Photographers: Salary Overview
Photographers produce and preserve images that record an event, a place, or tell a story.
Their job responsibilities typically include marketing and advertising services to potential clients, analyzing and planning the composition of photographs, capturing subjects, enhancing the look of the scene or the subject using natural or artificial light, using photo-enhancing software, archiving, and managing the images.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for photographers was $17.44 in May 2019 which means that half the workers in this profession made less than this and half earned more.
The median annual wage for this profession was $45,440 as of May 2019 but salaries can be anywhere between less than $20,000 and more than $80,000 a year, depending upon the photographer’s education, skills, portfolio, region, and employer, among other factors.
In 2019, the lowest 10 percent made less than $9.92 an hour while the highest 10 percent made more $38.19.
The 25th percentile for this profession was $25,150, which means that 75% of photographers made more than this a year.
However, the above numbers are only estimates and your salary as a photographer is highly influenced by your skills but also based on your portfolio and your ability to promote your services.
As an entry-level photographer, your hourly rate will be closer to the minimum for this profession but once your portfolio begins to grow, your earnings will increase.
Photographer Salary by Industry
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, photographers held about 132,100 jobs in 2018, most of them (about 64%) being self-employed.
Approximately 20% of all photographers worked for companies that provide photographic services, 3% of them worked for broadcasting companies and 2% worked for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers.
Earnings for self-employed photographers vary depending on the photographer’s skills and portfolio but also based on his/her communication and marketing skills.
According to a report published by payscale.com in May 2020, the average hourly rate for freelance photographers was $25.26 which sums up to approximately $42,500 a year.
However, rates for freelance photographers fluctuate between $12-$121.
They may also earn commissions, bonuses, and profit-sharing which can supplement their annual earnings with several thousands of dollars a year.
The same report shows that total compensation for freelance photographers range between $27,608-$210,458 per year.
Most of the salaried photographers worked for companies that provided professional, scientific, and technical services and earned, on average, $41,040 a year.
Photographers employed by radio and television broadcasters earned, on average, $52,020 per year.
The average annual wage was $52,820 for photographers who worked for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers and $48,520 for those employed by electronic shopping and mail-order houses.
A field that typically offers higher-than-average salaries to photographers was the motion picture and video industry.
Photographers who worked in this sector earned, on average $71,670, which is almost double the median for this profession.
The best-paying industry for photographers was the aerospace product and parts manufacturing; a field that paid a mean annual wage of $87,070 but hired only 60 photographers.
Another field where you have better chances of earning an above-average salary is advertising, public relations, and related services- a field that hired approximately 500 photographers.
Photographers who worked for companies that provide these types of services earned a mean annual wage of $71,930 a year.
In conclusion salaries for this profession vary widely and the best-paying industries typically have fewer job openings for photographers.
If you’re passionate about photography and you want to start a career in a top-paying field, you should first start working on a smaller hourly rate until you build an impressive portfolio that can help you find employment in a better-paying position.
* Based on information from the May 2021 salary report from the BLS. The figures represent accumulated data for all states of employment for Photographers. BLS data represents averages and medians for workers at all levels of education and experience. This data doesn't represent starting salaries.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.