What Does It Cost...? To Study, Live and Work in Atlanta, Georgia

[by Amanda Baltazar]

LADY ANTEBELLUM: Fashion shooter Alex Martinez shows off the bold lines of Atlanta designer Ellie Mae’s collection for Mizzae, on location at a historic antebellum home in Tyrone, Georgia.

Atlanta, Georgia—the heart of the South—is an attractive place to live. As a top business city, it has a growing job market and a number of excellent schools, and its airport is the busiest in the world— not that you’ll want to leave too often once you’ve settled in the sun belt. PDNedu takes a look at how much it costs to study, live and work in Atlanta.

To Study:

1. Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
SCAD’s growing, five-year-old Atlanta campus is a satellite of this Savannah, Georgia-based school. Studying photography in the fine arts department can land you a BA, BFA, MA or MFA. The comprehensive program offers electives in digital, analog and historic photographic processes, and students become proficient in many camera systems, lighting and black-and-white technique, with the goal of achieving a personal vision.

Tuition: $30,510 annually.
Housing: $7,185 (dormitory style, triple occupancy; with meal plan required) to 8,835 (apartment style, separate bedroom; meal plan optional).
Meal plans: $1,490.

2. The Creative Circus

The two-year photography course at the Creative Circus teaches the technical skills of lighting, composition and digital retouching through studio exercises with small-, medium- and large format cameras. Conceptual thinking is stressed throughout the curriculum, and students learn to collaborate with others in the field, including writers, art directors and designers.

$15,064.50 annually.

3. Portfolio Center

Portfolio Center offers a two-year accredited program in commercial photography. This school will “train you and give you the skills to become a viable, relevant commercial photographer in the modern world,” explains photography department head Jerry Burns. “One-hundred percent of our instructors are award-winning professionals in their field,” he adds.

$34,800 annually.

4. Gwinnett Technical College
Gwinnett Tech offers three photography programs: a certificate in digital imaging, a diploma course and an associate of applied science degree in commercial photography. These community-college programs provide foundations in design and technology, structured multimedia, photography and Web development. Gwinnett Tech prepares students for employment in the field of photography and also offer the chance to specialize.

Tuition, in-state student: 
$328 to $508 annually.
Tuition, out-of-state student: $508 to $868 annually.

5. The Art institute of Atlanta
Located 20 minutes from downtown, the Art Institute of Atlanta offers an associate of arts degree, a bachelor of arts degree, and a diploma in commercial photography. Students learn the basics of color, design, camera techniques and applications and digital imaging, as well as lighting, history of photography and photographic design.

$19,440 to $93,312 annually.
$2,800 per quarter.

To Live

1. Housing:
It’s currently a great time to buy a home in Atlanta, according to Aaron Grubel, a broker with ASG Realty, who adds, “There are great opportunities, especially for foreclosures.” But don’t wait too long, because Grubel expects prices to start to rise again soon. Reasonably priced—and convenient—neighborhoods to look at are Decatur, Buckhead and Brookhaven. Photographers and creative types are often drawn to Oakhurst and East Atlanta, he points out.

To take advantage of the foreclosures the city has recently been experiencing, you could pick up a home (around 1,300 square feet with two or three bedrooms) for $20,000-$25,000, although it wouldn’t be in the best of areas and may need some repairs, Grubel says. Otherwise, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, or three-bedroom, one-bath home (close to 1,400 square feet) in a good neighborhood will run about $225,000. A 1,000-square-foot condo costs around $100,000; a two-bedroom apartment rental in a similar area will start at $950 a month. Renters can also find reasonable rents. A two- to three-bedroom house would start at $1,200 a month, while a small apartment (750 to 800 square foot) in a good area costs $700 to $750 per month.

To rent: $700 and up.
To buy: $950 and up.

2. Transportation
Public transportation (MARTA: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) is one of the letdowns of Atlanta, says editorial photographer David Walter Banks. He adds, “There’s a train, but it doesn’t really get you around.” For this reason, and because they often need to haul equipment, almost all photographers commute by car. His car payments run $230 a month, Banks says.

Corporate and advertising photographer Audra Melton spends about $60 monthly on diesel for her vintage car and $150 to get around by taxi; Jerry Burns, who shoots people, portraiture and lifestyle, spends $80 in gas for his Prius, and advertising and editorial photographer Alex Martinez caps out at around $200.

Gas: $110 per month.
Car payments: $230 per month.
Taxis/car service: $150 per month.

