Updated: Jul 12
Ah, $100,000 per year. It seems like the magical number for photographers. Is it a realistic earnings number, though. Let's take a look...
Being a boudoir photographer is a great occupation! Over the past six or seven years boudoir has steadily gained in popularity, and more and more women are taking part in sessions every year. --And why not! Not only is boudoir photography a fun experience and gift idea, there is also the added benefit of being an uplifting experience for all who take part, which is a big part of the allure.
Despite what you may believe (or have read), boudoir photography is actually a quite small and interesting subset of the photography universe as a whole. Boudoir, like any niche business can be tricky to learn and master, but for those to have the determination to invest the time in learning, it can be a lucrative experience.
Whether you've been thinking about becoming a boudoir photographer, or perhaps you've already begun your journey to grow your business, this article contains some real-world advice for those who want to reach a level of income that may not be possible working your standard 9-5 type job.
The first thing is to realize not everyone is looking to make a career out of photography, and that's fine! Everyone who loves shooting hoops out in the driveway doesn't necessarily have the end goal of becoming an NBA All-star. Shooting around for fun is all most people ever expect, or want-- and that's enough for them. Many, many photographers are just that-- hobbyists who enjoy the art and experience of photography and that's enough for them.
Others see photography is a great opportunity to earn some extra cash on weekends to pay some bills, or maybe to invest in some new gear. You may already have a friend who may shoot a wedding on an occasional weekend, or do some family portraits in their spare time. Photography is a great part time job.
Then, there are those who set out to make photography a full time career with a full blown paycheck, and maybe looking to provide an income which may have not been possible otherwise.
For those who are best as described in the latter-- often, the path is wrought with frustration and failure.
I've frequently written about how most boudoir photographers set themselves up for failure right from the start. This is often someone who has no photography experience, but yet he/she wakes up one morning suddenly inspired that they are going to emmppppoooowwweeeerrrr women across the universe! The stars aligned, the birds sang, and now she/he is in full storm-the-beaches mode to start shooting boudoir and make women feel beautiful. They head to Amazon, plop down a hefty sum for a pro camera, sign up for a Wix website, and *BOOM* THEY ARE NOW A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER!! WHOOT!! The world should be beating a path to their doorsteps.
Nothing wrong with that dream--- except for the execution. So, Mike, what's wrong with that? That's exactly what I did... Well, this is the part where the reality sets in that no one wants to hear. Photography is a weird business where the actual "learning" seems to be somewhat of an afterthought. If you took out the "camera" part, and say substituted a "guitar" what would you think of this story...
Mike wakes up one day suddenly inspired to be the best guitarist in the world. He races to the nearest Guitar Center, runs inside, and exclaims to a sales rep, "I'm going to be the best guitarist in the world... I want the same guitar Eddie Van Halen uses..." So he maxes out his credit cards, and buys the guitar. Afterward, he races home, sits down at his desk and creates a new website imnowaproguitarplayer.com --- and offers should come streaming in from major rock bands begging Mike to join them as a guitarist. Right?? ---And oh, by the way, Mike has never even touched a guitar before, and has no idea to play! Not even a single note!
Hmmm. Somehow exclaiming myself as a "pro" guitar player without even knowing how to play a single note wont most likely get major rock bands knocking on my door. It probably won't even get local kids in a high school garage band chasing after me either, huh. What about the local coffee house circuit?? I TOLD them I was a "pro" (after all, my website says so) but when they asked me to audition, that seemed to be a bit of a problem, being I really don't know how to play...
That guitar scenario would be totally ridiculous, right? BUT this is exactly what people exploring their options in photography do...and expect...ALL THE TIME. They feel because suddenly they say they are a "pro," women around the world should be lining up at their doorsteps throwing cash at them for their scary talents.
The number one thing to posses on your path to boudoir success and earning $100,000 per year as a boudoir photographer is to have self awareness. Self awareness that you suck, and self awareness that you have no idea how to run a photography business. Harsh but true.
As ridiculous as the idea is of someone with absolutely no experience playing guitar and deeming themselves a "pro" with the expectation of major offers to come rolling in-- Its just as ridiculous as buying your camera on Amazon and publishing janiesfineartboudoir.com with the expectation of immediate boudoir greatness. Yes, I understand your divine inspiration of changing lives and empowering women... but it's still a path to failure, despite your good intentions.
The reality is its a long hard road.
Photography is a business with a lot of "noise." There are hundreds... scratch that...thousands... well even scratch that... MILLIONS of photographers out there. Today, everyone is a photographer. There are smart phones in practically every hand taking photos. Everyone is a photographer. Why in the world would someone pay you to do something they can do themselves??
Some see this as a difficulty, but smart people see this as an opportunity-- and I'll get to that later.
Aside from the photographing masses, there may be dozes of pros in your area, as well.
