What is the Cost of Hiring a Professional Photographer in the USA?

Apparently, everyone’s a photographer nowadays. With a decent DSLR and photo manipulation software, almost everyone can create professional photographs. When you hire a professional photographer who charges $5000, you will notice the difference. You will see how silly and childish the photographs are bought the ones who charge $300.

That said, you will find many professional photographers who charge less; a price that is charged by students. Many professional photographers who are experts and veterans believe that the value of the image is little compared to their status and fame. Many of them won’t do any photoshoot unless you give them a good subject. Below I have listed the common types of photographers people hire and how much they charge. Moreover, the value differs a lot depending on what’s the photograph is for. A cost of a photo for news ads, billboard marketing campaigns, wedding and portrait are not the same.

The pricing model varies largely depending on the subject and occasions. Event photographer may charge an hourly rate and for commercial use, they will charge per image or per project. For the per-image pricing, the photographer gets additional incentives for their skill. Some hobbyist charge as little as $30 per image, whereas top professional photographers will charge thousands of dollars even for a single photograph.

Moreover, the price will vary depending on the location such as hiring a photographer in New York or Hollywood would be considerably expensive.

Part-Time Hobbyist

Many budding and to-be photographers will do a photoshoot for free or just under $100. Many of them already have a job in another or similar industry and they don’t follow classical photography best practices. These individuals have a good eye and love the art of photography and editing. But, loving is not enough for the experience higher professionals have.

Amateur Photographers

These individuals are also a hobbyist but have more experience in the industry. They would probably have a portfolio and have dealt with a lot of clients before. Moreover, they have much knowledge of the art, but it could still be a struggle for them to understand each client’s needs. They will charge between $30 to $110 per hour.

Photography Student

They will charge around $40 to $100 per hour or $120 per image. Then again, the student rate varies depending on their experience and skill. If they have worked under a professional photographer, they will have a better understanding of the industry and will be able to click better photographs than others. Plus, the photography school graduates are more eager to work on new projects and will charge less to make their mark in the industry.

Semi-Pro Photographers

These individuals will charge nearly $150 per hour or $160 per image. They are the ones who are more driven and passionate than students or amateurs. Their ambition is to become full-time photography, hence they will take the project seriously and make sure that they deliver the best shots. They may have a job, usually in creative fields such as artists, videographers, designers etc.

Professional Photographer

A professional photographer will cost as high as $300 per hour or $400 per photo. A professional photographer is the one who depends on his photography skills to make a living. They work full-time as a photographer and photo editor. They will already have a good portfolio and show more professionalism and commitment to their work. You will immediately notice their skill and experience if you compare two similar photographs of a professional and a student.

Top Professional Photographers

They will charge over $500 per hour and $2000 per image. These elite group of professional may not even be interested in all kinds of photography. They will more likely want a good subject to shoot and they are more likely skilled in one or a couple of types of photography. Some charge $10,000 per day and $6000 per image. It’s hard to convince them, even if you have that kind of money.

Pricing Based on Type of Photography

01. Wedding Photography

In average a wedding photographer will charge you $1,600 to $3,600, whereas the rates may vary greatly depending on the location and photographer. Some beginner photographers will charge only $300 and top professional wedding photographers who usually do destination wedding photography can charge as high as $10,000. However, these photographers are more experience and probably have a brand value in the industry.

02. Portrait Photographers

Most students in photography love portrait photography and will charge nearly $300 for their work. The rate will vary depending on the location, change of clothes, and time they spend. However, you have interviewed them beforehand before hiring one, so that you make yourself clear of the kind of photographs you want and give him enough time to prepare.

03. Website Photography

Website photographers may charge from $40 to $150 per image. For a local business owner, finding a photographer is rather easy and they usually charge less, because in business photography there are no interesting subjects to shoot. Then again the photographs are not kept for personal use. That said, the photographers may charge you more of photos depending on the popularity of your website.

Why Professional Photographers Charge So Much?

Photography is expensive and that’s for good reason! But do you know, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most photographer earn between $30,000 and $40,000 annually, which makes up for $16 to $20 per hour. This is the real earning for the photographer who charges your $250 per hour.

When a photographer charges your $250 per hour, it includes a lot of other factors such as photoshoot planning that takes hours, commute time, equipment set-up time, actual photo shoot time, selecting photos, editing images and a couple of more hours to load images and deliver or print. For just one-hour session of a photo shoot, the photographer probably spends 7 to 9 hours of his day. This reduces the per hour value to under $30 which goes into finishing a project.

Another big reason is that photography equipment is expensive. A good DSLR body will cost over $1500 and photographers keep a second camera for emergencies. The worst part is, the camera body will be replaced within a few years as they become outdated.

The lenses can cost up to $300 for just a basic one. And there are a variety of camera lenses with multiple functions each costing nearly $700. Photographer keeps a number of these lenses to be used when necessary. Some lenses will go as high as the $2000, which is more the price of the camera body itself.

The camera flash will cost nearly $350 and professional carry more than one flash in their photography kit. Other equipment such as memory cards, filters, camera bag etc. will add up $500 of additional cost to the kit.

Photo editing also takes up a lot of investment. The professional photographer needs a high-end display that shows images just the way it will print out. They usually invest over $2500 on computers and other equipment. Moreover, they have to subscribe to photo-editing software such as Photoshop and Lightroom.

