This Photographer Shares How She Sets a Fair Rate


You’ve seen the gorgeous photography from our #createcultivate100 list. Now, meet Annie McElwain, the woman behind the camera. Below, Annie shares her process for setting her rate, her dream client, and advice for young creatives.

How did you get into photography?

I used to be an actress and started photography as a hobby in my early 20s. I had no previous artistic background and never intended it as a career—I actually was a lot more academic in nature than artistic. However, there was something in me that has always wanted to tell stories of and share the beauty in the human experience.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a photographer?

Photos (especially portraits) often become more valuable, more cherished over time. The sentimental side of me finds this greatly rewarding.

In a dream world, who would you like to shoot?

The first female president.

What advice would you give to young artists and designers who are struggling to support themselves with their work?

It helps me to remember that without the struggle, we really wouldn’t appreciate it once we got wherever it is we want to go.

Where does your passion/drive come from?

It’s hard to say. I think everyone has drive once they find what they are passionate about. And sometimes finding this takes a lot of self exploration first.

I do my best to live in a world where ‘likes’ don’t matter and real relationships are always more valuable than follower counts.

What keeps you up at night?

It varies between my ongoing to-do list, finances, and thinking about the next earthquake.

What advice do you have on knowing how to set a fair rate?

First, don’t compare yourself to what other people are charging, find what works for you in your life.

My basic approach to setting a fair rate comes from how much money I need to bring in each month and how many shoots I can handle each month. This gives a general idea of how much to charge for a shoot, though it’s not a perfect formula of course. Basically, I try to really understand the scope of the project before I send over a quote. With enough experience, I’ve come to really understand what my time is worth.

In a world where likes and follower counts are so coveted, how do you stay authentic and true to yourself/your brand?

I do my best to live in a world where likes don’t matter in the grand scheme of things and real relationships are always more valuable than follower counts.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? How do your hobbies influence your art?

Yoga keeps me balanced, surfing reminds me to let go of control and to be present. Long walks and hikes allow my mind to wander freely. I escape with music. Travel, dinner with friends, podcasts— expand my horizons.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

If you always do your best, you will never regret anything.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?

I think just knowing that you WILL hit bumps and hurdles in your career makes it a bit easier to deal with them when they come. I find peace in knowing that things like this are relatively cyclical and most artists careers have peaks and valleys. I had a business coach once who really helped me with the idea of failing. She taught me that we only really learn when we fail, not when we succeed. So while it can be humbling, making mistakes or trying things out that don’t work are what make us better.

What are you most excited for in 2019?

I’m really excited to experiment more creatively and collaborate more with other artists this year.