Photography and the American Dream

Photographer Laurence Kim wrote an interesting article titled “The Photography Business and the American Dream” in which he takes a look at the economics of doing photography as a career, coming to the conclusion that it’s one of the worst things you can do from a wealth creation standpoint.

I actually can’t think of a worse business than photography. I honestly can’t. In fact, if I were teaching an entrepreneurship class at a business school this would make a great exercise: Have my class think of a business that builds zero equity, had zero scalability and zero barriers to entry. It would be interesting to see if my class could come up with professional wedding/portrait photography. Knowing what makes a bad business would be very helpful in designing a good business.

The bottom line is this: from a wealth-creation standpoint, photography is a lousy career. But you probably already know that.

On the flip side, if you’re toiling as a photographer, you’re likely driven by a love of photography, not a love for money. Kim has some helpful tips for how to do photography as a career while staying smart financially.

Image credit: Money by AMagill

  • Thom

    that definitely is the case when you try to be a professional photographer only.would be interesting though if you combined it with an other hobby like travalling and took out people with you…

  • Phaskellhall

    This is the most ridiculous thin I’ve ever heard. I can’t tell you how many photographer friends of mine make more than our piers and work substantially less hours a week. It makes me think he’s a failed photographer himself or is weighing in the countless numbers of failed photographers. What does he think of acting as a career?

  • Anonymous

    There is a lot of downward pressure, and the wages in the overall market don’t look great.  The Bureau of Labor statistics puts the median wage of photographer jobs at $30,000, the wages at the 75th percentile is only $44,000.  Even being at the 10% percentile is earning $62,500.

    Acting isn’t a great career either, but that’s an article that doesn’t fit this site.  I think it was Anthony Hopkins that said that he was fine with getting typecast jobs, because most actors are unemployed.

  • Aaron David Cole

    Sometimes I have that thought “why couldn’t I have been bitten by the Accountant bug?”

  • Matt from Cohen-Photo

    I strongly disagree with his opinion, even if it is a professional one. Yes of course there are photographers that don’t make money and I went through that for a while like we all do. But those photographers that make it, live very comfortably.

  • tsy

    I think those of you who disagree with this article aren’t understanding it completely. This article doesn’t state that it’s impossible for photography to become a successful career, but that it’s very difficult to get to that point where you are living comfortably off of it vs other career paths. 

    Unlike other career paths where it takes years of education to begin working in the field, just about anyone can pick up a camera and all of a sudden be transformed into a “professional photographer.”  The barrier to entry is extremely low, just look on craigslist if you don’t believe me.  How many people on craigslist are offering their “professional” service as photographers vs engineers, or accountants, or doctors? Because of this huge surplus of “photographers” offering to shoot weddings, engagements, or portraits at ridiculously low price points, it takes away from someone who is actually trying to make a living off of their work as a photographer. 

    Anyone can max out a credit card and pick up a 1ds3, all the L lenses and call themselves a pro because of their gear…. now even if money were no object, how many people could perform medical procedures or design a bridge? 

    Just because there are some very successful photographers out there doesn’t mean it’ll be like that for everyone. 

  • Andrea McLaughlin

    There’s how much a photographer says she makes. And then there’s the profit she earns. Two separate things that often aren’t too clear in a photographer’s mind until it’s time to pay taxes. The reality is a photographer may only be working 2 days a week but the office/studio rent, the phone, the business and medical insurance, the power bill, repairs, advertising and payroll – they’re all due whether she works 2 days or 5 days a week.

    Photography is not easier and not more lucrative than other jobs. It’s a business. An extremely competitive business, especially in a recession. I know many many successful photographers and they are all working hard at their craft and at running a profitable business.