No...We're Not Getting Rich!
(Feature Article on Photography)

Time and again during my 17 year career as a commercial photographer I have been confronted by my clients with the following statement "Gee, I wish I was a photographer, then I'd really be making the bucks! Usually the person saying this is actually making considerably more than I am.

Why do so many share this delusion? They simply don't understand the economics of running a small photo business. Has everyone spent too much time watching David Hemmings driving around in his Rolls royce convertible in "Blow Up?" Most Art directors, art buyers or account executives are themselves working as employees for a salary or commission, and tend to look at photographers fees in terms of their own personal income. But even though the lone photographer appears to be in the same boat, he is not, most commercial studio photographers are not employees, they are business owners, and the fees they charge have much more to do with business costs than bottom line income.

I'd like to show photo buyers what it actually costs to run a small one-person photo studio. I think you will be surprised. Next time you see a photo invoice, you might undertsand the picture a little more clearly.

Take a look at table a, it contains a real world scenario listing actual overhead numbers from a small one-person studio for a typical year. Even though they have been rounded off, these are real numbers:

COSTS / Photo StudioPer Month Per Year

Mortgage or Rent$1050$12,600
Building, Liability Insurance$135$1,620
Camera Insurance$50$600
Health Insurance$200$2,400
Phone Costs$120$1,440
Vehicle expense$350$4,200
Building janitorial, maintenace$100$1,200
New equipment budget
Advertising costs
Office expenses and supplies$75$900
Accounting and legal fees
Equipment repair
Property taxes
Bus. License, professional dues
Business personal property tax
Sales tax
Client food/Entertainment$50$600
Stock/Filing costs


We're not done yet. Next, we must consider the direct expenses for each job. This includes film and processing. Polaroids, dupes, prints, finishing, props, models, assistant fees, travel expenses, digital scanning and output , extra equipment rentals, sets, backgrounds, etc, etc.... This stuff usually amounts to about a third of a photographers total billing.

Now let's put it all together. In order to make $30,000 a year (not a great before-tax amount), a photography studio must bill $54,285 (overhead) + $30,000 (income) + $42,143 (job expenses) = $126,428/year.

A sole person at a studio has many jobs, only one of which is shooting. She is also the receptionist the bookkeeper, the janitor, the strategic planner, the marketing person, the PR person, the purchasing agent, the researcher and the runner. In addition, she must keep up with the latest tools, trends and techniques in the field... whew! I get tired just thinking about it. Needless to say this means a one person studio cannot shoot everyday. In fact an average studio is able to do about 75 to 125 jobs a year working full time.

So lets divide the average 100 jobs a year into $126,428 dollars a year. Presto! We get $1,264 dollars a job average billing. This is the average of big jobs and small jobs, week-long shoots and one-shot deals. This means that every 500 dollar job has to be balnced by a 2000 dollar job. If a photographer consistenly bills out below this average, he's losing money.

Now say our photographer needs to earn $50,000 a year gross. He must have an average per job billing of $1,564 dollars. A few more things: add $30,000 a year plus $5,000 a year in equipment for each employee. Add another $3,000 a year in advertising costs for each additional $50,000 in gross sales. it's not a pretty picture, but it's real-world economics.

Believe it or not the photographer you work with is not your employee, he is a company. What he charges is not his salary it is his business fee, and just like every other business in the world, photography businesses need to actually make a PROFIT! So, next time you see a photographers invoice, have a little bit of empathy, he is probably just getting by enough to make a modest living.

Bob Bauer, Utah Chapter