Guess Which Study Photographers Ranked #1 Worst In

Guess Which Study Photographers Ranked #1 Worst In

We've all heard of the stereotype of "the starving artist," but a new study from the UK put concrete numbers on this portrayal, showing that graduates with a degree in photography truly do (on average) become starving artists. Adding insult to injury, the study reveals that photographers are not only on the list, they are ranked the worst for post-graduates making low income. Ouch.

Adzuna, a UK-based job search engine, analyzed more than 120,000 CVs to find which jobs were the lowest-paying five years after receiving their college degrees. The research revealed that photography degrees offer the worst value for money, as graduates earn an average salary of £24,785 ($29,381) five years after graduation.  

On the American side of the research, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2021 that the annual mean wage for photographers is $48,210. 

The average university degree leaves graduates with £45,000 in debt ($53,345). It seems that in the era of the "YouTube Academy," traditional art degrees are hard to justify.

I am one of the few that did complete a degree in Fine Arts. Did my degree pay off? Absolutely. I had requirements not only in film and digital photography, but also in design, composition, and art history that have impacted my work significantly. Would I say that you need a degree to be a successful photographer? Absolutely not. Very few of the greatest works in photographic history came from people who had degrees in the field. Thankfully, I fall significantly outside the mean for the study's salaries. Perhaps my next article should be "Making Great Money in Photography: How to Actually Do It."

The question that naturally comes as one reads this statistic is: "why"? Why do we, as photographers, have the lowest return on investment in our education? Do we underprice our work? Is it related to the trendy topic of "imposter syndrome"? Perhaps it's linked to lowering our prices for fear of not closing the deal? The flip side of "YouTube Academy" is that now, everyone is a photographer. We've all received those responses: "Well, my cousin is a photographer, and he can do it for..." Is it that the increase in the quality of cell phone images has decreased the need for professional or at least semiprofessional work? 

I'm thankful that I fall out outside of the statistic and that my clients see the difference in my work enough to pay more. In cases where clients want the work for less, I find that educating them on the process of creating the images helps them understand the price tag. I've charged several hundred dollars for one shot on numerous occasions. Some charge thousands.

I've found that education pushes prices from what inquirers think it should cost to what is an actual fair price for the time and expertise that go into creating the images.

What are your thoughts? Why do photographers fall into the painful bottom slot in this study? Is there any way to change that? Leave a comment below. Reading your input is always my favorite part of the article. 

Cheers, and happy clicking this week.

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53 Comments
Tom Reichner's picture

I think that many photographers who have pursued a degree have made a decision to make their life all about what they like to do; what they want to do, instead of doing whatever it is that will produce a solid income. They have already prioritized personal fulfillment over financial gain. Many people in other fields have made financial gain their top priority when it comes to career decisions. Of course someone who sets high income as their #1 goal is going to earn more money than someone who has knowingly chosen a career path that yields little income.

People don't practice law in their free time, on weekends or during the evening after a hard day of work. They don't detail other peoples' cars "just for fun". Nor do they organize a corporation's financial ledger for relaxation, in their downtime. But people do photography at such times, because it is fun and fulfilling. Like it or not, things that most people do for fun, as a hobby, typically do not yield big incomes for those who do them vocationally.

Furthermore, those few who do earn high incomes at "fun" careers are actually doing a lot of things that aren't very fun or enjoyable at all. I mean, I love to go out into nature and photograph wildlife, but I dislike contacting editors and publishers to try to get them to buy licensing rights to use my wildlife photos. Nor would I enjoy organizing, marketing, and conducting photo tours in which I guide other nature photographers on photo trips ... so much red tape with insurance, logistics, procuring government permits, etc. Hence, if I were to make a high income as a wildlife photographer, it would require me to do a lot of things that I do not like to do, instead of just doing the fun, enjoyable parts of the job.