For a lifestyle portrait photographer, the total equipment cost will be around $5000, which is like a year’s paycheck; which they will have to be replaced every few years to keep up with the trend and technology. For a professional sports photographer, the camera body alone will cost $7000, which is like seven times the price of the camera body used by lifestyle photographer.

Wedding photographers would spend more on their gear as they have to travel a lot and may have to shoot in bad weather conditions. Many would also have assistants and a second shooter so that they don’t miss a moment. Their gear would cost $2000 extra for their large collection of equipment.

Then there are professional photographers who don’t work on-site and keep a studio. If you visit their studio for a photoshoot you bet it’s going to expensive and if it’s in a city like New York and Los Angeles, you know you will have to pay what budding celebrities pay to make a profile. Having a studio demand a lot of investment such as the studio rent, professional lights, backdrop stand, backdrop floors, props etc.

By now, you could guess that the per hour income for a photographer who charges $250 an hour actually make $15 to $20 per hour. Moreover, professional photographer spends almost half of their income on keeping their gear up to date. Besides the photography equipment, they also have to pay the taxes other necessities such as self-employed tax, health insurance, gear insurance, fast internet, and marketing. Another important to note is that all the expenses are the same throughout the year, but photographers work on seasons; such as during the warmer months, wedding photography is on high demand, but during winter they rarely get any clients. Even outdoor photography and wildlife photography have a season.

Hiring a photographer is like hiring an artist. They have spent years in perfecting their craft, which is why now they create beautiful images. Professional wedding photographers get you photos that are as beautiful as the memories of that day. However, before deciding on the photographer, you should take a look at their portfolio to see if you like their style.

Even for product images and other corporate images, it is better to hire a photographer, so that these images look spotless and professional. These images will then help increase your sales.

A professional portrait photographer will get you images that make you confident about yourself. You don’t want a sloppy photo just some random dude.

Professional real estate photographer can give you photos that will invite more buyers and can sell at a better price; it is better than a snap you took on your phone.

Photography is expensive because on the work they put in, more often by sacrificing their weekends and spend a lot on buying their gear.

Copyright Cost

When a photographer clicks a photo, he or she owns the copyright of the photograph. This is a federal law and it applies even to the selfies you take with your phone. But, who owns the copyright when a photographer gives you your wedding photos? The general answer is that the photographer still holds the copyright of the photos he or she took of you. For most cases, you will not need copyright from the photographer unless you want to sell those photos and are planning to generate income from it. However, if you do need an exclusive right for a period of time, you should negotiate with your photographer for temporary or long-term rights. You could also buy-out the photo i.e. to get the copyright of the photographs, the photographer will charge an additional 50 to 100 percent of the original price.

Freelance Photography Price

Freelancers will charge little somewhere around $30 per hour, considering that fact that the company provides its own equipment and pay the photographer’s expenses and insurance. This is like a salary the freelancers get when hired by the company. On the other hand, if freelancers work for other clients where he would need his own gear, the prices could be $150 per hour. But some freelance photographers can charge more because of the expenses they put in getting their gear, marketing, and probably make a studio in the future. Many photographers make over $30,000 every year, but most of their earning go out in maintaining their brand and equipment. Even $200 per hour rate of a freelance photographer is justifiable, considering the fact that he has that skill.

Why some charge $10,000 for one photo?

A simple difference between a photographer who charges $30 per photo and $10,000 per photo is in the reputation and the brand value of the photographer. The photographer who charges $10,000 is an experienced photographer but must have had an impressive clientele like movie stars, musicians, businesses men etc. Moreover, photography has today become a saturated market and the photographers who bring a different taste to their photos, they can surely charge a lot for a single shot.

With the advent of Google and similar Internet revolutions, hiring a professional wedding photographer has become easier than ever before. Moreover, wedding photography is now going through certain changes and making it a fanciful profession. You have umpteen number of choices while looking for a professional wedding photographer today.

Factors to Consider When Hiring a Photographer

01. Get Your Budget Right

Be it a family event, a wedding or a portrait for your baby, you should first narrow down on your budget. Photographers can be expensive, which is why you should keep it within limits. Talk to your photographer so that he can give you a good solution in the budget you have decided. Then decide on the type of photography you would like for the shoot.

02. Start Your Search Early

Go online, join communities and search on websites for photographers way ahead of your event, let say 2 months before your event. Searching and looking at their profiles will give you an idea of the kind of work you can expect in the budget you have set. Then shortlist four or five photographers and meet them in person. Talk to them what you want, let them explain what would be best for you, take a look at their portfolio and definitely get phone numbers of his clients.

03. Talking to past clients

The best way to be sure is by talking to the photographer’s old clients. They will give you a better idea about the photographer and his photography style.

04. Sign a Contract

Before hiring, it’s better you put down on papers. This will help resolve any further issues with the copyrights, delivery time, hours of work, number of images to be delivered and a lot of other stuff. The contract should also include the payment amount, payment procedure, ownership of the images, etc.


It’s same to assume that a good set of photos from a professional photographer is pretty expensive. But it’s worth it as it’s going to stay with you for the rest of your life and adds value to your event. Next time you hire a professional photographer, don’t forget to look at his work and talk to him personally to get a better idea of his taste and creativity.

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