When making—not taking—a picture, a professional photographer considers three main factors: the aperture, shutter speed and the ISO.
Here at ValuePenguin, we consider four... when determining which cities are best for these artistic pros to live and work: number of jobs,average salary, cost of living and location quotient.
Best Five Cities for Photographers
Of the 187 cities reporting data, these five earned our best score, comprising the factors of median salary, cost of living and location quotient. Speaking of salary, the 52,250 photographers employed in the U.S. in May 2014 earned $38,350 on average, or an hourly wage of $18.44, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
1. Honolulu, Hawaii
Beyond its natural beauty, Honolulu takes home the top spot because of the data. The state's capital recorded two top-10 ranks, in average annual salary (fourth) and location quotient (ninth). Its ValuePenguin score of 18 was the only sub-20 mark in the study and was 91% lower than its average. If natural light is a photographer's best friend, Honolulu has plenty of it, routinely ranking highly for its average percentage of possible sunshine.
2. Los Angeles, Calif.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, but Los Angeles' photographers earn the nation's highest annual average salary ($66,160), a figure that is 93% higher than the study's average; no other city pays its full-timers more than $60,000. Los Angeles is the first of four California cities to crack our top 30; see the top 100 list below. The American Photographic Artists association is located north, however, in San Francisco.
Statistical region includes: Long Beach and Glendale, Calif.
3. New York, N.Y.
With the nation's most photographer jobs (3,350) -- more than Los Angeles (2,680) and Chicago (1,660), many others -- New York comes in third. The Big Apple is home to Wedding & Portrait Photographers International . It's also home to many tourist attractions that are of interest to camera-toting visitors: the 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square chief among them.
Statistical region includes: White Plains, N.Y., and Wayne, N.J.
4. Santa Fe, N.M.
The first of two "small" cities to crack the top five -- see our population breakdown rankings below -- Santa Fe climbed to fourth, in part, because of it registered top-10 marks in both average annual salary (10th) and location quotient (seventh). We take the latter metric to mean that there is a relatively higher demand for a photographer's services here, despite the fact that the BLS has a record of only 60 full-time positions within the city limits. Photographers short and long on experience appreciate Santa Fe's desert scenery. It's also home to the well-respected nonprofit CENTER.
5. Norwich, Conn.
The most affordable city among our top five -- it's still 8% more expensive to live here than it is in the average American city -- Norwich narrowly bested Anchorage, Alaska, to round out our top five. An hour-plus drive's west is Waterbury, Conn., the birthplace of famed American photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Statistical region includes: New London, R.I.
Top 100 Cities for Photographers
Cost of Living
|Los Angeles, CA||$66,160||2,680||1.71||116||21|
|New York, NY||$59,190||3,350||1.61||108||25|
|Santa Fe, NM||$48,350||60||2.37||140||41|
|Las Vegas, NV||$38,150||590||1.74||103||65|
|Oklahoma City, OK||$37,920||420||1.82||100||66|
|Myrtle Beach, SC||$37,120||120||2.59||135||77|
What’s It Like Being a Photographer in… ?
3. New York City, N.Y.
Chris Nicholson |Photographing National Parks
"Even though it’s saturated with photographers, it’s also saturated with opportunities. I have been offered work that I was not offered before just because I live here. And that’s a little crazy, because when I lived in Connecticut, New York City was only an hour away by car or train, but New Yorkers consider that "far away." Now that I live here -- even though it might take me an hour to get to a location by subway -- those jobs get presented to me more often."
35. Seattle, Wash.
Richard Brown | Richard Brown Photography
"I suppose we have so much tech, biotech and nonprofits here as well as some top dot-coms, which certainly provides more opportunity."
66. Nashville, Tenn.
Sebastian Smith | Sebastian Smith Photo
"Music city is where artists are either working or moving out. It's a brutal city to live in because there is so much heartbreak. That's why Nashville has a policy that if you moved to Nashville as a musician with your guitar strapped to your back, then they will buy you a one way ticket back home if you fall on your face."
128. Houston, Texas
Brock Lawson |Brock Lawson Photo
"The urban sprawl is larger than any other city I have ever visited. Clients and vendors are very often late to meetings and appointments (myself included) because of traffic events and distance to travel. Just as an example, the product studio I am employed at is 27 miles from my home, which is not too much above the average here, and it takes somewhere between one to two hours to get there depending on traffic. My personal studio is another 13 miles from there. When I leave the product studio to drive that 13 miles, it takes another hour. The other unique aspect is the heat during the summer. Taking photographs outside is not only a difficult and slow process, but it can also be deadly with heat stroke and exhaustion."
Gary Norbraten |Blary Photography
"I always need to pack an extra shirt. The unique thing about being a photographer in Houston are the hot summer weddings where you're still obligated to go out in the midday heat for beautiful sunlit photos. I did a wedding two weeks ago where I was drenched, and I don't sweat easily. Luckily, I could swap shirts before my drive to the reception venue."
165. San Antonio, Texas
Chandra Yarter |Chandra's Collection Photography
"Some people may automatically think of cowboy boots and the Alamo. However, my style is organic, and I love to exude a "hill country" style instead of the typical "country" look. That way, my style is appealing to a lot of different brides, not just someone who loves cowboy boots and hats."
185. Naples, Fla.
Peggy Farren | Naples Portraits
"Naples, Florida has possibly the highest density of millionaires in the U.S. For that reason, photographers have incredible opportunities here, both as portrait/event type of photographers as well as photographic artists. Business is much easier if your clients can afford what you are selling. Wealthy people can be demanding, so you'd better know what you are doing and give excellent customer service. Photography has always been a luxury service, so it's nice to be where so many can afford it... The other unique thing about this area is that we are a vacation area, so there are opportunities for destination weddings and family portraits from visitors. Marketing is very different in this area because of this."
UR. Orange County, Calif.
Kendra Cole |Kendra Cole Photography
"I love the diversity of features to photograph nearby. I can go to beaches, L.A., the mountains, the dessert, fields, Disneyland and many other places within an hour from my house. Additionally, San Diego, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and San Francisco are all accessible within hours. I will never get tired of the different places I get to visit for my shoots."
UR. Ithaca N.Y.
Thomas Hoebbel |Thomas Hoebbel Photography
"Being a photographer here is unique in a couple of ways. One is that we are home to world class Cornell University. That gives me many opportunities to work in academic and research environments that are not available everywhere. It also draws many famous people for events, which can be a fun to photograph. The other aspect of Ithaca is that it is a beautiful environment, and there are fantastic settings to take photos with clients, whether that be portraits, weddings or other events."
These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.
- What can photographers earn in the city?
We ranked the best cities for photographers based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.
- How affordable is it to live in this city?
Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 188, such as Honolulu, would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 88 percent more expensive compared to the average city.
- What is the location quotient for photographers in the city?
A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of photographers in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a photographer's services.