Benoit .'s picture

"Doing business" is the nature of any self employed enterprise and doing business can be fun with photography.
I photograph at the time I do business since the majority of my shoots are with clients. You create friendships, you learn new tricks on their account and time, they send you to new clients, you get free lunch sometimes, large discounts on their products at time, travel to new places time paid, you see weird stuff, often how they make weir stuff and they can invite you at parties for example. There are plenty of great things coming from doing business in photography.

Michelle VanTine's picture

This is also true and perfectly penned. There are so many perks. This year I get to travel to Abu Dahbi for a shoot. I just went to a week in Las Vegas. I am constantly meeting interesting and inspiring people. It's a mixed bag like you said.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Excellently written! I agree with ever word. I did get a Fine Arts degree, but as you said, I would say that I spend 60 to 70% of my time doing things I don't want to do: contracts, calls, marketing, all kinds of 'running a business' things. I've wanted to throw the towel in more than once! But having said that, I still can't imagine doing anything else.

Asher Honish's picture

Tom Reichner This is really poignant! I also completed an MFA in photography. However, I neither pursue it as a profession nor make any money from it. Instead, I work in public service. For me, I never wanted to mix the production aspect of work with a passion for an art I truly love.

Indy Thomas's picture

As a retired commercial photographer I would say that many enter the field with misguided expectations.
While the craft is fun the bulk of work is necessary but generally uninteresting or tedious.
Education in the arts focus on the craft, never business. Understandably so.
I think the stats reflect the fact that those grads are struggling at the business part.

Photographers for the most part are a small startup business. To succeed takes time.
A person who studies plumbing and then decided to start their own business has the same hurdles. However, the plumbers, electricians and dentists of the world are far more accepting of the demands of business.

It takes a lot of time to build a reputation in the photography field. As a new business you have to constantly market.
In addition, many choose fields that are notoriously competitive and poorly paid. For every $10k wedding we read about, 200 are going for $1500. For every fashion shoot we read about with a crew of 15 and two grip trucks, there are 500 done with one guy and maybe an assistant chasing a model with a reflector for trade. For every article about a sports photographer flying to Europe with $60k of gear, there are 100, 000 shooting at Peewee football and little league games for free hoping to score a paying gig.
It is a lack of knowledge about the field for many.
As we speak, my kitchen is being remodeled by a contractor that got a photo degree from UCLA who then could not make it as a fashion photographer.

There is money to be made as the demand for quality images is immense. However, the photos in demand are just not always the sexiest.
Also, in any field, it is always a combination of persistence , skill and luck. Persistence being the most important.
Even an idiot will get jobs if they are around long enough.

Michelle VanTine's picture

What a great reply. I liked the note on persistence. I'm on year 14 and I can wholeheartedly agree.

Mike Ditz's picture

If the remodeler actually has a UCLA degree in photography they could take a cut in pay and teach photography at UCLA...lol

Mike Ditz's picture

Persistence, luck, skill and who you know...and who knows you.

Michelle VanTine's picture

that last one is the truest of them all

Pedro Pulido's picture

This is spot on, a realistic view on photography as a job. well done sir.
I'd also add that networking can be a massive point of making your business successful

Michelle VanTine's picture

I used to get so irked by everyone always harping on the importance of networking. It seemed so important but also intangible. How do you even network? It's taken me a few years to figure it out, but now I'm well-versed. I've learned for everyone ONE right person you meet it's a 10-1 return from any 'marketing' efforts. I've often thought about writing an article about how to actually do 'networking'

Mike Ditz's picture

For the Detroit part of my career I met most clients thru people I went to school with and for the LA part, I can trace back to one person a huge amount of billing dollars and connections.

Pedro Pulido's picture

Well done Michelle.
I think with the very realistic insight you have given us here, pretty sure an article about networking would be very valuable to the community. please do go for it.

Pedro Pulido's picture

may I add that networking can also be the simple act of just going to a party and introducing yourself to the friend of your friend and letting them know what you do. Have a website and bring business cards with you. Your next client can be the person next to you!

