The future of making a decent living as a photographer is bleak. By decent living, I mean hitting the median monthly salary (including CPF contributions) of $4563 based on the statistics from 2019.
Browse through job sites and you’ll see what I mean. While companies charge clients thousands of dollars or more, the average photographer’s salary falls in the range between $1,800 and $3,000. As for the photographers who make it big and work with large agencies, they are the minority.
So what does that mean? If the market is saturated and there is no demand for more photographers by large agencies, are photographers doomed to be starving artists?
Yes, and no. The best way to make a killing with photography is not by being an employed photographer, but by being an influencer, a marketer, a salesperson and a business owner. And if you’re not in the right fields (wedding and/or commercial), it’s quite unlikely that you’ll make a killing because clients will not be willing to pay.
Harsh as it may sound, anyone with a smartphone and has a bit of artistic flair can be a photographer. So what differentiates you from the other photographers boils down to how much your clients like you and your work, which will determine how much they are willing to pay. If you’ve noticed, sometimes the photographers that make the most money may not be the ones that take the most impressive photos.
Personal branding and popularity play a part.
If you’re a photographer who takes decent photographs and has 100,000 subscribers on YouTube or 200,000 followers on Instagram, a client might be more inclined to think you’re worth paying lots of money for. This is especially true for commercial clients, since it’s free publicity for them as well whenever you post about shooting for them. It’s killing two birds with one stone. Also, it means that your photographs have the ability to go viral and influence others to take action and buy a product.
But of course, many high paying commercial clients still prefer to work with agencies as there’s more assurance.
So what should you do if you’re not making a killing as a photographer, like you thought you’d be? Do you give up? Do you try really hard to build a following on Instagram/YouTube/TikTok?
Big clients aren’t going to be actively looking out for photographers on social media. Many successful commercial photographers do not have the biggest followings on social media. And unless you’re Bryant or Brandon Woelfel, chances are you will still have to reach out to brands with a deal too good for them to turn down. A good website with a high ranking on Google might still bring you more opportunities than having a large following of non-paying clients.
At the end of the day, if you want to make it big, you should be focusing on building your own brand instead of working under other people and building their brand. Realistically speaking, not everyone will become the next celebrity photographer, but the harder you try, the greater your chance of becoming one will be.
Don’t be afraid to think out of the box either. Many photographers don’t just make money by providing photography services. They make money by selling their own merchandise, endorsing products and affiliate marketing.
The traditional ways of making money as a photographer are no longer relevant and you are only as good as you are relevant to the market.