How much do you make?  It’s a simple question that’s easy to answer in most industries.  For careers ranging from public accountants to family physicians, average salaries are easily researched by location, and the results are reasonably accurate.  However, those same numbers for the photography industry aren’t readily available or reliable.

Every photographer you ask and every result you find online for “average wedding photographer salary” will give you a different number.  Understanding what you can expect to make is critical for any profession because the salary, regardless of how passionate you are about the craft, needs to make sense for you and your family.

So, the goal of this article is simple – to be a resource in understanding compensation, pay, and salaries in wedding photography and to give you a clear expectation of what you can expect to earn as a wedding photographer.

Average Wedding Photographer Salary – online sources

Let’s start with what’s “out there” regarding wedding photography pay.  Here are four different numbers from four different sources.

The average annual salary for wedding photographers:

Each of these sources provides a clearly stated number, and they are considered by many to be credible sources.  The problem?  They are  completely inaccurate.

For example, Ziprecruiter’s fine print states that it’s information is based on “individuals reporting: 50.”  For Glassdoor, “Salary estimates are based on 3,790 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by Wedding Photographer employees.”  But what about self-employed owner/operators? Are their averages the same as these reporting employees?

The list of flaws goes on and on, but the bottom line is the information, while presented with such certainty, is completely inaccurate.

Average Wedding Photographer Salary – according to photographers

You might hear of wedding photographers making “$10K a month just on prints” or “$300K a year” in Facebook groups, Youtube videos, or podcasts.

Whether or not they are telling the truth, telling their version of the truth, or simply being dishonest, we’ll never know. Unfortunately, there are some common reasons (and even incentives) for dishonesty in our industry.

Some allow pride and insecurities to get the best of them. Others simply don’t understand revenue, costs, profit, and other financial basics, so their numbers are simply inaccurate. And some have an incentive for dishonesty, whether it’s to get more Youtube views or impress sponsors and peers.

At the end of the day, only trust numbers from photographers you know personally; and even then, don’t make any business or life decisions without considering your own analysis.

The More Accurate Approach – Your Own analysis

Instead of asking yourself what the average pay for a wedding photographer is, you should ask yourself, “What can I expect to make as a wedding photographer?”  This will get you to a much more useful and accurate number because it will encompass your local market, your strengths and weaknesses as a business person and and as photographer, and other factors related directly to your particular situation.

This process is pretty simple.  Create a spreadsheet and estimate each line item on an income statement based on your past, your online/in-person research, and your common sense.

Here’s an example from the financial section of our Photography Business Training System Course.  Use a spreadsheet to estimate the following:

Step 1 – Estimate Your Revenue:

Answer each of the following questions based on your past year, averages in the industry, and competitor research.

  • How much can you charge per wedding?
  • How many weddings do you expect to book?
  • How much can you charge for your non-wedding sessions (portrait sessions, maternity, newborn, engagement, etc)?
  • How many non-wedding sessions can you book?

Below is an example of what that might look like.  This is a screenshot from the financial calculator we include in our business course.  Note, the numbers below are for illustrative purposes only.

This is the total revenue of your business, and unfortunately, the numbers you hear wedding photographers discuss is often this unrealistic top line number (before any expenses or taxes are taken out).

Step 2 – Estimate Your Variable Costs

The next step is to estimate each of the following variable costs, again based on your past year, averages in the industry, competitor research, and common sense.  Variable costs are the expenses associated with each shoot.

  • Second Shooter Costs
  • Lighting Assistant Costs
  • Gas/Tolls/Ferries
  • Permit Fees
  • Food/Snacks
  • Any other costs you might incur during each shoot

Take these costs per and multiply them by the number of weddings you hope to book (as you see below) and repeat the same process for your non-wedding costs.

We recommend using an excel spreadsheet or a Google Sheet with formulas so that you can alter your inputs and view the different results. (For our business course students, this spreadsheet is tab 4 in your workbook.)

Note, the numbers below are for illustrative purposes only.

Step 3 – Estimated Fixed Costs and Taxes

Next, estimate the following Fixed Costs and Taxes, again based on your previous year, industry research, and common sense projections.

  • Advertising/Promotion
  • Computer Equipment
  • Insurance
  • Gear Repairs
  • Internet
  • Office Supplies/Furniture
  • Photography Equipment
  • Education and Professional Development
  • Other Expenses

This will give you your expected Operating Income, which is more comparable to the way people typically use the word “salary” in everyday conversations.

Next, back out your state and federal taxes to get to your final take home for the year.  See the example below from our Financial Forecast Model in our course.

Remember, these numbers below are for illustrative purposes only.

This exercise will help you understand wedding photography salary and pay expectations.  In an industry without certifications and degrees, pay standards and expectations vary much more than other industries.  The key is to stop focusing on what others are claiming and to start focusing on what is realistic for you.

This approach is also the best way to set goals for your business, as it will give you a clear understanding of how many weddings you need to book and how much you need to charge to earn your desired income.  In addition, listing out your expenses will give you ideas on places you can save to improve your bottom line.

If you’re looking for more business advice, including pricing, sales, marketing and more, you’ll want to view our Complete Photography Business Training System.