Benoit .'s picture

After enjoying the working life for a short time, I went for a 2 year photography program. It was half days classes. My goal was to become commercial photographer so I was very focused on what I would need to learn. The other students were much younger than me for the most part and had no other goal than “studying photography” for what ever that means. I had good time, didn’t care for the art and most our teachers who came from the art school in Avignon. There were a lot of clashes with the only teacher we had with some level of commercial photography knowledge. He was a moron but he brought us the Broncolor/Sinar dealer and a few established commercial photographers from Paris. I took a part time job and for the rest of my time, photography wise, I established great connections with the local custom lab, a local wholesale photo dealer and a local commercial photographer who was also using Broncolor. I don’t think the other students understood that this was a necessity. I didn’t care for a diploma so I left before the end for a trip. Pretty much I don’t think anyone but museums would care if I had a diploma in photography and that may even have counted against me. I have zero regret taking this educational path.

After school I worked for years for labs (all kinds) and got hired as commercial photographer in a pre-press house in part because they had Broncolor lights and an F and a P2/E Sinar and the owner liked that could work on their P2 with the digital back. At that place I learned drum scanning and pretty much anything about pre-press and printing apart from running an actual press. When the place closed, I bought all the good photo stuff, packs accessories, heads, camera stand, C stands and anything I would need in my future studio for a small amount, just no camera. I kept the photography clients too since all I had to do was purchase an Epson 4800 for their cmyk proofs and I purchased the prepress house ICC profiler too. Technically as the only photographer in that place, these clients only knew me and my work kept these accounts for the six years I worked at that prepress house. Some people got irritated that I kept the clients, but my reason to be there in the first place was to indirectly generate work to other departments and print runs so I was actually contributing to their pay check up until the last day. Can’t fix stupid. From school to working for myself, it all came together like a chain reaction. That only happened due to my decision to go back to school.

I want to finish by saying that photography schools did not necessarily have a better reputation 20-30 and probably even 40 years ago. As usual, it’s what you provide and what you plan that makes the education worth it or not.

Michelle VanTine's picture

That's a very interesting history. I've often considered going back to school (now at age 40) to get my masters- I've even gotten so far in the process to talk with department heads. But at the end of those discussions, it's hard for me to quantify the value of the investment. It seems like work experience is almost the best school yard?

Mike Ditz's picture

Degrees are not important in the creative arts. But if you want to teach at a decent school, or work at a corporation a degree is almost essential. On your own with your business no one cares about a degree.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Yes, my thought was as you said, perhaps teaching at the University level later in life, and also for professional development. But I haven't gotten to the point yet where I have justified the time commitment.

Mike Ditz's picture

If you become a good/successful/creative enough a place that "requires' degrees (sometimes to weed out people ) will find a way to hire you under a different job title, special lecturer, external staff, instrutor, not prof....
In my school I had a photography instructor who's degree was in architectural engineering.

Jan Steinman's picture

Although I never pursued a photography degree, I supported myself for five years from selling my fine-art photography.

Problem is, I found I was spending less and less time actually *doing* photography, and more and more time running the photography business!

So I went back to just enjoying it, rather than making money from it.

Roger Cozine's picture

Unless a photographer is working for himself/herself, I believe this article is entirely correct. Even on most job search websites, it's rare to find an actual photography job. It's even more rare to fine one that pays enough to consider it a primary source of income. As a current college student finishing up the final 3 months on my photography degree, I can attest to the lack of pre-graduation job offers that most other degree graduates see. Basically, your on your own once you graduate. The cost of a photography degree is also higher than most since you will need different equipment and items at various stages in the process. A camera with interchangeable lenses, several different lens, lighting kit, speedlights, light meters, software...ect. These cost quickly add up, and are compounded by the actual cost of tuition. Unless you really have a solid plan, impeccable work and a great sense of business, it's extremely easy to fail. Even those with great ethics and skill usually have a side hustle in case things go south. While photography can be fun and empowering, it can also be cruel and deceptive.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Great comment and congratulations on being close to completing your degree! I ABSOLUTELY agree about the cost of taking the classes. I did a lot of work in film also when I was getting my degree and the paper for printing came out to $1 per sheet. For weekly assignments the costs added up quickly. Have you set up a job alert on Linked In? I have one permanently set: with certain parameters for salary and such. I've seen some fantastic jobs come through my email.

