Learning about the highest-paying photography jobs can help you decide which direction to take as a professional photographer.
We researched all the most popular types of photography to discover the average fees paid by clients.
The fact is, you can still make good money as a photographer in 2023… if you’re prepared to work hard.
Some types of photography definitely pay more than others, often due to the skill and experience required.
Also, while some photographers make a living selling photography, this type of work usually needs to be supplemented by another form of active photography.
Let’s take a closer look at the highest-paying photography jobs.
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What Are The Highest Paying Photography Jobs in 2023?
Most of these photography jobs apply to freelance photographers. So, you need to consider that from their revenue, they have to pay everything from their salaries to the equipment to marketing.
For this list, I considered only the jobs that imply taking photographs. However, there are other positions in the photography business that might interest you that aren’t on this list.
A few of the more popular include photo editors, stylists, makeup artists, graphic designers and art directors. You may want to consider them too. Keep in mind that many photographers also work in those roles, which can affect their photography pricing.
Keep in mind that the average income of a freelance photographer doesn’t just relate to their photography skills but also to their marketing skills.
It also depends on the number of years they’ve been in business, their client portfolio, and their location.
Scientific photographers are the ones taking photos of scientific data and phenomena for documentation and academic purposes.
This field requires specific technical skills and equipment – for example, taking pictures of microscopic subjects. It requires little photo editing as it needs to be as objective as possible.
Given the nature of the field, it has one of the highest average salaries among all photography jobs. According to Glassdoor.com, the median income per year is $85,470 in the US, while Comparably.com reports an average of $74,371.
Unlike a commercial photographer, a fine art photographer doesn’t have a price chart that standardises the cost for each one of their artworks.
The art market is very complicated, and there are multiple factors at play.
In the world of fine art, exhibitions, collectors, and gallery representation are crucial factors in determining one’s talent, particularly in photography.
Within fine art, there are different fields; you can be a landscape photographer, a portrait photographer, an abstract photographer, etc.
According to Comparably.com, the average salary in the US is $74,679. Do consider that while some artists in the photography industry can make millions of dollars, others can’t make a living out of it.
Just as a reference, let me tell you that the most expensive photograph done by a contemporary artist sold at $6,500,000.
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3. Medical photography
Specialised fields such as medical photography are amongst the highest-paying jobs in the field. It involves special imagery such as 3D images and thermography, amongst others. It’s also about recording medical conditions and treatments.
Wedding photography is one of the most competitive and profitable jobs for freelance photographers. The income is calculated on how much you charge per wedding and how many weddings you can do in a year.
Keep in mind that destination wedding photography pays even more than the average wedding gig.
A Reddit poll from the end of 2022 showed that out of the 752 people who participated, 166 make less than $11,000 per year.
The largest amount of voters (208) were in the range of $41,000 – $89,000, and the biggest earners were 57 voters who make more than $215,000 per year.
If you’re interested in knowing how much professional photographers charge per wedding, Shotkit launched a survey to find out. It was published worldwide but only received responses from the US, Australia, and the UK.
In the US, the range goes from $500 to $10,000, and most participants are between $1,500 and $3,500 per wedding.
In the UK, the range goes from £500 to £8,000 but more than half of the replies set between £1,000 and £2,000 per wedding.
In Australia, the results are more spread across the range. However, most photographers reported charging between AUD$2,500 and AUD$4,000 per wedding.
I found some other sources to round up the average of these two countries. In the UK, the average wedding photographer makes £35 to £50 K, according to Fazackarley.com.
As for Australia, the website Courses.com.au reports an average salary of AUD$59,800 for a full-time median figure.
5. Advertising photography
Advertising photography aims to sell products by using a more creative and artistic approach. This is why this niche is well-paid.
According to Salary.com, the average income for an advertising photographer in the US as of September 25 2023 is $55,918. This is considering that the lowest income is $42,917 and the highest one is $72,787.
The cities where you can earn the most are San Francisco, Washington, Miami, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Dallas.
The website Comparably.com reports lower numbers showing an average of $42,467, with the lowest income reported being $18,850 and $80,000 as the highest one.
