How much money does a Geographic photographer make?

Nick’s take was created from interviews made in 2000.

Surprisingly, probably not as much as people think. I can’t put a number on it, because it’s not really fair to. I don’t think you make the kind of money doctors make.

I’ve always made a decent living. And now that I’m older, I have a body of work, so I have an archive. That is what’s paying off for me. My archive starts to give me extra income to do the things I’m doing, like school for my kids.

[Nick’s Take was written in 2001. As of June 2011, NGM no longer employs staff photographers, all of the photographer who work for the magazine are freelance contractors. Nick is on staff as the Editor-at-Large for Photography.] When you say Geographic photographer, that includes fifty to sixty photographers, but 90% of them aren’t staff photographers with a regular salary. There are only 5 staff photographers, and we’re sort of like show pieces. All of us are in the back third of our careers. We do books, we do exhibits, we’re big names.

There was a time that they had a working set of staff photographers, and it didn’t work out, because in photography I think guaranteed income takes some of the hunger away. Why would you go and leave your family for all that time every year if you can make the same money staying at home?

Freelance photographers for Geographic generally keep the rights to their work, so they can market their photos after the magazine has published the coverage. Photographers make a lot of their money that way.

If you really want a number, I would say it’s around a hundred grand a year. But that’s not just assignments — that includes side assignments and marketing your own archive of work.