Mike Ditz's picture

Are you getting alerts for actual full time photographer jobs with a good wage? The ones that I have seen are looking for about 8 very different job skills but for $40,000 yr.

Michelle VanTine's picture

I never take the jobs because I want to work for myself and the high paying ones are full time positions with major companies. There are some laughable postings but I've seen 2 or 3 in the $58-$70k in the last year

Tom Reichner's picture

I also see a lot of job listings for "photographers", but when I read the listing in detail, I almost always find that actual photography is only a very small part of the job description, or not even part of the job description at all.

"Working with photos" is not photography at all. I mean, if your job description is to procure, license, organize, edit, curate, and use photos that other people have taken, then you do not have a job as a photographer ... even though these jobs are often listed as photography jobs. These are usually the jobs that pay fairly decent money, while the bulk of the photography itself goes to independent contractors who don't get to just take photos, but also have to do all of the yucky business stuff that comes with running their own business. And yeah, for many of us those business things really stink and we absolutely loathe doing such things.

Jobs where you can get hired as a full time employee, get paid well, and get paid for actual photography (just taking photos), are extremely rare.

Mike Ditz's picture

I have looked at a couple studio manager jobs that I am perfectly qualified for but I get the feeling that most of the job board jobs are already filled (long ago) but the HR depts are doing their due diligence of running a help wanted ad.
All of the jobs I have ever been hired for including photo jobs came thru someone I knew or was recommended by someone I know. Not an ad.

Benoit .'s picture

What happen is that you have inventory when you are done with your studies. In a way you are already in business despite not having the income. So it’s an investment unless your purchased the wrong items to start with, but otherwise, that money is not a loss. Lack of practice might be your fear, but if you build a solid inventory of equipment that is durable, flexible and you bring a lot of back up and extras with you, your chance at failure will be greatly reduced because your bag of options will most likely help you. I am the opposite of the minimalist photographer I read about lately, except may be for cameras and lenses. Try to find 9-5 type of clients. They have deadlines, their boss does and if they can trust you once you build that relationship fast. In my opinion, photography is mostly a business of client retention, not necessarily hunting. The other thing is to learn to read your clients and tension around you and them, including people you don’t expect like front desk person all the way to accounting. They all have a role that may affect you more than you may realize. If you give yourself a chance at zero failure, you can get there.

Edo Photo's picture

At a particular downturn in my financial life, I did a business plan program under the unemployment system in NYC.

Part of the process of creating my business plan was to do market research on photography in United States.

To say that it was a absolutely ludicrous market is saying the obvious. The average photographer salary was somewhere near 30,000 which means most photographers were poor or near destitute. At that point my feelings didn't matter, it was simply a no way in hell proposition a.

While I've still pursued photography after that, I have long given up on using photography as any kind of main financial engine. I've since worked at a magazine, where we interviewed photographers and I've had much more exposure to the general workings of the lower end of the fashion business which is the worst out of them all (i would imagine.)

Since then not only have I been disappointed with the prospects of a photography career, but the most insidious part is with the small legion of photographers I've met in New York city over the last 10 years. Unhelpful, can't discuss any kind of business without them getting nervous, sometimes just plain old weird etc. There's been a few shining lights but those are usually the people who are so far in the trenches of photography that you see them for 10 minutes and you never see them again.

Thankfully my day work is centered in digital design, I wish nothing but good luck to those who have peers in the photo industry that support each other, can actually discuss critical subjects such as money etc. I simply haven't had that experience.