According to Photoup.net, the average real estate photographer earns between $50,000 and $150,000 per year. This is a growth that can be expected as you commit to sales and marketing. These are numbers from 2022.
More specifically, it says that in the first year, a photographer can make $60,000, in the second year $90,000 and by the third year, reach $120,000.
A good part of this income is reported to be via add-ons such as aerial shots, videos, virtual tours, and floor plans.
The numbers from Salary.com aren’t that optimistic, though. Maybe they don’t include the add-ons? This isn’t clear. However, according to these numbers, an average real-estate photographer makes something between $45,442 and $67,148 per year.
The fashion industry is worth $2.5 trillion dollars globally. It’s not difficult to imagine that fashion photography gets a big cut out of that.
However, this isn’t necessarily true. How much does the average fashion photographer actually make?
Just like in portrait photography, there are different types of fashion photographers. You can have a steady contract with fashion magazines or a freelance photographer working with local stores.
You may also be shooting high fashion photography, runway shows, or taking photos for the catalogue of beginner designers with low budgets.
All these factors influence your income. However, looking at some numbers, Comparably.com shows an average salary of $48,827 per year in the US, and Salary.com reports $46,572.
On a more positive note, Zippia.com estimates an average of $103,354 with continuous growth in the market up until 2028.
Obviously, great fashion photographers for a cover photo for Vogue magazine or Harper Bazaar charge even more.
In this category, you may find a landscape photographer as well as a wildlife photographer. In both cases, their income often comes from selling high-quality photographs and offering workshops and photo tours.
Some of them also get commissions from clients and magazines. One of the most desired positions for those who love taking pictures of wildlife and nature is to work for National Geographic.
According to Joel Sartore, this publication offers a $300-$500 rate per day and their photographers work per project – not by contract.
Speaking in broader terms, the site Comparably.com reports the average income of a nature photographer in the US as $45,105.
A food photographer can work on location or at their own photography studio. They can include art direction and styling to their photographic services or dedicate only to capturing images.
These factors are part of what determines their average salary.
However, this is a photographic field where professionals can exceed by far these average numbers.
The Architectural Photography Almanac did a salary census back in 2021. Even if it’s two years old, it’s so detailed and in-depth that I recommend you check it out. It also contains worldwide data.
Just to give you a couple of highlights, let me tell you that the highest-paying regions are the Middle East and North America.
This arises from the realisation that 20% of architectural photographers from the former region charge between $3,000 and $4,000 per session. Instead, the 10% of photographers in North America charge more than $5,000.
11. Pet photography
According to Hepper.com, a pet photographer in the US makes an average salary of $38,000. This, amongst other things, depends on how many sessions they can book. This is because the average cost for a pet photo shoot is from $250 to $500.
Also, in this case, the photographer can work on location or have their studio. They can specialize in lifestyle photography or portraits.
Lastly, they can work as commercial photographers whose clients are brands – in which case, the earnings largely depend on the usage rights. This is different to a pet family photographer.
Street photographers mostly earn money by selling stock photos, prints and offering courses. So, their income is highly related to their marketing strategy, social media posts, YouTube channels, etc.
The average salary in the US, reported by Comparably.com is $36,509 per year. However, there are photographers who have a considerably larger income.
As for other countries, Uk.jooble.org shows an average of £25,970 for street photographers in the UK.
In Canada, Bryan Brock explains the four revenue streams he has as a street photographer and reveals that last year he made CAD$71,500 working in Toronto. This is not an average, but it gives you an idea.
According to Comparably.com, a portrait photographer has an average annual salary of $34,978 in the US. This is considering a range from $10,209 to $175,666.
Instead, Glassdoor.com reports that a portrait photographer earns an average of $45,039 per year in the US.
It’s important to mention that portrait photographers have a wide range of career paths and specialisations. This could explain why the reported income varies more than other sectors, according to the source.
A freelance photographer won’t make the same as one with a job. They may also specialise in corporate, editorial, or family portraits – amongst others. The price of each one of these photo shoots can be very different.
For example, JCPenny has a full-time staff to take family portraits. Their salary as of 2023 is $19.75 per hour, according to Ziprecruiter.com Their service is a 45-minute session (15 min of photo shoot and the rest to review and customize your photos).
