UPDATED July 2021

The Best Cities For
professional photographers
in the US

We’ve ranked the best and worst cities in the US for photographers to earn a great salary. Check our data to lean where photographers make the most money.

People that live in a big city will usually expect to pay more for day to day costs – higher rents, transport costs, groceries, and leisure activities. Something they will also usually expect is a bigger paycheck. For those who work in an artistic field, however, this isn’t always the case.

We wanted to know just how much a professional photographer can expect to earn around the US, how this compares to other salaries, and whether they’d be better off going freelance.

We analyzed the typical earnings potential of several photography jobs around the country to find out.

Best and Worst Photographer Salaries (USA)

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Take a look at our data below to see the best and worst cities in the US to earn money as a photographer.

First we compared the average photographer’s salary to the average salary for the entire city:

Best Photographer Salaries

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Worst Photographer Salaries

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How do photographers’ salaries compare by city?

Our data shows that there are some big differences in how much photographers earn around the country, and when that’s compared to the average salaries for each city, some photographers are earning great money while others are losing out.

Best cities for photographers’ salaries

Annual $ above city average

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1. Asheville, NC

Asheville is where photographers can earn the best salaries in the whole country. The average photographer’s salary is $61,321, a massive $6,321 higher than the city’s average salary of $55,000.

Asheville, NC, is a fairly expensive place to live, so that extra $6k will definitely help photographers enjoy life a bit more.

2. Eugene, Or

Next is Eugene, Oregon. A photographer can expect to earn $65,054 in Eugene, which is $6,054 higher than the average for the city.

Whilst the overall salary is higher than that of Asheville, the average is higher too, making Eugene the second best place for photographers to earn an above-average salary.

3. Salem, Or

Just an hour up the coast from Eugene, Salem is next on the list, with photographers on an average of $65,687 compared to the average of $60k for the rest of the city. This leaves photographers in Salem $5,687 per year better off than the average.

Worst cities for photographers’ salaries

Annual $ below city average

1. San-Jose, CA

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that San-Jose tops the list, being one of the most expensive cities in the country, and with the highest average salary. Photographers in San-Jose earn a very tidy $83,719, but when that’s compared to the city’s average of $103k, they’re left almost $20,000 worse off than the average person in the city.

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2. San Francisco, CA

Just around the Bay from San Jose, photographers in San Francisco can also expect a below average salary. At $83,386/ year, it seems like a great place to work as a photographer, but when compared to the average of $101,000 it works out at $17,614 less.

3. Raleigh, NC

On the other side of North Carolina from the very best place to earn as a photographer, is one of the worst. Photographers in Raleigh earn an average of $64,554, which is actually higher than in Asheville, but compare that to the massive $78k average salary for the city, and they may feel a bit out of pocket.

Which cities have the best rates for freelance photographers?

To better understand the earnings potential of professional photographers, we took a look at the levels of pay for some of the most common freelance jobs across cities around the US.

You’ll see that these figures contrast strongly against the average salary calculations, which is because they are measuring very different metrics.

Cities with Best and Worst Earning Index (USA)

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The freelance index is calculated as a percentage of the highest rates in the country for a raw earning potential, rather than against an average salary.

Best Freelance Rates Earning Index

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Worst Freelance Rates Earning Index

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The best cities for freelance photographers:

Here are the top three cities for photographers.

Highest freelance earning index

1. Los Angeles, CA 

LA is where freelance photographers can charge the most in the entire country. We’ve used LA as the 100% mark that we compared all the other cities to.

Los Angeles freelance score: 100%

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2. San Francisco, CA

Next on the list is San Francisco, at 89%. Thanks to the high cost of living and huge average salaries, freelance photographers in San Francisco will need to work a lot, but have great earning potential.

San Francisco freelance score: 89%

3. New York, NY

In third place comes New York with a freelance index of 87% across a range of freelance photography jobs. New Yorkers may find they have a lot less disposable income than those in San Francisco or San Jose because the cost of living is just that bit higher.

New York freelance score: 87%

Cities where freelancers have to count the pennies

The three worst cities for photographers were:

Worst cities for photographers’ salaries

Lowest freelance earning index

1. Colorado Springs, CO

Freelance photographers in Colorado Springs have the lowest earning potential of any major city in the country, at just 33% of what they could earn in LA.

Colorado Springs freelance score: 33%

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2. Asheville, NC

Despite having the highest-above-average salary for photographers in the country, the earnings potential for Asheville, NC is almost at the bottom of the list at just 47% of that of Los Angeles. Definitely better to be a salaried photographer than freelance in Asheville.

Asheville freelance score: 47%

3. New Orleans, LA

New Orleans is third from bottom of the freelance index, with freelance photographers having an earning potential of 48% that of Los Angeles.

New Orleans freelance score: 48%

Conclusion

Photography in the US is an $11bn market which is expected to increase in 2021. Freelance photographers no doubt took a hit during the pandemic but now that things are getting back to normal we expect to see continual growth.

PHOTOTGRAPHY MARKET SIZE  FROM 2011 TO 2021

11 Billion

Our analysis of earning potential for photographers around the US indicates that it’s not always the highest salaries that provide people with an above average income, and that the best places for photographers to live aren’t always the biggest cities.

Salaried photographers in Asheville, NC, for example earn almost 10% more than the average, whilst having the fifth overall lowest average salaries. Freelance photographers in Asheville earn the second lowest in the country, which is less than 50% of people in LA.

Methodology

In order to establish the best cities for salaried photographers to work in, we took the average photography for each of 100 cities and compared it against the average salary for that city. The difference between average photographer salary and average general salary was used to calculate each city’s score.

For freelance photography jobs, We created an index of 100 cities, sorted by the average price for the following freelance photography jobs:

 

  • 2 hours newborn photography shoot
  • 2 hours product shoot
  • 2 hours real estate shoot
  • 4 hours Media shoot
  • 4 hours Wedding
  • 4 hours Event

Limitations

Due to the sporadic and unpredictable nature of freelance photography, it was impossible to accurately compare the two metrics (salary vs. freelance) to find a single winner across both categories. Similarly, the two sets of data show almost the opposite results – this is because one is compared against the average salary, whilst the other is simply a raw earning potential.