and resources can give you a huge leg up in your niche. While the arts don’t typically offer formal business training, there are increasing opportunities to learn online from influential photographers and digital content marketers. A little business knowledge can make a massive difference to your ability to move away from the ‘struggling artist’ stereotype and increase your photographer's salary.
Is photography a good career?
Only you can decide whether photography is a good career for you and your personal circumstances. Of course, there are many benefits to this industry — one of the biggest is owning your own business, which can give you flexibility you may not otherwise have as an employee. Flexibility can offer you more time with your family or the ability to choose how and when to spend quality time with loved ones.
If you aspire to serve a broader market, photography can also offer the joys of travel. Destination photographers often travel to far or remote locations to perform their jobs. If you have a travel ‘itch’, photography can be an excellent way to see the country or the world.
And, of course, as an entrepreneur, you have great earning potential. You can decide how to run your business, what you want to offer, and how to price it in the marketplace. With a strategic business plan and some photographic skill, you have the potential to earn a very good photographer salary.
So is photography a good career choice? If you’re committed to the creativity photography offers, are dedicated to improving your skill, and are willing to learn the business, then yes — photography may be a very good career for you.
Should I have a side hustle to increase my photographer salary?
At the beginning of your photography career, while you’re still building your photographer salary, having more than one way to generate income is a great idea. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a side hustle. An additional income stream can create enough stability to support your photography or business education as you establish yourself. Once you’ve gained momentum and mastered your skills, you can focus more specifically on photography alone.
There are no limitations to what you can do to bring in supplemental income while you’re getting started as a professional photographer. Hopefully, you eventually won’t even need a side hustle to supplement your photographer's salary. But until then, we hope these suggestions help you strategize.
Ways to generate more income as a photographer
Some of the most popular side hustles working photographers have reported include marketing, graphic design, videography, design, teaching, and sales. But you should do whatever you’re most passionate about, most skilled or talented at, and what will help to best support your aspirations as a photographer.
It’s important to note that in addition to side hustles, there are other services you can offer your photography clients to boost your photographer salary. Offering physical prints and albums to your clients is a relatively easy way to earn more income from a photoshoot.
According to Your Perfect Wedding Photographer, 35% of clients opted to purchase a photo album in 2021, and 44% bought one in 2022. That is significant! Want to boost your album sales? Check out our in-depth guide on exactly how to sell photo albums to your clients (without being pushy!).
Inflation and your photographer's salary: Should I be raising my prices?
Everyone has different opinions on whether or not raising your prices is a good idea. Here’s the thing: if you’re already struggling to attract and book clients, then raising your prices is not the band-aid you think it is. If you’re struggling to attract and secure clients, you should focus on increasing your value, improving your branding, advertising, and streamlining your client processes.
But, if you’re not struggling to attract and book clients, and you could even stand to lose a few potential clients, raising your prices is a much smarter move and can help you increase your photographer salary without increasing your workload. If your photography business is doing relatively well, then you’re most likely not going to turn off your clients by raising your prices. Quality service costs more; the right clients will know and honor this.
One of the best ways to determine whether or not it’s time to raise your pricing is how quickly you book out your year. Is your calendar full by February or March? It might be time to increase your pricing. If you are still struggling to fill your calendar come July or August, you might need to address other areas of your service, product, or business. A simple supply and demand assessment can often tell you a lot about whether or not you should be raising your prices.
So how much do photographers make?
While gathering accurate figures on the national average photographer salary can produce varied results, it’s still helpful to have a starting point to answer the questions ‘How much do photographers make?’ and ‘Is photography a good career for me?’.
The bottom line is that if you’re committed to doing what it takes to master your photography skills and market yourself successfully — you’ll be ahead of most of your competition. And if you’re ahead of your competition, your photographer salary will reflect that. If photography is your passion, then the sky truly is the limit.