How much does a photographer make? If your hobby is photography, or if you're enamored with the work of famous photographers David Bailey, Michael Cooper, Sir Cecil Beaton, and others, or if you want to work for National Geographic magazine, you might be asking yourself or someone, How much does a photographer make?
To answer the question, How much does a photographer make?, one needs to specify the area or field in which the photographer might be working.
For instance, fashion or glamour photography—for Playboy, Penthouse, Rolling Stone, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and other magazines—is a very popular career aspiration for many people, especially teenage boys.
Unfortunately, fashion/glamour photography—like acting, modeling, theater, sports, and other forms of entertainment—is an extremely difficult field in which to break. Typically an established fashion/glamour photographer can earn $15,000 or more a month, depending upon the photographer's clientele, the photographer's expertise and reputation, and the amount allotted to the advertising or marketing campaign for which the fashion/glamour photographer is hired.
That said, only a few select individuals, however, become fashion/glamour photographers because of the grueling road that these photographers must take. Those attempting to start out in this field must follow the steps of their predecessors, namely, people like David Bailey and Michael Cooper, who, while relatively poor at first, eventually became famous for the fashion/glamour work that they produced.
One entry point for aspiring photographers is photojournalism, when one is asking, How much does a photographer make? Compared to established fashion/glamour photographers, however, photojournalists make comparatively little: anywhere from $11.78 an hour to $18.59 an hour, for an annual salary of $25,264 to $40,618. (Bear in mind that small-town daily and weekly newspapers often pay less than these national averages.)
One area of photography, however, that offers more pay than photojournalism and that offers an easier entrance point than fashion/glamour photography is photographic work within the graphic arts fields. Photographers who can alter their photographs, and the photographs of others, by using Adobe PhotoShop and other tools can earn anywhere from $29,479 to $56,380 a year, depending upon years of experience and level of expertise. (A related field, photo editing, allows for someone to earn, on average, $29,728 to $51,985 a year.)
While these salaries might seem relatively low, a photographer or would-be photographer can consider working for companies that pay higher-than-average salaries. These companies include, but aren't limited to:
• Microsoft Corporation, headquartered in Redmond, Washington
• Adobe Systems, headquartered in San Jose, California
• IBM, headquartered in Armonk, North Castle, New York
So, in answer to the question, How much does a photographer make?, the answer is: it depends. Depending upon the field or area of expertise that someone chooses, a salary can be astronomical (for well-established fashion/glamour photographers) or relatively abysmal (for a photographer working at a small-town newspaper with a very lower readership).
As for the dream job of working as a wildlife photographer for National Geographic magazine, National Geographic photographer Michael "Nick" Nichols says that he can't put a price on how much a staff (regularly paid) photographer makes. First, there are only five staff photographers (Nichols being one of them) at National Geographic. Second, the remaining 50 to 60 photographers who work for National Geographic do not have a regular salary. Third, because Nichols has put several years of commitment into his career, he has a vast archive of wildlife photography. This archive, and not his regular work at National Geographic, is what really pays him, according to Nichols.