Which U.S States Pay Photographers the Best Salaries?

Which U.S States Pay Photographers the Best Salaries?

If you want to earn the most money from your photography, where should you live? Forbes.com has compiled a ranking of American States which pay photographers the best salaries. If you live in Massachusetts, stay put; if you live in Iowa, you might want to pack your bags.

Salaries vary significantly from state to state, not just for photographers but for all professions, so while Iowa might pay the least, the list doesn’t take into account the cost of living (rent prices and real estate, gas prices, cost of food, etc.) and, more importantly, nor does it consider quality of life. Money does not buy happiness and let’s face it, very few start a career in photography expecting to become the next Jeff Bezos. 

Two other aspects mentioned in this article stand out: firstly, that “employment in photography is projected to decline 6% from 2016 to 2026.” Photography is becoming more accessible but with the democratization of technology, having a career that is dedicated solely to image-making is set to become increasingly difficult. This ties in with the other slightly worrying fact: photographers earn an average annual income of just under $43,000, significantly less than the national average ($51,960). If you’re just starting your career as a photographer, unfortunately, your timing is quite poor. Diversifying your skills and offering a range of services is probably a smart move.

If you've suggestions of how to survive as a photographer in the 21st century, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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15 Comments

Apparently it is much more financially rewarding to tell others how to shoot photography as a YouTube influencer at the present time

Thomas Hopkins's picture

These lists are always strange to me. How many of those photographers do corporate or commercial work? How many are journalists? How many are only kind of dedicated to the profession and the focus is $99 family sessions where they deliver 600 images? It's just too vague to mean anything.

What do you mean by salary? Most are free lancers and thus don't fall into that category.

Correct you are! Rarely mentioned when these numbers go drunkenly careening around the internet every year is that they are for STAFF photographers — think Lifetouch, Olan Mills, JCPenney, government employees, in-house photographers with a full benefits package (the value of which is not counted in BLS salary statistics)…

Some of the government photo jobs are very nice for the right person. I prefer the freedom and far better paycheck of independent business.I would note that in the military one can get good training and experience for a future in free lance. Olan Mills, not so much. Of course a motivated person will make it irrespective of their beginning jobs.

Are these for government photographers employed by the state? I have friends who worked for LAPD and LAX. They did pretty well as city workers especially regarding retirement and healthcare.
Headline is confusing....

Scott Hussey's picture

Agreed. Unless "the states" are paying these photographers, that headline needs to be rewritten.

How much does fstoppers pay their news editor anyway?;)

Jeff Walsh's picture

No way there's an editor here. There are far too many articles published on this site with zero fact checking. Don't need an editor when you allow people to just type out whatever.

I don't think there's a crusty Ben Bradlee or Lou Grant type doing much editing but there's probably somebody...I know I am a lousy editor of whatever I write, always good for another set of eyes.

Maybe something was lost in translation due to a Brit living in France linking a US publication. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Jeff Walsh's picture

What's funny is the actual article written on Forbes it titled "Here's How Much Money Photographers Earn In Every State," which is appropriately named. Then, in typical news feed fashion, it's regurgitated around. However, in this case, they re-titled it for whatever reason, as though there needed to be some sort "take" on an already published piece. And by doing so, completely skew the intent of the original article.

Just remember, you don't need to understand language, or writing, to be a professional "blogger," these days. Just copy, paste, add a synopsis paragraph...BOOM..."original content."

The only "salaried" photographers I know were at LAPD and LAX, there are a few "contract" photographers with magazines but everyone else is on their own.
IIRC Washington DC was the highest paid? Seems like NY or LA would be but I didn't make up the numbers.

The continuous turnover of momtogs and weekend warriors are bringing the averages down.

Duane Klipping's picture

How to survive? Have a day job. I do photography for me and not to make a living. I live in Iowa actually and realized early on I would not make a living wage. I don't do portrait and weddings. I am just a landscape photographer who enjoys being outdoors. I am able to pay for my gear in sales however and I am happy with that.

It'd be more interesting to have those numbers weighted with tax and cost of doing business expenses.

There is no weighting to do because these IRS/BLS numbers exclude self-employed photographers.