That was the median pay for the 136,300 professional photographers in the United States in 2012, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's $28,490 annually.
Of course they don't say whether that number is gross or net (although it must be net—right?), or whether it only includes salaried employees getting a W-2 or if it includes freelancers and the self-employed as well.
According to survey conducted by Eposure, a UK site that says its mission is "bringing commercial photographers and businesses closer," 60% of UK photographers in 2012 charged day rates of between £300 and £700 (~$460–$1,070), while in the U.S., 56% of photographers charged day rates between $900 and $2,000 (£590–£1,310). And another 10% charged more than $2,000.
Of course photographers might bill their day rate for anywhere from zero to seven days in any given week, and those numbers don't specify whether expenses are billed extra (that's customary) or are included, or whether the photographers are actually getting their day rate or are offering discounts. Seems to me I heard of one guy years ago who offered a special 50% discount off his day rate—to every single client.
Part-time photography for pay is almost certainly on the rise, whereas advertising photography is on the wane—the New York Times reported in a 2010 article that, according to the trade group Publishers Information Bureau, magazine ad pages declined from 286,932 pages to 169,218—more than 40%—in the decade of 2000s. According to MediaFinder.com, 428 magazines closed just in 2009. Newspaper photography is declining, too.
All in all it's very hard to get a read on what photographers actually earn, and still less on what prospective earnings might be for a newcomer. The best advice may be something I heard years ago: "Being a photographer is a great job. Just don't ever sit down and analyze exactly how much you're taking home, because if you do, you'll quit and go find some other way to make a living."
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Aldo Altamirano: "I work for a top retouching agency in Manhattan and we release ads for top brands and magazines, and let me tell you something...there is no money in photography. I've been saying this for years. Sometimes a known photographer will get a campaign for good money, and after that he'll have to go for the rest of the year doing nothing, or very little for little money. A known photographer will likely get more money giving courses than taking pictures...it's a fact, and the reason why you'll see so many workshops....
"In the advertising industry, an art director, a copy writer or an editor will likely have a bigger salary than a professional photographer within the same agency, and also, regardless the size of an agency, most only have a single photographer, sometimes freelancing, while employing many art directors, editors, copywriters, etc."
Herman: "You can earn money from photography??"
Glenn Brown: "Wow, this is a can of worms. For what it is worth I charge per job. I learned 30 years ago that clients do not like half and day rates plus plus plus; quadrupled my income in three months. I charge $200 per hour pro rated, and files at $65 each. I do a quarter of a million in work every year. Day rates are a killer—it makes people look for another way or not do the job."
Gordon Cahill: "Hmmm. I'm in the middle of my best year in a decade. I'm busy enough that the only thing I'm behind on is invoicing. And I don't even pretend I can shoot video. Stills only. I wonder what I'm doing that others aren't. I'm not even trying that hard."
Greg Wostrel (partial comment): "A survey like the one mentioned is almost useless with out some sort of breakdown. Using this data to come to a conclusion about what 'photographers' make is like doing the same for 'writers' and including people with a tumblr, professional bloggers, technical writers, and Stephen King.
"I just recently hired pros (my day job is as a Designer/Art Director/Photographer and I had a conflict) for two projects. The first one we hired someone in Washington State and another in Austin TX. They were both solid corporate/editorial shooters. Right about $2500/day for each of them. I think thats pretty solid pay. Bill three full days plus expenses per month, work out of a small office, or your home, and thats a reasonable income for a job that can be a lot of fun—lots more fun than the cubicle farm for certain. The other one was a corporate event in NYC. We paid about $250/hr. I'm thinking that, if you ask folks who are all-in trying to make a living as a photographer, they are doing OK. Its hard, but do-able."
Gato: "There are millions of people all over the US working for $13 per hour or less. Most of the 'cheap' part-time photographers I know have day jobs that pay in the $8 to $12 range. If they can pick up an $85 photo job on their day off that's a big boost to their weekly income."
NancyP: "Serious reporting is in the same boat. The 'instant' news cycle means that minor details such as routine fact checking go out the window. Readers and viewers don't demand accuracy anymore. Reporting has gone from 'the first draft of history' to stream-of-consciousness mode. The generally low standard of news reporting is connected to low standard of citizenship and low standards in many fields, including photography and film/video. It's true. One does get grumpy past the half-century mark."
Mike replies: I don't mean to be argumentative, but regarding your last comment, I was just reading (The Atlantic's cover story, a month or two ago) that recent research shows that people consistently become more happy after age 50. It's been true for me.
Julian Love: "I'm a commercial photographer in London, shooting for advertising and design agencies and have a very healthy business. Day rates are between £2k and £4k depending on the job, plus extra fees for equipment, editing, and retouching. I bill around 80 days a year. The rest of the time we spend on test shoots, personal projects, and marketing. I'm very happy with my career."
Mark: "High end weddings are providing many with better income in my experience, and that's the market I switched to. Lets me shoot film on the job too! I am much happier than I was in the relative rat race and popularity contest that was NYC commercial photography. I make real money with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, Nikon F100, Pentax 67II and Nikon Df—something I thought was no longer possible in 2007 when I graduated from the Southern Illinois University photo program. If you're talented and know how to market yourself you can hit the 50k a year mark, and if you're really good (at marketing) you can make a lot more than that.
"Couple that with the fact that my peers in weddings have been generally humble and friendly, as opposed to the commercial scenes that I ran in, which largely had friendships based on a what-can-you-do-for-me-now mentality. Since it's not 'cool' to shoot weddings, we also get less of the hip and trendy picking up Rebels and taking work away from us, possibly.
"Love is all you need...to stay in business as a wedding photographer!"