Greetings, you’re listening to the Liam Photography Podcast, I’m your host Liam Douglas and this is Episode 264. In today’s episode, a story from FStoppers by Michelle VanTine on a study that ranks Photographers #1, But not in a Good Way.
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 $29,381 five years after graduation.
On the American side of the research, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2021 that the annual mean wage for photographers is $48,210.
The average university degree leaves graduates with $53,345 in debt. 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 Bachelor’s in Digital Photography. Did my degree pay off? Absolutely. I had requirements not only in 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.
The question that naturally comes as one hears 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 on the 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.
Now let me add in my own experience as a photographer. I got into real estate photography while still in school so I was already making decent money as a photographer but I also work in Information Technology. I have been doing both jobs for over 30 years. While I lived in Atlanta I made great money as a photographer, generally up to or a bit past the $100,000 mark per year, which is nothing to sneeze at, but since we moved to North Carolina, that work has dried up for the most part.
Originally, we were going to move to the Raleigh area, but after talking it over and since both my wife Tina and I are originally from the country in PA and NY, we decided to get away from city life all together. We bought our home out in the country, north of Roxboro, NC, which is nice, it’s peaceful and quiet, but I am so far removed from the major cities in NC that I rarely get work unless the company I contract with gets slammed for orders or another photographer is out sick or on vacation.
But I have been lucky enough that I still get sales from places like Getty Images and other sites where I post my images into a marketplace and at the end of 2021 I was lucky enough to get the attention of an international studio and I have been doing shoots for them, which pay very well. Additionally, a second team at the same studio had need for a photographer/videographer and I was referred to them by the first team I was already shooting for so I have picked up extra work shooting for both teams. It does mean traveling, but I have always loved traveling and I just add my expenses into the total invoice and with my I.T. job being 100% remote, I can work from anywhere I have my Macbook Pro and a decent internet connection.
The idea behind today’s episode was not to scare you away from photography, but to let you know you might need to do it part time until you build up your business and your client list. There are lots of very successful photographers out there, look at Chase Jarvis, he makes tons of money and never even went to school for photography.
If you have a specialized niche or can create one that clients will pay you for you can be very successful as a photographer. There are also specific genres of photographer that generally always make for a good living if you are in the right market, such as wedding photographers and even portrait photographers. There are even photographers out there making money by photographing “action figures” and putting them into poses that look like scenes from an actual movie, with great, elaborate backgrounds, but again, this takes quite a bit of work. If you are the creative type that can build your own mini-sets and make your own cool backgrounds, then you might do well in this unique genre.
And again, there are plenty of photographers making a good living shooting real estate as it’s something that is always in demand. Some of the most successful photographers in this genre offer not only stills, but also video tours and 3D tours for sites such as Zillow. You can get a decent video centric camera to shoot the video with whether it’s a high end GoPro or something like the Sony A7S3 and 360 cameras for the Zillow tours are not too expensive either. You can use the Ricoh Theta V, which I have, which runs around $300 or you can opt for the more expensive Ricoh Theta Z1, which runs $1,000. I just recently bought the GoPro MAX 360 camera for my projects I have been shooting for the studio I mentioned before but I have not tried using it for a home tour so I am not sure how well that would work, but it is better than the Ricoh for outdoors 360 video as you have more camera control over your exposure with the MAX camera.
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 in the Facebook Group.
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You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my project @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com. and http://www.forgottenpiecesofpennsylvania.com.
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