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Salary of a National Geographic Staff Photographer

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For photographers with a sense of adventure, shooting for National Geographic is the holy grail of positions. With the organization's magazine devotion to showcasing multiple pages of photography reproduced with high-quality offset printing, there are few publications as friendly toward photography as the National Geographic titles are. Staff photographers who work for the National Geographic Institute are frequently highly experienced artists with decades of work in the industry.

National Geographic Staff Photographer Earnings

National Geographic staff photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols avoids putting a direct figure on a staff shooter’s annual salary, although he reveals earnings are in the ballpark of $100,000 each year. That figure, however, encompasses his salary as well as his own freelance work managing his archive of photographs for use in other publications and projects.

Job Outlook

National Geographic only employs five staff photographers, according to Nichols, and the bulk of its photos are contributed by freelance photographers. With 50 to 60 photographers employed regularly by the magazine, about 90 percent are freelancers being paid on a piecework basis. The five staff photographers employed by the magazines are experienced enough to have reached the final third of their career.

Freelance Rates

National Geographic’s “Traveller” magazine pays photographers on a day rate for assignments. As of December 2010, its day rate is $425, with most assignments lasting 10 to 14 days. An average 12-day assignment would net a freelancer $5,100, although that rate also covers the necessary editing and post-production work needed to bring photographs up to the magazine’s publishable standards.

Expenses for Freelancers

National Geographic “Traveller” also covers all expenses for photographers on assignment. This includes payment for food and lodging, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses.


Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.