Practice. The first step to setting your earning money in boudoir photography is to become an exceptional photographer. You are not that. You may never become that. Just like you are not going to become a pro rock guitarist without years of squirreling yourself away in a bedroom practicing, you won't become an exceptional photographer without thousands of hours of practice. The focus of this article is not to define the details of this practice, but just like you may train to become a pro athlete, essentially you need to train just as hard to become a pro photographer.
Talent. This point will leave a huge chunk of candidates behind. Even if practice and hard work is in your DNA, there is another unfair selector that is beyond your control. Talent. I may dream to be an Olympic sprinter or maybe even an opera singer. I may even set out to run sprints at my local track, but no amount of "desire" or training can replace being born with speed. You'll either have this ability, or you won't. No matter how much I tell myself I want to be an opera singer... there's no amount of training in the world that won't keep people from covering their ears when I sing (trust me.) I just can't sing.
Despite your desires, you may not have the talents to capture beautiful photography.
Luck. The third element in getting started is luck. Do you live in small town rural America? ...And you want to be a boudoir photographer? Guess what? Odds are you are just geographically out of luck. As I mentioned earlier, boudoir photography is a small subset of photography, and the bigger the universe of candidates around you, the better the chance you'll have of turning boudoir into a full time career.
I'm near New York City-- there are literally millions of people within a 50 mile radius of where I am. My pool of potential boudoir clients is much larger than someone living in a small town in Kansas.
Things take time. You are not going to go from 0 - 100 m.p.h. as a boudoir photographer-- despite what you may have been lead to believe. When you first start nobody will know you even exist. You will not be able to manage with your sole income as boudoir, at first.
If you've really put in the work, and followed the Basics above, and invested in models (or friends) to practice upon, paid web develops to create a professional looking website, and studied marketing-- among lots of other disciplines needed to survive... you will grow clients.
Those clients will refer clients. --And so it will go. At this point in your career, take whatever jobs you can get. Don't worry about price. When you are building a name for yourself and your brand, take what you can get. If at this point someone is paying you-- that's good enough.
Remember what we talked about earlier regard self awareness? This is the time to be most self aware. After each and every session you should be analyzing your results. What went right, and what went wrong. Create a plan to improve your work and your business, client by client. Every client should be an opportunity for improvement. At this point you'll still be working a full time job-- so the money isn't the issue. Its the quality of your boudoir work.
This is where you will learn if you are a fanatic, or not. Are you sitting up nights staring at photos? Are you sitting up night working on your website, or blog posts? Are you planning for Christmas or wedding season? You should be.
Another whole group of people will start to fall by the wayside at this point. These are the folks who expect immediate results and riches. It doesn't work that way.
This "boudoir grind" may go on for several years. That's right, I said years. A lot will happen during this time. If you are that fanatic your work will improve. You will start to run your business better, and you'll also start to realized it's not just about the money. It can't be.
A big part that drives the success of photographers (or any other person, for that matter) is that fanaticism to not only succeed, but to be the best it is, at whatever they do.
The Steady Climb
OK. So you've made it through. The time. The energy. The effort. They've all been invested. By this point, if things are going right, you may have even developed a bit of your own style-- and you are no longer looking to "copy" the work of other photographers. Nice!
You've built a small and steady business and your thinking about making the next move-- growing your income. What now? Is it $100,000 time? Not quite. Even though you've been doing this for a few years, there is still a ways to go before that point. You have, however, begun to think about your time. The time you invest in each client. The time it takes for produce your work. The time invested in the entirety from beginning to end with each of your wonderful clients. Its a lot. You'll have the itch to start getting a little back for that time spent. You are on your way.
How do you know what your work is worth? This is more of a personal thing than it is formulaic. You can start to push your rates a bit... and why not. Let's see what happens.
One thing is for sure. Once you've started to get it figured out, you'll start to see that charging people $75 or $100 for a boudoir session is no path to success. You need more... but how much more?
There will be self doubts, but you are worth it. Here comes our friend self awareness, again. At some point you'll look around the landscape of other photographers in your area and you'll start to see that you're doing things better. Your work. Your customer experience. Everything. There is still growth ahead but at this point you see definite progress and things are starting to come together.
Start by getting an extra $100 per customer. Then maybe $200. See where it gets you.
You've climbed the mountain. Its a long uphill battle, but you can start to see daylight ahead. This post was not mean to be a comprehensive analysis of what happens to transition from the "Climb" to the "Break Through," but there is a lot that goes on in between those two steps.
When you are "Breaking Through" you've been at this for a while. A long while. Years. You've mastered your photography, but there never really is an end to learning. It's a constant education. Constant growing. Constantly seeking new directions to separate yourself and improve. It's become part of your person now.
You know who your ideal client is, and all your marketing materials are directed toward that group. Heck, at this point you've even probably turned away a few prospects because you want people who are in love with your experience-- that's your client, not someone who is looking to bargain shop for boudoir. Nice.
