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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Photography as an Occupation

"...A very few photographers earn salaries over $100,000 per year...."

It gets worse!

Salary Range: $14,710–$78,070

It gets worse!

"Approximate annual salaries for photographers range from $14,600 for the bottom ten percent to $50,000 for the top ten percent. In 2002, middle earnings were around $24,000.

"Self-employed photographers typically do not earn as much [as] salaried photographers."

It gets worse!

"Statistics show that for a photographer in 2002 the average annual salary was $24,040. The lowest 10% earned less than $14,640, the middle 50% between $17,740 and $34,910 while the highest 10% earned upwards of $49,920. For a photographer employed by a newspaper or periodical the average annual salary was $31,460, while in other professional and scientific services the average was $21,860."

It gets really bad!

"Dear Michael:*
"The salary of a photographer at National Geographic Magazine is about $7–9,000 a year. Very low because we use foreign people from poor countries to do our labor for cheap. If you are willing to work for this low pay, we will hire you. Just email me back."
-------------------------—Phillip Gregory Oswell (President of National Geographic magazine), January 03, 2003.


*SA (Satire Alert—this one's not real.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truth hits everybody...A few years ago a Dutch report indicated that free lance photographers' salaries only just ranked above the salaries of professional cleaners and musicians. (It's the economy stupid!)

I myself have diversified to offering creative photography workshops and courses and to free lance photo editing for publishers to escape this wild west economy. Anyone else here offering their photographic knowledge in another context to survive? Have you discovered a niche?

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As everyone knows, I'm an artiste. But since I prefer not to be a starving artiste, I do a lot of weddings and commercial work. (And if my wife didn't have good health insurance through her employer, we would be in deep doo.)

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the national geographic one seems a bit fake to me...

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, I think that NG quote is either fake or a joke... Michael Yamashita definitely doesn't make $9,000 a year, and CEOs don't generally post on usenet.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Motto! said...

That quote by the CEO of NG seems a bit dodgy. Outsourcing... what? I don't buy it.

I did, however, find the OpenRAW survey very interesting for a reason aside from what the writers intended. Take a look at Table 3, you'll see that very, very few full time professional photographers make it doing wildlife or nature. The fact of the matter is if you want to shoot professionally you probably won't be shooting what you want on your terms. Don't overlook the merits of a day job!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Tom Monego said...

Having watched my clients go out of business, get bought out, and even have a company wide policie of no freelancers. Buy each department a digital camera and a scanner so they can "do it themselves"). I saw my income go from barely adequate to zip in 3 years. I have always had the nitch skill of doing retina (eye) photography. So I found a full time job, the department manger left, I got that job, so things have worked out. Much less financial stress but very little creativity.


11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the last bit meant to be sarcastic?

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good lord. how do most pro photographers afford multi-thousand dollar equipment? do they have a second job or something?

1:32 PM  
Blogger Josh Hawkins said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Bob said...


The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an income summary by profession. From the Web page at, click on the "National Summary" link. That document shows full time photographers earned, in July 2004, an mean of $16.60/hour, and worked a 39.4 hour week, which works out to a bit over $32,000/year. That number isn't too far off MJ's, although BLS numbers are two years newer.


4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Photography, like all art, is a playground for the rich. Always has been, always will be. If you wan't to make it, get an MBA or something, and develop your artistic talent on the side. Sadly we are animals first and foremost. We need food, shelter, basic social contact and lots and lots and lots of stuff. Whatever talent we have that goes beyond the fulfilment of those basic needs will most likely be wasted and unappreciated. If you want art for the masses, then we need a new world order, and folks, it's not gonna happen...

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little investigation reveals that the text from the self-proclaimed "President of National Geographic Magazine" was a response to a posted question on in January of 2003. The name and email address of this poster was given as: Phillip Gregory Oswell (President of National Geographic Magazine) - ( Here's a link to the post and the response:

A Google search on the name Phillip Gregory Oswell and the variation Phillip G Oswell shows only one single return for the name - a link to the above post: nG=Search

A little more research shows that the National Geographic website says that John M. Fahey, Jr. has been the president and CEO of the National Geographic Society on March 1, 1998. 23275

And that John Q. Griffin is the President of the National Geographic Magazine Group and has been since September 2001 72239

I think that before posting something as factual on a blog, it should be somewhat researched.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Jeez, nobody has a sense of humor any more.


11:37 PM  
Blogger Dave New said...

Mike Otto -- "Don't overlook the merits of a day job!"

Precisely why my day job has nothing to do with photography. 8-)

I find it interesting that a number of pros have found that there are a number of well-heeled folks that will pay upwards of several hundred dollars a day for various workshops. I'm sure that some of these are wonderful experiences (and I intend to sample one myself sometime in the future), but I can't help shake the feeling that once you've been to a couple, you need to move on.

Is there such a thing as a 'professional workshop taker?' If so, they could feed a whole generation of workshop organizers.

Kind of like the 'Learn C++ in three days' courses that have been the rage for years, and yet, if you aren't practicing the art of programming in C++ daily for months/years, you can never hope to become really proficient. There are legions of buggy programs out there, that proves the point. It doesn't seem to halt the droves of folks that pay for these 'instant mastery' courses, though.

2:43 PM  

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