When I think of dream jobs, wildlife photographer is definitely right up there with chocolate taster and waterslide tester. Think of it!
Nothing but flora, fauna, and your trusty camera for co-workers, and your office, well…the entire world is your office.
You get to travel around the globe, snapping majestic shots of wonderful creatures and gorgeous scenery — how’s that for some job satisfaction!
But, as you well know, photography equipment isn’t cheap, and neither is that plane ticket to Brazil, so you can capture the wild beauty of the Amazon rainforest
Unless you’re entering the wildlife photography game as a wealthy individual, to do all these wonderful things, you’ll need to be generously compensated for your efforts.
So, how much money can you make as a wildlife photographer, and is it a feasible goal, or simply a beautiful and ephemeral dream?
Table of Contents
What Does Being A Wildlife Photographer Entail?
As a wildlife photographer, your job isn’t really any different from any other pro shutterbug. You’re on the hunt for truth, beauty, sadness, stark ugliness or brutality; you’re searching for reality. The only difference is the setting.
A wedding photographer hangs out in synagogues, chapels, churches, etc. A street photographer stomps the city sidewalks, and you, you will be exploring the natural habitats of your subjects.
Your job is to acquire high-quality images of animals and plant life in telling ways that stun the observer, stirring intrigue, and possibly even action.
If you’re lucky, you’ll land a salaried position with a print or online publication, but for the most part, you’ll be working for yourself. This means that a love for the craft is absolutely essential. It can be a tricky job that constantly forces you out of your comfort zone.
In fact, in this field of work, you’ll literally be camping in fields, so comfort can be a rarity.
As you’ll be dealing with a variety of weather and light conditions, across challenging terrain, you’ll need to master your equipment, ensuring you have all the right gear in place to take advantage of what might be a singular opportunity to get your shot.
Ultimately, a wildlife photographer’s goal is to use pictures to tell a wider story of life outside of civilization, or where the lines between the wild and civilization begin to blur.
Wildlife Photographer Salaries
Due to the nature of the industry, it can be difficult to give an exact figure for wildlife photography earnings. It can be anywhere from $0–$50,000+ annually.
There are plenty of wildlife photographers whose yearly earnings break the six-figure mark, but the big bucks are usually reserved for the Nick Brandts, Timothy Allens, Neil Aldbridges, and Christina Mittermeiers of the world.
The folks that have, over years of exceptional work, cultivated a celebrity status.
Once you’ve made something of a name for yourself, you may find remaining a free agent a strategic move, as you can set the value of the work yourself, but there are benefits to working for a publication.
When you’re working on the company dime, a lot of your expenses will be covered. Your travel bills, in particular, will plummet. When you’re a freelance wildlife photographer, all the expense of getting from A to B and back again comes out of your paycheck.
If your pictures are of a high standard, and you work hard to grow your name and career, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be pulling in around $25,000–$30,000 a year as a full-time wildlife photographer.
Honestly, other types of photography do pay better, such as pet and product photographers. However, I am a BIG believer that salary is not the only way to measure success. After all, you can make LOTS of money cleaning septic tanks!
How To Build Your Wildlife Photography Business (And Earn More Money)
Going from an enthusiast to a paid wildlife photography professional can seem like an impossible task, but it really isn’t. As long as you have a passion for your art, the drive to continue improving, and a sense of purpose, you can make your awesome hobby your super awesome job.
Let’s take a look at some avenues you can go down to build your presence in the industry and earn yourself some money along the way.
- Formal Education
One of the beautiful things about photography is that you don’t need a formal education to capture some truly stunning images or to make it in the industry.
That said, you shouldn’t rule out a degree(s) as an option. You will learn a lot in a short space of time, and that shiny qualification will help catch the eye of employers in the future.
- Craft Fairs
Never underestimate the power of a craft fair, especially when you’re first starting out. Some will be scared of investing their own money in product stock, but if your work is good, it will sell.
If you truly believe in your work, don’t hesitate to enter it into competitions. There’ll be cash prizes, and people won’t forget the names of the winners and runners-up.
- Online Presence
In this technological age, I can’t stress the importance of a strong online presence enough. You’ll need a streamlined website that exhibits your best work and proudest achievements. It’s the ultimate branding tool, a chance to tell your story.
- Workshops, Presentations, and Talks
When you’re first starting out, you should attend as many of these public events as possible, but as soon as you feel confident enough to do so, you need to take charge and become the focus of them.
Societies and educational institutions are always on the lookout for speakers to inspire and instruct. Assert yourself as a master in the field and accept any opportunities to share your experience with an audience
- Sell Your Work to Newspapers and Magazines
Get your images out there. It doesn’t have to be a glossy magazine. More people will see your shots in a newspaper than they would in most other publications.
- Invest in Quality Gear
They say that a bad workman blames their tools, but the quality of your gear will limit your abilities. While you shouldn’t spend your life savings on a Sony Cyber‑Shot RX10 IV when starting out, don’t hesitate to upgrade once you feel you’ve outgrown your current setup.
How Much Does A Wildlife Photographer Make? Summing Up
When first making the transition from enthusiast to pro wildlife photographer, you may be a little light of pocket for a while, so you’ll probably have to supplement your earnings with a part-time job if only to cover travel and gear costs.
However, if you work hard, and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, wildlife photography can be an incredibly lucrative career.