How to Get a Job as a Photographer

I’ve now had a chance to really get myself out there as a photographer. Admittedly I’ve been pretty sparse on my posts on here but for a very good reason… I have actually begun to get paid as a photographer. Pretty consistently actually. In fact I’ve started an entire media company where we have big name clients paying to use our photography services. Within the business we have three photographers, all working together to put together photoshoots, create videos and capture content. It’s a far cry from my traditional landscape photography that I tend to blog about here but the reality is that’s not usually what photographers get paid for. With this new found experience I’ve had a chance to understand some of the different ways to get a job as a photographer. I now know what I’d look for in a photographer that I would hire and I now understand how to take photography from a hobby too paid professional. So here are a few things I’d recommend doing to get your foot in the door.

One of the best things you can do is get really good at one thing. I’ve started to specialize in tactical gear photography (I know it’s weird) and I am now starting to be able to carve out part of that industry.  Picture credit - Ryan Yeandel @ryanedwardvisuals IG

One of the best things you can do is get really good at one thing. I’ve started to specialize in tactical gear photography (I know it’s weird) and I am now starting to be able to carve out part of that industry.

Picture credit - Ryan Yeandel @ryanedwardvisuals IG

1) Get Really Good At Something

Having a good general knowledge about photography is important, but you’re more likely to be able to make it as a professional photographer if you have a specialty. Whether you’re shooting boudoir, real estate photography, weddings or portraits it seems like the best paid photographers are the ones who really specialize in one thing. The well rounded photographers are great but almost every well respected photographer out there doing it as a living has mastered a category and that’s what sets them apart from the rest. So go out, find a part of photography that you really enjoy and become the best at it.

2) Focus on Photography that provides a service

Here’s the reality…. You could be the best macro bug photographer in the world but chances are you’re not going to make a lot of money doing it. Sure you will sell some prints and you might even get listed in a National Geographic magazine which will be really cool to tell your co-workers at Walmart about. If you want to really make it rain offer a service that people actually pay for. Weddings, boudoir, real-estate and portraits are pretty steady industries. However, if you’re going to make it any of those categories you again need to be the best at that category.

3) Start off by offering your services at affordable prices

I think a lot of photographers screw themselves by over valuing themselves too early on in the game. Let’s face it, unless you’re the best in your industry you’re fighting with everyone else to get that job. So unless you have an incredible portfolio and a long list of clients the one thing you can offer is a fair price.

4) But Don’t offer too low of a price

If you’re prices are dirt cheap, people will think your work is too. While you shouldn’t over value yourself you shouldn’t come in at a price that makes people think you’re a thrift savings option.

5) Put together a portfolio

I personally would never hire a photographer unless they had an extensive portfolio of their work and clients. The more you can go out and capture photography and put it in one easy to view portfolio the easier you make it for your clients to say yes.

6) Build up your Instagram

You would be amazed at what an Instagram following will get you. For some reason we put a lot of weight on Instagram and if you have a decent following you will appear as though you know what you’re doing. I have actually heard of people getting hired simply because of their ability to reach customers through their Instagram accounts.

7) Hustle

This seems pretty straight forward with any job really but if you want to get a job as a photographer you’re going to have to hustle. There are a lot of self proclaimed photographers out there and the only ones that are really making headway are the ones that are working hard and showing results. If you want one rule to follow… Practice photography everyday. Every single day you should be going out and capturing content. Hone your skills. Become the best.

8) Connect with people

One of the best things I did was set up a LinkedIn account and then go connect with every single marketing manager and CEO I could find. I regularly post photos from out photoshoots and discuss marketing and photography on my profile. I can’t tell you how many people have engaged with me about my work and asked for services. It’s been a huge help. I also think connecting with other well known photographers is a big one. You never know when a photographer might be too swamped to take a job but will pass it on to his or her friends.