I'll still pursue photography but it will be distinct projects and doing a show hopefully sometime soon. I'll try some other things when I go abroad as well. But otherwise, it is utterly nonsensical to jump into this field and be dependent on it. That doesn't mean it can't work, but it is highly highly dependent on what financials are behind you, and of course your network and the network of your friends. Of course there's other things that can influence that scenario, but your entire circle has to be set up for photography or forget about it. At least that's been my experience.

As my first and only studio teacher said, without a network you will not be a working photographer.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Wow that's fascinating and basically exactly what the study revealed. Why do you think photographers are paid so little? Near the poverty line as you said

Richard Hart's picture

Because there are plentiful amounts of people who will work as a photographer with a poor salary than put a business plan together and make sales calls. It is sad that organizations are happy to rip people off too. Some people also dont understand skill required to create amazing images when they get something out of their iPhone.

Benoit .'s picture

Learning business and looking into someone’s business are two different things. All businesses work pretty much the same way apart for the specific type of service provided or product manufactured. No one is going to tell you the specifics on how they run their business or disclose financial info, especially if you are in that same field. That’s really not unique to photographers. Bankers don’t, electricians don't, employers don’t and no one ask them. Photographers are the only ones to be expected to lay it all on the table for everyone to see. You probably would be shocked if those photographers asked you to show your w2 from last year. They are as entitled to do so as you are to ask for specifics on their source of income.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Imo it is pretty obvious why Photography pays so low and I really don't expect that to change anytime soon:

#1: Supply and Demand. Can't get away from it, it's an eternal thing, and like it or not the supply of "aspiring photographers" wildly outpaces the demand for their skillset. As a result, competition creates a race to the bottom for all but a tiny percentage.

#2: Most photographers aren't very good. It may be harsh to say, but it is really. Most "pro" portfolios I see look amateur. Being a great photographer AND being a reliable photographer are both very difficult to achieve and this job requires both.

#3: Photography is a career of sales and marketing, not photography. Photography is secondary. Most photographers invest all their time in mastering the photographic skillset, which is important, to a point but what really drives a photographer's ability to make money is their ability to market themselves and sell their services. Sales is a very difficult thing to master in itself and often isn't one photographer have much aptitude in.

I'd also add that perception is such an important thing and the reality is that the perception of Photography is that it is worthless. The tipping point for me to decide to walk away from a career in photography was one day when I was negotiating some client work (software development) on the same day I was negotiating a commercial photoshoot with another client. The contrast between the two was painful. For the software development work, the client presumed I was worth a significant value and never even questioned that. The negotiation was about adjusting the scope to fit their budget. The photoshoot negotiation, however, was all about me justifying my value. The client presumed I was vastly overpriced and that I should be willing to do the work on spec or for exposure. At that moment I decided I no longer wanted to pursue a career where my potential clients enter the business relationship under the presumption that my skillset has no value.

Benoit .'s picture

Clients typically don't tell you that you are overpriced. If they did, it's most likely that they couldn't find someone for the price they wanted to pay. This was not a photography client as far as I am concern. No business with clowns and dictators.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I agree, but my experience was this was the norm, not the exception. At least in my area. So many hundreds of photographers are willing to work for free the market comes to expect it. Every single negotiation always began with me needing to convince a potential client that my work is actually worth paying for. It was less about expensive or not too expensive and more about: "Well there are 20 others who will do it for free, so why would I pay you?" as the others willing to do it for their portfolio, or exposure, or practice, or just to be near attractive models.

Now granted often I was able to successfully convince them because I was more reliable, faster, delivered higher quality images, etc but I just grew tired of usually starting from the presumption that my work had no value.

