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How I spread my photography business for maximum profitability

Off the top of your head, what do you think photographers do? Take pictures? Yep. What else? So much more!

As a business woman, I soon learned that if I was going to be a photographer who eats, I had to branch out. I learned not to rely on my clients for all my income. I had to rely on ME. When I tell my friends that I work 40 hours a week, they’re baffled. I know they’re thinking ‘but we’ve just spent the whole day hanging out! How do you work that much?’ I do the majority of my work at night. Most of my posts you read here on DPS or my blog were written well past midnight. And if you learn to branch out and stick your finger into many different pies, you too can have a successful photography business. Hopefully your kids go to school and you can work normal hours unlike me! :)

Here’s how my business breaks down:

{Shooting} I do a max of two bespoke sessions per month. These are those ultra special, super time consuming sessions where you spend half a day with a family. I do a max of two, making money on the session fee and the resulting product order.

{Writing} I write for Canon, DPS and my own blog. My personal blogging makes money through affiliate ads (I learned everything I know from problogger.net). Lots of photographers make money writing ebooks.

{Teaching} I have students who come from allover the world to meet me for a day or two of shooting, editing and general brain-picking. I didn’t seek this activity. I just started replying to email queries about whether I do workshops or not and it took on a life of it’s own. I’m in the final stages of putting the finishing touches on my first DVD with the working title “How I Photograph my Kids.” If you have access to a filmmaker and an audience who’s listening, a tutorial DVD is a great idea. I also do Skype consultations where I can share my screen. It’s super cool, super fun and super profitable.

{Clubs} I don’t do this personally, but some photographers establish an area photography club. I think they make money from these. You’ll have to look into how that works.

{Artwork} This is where I think of starving artists. Very few photographers are successful selling their work as art, but it can be done!

{Schools} When it comes to shooting, schools are where it’s at profit-wise. You go in for a couple hours and a couple weeks later pick up a pile of envelopes with hundreds and hundreds of dollars in orders. Possibly a thousand if it’s a large school. Straightforward head and shoulders, maybe one quirky shot. Possibly groups (if you decide to go a group). Minimal editing. Resulting session bookings. The snag here is that schools are dog eat dog and not easy to get into. Start with your own kids’ school and it might grow from there.

So that’s it in a nutshell for me. Making a small/reasonable amount of money from many different sources. When one area dries up for a season, you have the others to keep you going!

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Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • http://www.chenthil.in Chenthil

    Concise but a perfect article covering the aspects of sustaining photography as a business !

  • Debra Roberts

    Very interesting …thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.grantskissphotography.webs.com Christine Grant

    I was information I could use and share as a business owner

  • http://www.iexplorepakistan.com Danial Shah

    I must say appreciate all your efforts. I guess its not business but a passion :).
    and teaching is the best way to spread the knowledge. How do you charge if you teach or consult online etc?

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    Elizabeth, so you recommend charging a session fee and then only allowing your clients to orders prints/books/etc from you? Do you sell digital copies of your photographs at all? If yes, what is your policy for allowing the digital photographs to be posed online by the client to Facebook, flickr, etc.?

    I currently include a set number of digital files in my portrait packages (session & digital files), but have really started to stress that the client print from the secure gallery I put the photographs in on SmugMug. I am thinking I want to make the full transition to only allowing the client to be able to print from SmugMug thereby insuring the prints will be done by a professional lab (not the corner Walgreens/CVS) and also that I can increase my profitability from a single shooting session.

    It’s just that in the sub-$500 portrait market clients are (obsessed?) really seeming to only want digital copies of their photographs.

    For making money from a photo club, I know photographers in the area who run them via Meetup.com. I do not know how they have time to do that, but maybe most of their money comes from running such a group as to do it well it is very time consuming. I teach 1-on-1 private lessons in my own area only.

    Thank you for the post and the breakdown format.

  • http://www.TheCreativesCorner.com Jeff Colburn

    Good article. I too have found that you need to have multiple streams of income.

    As for selling Fine Art photographs, I went into my first gallery last month and have sold three pieces so far. I plan on expanding to other galleries this year. First, I will expand throughout the state, then the Southwest, THEN THE WORLD! Sorry, I got a little carried away.

    Thanks for the good info.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  • http://elizabethhalford.com Elizabeth Halford

    @Jason: Yea that’s right. I charge a session fee firstly. This is for a couple of reasons. It means they’re serious clients who won’t let you down on the day. It also means that they will order photos after because they’ve already made a financial investment, not to mention an emotional and time investment in the session. And yes, I sell digitals singly or a DVD of 20 images but it’s expensive. The best way for them to get digitals is to purchase a collection. Have a look at this post about how I learned to set my prices. It’s a difficult beast to slay on your own! http://bit.ly/bl6TZv

  • http://www.davelaphamphotography.com Dave Lapham Photography

    very interesting. eye opener!

  • http://twitter.com/SaseAntic Sase Antic

    Useful, not only for photography business, but also for others.
    Thanks for the article!

  • http://www.horse-stall.net Horse Gifts

    Can photography be a successful and profitable side buissness or does a large chunk of time need to be devoted to it?

  • Brittany

    A couple of things that I’ve noticed: Try uploading your works to online sites such as Flickr or Deviantart. Deviantart has a decent Print system going. With a mixture of talent, blogging, and participation in the community; you can get a bit of money from selling prints, and a lot of exposure. Or even commissions.
    Also I notice that some people commission photographers at events such as Comic Con to do large, cosplay photos.

  • http://www.cbimages.ca Chris

    Interesting Article. I think most people want to make it big from your second last point, Artwork. Or maybe it is just me…

    I was talking with an associate from my “day job” and she asked “why I don’t go pro?” Thinking of your Artwork point I responded; “There isn’t much money in it.”

    The teaching might be a point for me to ponder.

    Thanks for sharing your business model.

  • http://photoblog.com/fotomike mike

    great post, a wealth of information for anyone at any level. i think there are more to ways to make money in the photography industry than the common assumption of selling artwork, unless maybe stock photos.

  • Renee

    The best kids pics we ever got were from a photographer who did an Open House for homeschoolers. Charged a flat fee for a short session in his home-based studio and then put the pics out on SmugMug for us. We were allowed to have digital copies as well as order prints. That allowed us to post our favorite shots on Facebook, and then that photographer got a lot of word-of-mouth advertising as people commented and wanted to know who had done the shots. So don’t forget your local homeschool groups, and don’t underestimate word-of-mouth when it comes to parents who use social media. :)

  • http://www.smokinphoto.com Smokinphoto

    This is a great article Elizabeth. I have the same questions as Jason asked earlier, ”
    Do you recommend charging a session fee and then only allowing your clients to orders prints/books/etc from you? ”

    Uploading your works to online sites such as Flickr or Deviantart. Deviantart has a decent Print system going. This has definitely worked for us in the past. great suggestion here by Brittney.

  • http://www.johnparliphotography.com John Parli

    Great thoughts here.

    Mentioned above was how selling photographic arts isn’t very lucrative… true to a degree, but consider the value of the “face time” you get. It’s all about getting your name out there.

    -John
    My Site
    Tweet Me!

  • Josee Soucy

    I’m just a beginner in photography .i take pictures of wildlife, flowers and insects as a hobby. But would like to know where to start to sell my pictures to magazines company? Can someone help me out and where to start… Josee

Some older comments

  • Josee Soucy

    August 15, 2013 10:54 pm

    I'm just a beginner in photography .i take pictures of wildlife, flowers and insects as a hobby. But would like to know where to start to sell my pictures to magazines company? Can someone help me out and where to start... Josee

  • John Parli

    August 21, 2010 12:52 am

    Great thoughts here.

    Mentioned above was how selling photographic arts isn't very lucrative... true to a degree, but consider the value of the "face time" you get. It's all about getting your name out there.

    -John
    My Site
    Tweet Me!

  • Smokinphoto

    August 16, 2010 04:05 am

    This is a great article Elizabeth. I have the same questions as Jason asked earlier, "
    Do you recommend charging a session fee and then only allowing your clients to orders prints/books/etc from you? "

    Uploading your works to online sites such as Flickr or Deviantart. Deviantart has a decent Print system going. This has definitely worked for us in the past. great suggestion here by Brittney.

  • Renee

    August 14, 2010 12:51 am

    The best kids pics we ever got were from a photographer who did an Open House for homeschoolers. Charged a flat fee for a short session in his home-based studio and then put the pics out on SmugMug for us. We were allowed to have digital copies as well as order prints. That allowed us to post our favorite shots on Facebook, and then that photographer got a lot of word-of-mouth advertising as people commented and wanted to know who had done the shots. So don't forget your local homeschool groups, and don't underestimate word-of-mouth when it comes to parents who use social media. :)

  • mike

    August 10, 2010 12:01 pm

    great post, a wealth of information for anyone at any level. i think there are more to ways to make money in the photography industry than the common assumption of selling artwork, unless maybe stock photos.

  • Chris

    August 10, 2010 06:50 am

    Interesting Article. I think most people want to make it big from your second last point, Artwork. Or maybe it is just me...

    I was talking with an associate from my "day job" and she asked "why I don't go pro?" Thinking of your Artwork point I responded; "There isn't much money in it."

    The teaching might be a point for me to ponder.

    Thanks for sharing your business model.

  • Brittany

    August 10, 2010 04:36 am

    A couple of things that I've noticed: Try uploading your works to online sites such as Flickr or Deviantart. Deviantart has a decent Print system going. With a mixture of talent, blogging, and participation in the community; you can get a bit of money from selling prints, and a lot of exposure. Or even commissions.
    Also I notice that some people commission photographers at events such as Comic Con to do large, cosplay photos.

  • Horse Gifts

    August 10, 2010 12:43 am

    Can photography be a successful and profitable side buissness or does a large chunk of time need to be devoted to it?

  • Sase Antic

    August 9, 2010 09:14 am

    Useful, not only for photography business, but also for others.
    Thanks for the article!

  • Dave Lapham Photography

    August 9, 2010 08:28 am

    very interesting. eye opener!

  • Elizabeth Halford

    August 9, 2010 06:15 am

    @Jason: Yea that's right. I charge a session fee firstly. This is for a couple of reasons. It means they're serious clients who won't let you down on the day. It also means that they will order photos after because they've already made a financial investment, not to mention an emotional and time investment in the session. And yes, I sell digitals singly or a DVD of 20 images but it's expensive. The best way for them to get digitals is to purchase a collection. Have a look at this post about how I learned to set my prices. It's a difficult beast to slay on your own! http://bit.ly/bl6TZv

  • Jeff Colburn

    August 9, 2010 05:49 am

    Good article. I too have found that you need to have multiple streams of income.

    As for selling Fine Art photographs, I went into my first gallery last month and have sold three pieces so far. I plan on expanding to other galleries this year. First, I will expand throughout the state, then the Southwest, THEN THE WORLD! Sorry, I got a little carried away.

    Thanks for the good info.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  • Jason Collin Photography

    August 9, 2010 02:41 am

    Elizabeth, so you recommend charging a session fee and then only allowing your clients to orders prints/books/etc from you? Do you sell digital copies of your photographs at all? If yes, what is your policy for allowing the digital photographs to be posed online by the client to Facebook, flickr, etc.?

    I currently include a set number of digital files in my portrait packages (session & digital files), but have really started to stress that the client print from the secure gallery I put the photographs in on SmugMug. I am thinking I want to make the full transition to only allowing the client to be able to print from SmugMug thereby insuring the prints will be done by a professional lab (not the corner Walgreens/CVS) and also that I can increase my profitability from a single shooting session.

    It's just that in the sub-$500 portrait market clients are (obsessed?) really seeming to only want digital copies of their photographs.

    For making money from a photo club, I know photographers in the area who run them via Meetup.com. I do not know how they have time to do that, but maybe most of their money comes from running such a group as to do it well it is very time consuming. I teach 1-on-1 private lessons in my own area only.

    Thank you for the post and the breakdown format.

  • Danial Shah

    August 9, 2010 02:20 am

    I must say appreciate all your efforts. I guess its not business but a passion :).
    and teaching is the best way to spread the knowledge. How do you charge if you teach or consult online etc?

  • Christine Grant

    August 9, 2010 02:05 am

    I was information I could use and share as a business owner

  • Debra Roberts

    August 9, 2010 01:01 am

    Very interesting ...thanks for sharing!

  • Chenthil

    August 9, 2010 12:58 am

    Concise but a perfect article covering the aspects of sustaining photography as a business !

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