I Can't Work for $100 Per Day and You Shouldn't Either

I was just approached to do some photography consulting with an organization doing amazing things in Rwanda. I would’ve loved to work with them but they offered a day rate far below what any photographer should accept. This makes me wonder who is taking these gigs, thus perpetuating the myth the photographers can sustainably work for next to nothing? And do they know that they shouldn’t?

This organization offered to pay me $100 per day with the average day being 8-10 hours. Essentially they wanted me to work for about $10 dollars an hour.  I can’t do that. And neither should you. Here’s why:

Let’s just say hypothetically that I found an organization that would hire me for 300 days out the year for $100 per day. I’d make $30,000. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

©CanStockPhoto

©CanStockPhoto

That is until you learn that I do a cost of doing business calculation every year. This year I projected that I will have at least $26,000 in expenses. In addition, I’d like to make a salary and save for retirement.  Refer to bullet one: the day rate of $100 leaves me with about $4,000 to live on for the year.

In addition, I own approximately $20,000 in gear and every piece of gear I own has a life expectancy. This means that as long as I am a photographer I will be purchasing or repairing gear.  This year I’ve spent about $5,500 in gear and repairs. One major unexpected expense was spending $4,000 on a new camera when both of my bodies went down at the same time. Guess where my $4,000 salary just went?

Besides my yearly expenses, I have to take into account that my bachelors and masters degree cost me approximately $85,000. I have spent years learning my craft and paid thousands of dollars in student loans.

Your organization is doing amazing things and I wish I could help. But I am running a business. I can’t work for $100 per day. If I accepted your rate then I wouldn’t make enough money to eat, pay rent, or save for retirement. No matter how great your organization is the answer is still no. 

The Bigger Picture: Photography as Entrepreneurship


Are you interested in becoming a photographer? Are you so interested that you’d invest $100,000 and four years of your life towards pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the field? But what would you do if I told you that at least eighty percent of what you are going to need to know as a photographer isn’t taught in the best photography programs in the United States?

how_photographers_spend_there_time

I’m not really one to bash education as I have both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in photography. But even after multiple degrees, I left school without taking a single course that addressed the business of photography.  As the graphs above indicate, a successful photography business is just that—a business.  I learned how to run my business through trial and error.

Curious to see if any photography programs have added courses on running a successful business in the seven years since I left Syracuse, I rolled up my sleeves and did some research.

UniversityDegreeCostTotal Required HoursTotal Required Business Hours
Brooks InstituteBachelor of Science in Visual Journalism$90,488 for program1206
University of MissouriBachelor of Arts in Photojournalism$36,180 per year (non resident)410
Rochester Institute of TechnologyBachelor of Arts in Photojournalism $47,336 per year1220
Syracuse UniversityPhotojournalism or Illustration Photography$59,320 for program383

I’ve invested a lot of time in the last five years into learning about business of photography. There are amazing photographers out there whose businesses are failing because they don’t understand how to run their businesses. And there are less skilled photographers that are making a good living because they do.  I am not saying that photography degrees aren’t teaching valuable skills, but I believe that we are missing the bigger picture of photography as entrepreneurship.

When you create a soapbox, you have no choice but to stand on it.  I recently partnered with my friend and collaborator Laura Elizabeth Pohl to teach a business practices workshop for photographers in Rwanda.. We both have advanced degrees that taught us to take great pictures, but we left university without knowing how to charge for our services, market our work to clients, or even do basic accounting.  We felt that teaching this course is one opportunity to pass on helpful information developed through experience and help Rwandan photographers to make a living wage.  

If the business of photography isn’t being taught to young photographers, how can they obtain the tools to become successful? What can the professional community do to help?  I’d love to know your thoughts and ideas on how we can promote entrepreneurship.

In order to do my part, I hope to continue sharing information and teaching in the communities that I live in. Keep your eyes open for the podcast from our workshop.