Benoit .'s picture

Last winter I signed up to see what those on line photographer hiring places are like. Didn't pay much as expected, got in right away and did 2 little local jobs. Totally rejected what they call their preferred partners and started getting unwanted jobs assigned automatically, so I blocked the app right away after 2 non partner assignments rejecting others they auto assigned. They seem to have trouble keeping people. First client had refused the first photographer assigned to them, said she didn't fill safe going in someone's basement and the second gave me a $100 tip despite me telling them that I will not be able to shoot for them in the future. That second one had to delay the shoot a few days but the system did not allow me or them to change the starting point. LOL So despite the clients giving me very good rating, I got penalized by the system for turning the photos late. That was an interesting experiment and that definitely fits in that non paying photography work when it comes to doing it full time. What I am saying is that many people would be willing to pay more but those online companies are driving the price low to start with, and that's totally absurd.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Oh absolutely, they are commodifying it. I remember I reviewed one years ago and the average job in my area was $5 for a full photoshoot which included retouched photos. It was beyond absurd, I just groaned and deleted my account immediately.

BubbA Gumphy's picture

Ryan, I think your three points are right on the money and expressed very well.

Michelle VanTine's picture

I think your points here are EXACTLY spot on. Every single one!

BubbA Gumphy's picture

With great respect to differing opinions, and not trying to be argumentative, but as someone who did this as a career for 30+ years, I wasn't successful because of my work - that was important, you can't sell junk and hope to compete - but because I learned how to market, how to answer the phone, and how to sell. I'd go to a Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, Charles Lewis, Clay Blackmore, seminar on sales and marketing before I'd go to a PPofA presentation.

And as far as going to school for photography - I personally think it's a waste of time and money. I was told I couldn't start a business or be successful without a degree. I remembered that every time my work was exhibited at a museum, I shot for a magazine, or my accountant told me I made a six figure income that year.

If you take monetizing out of the equation, which if you work and get paid at a "real job" then you're "monetizing" your time and talent, you'll end up possibly being an incredible photographer, with lots of likes on FB and Instagram, etc...but working in an office where the only money you'll make is shooting your co-worker's daughter's wedding for about what you make in a week. Maybe you'll become an icon like Vivian Maier, but it'll be long after your death.

I'm semi-retired and shoot only for former clients, but spend my time shooting for myself on personal projects. And I find great joy in doing so. But I also support my project myself.

Like any starving artist.

Michelle VanTine's picture

I think many of your points are spot on. Although I think my degree has helped my work and impacted my aesthetic alot, I feel that if you want to earn a living as a photographer a business degree would be the most relevant degree. Great insight and I hope you're enjoying coming back to the art and only the art

Richard Hart's picture

I am not sure getting a degree is the best way to learn to become a professional photographer. And I believe this relates to the findings in this article. I believe someone who is motivated will find more effective ways to learn their trade. In my experience in the UK, people that have studied photography at university have some of the worst portfolios. When asked to see a portfolio, you see very amateurish images rather than a body of work that telling stories and defines a style of work. University teaches in theory more than practice. They also may spend 3 months on 2 projects which is half the work I do in a week. I chose to study graphic design as the course gave me the opportunity to explore different media. A course should teach techniques, the creative process, and career direction.

I worked for a firm that would prefer to hire people good at sales with an enthusiasm for photography as they would probably do better than someone who studied photography. To be successful in photography, you need to understand running a business rather than making pretty pictures. A photographer or anyone in creative industries needs to be able to sell themselves. Many successful photographers do the most mundane or repetitive work. Sometimes because they have so much work that they dont have time to be creative or experimental or do things for fun.

A lot of people would like to be professional photographers. Many amateur magazines romance what it must be like to be a pro. They suggest you can earn big money on $150k shoots by making nice pictures of pretty girls wearing next to nothing. These magazines give the feeling being a photographer is a chance to escape from careers with little excitement. However, in reality, professional photography requires doing most things that other professions have to do. Part of doing that is driving the business and fulfilling a need which will make people and organizations want to hire you. Being a pro means doing things that are not necessarily always enjoyable just like other jobs.

