Only the last 4 years my income was solely from photography. I have one large retainer client that allows a balance of consistency and flexibility.
My income is 30% – Lifestyle, 30% E-comm (in studio), 15% Product (in home studio, very basic,) 25% – Retouching. These are mostly west coast based brands that sell all over the US and a few start ups/local businesses.
Not much overhead other than basic rent/utilities. Most expenses are basic marketing/website needs. I own most of my equipment and will expense any additional rentals need for each project.
Does the lottery count as retirement haha.
I work 8-10 days per month on average. Sometimes more depending on the season. The rest of the days are spent marketing/networking/shooting for myself.
In my early 20s, after getting my BFA, I worked/pursued shooting action sports as a career but that quickly went away once I realized the income was terrible unless you were at the top 5% of the field. I transitioned to commercial fashion and spent a good 5-6 years assisting and working on my portfolio by doing test shoots.
I was fortune enough to have a great relationship with a local modeling agency that allowed me to quickly build up a book of some models that went on to be very big in the industry. At the same time, I assisted in a creative agency where I learned as much as I could about all the business side of the industry while expanding my network.
After I felt I had learned all that I could, I took an in-house photographer position at a local brand that was quickly on the rise. I enjoyed the team, but the brands overall aesthetics were not aligned with mine. I was often told my work was too “professional” looking, which admittedly did make sense for a brand that catered to the youth/IG/TikTok market.
So I decided to go out on my own full time freelancing… in February 2020. COVID put a halt to any plans I had for that year. So that first year was incredible hard and I had to take anything I could just to keep a roof over my head. That often meant shooting product from home in a makeshift studio and even shooting family portraits.
Over the last two years I was slowly able to start getting more work that fit my style. I’m lucky that my partner was a designer at a midsized clothing brand that was growing fast so I took on most of their photo work (lifestyle and ecomm). I was also able to start working as a second shooter for larger campaigns via some photographers I had assisted in the past which I’ve been very excited about as its allowed me to work with a great team and enhance my portfolio.
I will sometimes take on select retouching jobs to supplement my photography income but its not something I put a lot of time or effort pursuing. I may do it more in the future as it can but pretty profitable but I don’t enjoy the aspect of having to lock myself in front of the computer for hours and hours at a time.
Average day for a lifestyle shoot is either a full day (8-10 hrs) or a half day (4-6 hrs) and my rate usually is a lump sum creative fee. Then Ill spend a few days after the shoot culling, color editing, and some light retouching if the client is willing to pay for that. Avg take home pay is $1500.
Licensing has been the most frustrating part educating clients about and I’m often stuck in a limbo of needing the money regardless so I often give just a simple 1 year usage that goes into my creative fee. But i’m hoping to change that going forward as I’ve had some clients take advantage of that. ( licensed for social use doesn’t mean the same thing as paid ads.
Best shoot was second shooting for a large international fitness leisure brand. It was a work for hire agreement but i was still allowed to use the images for my portfolio. The shoot was 4 days over two locations and take home pay was 5.5k. Great team and amazing producers made it feel like a breeze.
Worst paying job was a half day e-comm job where they asked to add a small lifestyle shoot at the end of the day. The client assumed a half day rate was hourly and tried to say the lifestyle shoot only took an hour so it should only be 20% of what the e-comm rate was. the half day rate was $400 and my lifestyle rate was $1000. they attempted to get both for $500, after having audacity to show my images on the front of the website before acting surprised that the rate would go up.
I quickly dropped them and I don’t do half day rates anymore or last min add ons without prior conversations. I also used it as a sign to up my rates overall to filter out cheap clients.
I did one small video job last year where I was brought in as a specialist (I have extensive experience shooting surfing in the water). All i did was shoot for 30 mins and the client handled the edit. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of my footage used in the final ad.
I would love to pursue it more but learning how to approach video vs stills is a bit daunting. My goal would to at least have some short motion clips to pepper in throughout my book.
I’ve upped my game in reaching out to potential clients this year via direct email with curated PDFs but still haven’t been able to translate them into jobs just yet. In addition to that I do my best to send out a quarterly newsletter. I’m not as consistent as I should be but have found its always easier if I have new work to show, so I focus on that first, and then go from there.
Best advice – Unfollow photographers you like on IG. All it does is fuel an inferiority complex.
Worst advice – Take any work you can. Its ok to say no to jobs/clients that you don’t feel like are a good fit to you.
Trust your gut and shoot what inspires you. Always be kind and pleasant to everyone you meet on set. Don’t be afraid to take the boring e-comm jobs because at the end of the day you gotta pay your rent (you don’t have to share them on you portfolio). Always aim to find one thing you can learn each day on a shoot. Fake it til you make it.