Wildlife Photography can pay extremely well, or hardly anything at all!
How Much Can You Make in Wildlife Photography as a Photographer?
That’s a big question. How much money can be made in Wildlife Photography over the course of a year? I have been fortunate to stay in Thailand doing wildlife photography for the last 13 years. I started walking around the rainforest to see what I could photograph. It soon became an obsession, and I’ve since spent thousands of hours in the Thailand forests, looking for snakes and other reptiles, mammals, insects, and various other wildlife. I don’t make money specifically from photos I sell of the wildlife I’ve photographed, but I do make a living at least in part, from wildlife photography tours.
I’ve taken many photographers on wildlife tours around our province – and I’ve had the good fortune to have learned from some of the best wildlife photographers in the world. It has been an amazing way to spend over a decade. On the pages of AsiaWildlifePhotos.com I share with you much of what I’ve learned.
The available jobs for Wildlife Photographers with major magazines, media sites, and outdoors-focused companies are in very high demand, and the competition is fierce. It’s basically a “who you know” type situation because there are many competent photographers shooting wildlife in all areas of the world – birds, fish and underwater sea life, wildlife in Africa, etc. Some even specialize in one area.
As a photographer with National Geographic, you can make around $200,000 per year with all of the travel benefits of the position. Being on the road a couple hundred days each year is worth a lot of money, and careers are long with the organization. Glassdoor.com gives $500 per day for photographers on assignment with National Geo – plus travel per diem and all expenses taken care of. Not a bad wildlife photography gig! All their photographers stay on for decades once they have a solid position with Nat. Geo. A career with National Geographic is probably the most sought-after wildlife photography position in the world!
What other sorts of career positions could you aspire to?
Stock Wildlife Photography
Back in 2007, I decided to shoot some stock photos of wildlife and other subjects for a stock photo agency called “Dreamstime.com.” They only had about 4 million photos at the time, and I thought it would be worth my effort to upload 400 images to their site and try to make some money from my sales of the rights to my photos. I kept the copyright, the rights are sold. It’s one way for wildlife photographers, and photographers of all kinds to make some extra money. Some photographers do it full-time and make over $100,000 per year JUST shooting stock wildlife photos.
I made a couple thousand dollars in ten years. It was a good test, but I didn’t find it enjoyable to add all the metadata to my images. It just didn’t make sense for me because I wasn’t producing massive amounts of photos each day that I could upload. Some photographers did and sold a lot of their stock wildlife photographs, eventually turning it into a career.
Could you shoot stock wildlife photos today and make a living from it?
I think if you’re shooting in a specific niche where the competition is low and the demand is high – yes, you can make a living. Is it fun? My own opinion is that it’s just too much admin work – too much sitting at the computer and adding metadatata for hours and hours. I found it intolerable, to tell you the truth!
How much can you make as a wildlife photographer shooting stock? In a year, maybe $500. As time went on and you had thousands of images available on stock agencies, maybe you could make $5,000. If you made an all-out effort, you could make $20,000 or so – if you’re talented and really inspired.
What else can wildlife photographers do for a career?
Wildlife Photography Tour Guide
I mentioned that I do some tours to show photographers the wildlife of Thailand. I focus mainly on snakes and other reptiles. There are really not that many people interested in snakes and reptiles compared to another subject – birds.
If you’re going to be a wildlife photographer, and you want to make a living from it, become a bird guide. I know a handful of people doing this in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. There are bird guides helping photographers all over the world. It pays incredibly well when you have people booked. For instance, if I was going to spend a 10-12 hour day with someone looking for birds, my rate would be $400 here in Thailand. That’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of effort. Even sitting still for 3 hours in a boat or on the ground, takes effort.
Wildlife photography tours that consist of 5 to 14 days of field trips across an area can bring in a lot of money for an enterprising wildlife photographer looking to make a career of it. A few hundred dollars per day per person adds up quickly when you have a group, even a small group.
Wildlife photo tours in Alaska, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Galapagos Islands, and many other places all over the world – do well. You might have some rare or endangered wildlife in the area near your home and be able to create a tour to show photographers something they may never see otherwise. Here in Thailand, we have slow lorises – which are endangered in some regions. Someone could start a photography tour for JUST slow lorises and probably make a living from it in a year of marketing the business.
What Other Ways Can You Make Money with Wildlife Photography?
You could become a fine-art photographer.
Make incredible photos of wildlife you love, and turn them into a gigantic poster and larger-sized wall hangings for homes or businesses. The durability of photographic paper these days is at an all-time high and large indoor murals should last dozens of years if cared for properly. There are not many people doing this successfully, but if you really have a passion for it, there’s no reason you couldn’t do it. If you’re motivated to make contact with people who can purchase wildlife art for their businesses – you can do really well. I don’t have any friends doing this, but I do know a guy who creates snake calendars once a year and he makes a couple thousand dollars from it.
So, which is the best way to make money with wildlife photography?
You can see, it really depends on you. The field is not wide-open, and there are not many people making any sort of living from shooting photos of their favorite animals in the wild, in the air, or under the water. But, there are SOME.
When I was in my teens, nobody ever told me that I could shoot wildlife photos and teach others how to – and get paid for it. I really wish someone had told me some of the other options I had in life!
You have every option in front of you right now. All of them are on the table.
What do you WANT TO DO?
Wildlife Photography Career?