9) Apply Apply Apply

If you want to get a job as a photographer at a company submit as many applications as possible. As a business owner I can tell you that people don’t get jobs for a number of reasons. You might not get a job because you don’t qualify, there are better candidates, your resume isn’t put together properly, you interviewed poorly, the boss doesn’t like your face, they hired within but had to post the job for corporate reasons and more. The bottom line is if you don’t get the job, don’t immediately think you will never get a job as a photographer or that there is something wrong with you. The only way to get a job is to keep trying to put yourself out there and not take it personally when someone says no.

10) Always remember you are expendable

Photography is one of those industries that has a very large talent pool and there’s no shortage of people out there willing to take your spot if you get too big of a head or start to think you’re irreplaceable. Because of this you will always be struggling for work and constantly loosing your business to less expensive photographers. Sometimes those clients come back after they realize their mistake and other times they find someone new who just offers a better service at a better rate. The bottom line is your quality, talent and services must always be cutting edge. Remember, losing a few hundred dollars to reimburse an unhappy customer is often much better than simply losing that customer for life.

Average Photographer Salaries

The average pay of a photographer varies greatly and will depend on a number of factors such as your work experience, your talent level and or what you’re able to convince the client to pay you. I’ve heard of some photographers charging $15,000-20,000/day while others will charge $200/day and produce similar results. Salaries are also very dependent on your industry, company and experience level. Some photographers can make $28,000/year while others can make upwards of $100,000/year. Again it’s all over the board. That being said, here are some more factual numbers I was able to find from a few reputable websites.

National Average Photographer Hourly Wage

The average national hourly wage for a photographer is $14.48/hr. The low end brings in $9.95/hr while the upper end brings in $40.55/hr. If you look at that for an average eight hour day you’re looking at $80/day on the low end, $115.84 as an average and $324.40 on the high end. Again, this range is fairly significant.

National Average Photographer Yearly Salary

Entry level photographers make an average of $20,000/year, junior level photographers make $23,500/year, mid level photographers make $30,000/year, senior level photographers make $47,000/year and top level photographers make around $80,000/year.

Is It Better To Be Salary or an Independent Photographer?

This is a very very tough question to answer and at the end of the day there is no real right answer. You will most likely make more money (eventually) as an independent photographer but it’s better to build your skills as a salaried photographer first. One thing to keep in mind is that as an independent photographer you’re not only doing photography, you’re also running a business. This means it’s up to you to get clients and new work, deal with delinquent or late payments, refund unhappy customers, replace broken camera gear, carry insurance, maintain a website, pay for travel, sustain periods of slow business, go after copyright violations, buy new gear and if you get big enough… deal with employees of your own. Want to know what some common costs are that go with being an independent photographer? Here are a few numbers to chew on that I have encountered:

  • Insurance - $2,000/year

  • Travel - $2,000+

  • Camera Gear- $10,000+/year

  • Camera rental gear - $3,000+/year

  • Props (for photoshoots) - $3,000./year (no joke), this can get very expensive if you want to have a good inventory of items for a niche industry.

  • Website - $100/year

  • Software (Photoshop, Lightroom etc) - $600/year

These are just a few general costs and don’t include the costs to pay assistant photographer salaries or day rates, food during trips, car stuff (we bought a $6,000 trailer just to haul all of our gear around in) etc.

So in the end you could certainly make more money as an independent photographer but there are some fairly large risks that you will have to take starting out. Just be prepared to take a huge pay loss and run a deficit until you’re able to get some solid work from your clients.

How To Make More Money

So the last paragraph might have made you a bit down because let’s face it… the average photographer doesn’t really make a lot of money. But the good news is there’s a lot of ways to up your value and in turn as for a better salary when it comes time to get a job. One of the biggest things you can do is make yourself more of a marketing guru than just a photographer. The person who can take a photo and turn it into an Instagram post that brings in revenue is worth a ton more than the person that just goes out and snaps photos. Things like graphic design, social media management, SEO and blogging are all things you should be adding to your resume. The more skills you have, the more value you bring to your company and the more they will most likely be willing to pay you. Being able to take photos is cool. But the real value comes when you’re able to take that skill and actually sell a product. You need to be willing to edit for your client and to understand that what you offer is a service to someone else as well as an expression of your own art. When you’re able to combine those two things, you will be well on your way to becoming a professional photographer.

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