Whether you are just curious, or looking to start a career in photography. The question of “how much do photographers make?” is a valid question to ask. I know I definitely asked myself this same question before I got started in this profession.
So if you follow on, I will breakdown what you could expect to earn as a hobby, student, beginner, experienced, pro and even wedding photography. Ok, lets get stuck in!
How Much Do Beginner, Student, Wedding & Pro Photographers Make?
How much do hobbyist photographers make?
Per Print: $25-$100
Hourly Rate: $25-$35
Per Shoot/Day: $100-$200
Yearly Earnings: $5,000
Being a photo hobbyist can mean several things. It can mean you like snapping pics, maybe to share on social media. It can also mean that you have gotten pretty good at certain types of photography. Maybe you’re so good with some photos that people tell you that you should go pro or even sell them.
But what opportunities are there for a hobbyist photographer to make money, and how much money could be involved?
One of the easiest ways is to create a website portfolio or to use online sales sites such as Etsy, Red Bubble, or even eBay. Research similar images for appropriate pricing. Then learn to develop patience, it may take a while to make sales.
As for doing a photo job, I would not recommend doing free work to pad your portfolio. Free work will actually cost you and puts almost no value on your skills. This shows potential clients that you are confident in your abilities and that you mean business!
Be realistic with fees, though… Without a verifiable body of work or references for potential clients to see, introductory pricing is certainly appropriate. Prices around $100-$200 for a small job, or an hourly rate of $25-$35 seem reasonable. Depending on how part time you are, $5K or more annually is a realistic goal.
How much do student photographers make?
Per Print: $50-$150
Hourly Rate: $24-$40
Per Shoot/Day: $250
Yearly Earnings: $20,000
Much of what was just said about hobbyists will apply to students. Plus, we add in other opportunities. What you are a student of also may make a difference in pricing. A photography art program student, for instance, should consider their work as a prelude to their career and price accordingly.
Students have an advantage in one particular type of photography, senior portraits. You’re already there! Charge per session, again, maybe somewhere in the $250 range. Or per image, perhaps $50-$150. Otherwise, look at the hobbyist prices stated above. A really motivated student could pull in anywhere up to $20K or more annually.
How much do entry level photographers make?
Per Print: $50-$150
Hourly Rate: $50-$125
Per Shoot/Day: $500
Yearly Earnings: $20K-$50K
As a freelance entry level pro, you will probably have to keep prices low for a while. Remember, you’re only a beginner in business, not in photography. Your skill and talent are already worth the price. Hourly rates of $50-$125 are regularly seen, and per image rates of $50-$150 are common for entry level freelancers.
This is where learning how to make and use contracts will protect your earnings. Contract templates are available from many online sources, be sure you are paid what the job is worth. Contracts also help protect the clients. If extensive travel is involved, make sure any desired compensation is clearly stated.
Permits, licensing, and insurance are going to be a necessary part of your business expenses. Operate your business in a professional manner, and you will keep your profession for a long time. Annual income could range between $20K to $35K, up to $50K is possible.
How much do experienced photographers make?
Per Print: $150-$1000
Hourly Rate: $100-$300
Per Shoot/Day: $500-$1000
Yearly Earnings: $75K-$100K
Now we get down to the nitty gritty. So many variables are involved. A horse photographer specializing in race horses can most likely charge significantly higher prices that a rodeo photographer could. A real estate photographer for mansions can charge more than one doing the same type of work for MLS listings.
Per image prices will vary based on whether they are part of a job package or an individual image. A job package could be a family portrait session, an industrial plant tour, or corporate images such as the offices and portraits of the officers.
An individual image might be a fine art print on metal or a canvas gallery wrap. For individual images, an early mentor of mine said to figure out all the production costs of that print (more than simply the lab price for the enlargement), triple those and round up, then get used to looking at that number and triple it again.
If it’s a specialty image, though, price what you think the expected market can afford. I’ve seen images sell for over $5000 from a well known local artist. The most famous photographers charge whatever they want. Yearly income of high six figures are possible, with a modest expectation of $75K to $100K yearly.
Networking is a good idea for any professional photographer. Getting to know local business owners can keep you in the loop of events, and on the minds of those who control the purse strings. Develop a reputation of being fair and reasonable, easy to work with, and providing consistently high quality, and you will get both repeat business and references.