Instead, a freelance photographer may do something between $150 to $350 per hour in cities like Los Angeles, CA. So, portrait photography is one of the most difficult ones to average.
Your income in sports photography may vary according to the type of sport, the level, and the sports events you assist.
As usual, the earnings are different for freelance photographers without steady clients as they are for photographers who work steadily with sports magazines or are staffed by a team.
Film set photographer (AKA unit or stills photographer) is a different gig to land.
However, once you make it into the International Cinematographers Guild, you are eligible for union contracts and salary rates, according to Warrick Page. Back in 2021, the rates were $52 to $64 an hour, but these may be renegotiated often.
During this research, I found articles claiming the average income for a stills photographer ranges between $40,000 to $50,000. However, they didn’t mention their sources.
Obviously, this is one of those photography careers where your location and your network count the most. It’s not the same to be working on a low-budget short film as a Hollywood big production.
How Can You Make a Passive Income with Photography?
Regardless of which one of these photography careers you choose, you may benefit from generating passive income.
Whether you’re a commercial photographer or an artist, here are a few ways to diversify your income and earn more money as a photographer.
Blog – Create a photography blog. This will drive traffic to your website, so you’ll increase your potential clients. You can also sell advertising spaces or add affiliate links.
Vlog – Set up a video channel and monetize it to generate passive income with sponsorships and collaborations. It’s also possible to receive payment from advertisers or your followers.
Prints – Sell your images as fine art prints on social media platforms, your website, or an e-shop.
Merchandise – Just like with the prints, you can use your images to create products and sell them online. There’s a wide variety of possibilities – from home decor to apparel items.
Stock photography – Stock photography is when you don’t work for a specific client. Instead, you make your own photo shoots and sell the rights to use your images to multiple clients. It can be anything from candid shots to staged and produced images.
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Online courses – Another way to earn money is by selling online courses. You can teach photography or photo editing.
What Type of Photography is in the Highest Demand in 2023?
Aside from the income, you also need to be sure you’ll get clients by offering what’s on demand. So, here are some photography careers that you might want to focus on.
Corporate and brand identity images are in high demand as all companies need to set up a visual presence, whether this is on social media, a website, or offline advertising.
Pet photography is another field that’s growing. Most people consider their pets part of the family and are happy to hire a photographer to capture their lives together.
Also, restaurants and other businesses are more aware that being pet-friendly is a must – so they want to show this in their advertising.
Being a wedding photographer is usually a guarantee. Wedding photography has been in demand for a long time, and it doesn’t seem to be in decline – especially if you do destination weddings.
Becoming a photo editor is one of the smartest moves you can make to ensure your future. There are so many job openings that require photo editing as a skill that you can take your pick.
You don’t even have to be in photography; it’s also requested to work in marketing, HR, and other positions.
How Much Should a Beginner Photographer Charge?
One way to calculate your prices when you’re starting is to figure out how much you need to earn in a month to cover your expenses and a reasonable salary via photography.
Then, divide it by the number of hours you can work, and that’s your hourly rate. As you earn experience and develop a unique style, you can add that value to your prices.
Why do photographers charge so much?
Very few photographic careers are based on a full-time contract. So, in freelance photography, you need to consider your own health insurance, pension plan, and other basic benefits that other professionals have on their jobs.
They also need to take care of their own marketing, which often involves paying a professional. Then, set up an online portfolio, an e-commerce platform, etc.
On top of that, photographers need to buy expensive equipment. Then, get insurance for it, give it maintenance, and upgrade it as technology advances.
Many photographers also need to pay the rent and expenses for their studios. Next to that, they also need to pay an assistant, a photo editor, and probably other staff depending on the type of photography.
Photographers spend many hours and invest money in learning new skills, staying updated with the latest trends, and practising new techniques.
That’s not to mention all the hours they put in the preparation and post-production that go into every photoshoot. You might only see them during the shooting, but there’s a lot of work happening behind the scenes.
Last but not least, you’re also paying for their unique point of view – which relates to their ability to capture memorable images. This is what makes the biggest difference when you choose which photographer to hire.