Memories of beautiful weddings, harrowing disasters and useful products are made of images. Photographers supply these pictures using digital devices, although a few still rely on silver-halide film cameras. As of 2010, about 63 percent were self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries varied by job location and employer type.
The 56,140 photographers in the United States averaged $36,330 per year, as of May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $17,520 yearly, while the best-paid 10 percent made over $66,990. At the 25-percent mark, the lowest earners made under $19,950 per year, and the highest earners received over $43,930 annually. Contrast these amounts with the mean $54,490 yearly earned by all 1.8 million workers in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media occupations and the $45,790 per year averaged by the 130.3 million workers in all jobs.
Over two-thirds of all photographers worked in other professional, scientific and technical services, a BLS category that includes those who provide general photography services to different industries. They averaged $32,930 per year. Another 8 percent, in radio and TV broadcasting, earned $44,730 yearly. Just under 7 percent were in newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishing and garnered a mean annual income of $41,150. The highest payers were aerospace products and parts manufacturing, at a mean $65,430 per year, motion picture and video at an average of $63,650 and scientific research and development at a mean of $58,280.
The state with the highest population, California, reported the highest employment level for photographers, with 9 percent of the jobs and a mean income of $50,980 per year. New York was next, with 8 percent of the positions, averaging $46,360 yearly. The District of Columbia, which the BLS classified as a state, featured the highest salaries, at an annual $67,790, followed by California. Among metropolitan areas, New York City, with the highest population, showed the best pay of $53,180 per year. Chicago ranked second, with mean pay at $51,860 yearly.
The BLS predicts that photographers will see job increases of 13 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is close to the average 14 percent predicted for all occupations in all industries. Much of this demand will come for wedding and portrait photographers as well as commercial photographers in advertising. Depressing opportunities is the growth of inexpensive and easy-to-use digital cameras, which allow amateur photographers and average consumers to take their own high-quality pictures. In addition, the decline of the newspaper industry will reduce the employment of newspaper photographers by 30 percent.