How much do wedding photographers make?
Per Print: $300-$800
Hourly Rate: $300-$700
Per Shoot/Day: $500-$5000
Yearly Earnings: $100K-$150K
You will notice I haven’t mentioned any wedding photography prices yet. That’s because I see wedding photography as a specialty niche with its own set of variables.
A wedding is a very special event. For many, it’s something they are hoping to never repeat. It can truly be labeled as a once in a lifetime event. An event this special needs to be treated differently by the photographer than other events would be.
We’ll get to pricing in a little bit. First, we will examine what all may go into imaging this type of event.
To begin with, you will need to own high quality equipment. Besides the primary equipment, many like to have back up gear. For every wedding I shot on film with my Mamiya 645, I had a full bag of Nikon FMs as a back up. With digital cameras, some like to double up with the same camera model, others have an older model as the back up.
Other costs to factor in are the multiple client meetings, extensive post processing, and then whatever physical printing is requested. All of that adds up quick. It’s not just covering the event itself, you see.
The added pressure on everyone, from the mother of the bride, to the catering, and the photography expectations, not to mention the pressure on the bride and groom, means that the wedding photographer needs to be an especially calm under fire type of person.
Sure, maybe your office buddy or second cousin wants you to take pics on the cheap for their own third wedding, you as the photographer still need to take a good look at everything involved. An all digital delivery of batch processed images might sound like a good deal at $500, but most wedding photography gigs will go for quite a bit more money.
Simple ceremonies with the basic wedding images might start at around $1500 or so, but pricing above $5000 is not unusual for wedding events with Pinterest inspired elements. Contracts become very important for wedding photographers and clients.
So, as you can see, it is hard to provide generic pricing information for weddings. This will give you an idea of what to consider in regard to your own prices. Annual income possibilities from around $100K to well over $150K can be realistically expected.
How much do professional photographers make?
Per Print: $300-$800
Hourly Rate: $300-$700
Per Shoot/Day: $500-$5000
Yearly Earnings: $80K-$100K
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to find price information for professional photographers? Now, you know. There are so many different things to consider/
Experience and skill level is one factor. The area you are going to do operate your business in is another, and we didn’t go too much into that one. Let’s simply say that Paris, New York, Hong Kong will handle different pricing than Tulsa, Surrey, or Manila.
Other factors are the genre of the photography, the targeted clientele, and whether we are pricing by the hour, by the job, or by the image.
Job Description of a Photographer
A photographer is an artist/craftsman who receives monetary compensation for creating photographic images. That’s my own basic outlook anyways. The majority of my income is from photography. When I file taxes, I list my profession as photographer. There are many levels of pro, however.
The real estate agent who shoots weddings on weekends is also a pro photographer, by my simple definition. So is the stay/work at home mom/dad that has a small portrait studio in the extra bedroom. I would also include the CPA who sells fine art prints from a rented space. You get the picture.
A professional photographer does more than make an image and get paid for it. Like any businessperson, a large part of a pro’s work has little directly to do with the art of photography. Accounting, advertising, billing, research, education, promotion, all have to be done in order to have a successful photography business.
Freelance Vs Employee
Most of what I am discussing applies to photography as a self-employment business. Sometimes, this referred to as freelance. Freelance means you can work for whoever you want. Contract wording becomes very important here. You don’t want to accidentally limit yourself with an unnecessarily strict non-compete clause.
For the question on your mind of how much do photographers make, I will answer with the understanding of you being a self-employed artist, maybe with a partner or two. Disclaimer: Check your local area’s laws concerning income of this nature, as I am not a tax lawyer or business consultant.
Again, be careful not to sidestep or circumvent any local ordinances concerning work for pay. Also, if you plan on doing this regularly, both a sales tax permit or business license and some kind of insurance is a good idea.
Wrapping It Up
Hopefully, we helped calm any fears you may have about going pro. Go ahead and book that county fair, real estate listing, or cousin Joe’s small wedding. Cover all the legal bases, do your research, and go for it! You won’t regret taking the leap. Now you know under stand how much do photographers make, you can go out and start getting those clients!