3. Food
As with most cities, there are cheap joints in Atlanta where you can munch to your heart’s content for $10, but an average dinner out runs around $25 a head ($10 to $15 for lunch). Photographers say they spend between $200 and $650 per month on groceries and $150 to $650 on eating out. There’s no shortage of restaurants, says Burns. “You could eat out every day and never repeat a restaurant for six months.”

Groceries: $425 per month.
Eating out: $400 per month.

4. Utilities
Utilities in Atlanta fluctuate greatly depending on the time of year. In the peak of summer, when temperatures average 88 degrees Fahrenheit (F), and the middle of winter when they drop to around 29 degrees F, expenses are high. Averaged through the year, monthly utilities cost somewhere between $150 (Burns) and $500 (Melton).

THE BOTTOM LINE: $325 per month.

To Work

1. Studio

Many Atlanta-based photographers use studios. Food and interiors photographer Calvin Lockwood has his own studio, which he also rents out starting at $800 a day. It’s a 3,000-square-foot space featuring 14-foot high ceilings and modular walls. Another popular destination is Morel Studio Support, which costs $500 for a ten-hour day. This 1,700-square-foot space has high ceilings, a lounge and wireless Internet. While owning your own studio is convenient, paying the utilities can be costly. Burns pays around $150 per month, averaged over the year. Lockwood says his studio utilities run $300 to $350 in the peak of summer and winter but less than half this otherwise. Two business phone lines cost Lockwood $150, although Burns pays only $50 for his phone service.

To rent a studio by the day: $650.
Studio utilities and phone if you own: $300 per month.

2. Equipment
Professional Photo Resources is the place to go in Atlanta for equipment purchases or rentals, although the latter make up the bulk of business, according to store manager David Fields. The most frequently rented cameras cost $120 per day or $360 for a week. The Nikon D3S costs $150 per day ($450 a week); a 24-70 mm lens costs $30 per day or $35 for a 70-200 mm; and a medium-format digital back costs $450 daily. The most popular brand of rental lighting is Profoto, which costs around $80 a day. All weekly costs are triple the daily costs. To buy a good camera costs around $1,699 with the cost rising to $1,999 if purchased with a kit lens. The Nikon D7000 is currently very much in demand and runs $1,199. For lighting, most photographers want a couple of mono lights and usually buy them in kits with an umbrella, stand and battery pack, says Fields. These cost around $2,000.

To rent the basics (camera, lens and lights): $230 per day; $690 per week.
To buy the basics (camera and lens): $3,898.

3. Marketing

Ask ten photographers how much they spend on marketing and you’ll get ten very different answers. In Atlanta, marketing yourself as a photographer averages out to about $5,000 a year. As an established shooter, Banks spends around $10,000 annually, but he gets a great bang for his buck. He’s part of a photographer-owned marketing cooperative called Luceo, which, he explains “gives us six times the collective budget and six times the brain power of how that money is best used.” Lockwood spends $5,000 to $6,000 a year on association memberships, direct mail, e-mail campaigns and the mailing list service Agency Access. Melton’s marketing costs run $3,000 to $5,000 a year and are mostly spent on her Web site, Web hosting, a print portfolio and business cards.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $5,000 per year.

4. Insurance
Like marketing costs, insurance costs vary greatly. Equipment insurance ranges from $500 to $4,800 for the year, but most photographers clock in at $1,000 to $2,000. Martinez and Lockwood each spend $350 a month for health insurance. Family coverage for Burns currently costs $250 a month through his wife’s job. However, he used to pay $1,200 monthly for his family of five.

Business insurance: $1,500 per year.
Health insurance: $300 per month.

Total Population: 540,922
Median age (years): 34.0
Age Distribution:
Under 5 years: 6.6%
18 to 64 years: 79.9%
65 years and over: 8.5%

Per Capita income: $37,480
Median household income: $50,243
Median family income: $62,904

Monthly housing unit with a Mortgage: Median $1,888
Monthly housing units without a Mortgage: Median $578
Owner-occupied housing: 51.3%
Renter-occupied housing: 48.7%
Vacant housing units: 18.8%

 Leading Industries: Educational services, health care and social assistance (18.4%); professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services (18.4%); arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services (11.1%); retail trade (10%) and finance, insurance, real estate rental and leasing (9.5%).

Mean travel time to work: 25.6 minutes

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005-2009 American Community Survey



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