Amateur photographers may create more compelling work than pros because they are doing it out of interest and desire rather than a cheque.

I question why people who want to become a photographer undertake a degree course. I dont think anyone hiring a photographer is interested in their education, they are interested in their portfolio and what they are like to work with. Anyone who talks about their education as a credential, probably doesnt have a worthy portfolio.

Jan Steinman's picture

"Amateur photographers may create more compelling work than pros because they are doing it out of interest and desire rather than a cheque."

Amateurs, from the latin root "amore," do it for love. Professional do it for money.

The later always has compromises!

I know people who loved photography so much that they decided to go into business, until they hated it.

I made my living off fine-art nature photography for five years. I found I was "doing" much less photography than I was before, because my time was filled with jury slides, applying for shows, accounting and bookkeeping, travel, etc.

After "going pro," I found most of my photography was taking the requisite booth photo at every show!

Michelle VanTine's picture

I think that last sentence is a bit of a broad generalization, but I agree with the rest of your comments. I think the glorification of being a photographer comes to a screeching halt when you actually do the work for over a year. On the point of the study quoted- why do you think it is that photographers have the lowest pay post-graduation of ALL JOBS in the market? I think that's a really fascinating question.

Richard Hart's picture

Would you choose to shop at a supermarket because the people working there discuss their education? Do you go to the supermarket because you like what they sell, the location is convenient, and the prices are good? Quite possibly because the staff are amicable. Same decisions that people select a professional photographer. They are not interested in their education, they are interested in how the work they do (experience and portfolio) fulfills the project that they want fulfilled.

The point about people who rely on mentioning their education rather than the quality of their work is probably because their education is more significant than the work they are producing. To me, having a certificate of completion isnt an indicator of the work they do 10-20 years later. It is relevant to meeting the performance criteria.

I wouldn't say "acquiring business skills" is important in all professions. But somehow it is in photography. Maybe its because there are not many photography organizations that hire lots of people and have different departments to handle accounting, sales, marketing etc. All businesses need to be run as a business otherwise they are maybe just a professional hobby. Look at restaurants and bars too. They are often difficult businesses to run and make money from. Many people do them as a hobby.

If you are not prepared to work for yourself and generate business, then you are probably going to be paid by someone else and that amount is to be determined by that person. It could be because there are so many people who want to be photographers and are so desperate to do professional work that they will work for less than they should.

Many people think they are great amateur photographers, but they are not working to a professional standard - by that, I mean they are doing snap shots, they are not organizing shoots with concern to location, models, wardrobe, mua etc. They see something that looks pretty and get their camera out and capture a few compelling looking images. They are not compelled to satisfy a business need that may take a few hours or days to complete.

I think we have all generalized comments linking earnings and professional photography. In reality there is a huge difference in the industries and way photography businesses work and generate revenue. Being a photographer is simply linked to the tools used, not the type of work. You wouldn't call someone a hammerer or a driller or an injector, because of the tools they use.

I think Monte Isom should chip in here.

paul aparycki's picture

The article is really quite pointless . . . with the exception that is does underline that the vast majority of grads are usually "wankers" (in the arts community).

Photography is fun, it is creative sometimes, it can be painful, it can be joyous . . . but it is photography, a means to conveying through imagery, some perception, idea . . . whatever.

Bringing home that can of beans every week is business. BUSINESS.

If you want to live (by todays questionable "mores" . . . concepts), you need to generate money . . . or be an exceptionally adept thief = BUSINESS.

We are so set in our "standards" that business is not separable from anything else . . . not as long as wall street bankers exist.

So . . . apart from "I have a degree in photography" . . . whoopee shit for you, you need to understand the art of business . . . or, having a job . . . or you starve.

Nobody, but nobody, can teach you your personal vision (which all photo schools proclaim they can do). That is something that comes with life. How to apply that to making money is a complicated can of worms . . . and very, very few schools will teach you how.

