More than half of people in photography careers are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is a high rate compared to other professions. Most photographers do not finish photography school and immediately set up their own businesses. Most work for someone else for a short time and then start their own businesses. Self-employed photographers can work in most of the specializations of photography. They can be portrait photographers, wedding photographers, or work in commercial or industrial photography. Some freelance photographers receive assignments for photography from advertising agencies, magazines, and newspapers and are paid for the photographs they take, as well as expenses. Many photographers sell photos to stock photo websites or directly to the public through their own websites.
Being self-employed is a freedom that many photographers enjoy. They can pick and choose what work they want to do and work at their own pace and time. However, there are disadvantages. One of the biggest is the variable amount of work and pay. Some weeks, there is more work than a photographer can handle, while other weeks there is none at all.
A self-employed photographer must know more than the best photography techniques, both of taking photos and developing and editing them. He or she must also be a good businessperson. They must know how to schedule clients, make them feel comfortable (if it’s a portrait or wedding business), handle financial chores (such as invoicing, purchasing, and taxes), and market their services. They must pay their own insurance premiums and Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well as pay for their own photography equipment.
Self-employed photographers may have their own studios or travel to other locations for their work. Of course, wedding photographers travel to the wedding and reception locations. Freelance photographers must go where the magazine or newspaper sends them.
Salaries for self-employed photographers vary greatly. Many freelancers take and sell photos as a part-time job. A self-employed photographer just out of photography school can make from $20,000 to $40,000 annually with up to four years of experience, according to a website called Pay Scale. One with five to ten years’ experience can make up to $47,000 and the pay increases slightly from that point with more experience. An hourly wage breakdown is given as $12.75 to $48.93.
According to the BLS, the average median salary for photographers was $29,000 in 2008. This includes photographers at all experience and schooling levels and in all types of jobs.
A photography website recommends charging about $50 per hour or up to $250 a day as a freelance photographer. In general, the highest-paid self-employed photographers are those who have years of experience and work as wedding or fashion photographers or those who are on contract for the largest magazines. Portrait photographers can make a high salary, but much of it will be taken up by the costs of running the business. Fine art photographers rarely make a living with their photographs, unless they become famous.
Nevertheless, a self-employed photographer with good photography skills and business knowledge can make a decent living. It takes a combination of skills in photography and business.