How to earn money as a photographer. And live comfortably (somewhat).

How to earn money as a photographer. And live comfortably (somewhat).

Being a photographer isn’t the easiest job in the world. I heard a statistic that over 80% of professional photographers quit after 12 months.

Starting out can take many years before you make any substantial money, so you have to be patient and take on photography as a hobby, not as a way of sustaining yourself. If you want to pick up a camera and be a professional straightaway, there’s a lot of work cut out for you: (1) Branding and awareness, (2) creating all the essentials for a business, like a website, business cards, strong computer setup for editing, and (3) a great work ethic.

Initial Cost

The first financial mountain is very big. You need the basic setup of cameras, which can cost you a lot of money. It’s good to buy equipment over the years, so it’s not one large blow to your wallet. A decent full-frame camera can cost around $2,000. Two lenses, medium and long range, can cost between $2,000 to $4,500, depending on if you buy used or new. A good computer setup can cost about $1,500 minimum, if you want to edit quickly and efficiently. And all the little accessories that come with photography, such as memory cards, flash unit, card readers, and bags, can easily run upwards of $500. So you’re looking at an initial cost of around:

  • Camera: $2,000

  • Lenses: $3,000

  • Computer: $1,500

  • Basic Accessories: $500

    • TOTAL: $7,000.00

How to buy equipment for cheap: Look on sites like Adorama, BHPhotoVideo, or KEH to find great used deals.

More on this in a later post.


Finding Work

Having a healthy social media presence is very helpful in getting referrals through friends. It lets people know that you’re a great photographer and proves it through photos. Take photos of everything: friends, food, activities. The more you take photos and upload them regularly, the more exposure they get.

The first jobs you get will not pay well. You’ll work for free. You’ll work for $100. You may even work for $50. My first “steady” gig as a photographer was working at a nightclub for $100/night. I was told that it was a very good rate too.

The moment you make $500+ for a single shoot is a great landmark for you. You’ve finally earned a respectable amount for a budding professional photographer. It may not happen often. Hell, you may only get that amount of money for a gig every 3 months. From this point on, you can aim to charge a minimum of $100/hour for a shoot.

Here are some numbers the average hourly rate for a photographer in Boston is about $250/hour. The average hourly rate for a wedding photographer is about $450/hour. Commercial shoots can pay upwards of $4,000 per daily session.

To find work, you have to put yourself out there. Do some free shoots so you can build your portfolio. Find events that are low budget that you can offer photography for cheap. Contact people! Post images on social media. Brand, brand, brand, brand, brand.

WARNING: If you think that social media is just some sort of formula where you can post a photo and write an “inspirational” quote, you’re wrong.

Social media was made as a way for people to share things with each other. Naturally, the people who had more content and interesting things to share, got the most views. Right now, Instagram is saturated with silly content from creators who want to pull pranks or use their sexuality to get views. And it works. But it’s not real content. To make money, you have to think about your viewers and give them what they want to see. You have to teach them new things.

So, to recap this long rambling section: Do work at a discount price to get your foot in the door. Contact as many people as you can to find work. Use social media as a way to put your content out there and gain views.


Maintain Healthy Financial Goals

When you’re starting out, budget your money and make sure that you can provide your “Four Walls” (Food, Shelter, Clothing, Transportation). Make a budget of how much these things will cost for you. For instance, in Boston, it could look like this:

  • Food: $400/month

  • Apartment Rent: $800/month

  • Clothing: $100/month

  • Transportation: $80 - $300/month (could be more if you’re purchasing a car)

This adds up to approximately $1,500/month to survive. Now, put aside some additional costs, such as health insurance, shopping, equipment costs, and fun, this will easily balloon to about $2,000 per month.

For any photographer who is beginning their career, I’d aim for earning $600/week. This amounts to about 2 gigs per week at $300 apiece. Obviously you’ll have some dead weeks without work, or extremely cheap gigs, so this amount will fluctuate.

Super Tip: being a tax expert and itemizing your deductions will help you know what things to spend on.

More on this in a later post.


Be a Good Photographer!!!

Really. There’s no way around it. You have to do good work. Good work gets rewarded with more work and more money. Work on your skills.

If you’re getting less-than-stellar reviews, then you need to STOP yourself immediately and rethink what you’re doing. If you’re not getting call-backs, or if can tell someone isn’t happy with their photos, you need to get better.

Get better equipment. Do more research. Practice.

Engagement Shoot @ Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Engagement Shoot @ Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

InCube: 5 MIT Students Live in a Glass Box for a Week

InCube: 5 MIT Students Live in a Glass Box for a Week