Well, you haven't really gotten any direct answers to your question yet, so I'll give it a shot...I've seen a couple of different 'averages' recently; one said a freelance photographer working for him/herself and doing the typical wedding/portrait studio business could expect to earn an average of $24,000 a year, another said $27,000.
I don't know if that is gross or net, but until the last couple of years that seemed a little low to me. Now there are-as you have discovered-scores of photographers claiming to be professionals that you KNOW are making five or ten grand a year working part time out of a corner of the spare bedroom in their apartments. They're going around taking pictures of peewee league football teams and selling photo buttons for three bucks a pop and going look, I'm a professional photographer...and here's what I REALLY do-look at this black and white study of this ballet dancer...or ooh, how about this skyline of the local metropolis at night that I shot last September and you can buy your own print of it for $195.00. Maybe they sell a few, maybe they don't, but the fact is they derive way more of their substandard income from round photos of junior pinned to parent's chests and dangling from their keychains than they ever will from art prints sold on the internet. Heck, I'd be willing to bet that at least a significant percentage of them are run by GWCs (guys with cameras) who are REALLY cruising for women who will prance around in their altogether while the photographer takes snapshots in the name of 'art.'
A photographer friend of mine said a few years ago that in the midwest one guy working alone or a husband/wife team could make around $35,000 a year after expenses with a real wedding and portrait studio business. I think he told me he was grossing around $125,000 a year at the time, so do the math. You could adjust that accordingly for west and east coast incomes and living expenses, and it would also vary widely according to specific markets and the area of photography pursued. For example, not long ago a friend of mine in Anchorage said one of his neighbors was making $70,000 a year + expenses doing editorial photography for national magazines. The big local senior portrait mill probably grossed $425,000 in 2004 or 2005, I have no idea what the principles netted but I would guess more than $35,000 anyway, after paying expenses and their staff $24-27,000 a year. I'll leave it up to you whether that is 'real' photography or not. I had a guy working for me part time in 2006 who shot celebrity events in California in the winter and demanded $50.00 an hour to shoot for me, I told him fine as long as he generated the jobs with enough gross income to give me a cut of 10?f his fifty bucks an hour and in ten months he generated exactly...ZERO jobs. So there was a guy who might be making fifty an hour part time in California but was making $0.00 an hour back home in the midwest. Great talker though...
But aside from the recent intrusion of so many cheap retail studios like in the one hour photo labs, there has been a HUGE influx of amateurs and weekenders into the market presenting themselves as professional photographers once they've figured out what those little flower icons and stuff mean on that wheel on top of their cameras-and people are doing more of their own photography, so the bar is continually being lowered as the market gets more dilute and prices and quality decline. I was told that the national average volume for wedding/portrait studios was down by 30?n 2006, and even more than that so far in 2007.
I really can't vouch for the veracity of any of these figures, but things are definitely changing in the business. I've been in it for 17 years and this is the third time I've seen big surges of amateurs into the photography/video studio field in my area. The first was in the early 90s and was due to layoffs by a major local technical employer; the second was in the late 1990s with the introduction of digital video, and now the third with the advent of digital photography and printing.
It always seems to be the same story-you get a bunch of people looking at the sunset pictures they took on vacation, the backlit picture of their cat staring off the balcony, the picture of their kid sliding into third base...and they go DOOD, I'm a GREAT photographer so I am going into BUSINESS! So they start up with their Rebel and shoe mount flash working out of a corner of their basement printing 4X6s on an HP printer and seven months later when they figure out they have to pay self employment, income and sales tax and have REAL equipment and all sorts of advertising and promotional costs and realize that their photos on a day to day basis are mediocre at best-and that is being kind-and figure out that a third of their customers are knocking out the profit they make on the other two thirds, they're like uh-oh I'm making two bucks an hour and 80?f them quit. But in the meantime, they've undercut the market with their unrealistic prices based on what it costs to shoot with the crap they bought off the shelf at the local electronics superstore, and each time it takes five or six years for the market to recover. I personally think it will take longer this goaround, and it may never recover fully. There will be a few big studios with lots of space and backdrops and equipment that will survive because they offer stuff that nobody else can and can work on the razor slim margins of today due to volume, and there will be quite a few part timers doing birthday photo mugs earning seven bucks an hour with pretentions of professionalism on gauzy websites, but I question how many truly professional, living-wage studios will be out there in five or ten years.
Me personally, I'm diverse and while I won't disclose my own income, it is derived from many different sources with photography and video providing a portion of it. You'll hear ALL sorts of high-falutin' stuff about photography here and elsewhere but a lot of it is baloney. Part of the key to diversity in the photography business itself is being able to shift your emphasis as the market changes-if you find out that a dozen people in your neighborhood have gone into the portrait and wedding business and are undercutting the market, shift gears into something else for a couple of years until they all go belly up. Or just undercut them and run 'em out of business if you have deep pockets and a lot of patience.
Just remember, just about EVERYONE has nice sunset, pet and kid pictures, and photographer websites are indeed a dime a dozen. If you want to make money at it, you have to be creative, original, technically proficient...and understand how to run a real business. Then you're not going to be stuck making the 'average' income-leave that to the schmucks who lowered the average to $25-30 grand a year to begin with. They aren't really photographers OR businesspeople.
Answered By: JC - 11/23/2007