How Much Money Do Photographers Make?

Almost two weeks ago, I posted a poll on Twitter asking photographers if their photography business was their sole source of income. Not surprisingly, many said no (the details are below). On the same day, Jack Hollingsworth, posted a similar poll and asked photographers how much their photography business grossed last year. Similar results (see his poll below as well).

Interestingly, Jack’s poll showed that over 65% of the responders made less than $20,000 in 2008. My poll showed that 65% of photographers have to supplement their income with something other than photography.

These results beg the question, “Why do so many photographers struggle to make money?” I suppose there are many answers. Some photographers just aren’t any good (sorry, but its true). Others have no idea how to run a business so they end up spending money in the wrong places, they’re disorganized, and things just slip through the cracks. And a big chunk of photographers have no idea how to market their work and create desire in their target market (if they’ve even defined a target market).

I’d love to hear your comments below. Let me know why you think so many photographers struggle. If you’ve figured out how to be successful, share your success with the community.

Thanks.

Tyler

How Much Did Your Photography Business Gross Last Year

Is Photography Your Sole Source of Income

Written by Tyler in: business planning,marketing,photography | on Sep 07 2009
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39 Comments »

  • Photography is my only source income and I feed a family of 6 solely off of my income. Its me 4 kids and a wife. I can tell you that it getting tougher though.
    Calvin Childs

  • Kalem says:

    I think that a part of the problem for many photographers is being confused about how to “do” photography business. There’s uncertainty about pricing; about marketing and about whether we are “really” qualified to do the job correctly. Also, many photographers fail to recognize the many revenue streams in photography.

    I have been very fortunate and successful during the last two years. The main reason is because I finally understood “value” and how to create and promote it.

    Photography is not my main source of income. But, I finally had a year and a half where I made much more money with photography than I made in my profession – and I make good money in my profession. The recent world-wide economic meltdown has caused some of my business to drop off. But, I raised my prices during the last six months. And business is very steady.

    For me, once I learned how to market “value,” business got much better.

  • Tyler says:

    Calvin – good for you! My dad was the same – family of 6, 4 of us unruly kids, and somehow he made it work. Some years were amazing and others were a little slow, but he always provided and my mom was always able to say home with us.

    Kalem – I think you’re absolutely right. Photographers go into business because they love shooting & creating, but that doesn’t mean they know how to run a business. You’re also right in that the “value” is where its at. The more you can show the value of what you do, the better off you are. That’s what marketing is all about – marketing the value of your product or service.

    Thanks for your comments.

    • Van K. says:

      I completely agree Scott, You hit that one right on the button. every damn person has a damn D-SLR and thinks they can use it. At This point I think professional photographers can profit more from offering photography classes to all those people rather than taking their picture.

      The branding and follow through are most important, but everything is changing so fast, its hard to keep up. Something drastic needs to happen to boost up the photo biz.

  • Scott Wise says:

    The photography market has become saturated with the explosion of digital on top of an increasingly expanding “do it yourself” economy”.

    That is not to say that there aren’t niches where you can still set yourself and your images apart if you have a good eye and strong sense for branding and conducting strong campaigns and following through with smart business skills to make the dollars count…

    but overall, with so many “guys with a camera” yielding decent results for nearly nothing, added to the increasingly tight budgets of the new economy and the fact that would be photography service consumers are converting to “do it yourself” photography producers with a cheap entry into digital to marginalize long term costs and its not hard to see the picture here.

    A strong business model backed by an even stronger brand is always the key to success in any market.

  • Steven Noreyko says:

    The big thing that’s missing from the “how much money” question is the type of photography work being done.

    Are we talking about wedding and retail
    portrait shooters, people selling art prints, editorial/advertising/corporate shooters, Stock photography, or… ?

    From the results Jack Hollingsworth posted, my guess is that the respondents are in the portrait/wedding or other retail photo businesses.

    I think the numbers are only really useful if you look at the specific photo market.

  • Tyler says:

    Steven,

    I think you’re right that the majority of people that responded to the poll are probably wedding/portrait photographers. But, I’d say that similar incomes are seen across most photography professions. I know commercial photographers, corporate photographers, people selling fine art, and others that have struggled and struggled to make ends meet. Certainly there are stand outs in every specialty, but they’re not the majority. Thanks for commenting – I think you’re suggestion has some merit.

    Tyler

  • John says:

    For the past three years my income was solely from photography. My “specialty”, was somewhat off the beaten path though. I worked in the adult world. It’s not the kind of job you can share with everyone but it was consistent work and it helped me pay the bills – especially my absurdly high, private art school student loan payments. All of that being said, yes, I agree that the numbers are specific to photo markets. Up until the economy tanked my “specialty” was very lucrative. As of this spring, I’m lucky to work two or three times a month and now and looking for additional (non-photography) work to make ends meet.

    I think the bottom line, regardless of specialty, remains that the majority of photographers (myself included) have little know how when it comes to attaining steady income. Do all criminal lawyers categorically make less than entertainment lawyers? Of course not. There will always be those individuals who have the knowledge and drive to push past those who don’t. I may be wrong but I see no reason that a fine arts photographer would make less than a wedding or portrait if he/she knew what market to tap and how to properly present their work to buyers. I’m hoping that Tyler’s course/advice will help me do just that.

  • Thought this was an interesting article. Photography is my only source of income…and I’m happy to say that my income is actually going up. It hasn’t been easy though! I’ve learned that being a good photographer is not enough and have worked very hard at marketing my business over the last year. I’ve updated my website paying attention to SEO, I’m writing articles, exploring social media and especially reaching out to past customers.

  • Tyler says:

    Andy,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It really comes down to marketing. Once people realize that marketing is key, and they focus on it, business improves. It sounds so simple, yet most photographers completely miss the boat. Congratulations on your success.
    Tyler

  • MIke Morgan says:

    Hey Tyler,

    I have been on your site for the past 3 hours. I thank you for all the information that your sites provide photographers. i am ready now to take on the world. Looking forward to your next blog entry.

  • Lauren Armour says:

    I am interested in taking up photography, how should i start?
    Thanks.

    Lauren Armour.

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