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Photographer Salary

A photographer’s salary will be determined by the fees they charge and a variety of factors including but not limited to skill, experience, portfolio, marketing, reputation, area of specialization and personality.

How Much Do Photographers Make?

Photography salary depends on what company is paying the photographer salary.  The highest paying jobs from the largest companies are taken by the most experienced photographers in the industry.  That leaves many who enter the industry to go the freelance or self-employment route and start their own business.

Average Photographer Annual Salary

What is the average salary for a photographer?  The average photographer salary is very hard to pinpoint due to the type of photography being offered and the location.  According to the following salary sources, the answer will vary slightly.

  • Salary.com – $62,257 as of April 29, 2018
  • Payscale.com – $43,436 as of May 23, 2018
  • Glassdoor.com – $32,068 as of May 23, 2018
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics – $41,940 as of May 2017

The salaries in the graphic are provided by Indeed.com and illustrate some of the different types of photography and their salaries.

Wedding Photographer Salary

While professional photography salary averages are good to understand the market of photography, the salary and fees range widely in different types of photography.  For instance, a wedding photographer salary currently averages $104,000 annually in the United States, according to Zip Recruiter. And according to PayScale, wedding photographer salary ranges from $20,527 to $244,168.

For comparison, Zip Recruiter has the average real estate photography salary at $31,000.  PayScale has the average real estate photography salary at $41,070.

National Geographic Photographer Salary

A wildlife photographer salary or nature photographer salary such that comes with working as a photographer for National Geographic is usually above average, but due to the fact that they are paid by the project as independent contractors, there is no definite guaranteed amount of income.

With that said, National Geographic photographer salaries are in the neighborhood of $500 per day plus expenses while on assignment.  Each assignment is usually in the 10 to 14 day range. With some quick math we see that each project makes in the range of $5k to $7k.  If you work that out to a photographer salary per hour or per year, it’s pretty good.

Freelance Photographer Salary

Working as a freelancer, a photographers salary will likely be more susceptible to volatility based on how well the photographers markets themselves and keeps their project pipeline full and their schedule busy.  While freelancers have much greater control and flexibility, they also have to generate their own clients and that requires time and effort. The salary of a photographer that is freelancing 100% of the time will likely be sporadic unless they are the absolute best in their field and local area.

Government Photographer Salary

According to FederalPay.org, Photographer was the 323rd most popular job in the U.S. Government in 2016, with 242 employed at an average salary of $80,161.27. The most common payscale was the general schedule payscale.

In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation hired the most employees titled Photography, with an average salary of $87,920.

You Have To Invest Before You Profit

Are you considering becoming a full-time photographer? Is the income enough to support you and your family? There are a lot of factors that go into answering these two questions.

One of the most important things you need to understand before taking photography from a hobby to a career is that you have to spend money to make money. This is true when starting any business.

Here are some of the things you will need to invest in from the start.

  • Professional Gear (Camera(s), lenses, flashes, SD cards, batteries, etc.) Remember that having back-ups of everything is important as well.
  • Computer and Editing Software With A lot of Storage Space
  • Website
  • Business License
  • Insurance

Those are just some of the things required to get you started as a professional photographer.

Some photographers hire personal accountants to keep up with the financial bookwork. Others hire assistants for administrative duties. If you choose to fly completely solo, it is possible, but you will likely have to invest in software to keep you organized and on top of client management.

Another thing to ask yourself is, do you want to own a studio? Or do you want to shoot on-location and just rent studio space when needed?


Marketing is crucial to become a successful professional photographer. There are so many photographers in the industry today all across the globe.

You will need to compete and stay on top of your marketing game. You want to make a name for yourself. Building a reputation that gets you noticed takes work and time.
You will need to invest money into marketing, ads, and to maintain an updated website. While there are plenty of FREE ways to market yourself, especially via social media, you will still need to invest at least some money into marketing.

CODB (Cost of Doing Business)

Knowing everything you will need to invest in is important when trying to determine how much you will actually profit.

All of these investments are part of your cost of doing business. Gear, software, marketing ads, business cards, business license and insurance, etc. all go into your cost of doing business.

When photographers determine how much to charge for a session, they need to factor in several things. One being their CODB, amount of time they spend prior, during, and after the session with the client one on one, and amount of time they will spend editing and delivering the images.

Just because a typical photo session may only take you about an hour doesn’t mean that is all of the time you invest. This can be hard for some of the general public to grasp, so they sometimes go for the “cheaper” photographer. This is why it’s important to stay on top of the marketing game and earn a respected name for yourself in the industry.

Other Factors That Will Affect Salary

If you plan on doing continuing education, which is pretty important, this cost money too. Seminars and Workshops can help keep you “in the know” to ensure you are keeping up with technological and business advancements.

However, there are plenty of ways to educate yourself for free. Join free forums where you can network with others in the business. Read articles on photography every chance you get. Subscribe to newsletters from educational websites. Follow other photographers on social media. Watch videos and tutorials. These are all ways that you can take advantage of FREE education.

There is always more to learn about photography, editing, etc. The more time you invest in learning (free or not), the better you will become. Don’t ever assume that you know everything there is to know.

You can work in a studio for an hourly rate to get your foot in the door and learn some things. But most choose to just dive right in solo as a freelance photographer working for themselves.

Weddings and events may earn you more income as regular sessions, but they may require more expensive gear, assistants, and more time. Time is money!

If you are considering diving in and turning your photography hobby into a career, first make sure you know how much you will be investing financially and time wise. Then decide how much you need to charge your clients to make up for these investments.

And lastly, make sure you have the skills and experience to back-up your business.

While being a wise business person is extremely crucial to becoming successful, so is producing high quality professional work. Make sure you have spent time actually mastering the craft and can produce consistent work worthy of charging for.

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