The "Break Through" is the time to start exploring how high you can push your earnings-- if that's the direction you want to take. Can boudoir photography be your sole paycheck? It can. Ask yourself this-- How much money do you need to survive: pay your mortgage or rent, food, utilities, etc. Is that possible? That number is easily a few thousand dollars per month.
Now that your a pro, you can handle this situation with confidence. If you need $2500 per month to survive-- you understand that number isn't going to be possible by charging people $200 per session. At this point you are planning on ways to boost your income per client. Is $500 per client good? Maybe $750, or even $900 or higher.
At $900 per client, you only need a few clients per month to be where you need to be. This is possible. At this stage you're confident in your business skills to the point that whether or not the number is possible isn't a barrier, you are more concerned with discovering how high your earnings ceiling can be. You want to know what avenues can you use to maximize the revenue per client and grow your revenue, and there are several.
Not many reach the "Payoff" stage. Like any other business or venture, its a long hard road. If $100,000 is your goal number as a boudoir photographer how is that starting to look to you now?
Here's one piece of information that may have you sink back in your chair and say "Hmmmm." Making money in photography in the 2020s is not solely about taking money from photography from clients.
By this point in your journey you are a highly skilled operator. Many photographers have learned to cash on this expertise in an unexpected way-- and have created a highly lucrative streams of income. Now is the time for you to create new streams of revenue and approach those revenue goals.
What opportunities are there? Well, many photographers have branched out into the fields of digital products and education/mentoring.
You can hardly go three photos in your Instagram feed without seeing an add for someones "Breakthrough Secrets For Booking More Business" eBooks, "Essential" Lightroom presets, or "Master"-type class online or in-person mentoring.
Digital Products. Photography is a vast market. For every pro, there are thousands of hobbyist who have interest in these items, as well. There are people out there with money who want to learn to improve their own photography skills from a "pro" like you. The money is there, its just a question of who is going to take it. So, why shouldn't that be you?
Need examples? Photographer Eric Kim goes into fair detail on how workshops and digital products have earned him in excess of $200,000 per year. You can also read about Eric Andre who turned selling digital photography products in to a $1,000,000 payoff.
If you are expanding into digital products, the world is literally your oyster. If you have crafted a signature look for your work, why not take advantage of that by lettings other purchase your own Lightroom preset pack. Creating top-notch digital products can add a significant amount of monthly revenue to your bottom line, with little to no overhead. It's a win-win. You can even set up and use a service like SendOwl to vend these items right from your website.
You can literally create and start selling digital products in minutes with SendOwl. With amazing tools like that there isn't much of an excuse why, at this point in your career, you aren't helping yourself to more money.
How much money? Well, that again is a function of effort and marketing. But the opportunity is there to earn hundreds, and possibly thousands of extra dollars per month using this avenue of revenue.
Mentoring. Mentoring has exploded over the past few years. At this point, it seems there even may be more "teachers" than students...lol 😂 There are plenty of photographers out there who in no way should be mentoring anybody... but at this point in your career your knowledge has value. This is evident in your work and online precedence you've built over the years.
People with money want to learn how to be better in photography. Aspiring young photographers, or hobbyists, have the desire to learn in a one-on-one manner from an experiences professional. Your knowledge is worth money. A real world example is my friend Quianna from Quianna Marie Photography who is an amazing photographer and educator who holds hands-on comprehensive courses in teaching photographers how to get a foot hold in the world of wedding and bridal photography.
There is money to be made in mentoring. How much money? Well, lets take a look at an example from someone I know how hosts such classes. You can hold smaller classes of five people, and charge $800 - $1000 to attend these day long (or weekend) classes. That translates to $4,000 to $5,000 for a days (or weekends) work. Even if you only host two such sessions per year, you can be adding $10,000 to your bottom line. Not bad.
The danger here is-as I mentioned earlier- Everyone, literally, everyone, is selling themselves as "experts" these days, so you need to distinguish yourself from the mediocre masses, which shouldn't be too much of a problem for you at this point in your career.
If you are a leader in your field you can offer one-on-on tutoring. People want to learn from the best.
It's been a long voyage! Perhaps many years. It's not easy, and there are no shortcuts. Growing your core photography business is something that takes time and lots of hard work. At first, there is little payoff, but once you can rise above the noise it starts to become easier to breathe.
Your job as an experienced pro is to continue to expand and grow streams of revenue for your business and take advantage of new opportunities.
Earning $100,000 per year as a boudoir photographer is entirely possible! BUT you're not going to do it charging $200 per client. Additionally, as you progress through your voyage as a photographer and reach the expert level, additional avenues of revenue will be there for the taking. These non-client based revenue streams may can even account for large percentages of your photography income, and in some cases may even be larger than your client income.