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The 6 (Surprising) Best Cities for Photographers to Live and Work

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
featured, photo & video

In the era of the freelance economy, writers, designers, and other creatives are increasingly more able to choose where they want to live based on their preferences, rather than where the work is. But for photographers, it’s a little different — after all, unlike designers, who can work offsite most of the time, photographers have to actually be where the work is, whether it’s a commercial job, a wedding, or a sweeping outdoor landscape. And in some cities, the truth of the matter is that the permitting is easier, the work is in greater supply, and the cost of living is more manageable. So which cities around the world are best for photographers?

The short answer is that it depends on what you’re looking for. Of course, cities like Los Angeles, Paris, and New York City are hubs for photographers, and if what you’re looking to shoot is high fashion or commercial magazine work, you may need to spend a lot of time there getting your work in front of the right people (although, that’s not a requisite). But the expense of living there and getting around — not to mention a saturated market creating a higher barrier to entry — makes those places much more difficult to make a living in than some lesser-known, more affordable metropolises. If the kind of work you’re looking to do includes weddings, lifestyle, families, stock photos, outdoor or nature landscapes, wildlife, or travel, living in a city that’s a little more tuned to your needs — and income — is probably a good idea.

Most working photographers — especially those who are just starting out — are concerned about cost of living, which includes things like the price of housing and transportation. If that’s your concern, large-ish cities with relatively low rents and housing prices might be the best choice, though there are admittedly some awesome photo spots in NYC. In the U.S., the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have been receiving a lot of attention for remaining affordable while also boasting a growing hub of young creatives. And with major companies like Best Buy, Target, and 3M all headquartered in the state, there’s quite a bit of industry to help drive jobs.

Orlando, Florida also offers a robust photography industry, and the cost of living in Orlando is manageable for most working photographers. Florida offers a gorgeous landscape for destination weddings, vacation photos, fashion shoots, sports events, and outdoor photography. And because the entertainment industry in Orlando is so huge, permitting tends to be pretty easy, and large crowds don’t usually gawk when you’re setting up on a street corner with a light reflector and beauty dish.

Outside of the U.S., Mexico City remains a vibrant cultural hub, with hundreds of galleries for its 9 million residents to enjoy, and without a sky-high price tag on daily life. Equally important, thanks to legislature passed in 2009, getting filming permits through official government channels is easier and more safe than ever.

Chennai, India, may seem like a surprising pick, but with a super-low cost of living and the booming Kollywood (second only to Bollywood) film industry, there’s a lot of peripheral work for photographers — not to mention gorgeous surrounding landscapes to shoot, and plenty of tourist-related activity. Not to mention the booming opportunities for wedding photographers in India as a whole — where the industry is reportedly growing at 25 to 30 percent per year and estimated to be worth around $50 billion annually.

Some cities attract creatives based on culture alone — and Berlin, Germany, is one of the hottest hubs right now. Named one of 2013’s most affordable cities, Berlin is actively fostering creativity, which means working photographers won’t have a hard time networking with potential clients and collaborators. There’s even a database of creative jobs, and a photography festival every year that draws artists and appreciators from around the world.

Finally, if you’re looking for both natural beauty and a film industry that supports artists, Toronto, Canada is a top spot. Though it’s expensive for Canada — just recently surpassed by Vancouver, making it the second-most expensive city — it’s competitively priced compared to many other international cities. Plus, it’s extremely friendly to artists and creatives, making shooting around town and out in the ‘burbs a breeze.

What’s your favorite city to live and work? Tell us your picks in the comments. 

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.