Making money from photography is something all photographers enjoy doing. Whether you’re professional or amateur there is always scope to make money from your photography. The refrain from many photographers is that there’s no decent money to be made anymore. That gets even more challenging if you live somewhere with a high cost of living. The sheer number of photographers has created a glut of very good photographs available to stock agencies. Likewise, many photographers are proficient at photographing weddings. That has led to prices for photographs and services falling. So what’s the solution?
Here are 10 ideas and ways you can make money from your photography.
Diversify your income streams
Everyone knows putting all your eggs in one basket is risky, the sensible thing to do is diversify. Luckily, photography offers many different forms of income. You will find in the beginning that income from each area will be small, but in combination, they can add up to a significant sum. The advantage of diversification is also protection because if one income stream dries up you have others to fall back on. This all said, over time you will gravitate towards one particular type of work, and specialize in it. Even after specialization, it’s worth maintaining the other income streams, because you never know when you might need them.
Look for a niche
A signature style will make you stand out from the crowd. That technique could be light painting, refraction or something else. You might specialize in photographing babies, and become known only for that. In a competitive world having a style that people identify you with is a good thing.
In settling into a niche are you turning your back on the diversification of your income? