What Does it Cost... To Study, Live and Work in Salt Lake City, Utah?

By Amanda Baltazar

Trevor Muhler shot this image for the American Institute of Architects sponsored design competition, Sixtynine / Seventy. The competition called for ideas on how to rejuvenate blocks 69 and 70 in downtown Salt Lake City. Muhler was tasked with creating a library of images that gave insight into the feel of the neighborhood and could also be used as collateral for entrants to use in their designs.

Utah’s biggest city and state capital, Salt Lake City (SLC), is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains—making it an outdoor photographer’s paradise with stunning scenery. It’s a mecca for outdoor sport enthusiasts as well, especially skiers.

Founded in 1847 by Brigham Young, founding president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in the mid-1800s SLC was nicknamed the Crossroads of the West, due to its proximity to the first transcontinental railroad. In 1913, SLC was traversed by the first transcontinental highway and, presently, its locus as hub for the cross-country freeways I-15 and I-80, makes SLC easily accessible to all.


Brigham Young University (BYU)

An image of the BYU campus, © Brad Slade

Just 45 miles from Salt Lake City, BYU is a renowned college offering bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degrees in photography. The core program aims to teach visual problem solving and an understanding of fine art applications. Ensuing work is designed to prepare students to work in the field, especially in the professional industry.

Tuition: $4,850 per year for students subsidized by the Mormon church; $9,700 per year for other students.

Housing: Costs range from $2,240 per year for a shared room with a sink to $4,480 for a single suite.

Salt Lake Community College (SLCC)

This two-year program in visual art and design with a photography emphasis specializes in animation, graphic design, illustration, multimedia, photography, Web design and graphic communications technologies, culminating in an associate of applied science (AAS) degree. Students learn still photography and video, and the program is designed to lead to an entry-level job in a photography-related career.

Tuition: $10,026 (in-state students); $31,872 (out-of-state students).

Utah Valley University (UVU)

UVU offers an AAS degree in photography and a BFA with a photography emphasis. Courses are taught by active photographers and through partnerships with local businesses; classes held in Capitol Reef National Park push students outside their comfort zone and expose them to a wide variety of photographic approaches and styles. This school is located 40 miles south of SLC, in Orem, Utah.

Tuition: $2,184 per semester (in-state); $6,769 per semester (out-of-state).
Housing: No on-campus housing available.

University of Utah

Students on location for a Daguerreotype workshop at the University of Utah, image courtesy of University of Utah

Students at the University of Utah receive a BFA or MFA in art with an emphasis in photography/digital imaging, both of which offer a broad foundation in the visual arts. These programs have a fine arts focus with the goal of training students to develop a deep personal vision using a variety of photographic technologies.

Tuition: $6,708 per year for in-state students; $21,296 for out-of-state students.
Housing: On-campus housing costs average $10,602 annually, including board. Freshmen can choose between three residence halls, all with obligatory meal plans.

A BYU student setting up a shot at the Bonneville Salt Flats in  Northwestern Utah, © Jay P. Morgan


Two hot neighborhoods in SLC are the Avenues and the Marmalade, which are “probably the most diversified areas in Salt Lake County,” says William Bustos, associate broker at Keller Williams Utah Realtors. Both are close to downtown and the capital. The Avenues is well established and fast-paced, while the Marmalade is up-and-coming, he says. “It’s changing block by block, and it’s getting nicer, although it will probably be another 15 to 20 years before the Marmalade mirrors the Avenues.” Yet both have a higher crime rate than the county average, so there are more rental properties available, he adds.

A small family home (around 2,000 square feet) in the Avenues costs about $240,000; in the Marmalade District, the same space is closer to $150,000. A little further out (eight or nine miles, still well within the city) in an area called Holladay City, a small family home of around 2,800 square feet (three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage) costs around $325,000.

To rent, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment of about 900 square feet costs approximately $1,100 in the Avenues, $720 in the Marmalade and $900 in Holladay City.

THE BOTTOM LINE: TO BUY: $150,000 and up.
TO RENT: $720 and up.


A BYU student photographs a moving train, © Paul Adams

The Utah Dept. of Transportation has a pretty good network in SLC, with both a train and bus system, but photographers rarely use it. Trevor Muhler, who shoots primarily architecture, has a Subaru Outback wagon and drives 5,000 to 6,000 miles monthly. He probably spends only $60 to $70 on gas in winter months, but his fuel costs are conservatively three times this from late spring through early fall.

Scott Markewitz, an outdoor action and portrait photographer, rides his bike as much as he can in warm months but takes his Toyota Sienna AWD when he’s carrying gear. He fills up every four or five days at $40 a pop, yet he also spends about four months of the year traveling on assignment.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $160 per month.


Eating out in SLC is relatively inexpensive, and because of the predominant Mormon religion and large families, the majority of restaurants offer comfort-style food with affordable pricing. “There’s also a surprising amount of good Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants here,” says Muhler, “specifically Thai, a few sushi restaurants and also Indian.” An average meal for two costs around $30 without drinks. Photographers tend to eat out a couple of times a month, in general.

Eating at home, photographers and their partners tend to cook mostly from scratch. Muhler and his wife spend around $400 a month on groceries for the two of them and their baby—the same as ski photographer Mike Schirf and his girlfriend. Markewitz comes in higher, at closer to $600 for himself, his wife and their ten year-old son.

EATING OUT: $60 a month.


Julian Carr skiing behind the Utah State Capital in Salt Lake City, Utah, © Scott Markewitz

SLC’s utility costs fluctuate, as they do in other cities where temperatures vary drastically throughout the year. Electricity costs around $250 a month, says Markewitz, and gas is closer to $300. Schirf’s costs, averaged through the year, come to around $35 a month for electricity and $150 for gas. He also pays around $50 a month for Internet. Muhler says his costs are close to $40 for electricity but $100 for the hottest summer months; and gas is around $50 monthly but probably $100 in December and January. He pays $100 a month for basic cable service, most of which is Internet costs.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $275 per month.


Photo Collective Studios recently completed a buildout of their upstairs space, including the new Natural Light Loft and Communal Office Space for photographers, photo courtesy of Photo Collective Studios

Photo Collective Studios in downtown SLC has two studios, both around 1,500 square feet and one with natural light. Each costs $50 an hour to rent or $75 with all equipment. When rentals surpass five hours, the cost per hour drops to $40. The collective also offers full-time office rentals with unlimited studio use for $650 a month.

Blair Kunz Studio in the South Salt Lake area is 50 by 50 feet and costs $450 for a half-day (five-hour) rental or $650 for a full day (ten hours). A week is billed at four days.

THE BOTTOM LINE: To rent: $70 per hour.


Photographers looking to rent equipment in SLC typically turn to pictureline. The most popular camera body is the Nikon D800 at $800 daily. “With a body, we include a battery grip, two batteries, charger and card reader,” says rental manager Stacy Young. The AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR are the favored Nikon lenses and cost $30 and $35 a day, respectively. Photographers’ favorite lighting rental is the Profoto D1 500 air kit, at $50 a day for two 500-watt lights, stands, umbrellas, an air remote and sync cord. The weekly rental rate is a four-day week.

“Rental business is increasing, particularly with video gear,” Young says. “With still photography, there is an increase in studio lighting. Many new photographers want to take their photography to the next level, and renting gear makes more sense financially for them.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: To rent: $115 per day (camera, body, lights); $460 per week.


Health insurance rates vary from one photographer to another. Schirf spends $92 per month for himself; Muhler’s insurance is provided through his wife’s job, and she pays $120 a month for their family of three. Markewitz pays $500 a month for three people, “and we have a very high deductible, so it’s great if anything major happens, but for minor stuff it doesn’t give us much,” he says. He also pays $1,200 a year for his equipment insurance—and that’s just the items he takes with him on a regular basis. Muhler pays $1,350 for his equipment and business, and Schirf pays $936 for his business insurance each year. Home insurance costs range from $480 to $750 annually. Muhler’s cost is the latter, and he says “it’s a little higher because I’ve added an earthquake rider. We have the Wasatch Fault here, and it’s way overdue for an eruption.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: Healthcare: $237 per month for a family.
Equipment: $1,160 per year.
Home: $615 per year.


Markewitz spends some $8,000 per year on marketing, which includes AtEdge, PDN’s Photoserve and Wonderful Machine. He also uses AdBase and does about ten mailings a year through this service, which costs about $800. Schirf feels he should do more marketing and spends about $2,000 per year, which is mostly for Wonderful Machine and attending the big SLC Outdoor Retailer show semiannually in summer and winter.

For Muhler, costs are mostly limited to ASMP, his website and ZenFolio, which together cost $550 per year. He used to do direct mailings, “but I didn’t get anything. In two years, I spent $1,500 and didn’t get one bite.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: $550 to $8,000 per year.


Total population: 189,314
Median age (years): 31.2
Age distribution:
Under 5 years – 7.8%
5 to 17 years – 22.5%
18 to 64 years – 60.3%
65 years and over – 9.4%
Per capita income: $27,333
Median household income: $44,510
Median family income: $59,815 (estimated)
Owner-occupied housing: 49%
Renter-occupied housing: 51%
Median monthly housing costs, renters: $430 (estimated)
Median monthly housing costs, with a mortgage: $1,477 (estimated)
Leading occupations: Educational services and healthcare and social assistance (26.2%); Professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services (13.1%); Arts, entertainment, recreation,
accommodation and food services (12.4%); Wholesale and retail trade (11.9%); Manufacturing (8.8%); Finance, information, insurance, and real estate (6.8%); Construction (4.8%); Transportation, warehousing and utilities (4.4%); Public administration (3.9%).
Mean travel time to work: 19.4 minutes

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 – 2012



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



Tout VTS



Contact PDN | About Photo District News | Camera Reviews and Gear Guide | Photography Blog | Photo News | Photo Magazine- Print Subscription |
Photography RSS Resources | Free Photography Newsletter | Photo Magazine Advertising | Photographer Features & Resources | Stock Photographs
© 2016 Emerald Expositions, LLC. All rights reserved. Read our TERMS OF USE and PRIVACY POLICY