Photography not profitable, but popular

It turns out that professional photography is still a popular industry to break into in Australia, and the average working pro is typically a sole trader aged between 31 and 44-years old, working from home.

Most professional photographers appear to have a second job and there’s just a few more female shooters than male.

General information taken from the AIPP Member Benchmarking Results. Source: Supplied.

General information taken from the AIPP Member Benchmarking Results. Source: Supplied.

These are a few of the findings the AIPP has made from its 2015 Benchmarking survey, which canvassed both AIPP members and non-members.

The results were released as two separate documents, one which surveyed AIPP members and the other surveying non-members.

The 26-page members’ results surveyed some 816 photographers of AIPP’s 3200 members, who were asked to identify what genre(s) of photos they capture, with the option to select multiple answers. The majority, 59 percent, are domestic (wedding/portrait) photographers; followed by 45 percent commercial/editorial/advertising photographers; 23 percent fine art/landscape photographers; and 20 percent identifying as mixed/general.

The non-member survey had fewer participants – only 155 – however the results are almost identical to the members’ survey regarding genre of photography.

When examining the results, which attempt to, um, capture a portrait of the average pro, it turns out their isn’t such a thing, but rather a broad range of practice. This applies to specific areas like ‘average number of final images produced per portrait session’, through to broader topics like social media and marketing tactics.

If you put every single AIPP wedding photographer into a room, for example, you’d find 28 percent shoot a handful of weddings a year whereas a similar number manage more than 20. Some – 28 percent – produce 100-400 images per wedding, whereas 19 percent product over 800 for a client.

When it comes to quoting clients, commercial photographers are fairly flexible with how they operate. Somewhere between 50 and 65 percent say they sometimes charge by the hour; or half-day (four hours); or whole day (eight hours); or by the shot; or the whole project; or the usage. But 21.1 percent said they always charge by the hour, and 43.8 percent said they never charge by the shot or by the usage. (Participants could select more than one answer.)

Such varying results indicate that there are many ways make do professional photography. And this carries on though all genres – weddings, portraiture, commercial, fine art, and so on.

But the research isn’t to be taken as a gospel truth, AIPP membership manager Randal Armstrong told ProCounter. He hopes more members and non-members will participate in future years, which will sample a broader selection of the industry and track changes.

But there’s still insightful findings to take away from the two surveys…

Do photographers struggle financially?
Interestingly 60 percent of the non-member participants have only been in business for up to four years. With 32.4 percent of respondents yet to reach their two year milestone in business, it looks like a career in photography is still popular in 2016.

However the shutter button isn’t paying all the bills for the new kids on the block, or the AIPP members for that matter.

While difficult to interpret such as size, from the bottom this bar graph moves upwards in increments of $10,000, except for the top two. Source: AIPP Benchmarking results.

While difficult to interpret at such as size (sorry), from the bottom this bar graph moves upwards in increments of $10,000. Source: AIPP Benchmarking results.

During last financial year 22 percent of AIPP respondents had a personal income of up to $10,000, with the next largest portion being 11.3 percent earning between $10,000 to $20,000. From there numbers progressively drop as income rises, but adding percentage points shows that just under 30 percent earn between $20,000 to $60,000. Things fall fairly flat after that, only to spike with 5.2 percent earning between $100,000 and $200,000.

Non-members are much further behind with 51.9 percent earning less than $10,000 and the next largest portion being 12.2 earning up to $20,000. So it looks like photography is a part-time gig for many. Not surprising given many established professional photographers supplement with alternate streams of income, such as running workshops or jobs entirely outside of photography.

Matt Cowgill, former economist at the Australian Council of Trade Unions, estimated in 2013 the average full-time wage was $72,800 per year. If these numbers are similar in 2015/16, 63.3 percent of member respondents earn below the average wage through photography. (Although the real average income is actually closer to $50,000 because the estimate include those lucky few on million-dollar-plus salaries.

Randal added that since this was the first survey of its kind it’s likely biased toward photographers who had the time to fill it in – as in less busy, less established photographers. He hopes future surveys will be more accurate by reflecting incomes and habits from the higher end of the industry.

Marketing for AIPP members
Perhaps many photographers cross-over into web design, as 43 percent of photographers designed and manage their own website, compared to 27 percent who pay a web designer and another 27 percent who use template platforms like Zenfolio or Photoshelter.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is important to photographers, with 60 percent of AIPP members controlling their SEO.

Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform for business with 96 percent of participants using it, followed by Instagram at 66.5 percent. It will be interesting to track any changes to this as Instagram slowly rolls out more commercially-based features, which may or may not be useful for professional photographers.

While social media has emerged as a powerful tool for marketing, good old fashioned ‘word of mouth’ and ‘referrals’ score the most jobs, with 89 and 81 percent respectively confirming it’s a primary channel of marketing.

There’s plenty more in-depth info covering things like quoting, pricing, assistants, packages.

The AIPP is intending to use the Members Benchmarking Results to create an easy-to-digest summary that will be available ‘not too long from now’. We were asked to not publish the entire results, however AIPP members can access it on their member’s dashboard.

To access the non-members survey results click here.

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