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News & Insight

Where Photographers Are Vs. Where The Money Is

By Kishore Sawh on January 4th 2015

I don’t think, but I could be wrong, that the majority of photographers who work in the field to earn their bacon and shelter got into it for the Scrooge McDuck mounds of money associated with it. If you’re a working pro, you’ll know that what I’ve just said was done so with utter sarcasm – because as far as professions go, this is not one that will typically make you very affluent. You may be granted access to walk through some opulent doors, but for the most part, you’ll just be visiting, to shoot.

If you want an analytical look at the number of photographers in this country, and how they’re earning, you needn’t look further than with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who released hard numbers, and geographical breakdowns of where your location stands in terms of national earning power for photographers, where they live, and how much your neighbors are making.

Where You Are vs Where The Money Is

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It seems that if you’re an East coast photographer, you’re letting the pennies from heaven rain elsewhere, as it seems the West Coast is where the photographers are that make the most. This could be indicative of many things, but the statistics are interesting to consider seeing as though it’s an overwhelming tip to the West Coast’s side of the scale.

The estimate is that photographers made an annual salary average of $37,190 in 2013, and that the top 10 percent of them made $66,130. Where had the highest mean pay? Washington D.C. at $66,130, California at $53,280, and New York at $49,480. The top metropolitan areas should come as little surprise for most, with LA up top, NYC second, and a little oddly, Minnesota taking third place.

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This becomes all the more interesting once you consider the geographical density spread of where photographers can be found. In the map below, you can see where and how sparsely photographers are living via state.

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With an estimated 54,830 photographers currently employed (self-employed not included – to what degree I’m not sure), the states most full of photographers are California, Florida, and New York, though no city in Florida, not even Miami, makes it into the top 3 metro areas.

You can get a further idea by looking at the location quotient of photographers which measures concentration of them against the national average. The highest concentration of photography jobs are in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Florida – with Florida being the sole state to take a spot on both this list and state with most overall.

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[REWIND: The Road Ahead – The Future Of Our Gear & Industry]

There’s a lot to be deduced and debated on with the information given, and you can find further break downs like which industry employs the most photographers and hourly wage mean, over at the bureau’s site. Should this information discourage or fuel you, I guess depends on your general disposition, but it’s always good to know what the stats are – they don’t lie, even if it’s just part truths.

Sources: PetaPixel, Bureau Of Labor Statistics

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    These are “mean wages” so there are a lot of photographers who are probably actively subsidising their photographic “career” rather than enthusiast who are subsidising their hobby.

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  2. Basit Zargar

    nice one

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  3. Jason Boa

    Very interesting information, well presented

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  4. Stephen Jennings

    I think this article is a tad bit misleading. Just a bit. I think it’s safe to assume that most professional photographers are small business operators/self employed in some capacity, and thus their earnings are more than likely not included in these statistics.

    But who is?

    Well the largest single employer of photographers outside of self employed photographers, are the outlet photography studios. The Sears type old school sit your kid in front of a velvet backdrop in an ugly sweater and call it a day studios.

    They pay minimum wage. After reading the article I went through the photography jobs in my area, Portland, and about 95% were “studio photographers” for some chains and stores, average pay $10/hr. Imagine.. there’s a whole community of oppressed photographers bound by the chains of corporate retail taking depressingly awful shots per corporate guidelines for the wage less than the average Mc Donalds employee..

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  5. John Decker

    I find it interesting that there is no info here on self employed photographers. I suppose that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has no information on that.

    When I started my career as a photographer in the mid 80s there were quite a few more opportunities for photographers to get full time employment than there are today. So many business today rely on freelancers and contractors to get work done rather than have full time employees and the additional costs of providing benefits.

    Look at the magazine business as an example. Not only are there less of them today, for a long time there were staff photographers at magazines – these days not so much… they are all self employed photographers. My guess is that there are quite a few more full time self employed photographers than there are full time photographers that are employed by someone else.

    One last point, it seems that the higher paying areas coincide with areas that cost more to live (for the most part – MN as an exception).

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  6. norman tesch

    id also like to see it broken down between portraits, landscape, product, fashion ect..its obvious upper michigan isent a hub of fashion so its not like that is drawing that money. so that would show what kind of photography might persue over another

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  7. Daniel Thullen

    In a lot of ways being a photographer is a lot like being an athlete. Many of us enjoy doing it, some of us can may a living or supplement our “other” job, only a few of us will make “a lot” of money at it.

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  8. Karl Beath

    That is good info to compare world wide incomes as well.

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  9. David Hall

    Looking at these numbers, I’m thinking I’ll just keep my day job! :-)

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  10. Neil van Niekerk

    I’m curious about what they regard as “New York”. New York the state, or New York City … because $50k isn’t much of a living wage in New York City. You’d barely be able to cover rent, utilities and food with that.

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    • Stan Rogers

      I’m not sure it matters that much, Neil. For every employed photographer who’s doing as well as his or her neighbours in a place like Cheektowaga, there’s at least one wide-eyed kid who’s willing to sacrifice anything (for the six or eight months it’s going to take to “make it big”, at least) to be part of the industry in the Big Apple, and at least one old fart like me who really can’t appreciate, without literally sitting down with pencil and paper for a few minutes every now and then, that $20/hr stopped being an impressive wage a while back. (When I made $3.45/hr in the ’70s, I was living like a… well, like the third son of lesser nobility, but I had a car and a pickup paid for before I was 21 and never lacked for spending cash.) That leaves out the intentional exploitation (“it’s not much, but think of the connections you’ll make and how much you’ll learn — and you can put ‘assisted ME’ on your CV!”) that’s always been a part of the industry. That might have made some sort of sense back when you apprenticed instead of going to school (and when every click of the shutter cost real money, so learning was a slow process and tiny mistakes were expensive), but it’s really time we grew up, I think, and statistics like these might help with that.

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  11. Steven Pellegrino

    This is interesting information. If you’re just starting out to go pro this may also give you a good idea of how much to invest in gear. It doesn’t make sense to invest $20,000 in gear in your first year doing this if you’re only going to make $30,000 (that is if you can make that much your first year out). These number also set an earnings expectation. That’s not saying you’re not going to be the photographer who really takes off and makes $500,000 a year, but at least you have the realistic averages.

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  12. Brandon Dewey

    Great article

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