Freelance Photographer Career Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of professional photographers are freelancers, and it is possible to create a well-paying career as a freelance photographer.

Types of Freelance Photographers

Many different types of photographers exist. Selecting a niche may help sell your work as you network and your skills improve. Freelance photographers can photograph portraits, work in commercial industries (such as taking photographs for real estate agents), or take scientific photographs—one of the most lucrative industries for photographers is the aerospace industry. You could also work for news publications or produce fine arts photographs. The niche you select will most likely depend on your personal interests and your lifestyle, since some types of photography, such as working for news organizations, will require travel and long hours.


Most photographers work in the print and television media, publishing or the higher education industry, most likely as photography instructors in the education industry. The highest-paid photographers work in the motion picture, aerospace and printing industries, though out of 152,000 photographers employed in the United States, only 420 photographers report working in the highest-paid industries.

The top-paying regions include the District of Columbia, New York and Illinois. The top-paying cities include Salinas and Los Angeles, California; and New York City. High salaries are available in epicenters of politics, fashion, tourism and culture. However, photographer salaries for these regions are modest; for example, photographers in New York make an average annual salary of $57,000 per year. The national mean salary for photographers is $29,000 per year, and the low end of the range for photographers is $17,000 per year or approximately 8 dollars an hour. This information could indicate that freelance photography remains a lucrative hobby for many photographers, but it is not their only means of income.

Breaking in as a Freelance Photographer

Some freelance photographers begin their careers as hobbyists. They take pictures and sell them from their own websites and from stock photography. As their portfolio and professional accomplishments grow, photographers will solicit contracts from clients. Freelance photographers will usually operate their own websites or place their work on a portfolio site, though once an image is posted on the Internet, photographer have to work diligently to preserve the copyright of their images.

Most freelance photographers will develop their skills by taking classes and entering contests which offer low-cost ways to network, get publicity and market their work. Some photographers will first accept a paid position within an industry and later leave the position for freelancing, believing freelancing offers more professional freedom. Expanding a hobby or part-time freelancing is how many photographers  break in to the industry, though the competition from these freelancers is what also keeps the salaries low for most photographers, except for the most well-known or those that have discovered a lucrative niche.

It is possible, despite global competition over the Internet and from hobbyists who distribute their images at a very low cost, to make a career as a freelance photographer. But you must be willing to specialize, acquire skills through education and market your work.