The Average Salary of a Photographer for Magazines

A magazine publisher usually pays for the equipment used by a staff photographer.
A magazine publisher usually pays for the equipment used by a staff photographer. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Photographers work with magazines either in a staff position or on a freelance basis. Staff photographers generally have more job security and steady pay. They might also receive benefits such as insurance, retirement and vacation pay. Freelance photographers are paid according to the number of photos or assignments they complete for the publication. Freelance photographers are self-employed and paid on a contract basis. According to Simply Hired, the average salary for a professional magazine photographer in 2011 was $38,000.

Major Publications

Magazines frequently rely upon a mixture of staff and freelance photographers. According to Michael "Nick" Nichols who worked as a staff photographer before being named "editor at large" for National Geographic, that magazine uses between 50 and 60 photographers, but only 5 of them are staff photographers with regular salaries. In response to the question of how much a National Geographic photographer earns, he stated that it is “around a hundred grand a year. But that’s not just assignments — that includes side assignments and marketing your own archive of work.”

Small Publications

Small magazines often cannot afford to hire staff photographers. Montana Outdoors Magazine reported in 2007 that its photo budget was only $15,000 for six issues. Much of the magazine is illustrated with stock photographs taken by professional photographers and with occasional freelance material. Freelance photography rates may depend upon where in a magazine the photo is used. Nature Friend Magazine, for example, pays $75 for a photo used on the front cover, $50 for the back cover and $25 for inside the magazine, according to its 2010 guidelines.

Experience Matters

Magazines usually focus on a specific topic, such as food, fashion or hunting. Photographing these things might require special training. Food photographers, for example, learn skills for composing and lighting a still-life food setup. Editors might adjust a salary according to the photographer’s experience and training. Photographers create portfolios of their past work to showcase their experience and the quality of their work. They might also set up a website for this purpose. Sierra Magazine invites photographers to provide a link to their website and a list of the subject matter and locations featured in their photos.

Stock Photography

Photographers can also earn money by selling stock photographs to magazines. Photographers register with companies that create a database of photographs that are available for purchase. Magazine editors search the database for photos related to the subject of a magazine article and offer to purchase certain rights to use the image. If image rights are purchased, the photographer makes money. Stock image companies vary in their selection process and pay rates. Some accept the work of any photographer. Others, such as Getty Images, review samples of the photographer’s work and have strict approval guidelines.

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