Yes, "photographers" might be on the bottom of the scale, but that is because they deserve to be there. If you want to succeed in the business, make an effort . . . and that does NOT mean spending hour after hour jerking off over the latest camera and/or lens . . . it means learning how to make your tools function at 100% . . . and how to sell that . . . HOW TO SELL THAT.

Your 85mm 1.2 is a worthless piece of scrap, your "it has the mostest megapixels" camera, is a piece of scrap . . . and you, as a "professional" . . . are a joke.

Learn some BUSINESS

Slow down . . . take a minute . . . and look hard at those who are trying to teach you (in photography) . . . most are ill-qualified and are there simply because they couldn't even hold a job cleaning toilets at a fast food joint . . . this site is a prime example . . . it is a click bait scam like most "tutorials".

Make an effort . . . then you might succeed.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Setting aside your inaccurate generalizations, and somewhat uneducated broad strokes, would you say that the reason which photographers are paid the least post-graduation is because they don't acquire business skills? If I boil it down, it seems like that is what you're saying- and with that, I wholeheartedly agree.

Tom Reichner's picture

I have good business skills. But I hate using those skills. And I tend to avoid doing things that aren't enjoyable.

I mean there are times when I am really hungry but I don't eat just because I don't feel like getting up and going to the kitchen and spending 3 minutes fixing something for myself to eat. I'm really hungry. Plenty of food right there. But I just don't feel like heating it up or whatever, so I don't bother. That is pretty much how I approach everything in life.

So just because one has good business skills and knows how to make photography profitable doesn't mean that one is going to use those skills and generate income with them.

Most humans tend to do what they feel like doing at any given moment. The majority of people don't do what is in their long term best interest, or what will get them ahead in life. They do what they feel like at the moment. And that, I believe, is why so many photographers don't earn more than a pittance with their photography. Because, like me, they often feel like taking photos and feel like pushing themselves to improve their photography skills, but almost never, ever feel like doing the things that will generate income via their photography.

Benoit .'s picture

I can't tell about college in the US, I went to a school that was more of a trade school in France and certainly did not go for a degree of any sort. The one I went to was far from being perfect, but the web wasn't a thing yet. It was the closest to what the web resources can offer today but with real palpable equipment, real people to learn from and real students to learn with. Considering what I see on the web the misinformation, the incomplete details, the product sales driven videos, I don't see how most who are starting up can get a good start on their own if they don't have enough self discipline. And where to start is not necessarily an easy task. We didn't have 1.8 lenses and bokeh wasn't something we would spend our money chasing. It's so ridiculous to see how people can be influenced by and spend considerable amount of money today. I don't do portrait, I don't need anything wider than 2.8. If I followed those influencers, I'd be in a hole with a 1.2 lens that would look pretty on a shelf and with no scratch or failed paint/prints. We learned to be savvy, bought what we knew we needed and could afford and made it happen. The school had very good lights, plenty of enlargers and things to learn with and being a trade school, the program didn't put me in major debt.
Education sped up my learning curve and technical abilities. I think trade schools can be okay if the program is short and the place is very well equipped. And I don't mean that it has to have everything new. Just a good amount of stuff that helps get the photos just like if you worked for a client. I would skip any online school or expensive download tutorial. Basically if you can't duplicate and have a palpable feel you might be wasting your time.
I don’t think a photo school should teach business. This said, I think that they should dedicate time to suggest and explain why down the road it could be a necessary path if the student aim is to start a full time photographic activity.

Jan Steinman's picture

Nice. I'd add one thing to make the "business" part of it easier: identify and pursue a niche.

This means market research and a business plan, which is a "business" sort of thing. But by the time you've done your research and identified your niche, you probably have the start of a client list, too.

You might specialize in dog photography, for example. That is much easier to do than simply hanging "PHOTOGRAPHER" on your door, and waiting for people with dogs to contact you!

Or, you might specialize in photographing a particular sort of industry. Your expertise might be VR of large, heavy objects, for example.

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