View Full Version : Making a Living from Photography

9-Apr-2014, 11:08
Because this is such a specialized and knowledgeable audience (so much for flattery), I am curious about how many members of this forum make a living from photography full-time, versus lets say, making some money from photography, versus "I do it for myself and that's all."

I realize that within those making money from photography, there is a variety of possible professions from industrial, commercial and fine art photography, teaching and etc. That would also be an interesting survey, but let's just keep it at the most basic level for now.

Thanks for your input!

9-Apr-2014, 11:14
I like being the first to vote -- it makes me a trend-setter. :)

Kirk Gittings
9-Apr-2014, 11:22
I've made my living exclusively from photography since 1978, but within that from diverse methods, teaching university classes and at workshops, commercial architectural and editorial photography, stock photography and FA b&w print sales, books etc.

9-Apr-2014, 11:25
I've made my living exclusively from photography since 1878...

So, Kirk, you're really a bearded old guy, seeing how you've been doing photography for 136 years! ;)

I could do so well!


Randy Moe
9-Apr-2014, 11:43
When I had a REAL job, now retired, I did a lot of microscopic, macro and environmental imaging, all analog, until I brought my own digital camera to work. But I also did have 4 pages of detailed job description. Jack of all trades. Longest job description ever in the company. No, I didn't write it.


Kirk Gittings
9-Apr-2014, 12:10
So, Kirk, you're really a bearded old guy, seeing how you've been doing photography for 136 years! ;)

I could do so well!


:) from the time of Noah almost-got a few hundred more to go......

Paul Cunningham
9-Apr-2014, 12:19
I'm guessing that there are a good number of retired folks here, who make some income from photography, but also have retirement and pension income.
I say this based on what I perceive as a very high level of experience in this group.

9-Apr-2014, 16:09
Not me... About 5 years ago I started second shooting with a pretty reputable wedding photographer (she was constantly listed in M Stewart and Simple Weddings). Not to name drop but it really helped me build a solid portfolio... But once I decided to go on my own I faced a major decision. I was making almost as much as my full time job (but obviously I had the security and benefits that come with the corporate gig) and I had to come to a decision. I'm glad I didn't go down the photography path only because I spent so much time working on projects that I never shot for myself.

I think if I ever got to a point where I was on white walls and could make a decent living off prints and shows I could enjoy it... But it seems every "pro" I know spends 89% of their shooting time working on dog portraits, senior stuff, and overall boring things. Pays the bills but it takes a special soul to enjoy that work

9-Apr-2014, 16:41
There's a lot of space between "full income" and "no income."

Personally I was full-time freelancing with both A/V work as well as photography a couple of years ago, but took a full-time position at the local university when it became available. I stay busy though with outside work - and according to my taxes I just filed, about 30% of my income from working as a freelance recording engineer or photographer (mostly photography in 2013, anyway).

Andrew O'Neill
9-Apr-2014, 17:13
I've made money from my prints over the years, but I never made a living from it. I think that would take the fun out of it for me.

9-Apr-2014, 18:06
I'd starve!

(On the other hand, all those CHEAP Adams, and Weston, and Karsh, and HC-B, etc, prints I bought 30+ years ago will keep me in D76 and Hypo for the next 30 years, it it weren't for Capital Gains Tax if I ever sell them. This is ONE way to make a living from photography.)

9-Apr-2014, 18:07
Voted. Somewhere in between I make a living from photography, and, photography will be the death of me.

9-Apr-2014, 18:24
Thanks for the responses. I realize it wasn't the best engineered survey. For example, someone who is retired but made their living from photography should have answered that their full income came from photography.

If I were going the full sociological study route, I should have posted a hypothesis, something like: I expect that a higher percentage of large format photographers make (or made) a living or some income from their photography, compared to the percentage of all photographers. Obviously, this survey will not prove or disprove that statement. A follow on line of inquiry would be along the lines of: If you derive your entire income from your photography, how free do you feel to pursue your own artistic expression versus creating photos that will "sell?"

I guess in a broader sense I am thinking about all of the people who majored in the Fine Arts in college, and how so few of them are/were able to make a living from their art.

Kirk Gittings
9-Apr-2014, 19:08
Most of your assumptions reflect more wishful thinking than reality I'm sorry to say. The commercial photographers I know (100 or so) who make a full time living with it were film photographers but have been digital for at least ten years. They only shoot film for the odd project that needs a "look". You would pretty much starve to death trying to do commercial photography entirely with film. Deadlines these days don't include lab and scan time. Deadlines are based on digital workflow which is what you would have to do with film anyway-scan it and finish it in PS. Clients want files whether shot on film or digital. Most of the FA photographers I know who make a full time living from it are film photographers who made their bones before digital. But most "FA" photographers make a substantial amount of their income from teaching in some form. I know lots of paintors and sculptors who make a full time living just from their art but no photographers who do. I know very few photographers like myself who are full time but shoot all their commercial digitally and all their FA work with LF film and manage to balance that intellectually, financially and psychologically. As per your last question, I can only speak for myself. When I try and guess which image will sell when taking it I am almost universally wrong. Yes I can predict what will get a ton of "likes" on Facebook-grand landscapes with great clouds. But sell? That is another question all together-a question that I have no answers to even though I make about a third of my income from B7W print sales.

Jim Galli
9-Apr-2014, 19:18
Photometrics. High speed cine photography to gather TSPI data. Time Space Position Information. We're still a mix of film and digital, but the folks who develop the film are going the way of the dinosaurs pretty quickly. A good living, interesting work. The LF stuff is just to relax. Cirkut cameras to stay very humble.

9-Apr-2014, 19:35
Not to detract from the obvious convenience presented with digital capture, I will point out the digital photographer usually returns home to a computer where they upload the images into their computer and make whatever adjustments deemed necessary. Similarly the film photographer returns to the darkroom where they develop the film and then can scan the negatives into the computer. It will take the film photographer upwards of 2 hours longer than the digital photographer (preparing the chemistry from stock solutions, loading the tanks, processing, drying (in a film dryer) before he or she begins the computer work but you end up with a digital file and a negative. Now if you are a photo journalists covering a breaking news event, you probably would prefer a digital capture that can uploaded to the newsroom from the field at the nearest hot spot.