Episode 12: How Much Can A Photographer Make?
with Sarah Petty
Do you wonder if you can make money as a portrait photographer in a world of shoot-and-burners? Or if the day will ever come that you could replace your job you don’t like with photography? Even if you’re not looking for a six figure income, you need to know what’s possible for you in today’s world of photography.
Read these notes to learn about how much a professional portrait photographer can actually make. Digging into how to support a family on a photography income; how to get profitable in days, not years; and why what the average photographer makes is a total lie. Stick with me if you’re ready to turn your love for photography into a business that pays the bills.
The Truth About When I Started Making Money as a Photographer
When I first started photography, I was basically the film version of shoot and burn. I learned pretty quickly I was not making money as a photographer. I heard a stat that the average photographer makes $25,000 a year, but that meant nothing to me.
You have to understand how the numbers add up to give you what you want. Whether it’s part time, full time, extra income, or something necessary to pay your bills, the answers are in the numbers. There is a science and an art to business. We can look at benchmarks for what it takes to make a profitable photography business, so that we can make the best decisions.
The “average photographer” numbers are irrelevant. We don’t follow the same model that others follow, so their numbers mean nothing. Profitable boutique photographers can net between 30 and 50% of what they sell. Think About that. In my photography business alone, not Joy of Marketing, I’ve always netted between 33 and 45%. I have students netting up to 50%. If you gross a hundred thousand dollars, you’re keeping 30 to $50,000. Car dealers might be lucky to net one to 2% of their gross sales. When it comes to foodservice, they net about 3-5%. Some companies don’t show a profit for years. As a boutique photographer, you can be this profitable in days, not weeks, months, or years. I’ve got four things here to help you see what it looks like to make that profitable business.
Four Ways To Make Money as a Photographer
Number one, separate income generation from your time. Shoot and burn photographers spend hours and hours and hours, editing and retouching, and make $200. Boutique photographers spend more time with their clients and one session brings in $2000 or more. You do this by serving your clients at the highest level. Yes, you have to invest more time with them, but they will invest way more into the artwork.
Number two, make sure you’re priced profitably. If you’re priced too low, you can have $5,000 orders, but if they’re not profitable, it doesn’t matter. So when you’re looking at pricing you have to look at your variable costs or cost of sales. You might also have heard it as cost of goods sold, abbreviated COGS. For example, if you sell something that costs $100, your cost of sales is everything that goes into making that product such as lab fees, packaging, and your time. Most photographers do this wrong because they don’t account for their time.
Cost of Sales And Fixed Costs Can Lead To Profit
To make money as a photographer and have a profitable photography business, your cost of sales need to be under 25%. On a $100 order, you need to pay less than $25. If you think you can’t charge what you need to, don’t panic. You can, and you have to because that’s business. It’s something you do for profit. Otherwise, it would be your hobby.
Third, you have to look at your fixed costs. Fixed costs aren’t a part of pricing, but they are a part of your profit. These are things that you have to pay for whether you have a client or not such as life insurance, office supplies, marketing, or a studio. If you have to pay 25% for the cost of sales and 35% for fixed costs, that leaves 40% to go in your pocket.
Marketing Can Be Learned
Number four, you have to learn and understand marketing. You can’t guess, you can’t copy others, and you can’t try this and that. The good news is you can be taught. My company is called Joy of Marketing, because I love marketing. That’s what we do and teach. If you want a roadmap, I have a free class that you can check out to help you move your marketing forward.
I hope today I’ve shined a light on the fact that you are not broken, but your model probably is. When you actually have a model that serves people at the highest level, you will attract the right clients who love you. The Better your business model, the better clients you get.
Sure, it’s hard work to learn, but it’s also hard work to go to a job where you don’t have any control over what you make. When you’re selling away your most valuable commodity, your time, for a fixed income. You can always make more money as a photographer, but you can’t make more time. I hope this has inspired you to double down on boutique because if you can keep 30-50% of what you sell, you’re putting your happiest self into the world.
I'm Sarah Petty
I’m a photographer living in the middle of a cornfield (central Illinois), momma of three teenage kiddos (plus a cat & dog) and an educator for all things photography business. Favorites: Earl Grey Tea (not coffee!), anything orange and clothes that are made for tall girls