Home Jobs & Education What is the Average Photographer Salary?

If you want to pursue a career in photography, we’ll answer to all your questions about annual earnings, job requirements and most profitable industries to work in. Find out what are the most influential factors affecting overall incomes in the photography business.

The Average Photographer Salary in the US: How Much Do Photographers Make Nowadays?

The average photographer salary is $41,393 per year in the US today. Overall cash compensation, including bonuses, profit sharing or commissions, ranges between $20,000 and $88,000. This varies depending on specialty, location, and years of experience.  These figures are based on a survey conducted by PayScale.

Sadly, as regards benefits, less than 50% of US photographers lack medical coverage.

photographer with his camera

Photographer Job Description

Professional photographers use specific equipment such as cameras, lenses, and tripods to capture moments, record events or visually tell stories by means of images.

Photographers have both technical and aesthetical skills, but are more concerned with the aesthetical aspect of their images.

Also, photographers are professionals who might or might have not followed a university program as it isn’t always required. What is really important as regards their competences is operating with digital cameras so that the clients are satisfied with the services provided. They need to be familiar not only with basic equipment, but also with diverse digital media, processing software and high tech printers.

As regards the work environment of such professionals, some work in studios, but the majority of them are self-employed, like wedding and portrait photographers. They need to advertise and market themselves, pay bills and taxes, and plan projects and contracted work according to their clients’ needs and requirements.

Other photographers choose to be instructors and work in colleges and universities offering courses in the field or in their studios.

Photographer Types

Photographers are divided into:

  • Portrait photographers
  • Commercial and industrial photographers
  • Aerial photographers
  • Scientific photographers
  • News photographers
  • Fine arts photographers
  • University photographers

Where Do Photographers Work?

Photographers work in a variety of settings and industries. As statistics show, 60% of them work as self-employed, 27% provide photographic services, while others work for newspapers, television broadcasting, arts and entertainment, or in universities and colleges.

Work setting considerably varies according to photographers’ specialty. For instance, portrait or fine art photographers work in studios, while travel and nature photographers operate on diverse locations around the world.

Work environments greatly influence the number of work hours. Some photographers are required to work long hours, even two full days in a row, but others have a typical office work schedule.

What are the Tasks of Photographers?

  • Capture subjects using digital cameras appropriately.
  • Know a variety of photographic techniques and software.
  • Market their services to diverse clients.
  • Edit images in order to enhance the subject’s appearance.
  • Create an attractive, personalized portfolio.
  • Create a website or a blog to gain greater exposure.
  • Operate various types of photographic tools such as tripods, lenses etc.
  • Achieve high-quality compositions.
  • Review and select best images.
  • Interact with clients effectively.

Job Requirement


Even if photographers are not required to hold a bachelor degree in photography or related media, they often apply to courses which can improve and demonstrate their skill.

There are many universities across the States that offer competitive and highly rated photography programs. The curriculum of such institutions cover foundation courses in photography equipment and techniques, as well as more thought-provoking classes on contemporary art.

Depending on the industry they work in, photographers may be required to take courses in related fields such as science, biology, medicine etc.


Most of photographers are genuinely talented and develop more complex skills over years of practice.

They commonly start working in the photography business as assistants to professional photographers where they learn how to develop both a portfolio and effective communication with clients. Apart from gaining extra skills, this is the usual way they get to have exposure.

However, there are a myriad of programs, trainings and specialized workshops photographers can choose from to diversify their competences and provide proof of certain abilities.

Business classes for self-employed photographers provide them with greater chances to develop a successful career in the field.

Popular Skills Photographers Have:

  • Artistic Skills – Photographers are creative professionals, who work with light, shapes, colors and shadows to achieve a pleasing aesthetic result.
  • Marketing Skills – As more than half of photographers work as self-employed they have managerial and marketing skills as well as they need to plan their activity, find clients and create strategies.
  • Technical Skills – Photographers work with diverse tools, from tripods to flashes and editing software. They also have websites or blogs where they expose their work and communicate with clients.
  • Interpersonal Skills – Photographers interact with clients, each with his/ her needs, thoughts and ideas. They are thus required to have excellent communication skills to understand what clients want and provide them with best photographic services.
  • Attention to Detail – The work of photographers is complex and time consuming, especially when it comes to the post-processing phase.
  • Stamina – Photographers usually work long hours standing and carrying heavy equipment.

Work Hours

As photographers perform in various work environments and for different employers or as self-employed professionals, their work schedule vary greatly depending on projects, clients, or established workflow. Most of photographers have flexible work hours.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 30% of photographers worked part time as for 2012. However, there are sectors that require an increased number of hours during certain periods of time. For instance, wedding photographers are requested in the spring and summer.

Photographer Salary by Industry

Industry Hourly Pay Rate Annual Average Photographer Salary
Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing $36.58 $76,090
Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories $33.28 $69,230
Motion Picture and Video Industries $32.29 $67,160
Scientific Research and Development Services $30.54 $63,530
Other Information Services $29.37 $61,090

Is Experience Important?

When answering to ‘how much photographers make’, the years of experience are quite influential. Those more experienced earn more than the entry-level professionals. Salaries of inexperienced professionals reach a median of $32K, while photographers exceeding 10 years of experience can earn between $40K and $47 annually.

Photographer Salary by State

If you consider pursuing a career in photography, find out that best pay rate across the US is offered in District of Columbia, exceeding $30 per hour. That means a professional photographer can bring home more than $65K in average per year. Good salaries are also to be found in New York, California and Hawaii.

State Hourly Pay Rate Annual Average Photographer Salary
District of Columbia $31.93 $66,410
New York $25.98 $54,030
California $25.36 $52,750
Hawaii $22.95 $47,740
New Mexico $22.22 $46,220

Job Prospects

Photographer jobs are expected to increase with 4 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is considered a slower growth than the average for other occupations. The future is not bright for photographers looking to get hired as companies prefer contracting freelancers.

According to BLS, photographers held 136,300 jobs in 2012, which means that only 5,900 new jobs will be created over the next ten years.

Quick Photographer Job Facts


Average Photographer Salary as for May 2015  $41,393
Entry-level Photographer Salary (0-5 years) $32
Mid-level Career Photographer Salary (5-10 years) $40
Experienced Photographer Salary (10 – 20 years) $47
Late Career Photographer Salary (>20 years) $50
Education Requirements  High school diploma (obligatory)Postsecondary degree (optional)
Training Specialized trainings and workshops are optional
Top Paying State District of Columbia – $66K
Work Hours Flexible hours depending on specialty and clients’ needs
Job Prospects 4% employment growth between 2012 and 2022 (+5,900 new jobs)



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Erika Schwartz

Dear reader, my name is Erika and I am an actress, arts teacher and film analyst. I studied theatre and film for over four years, and changed more than 15 part-time jobs. What can I say? It is a tough industry. I love dance, especially tango, music, and basically anything art-related. I also enjoy writing about the captivating and dynamic world of entertainment. When I work, I seek the perfect balance between usefulness and beauty. I like to describe myself as the most optimistic person alive.


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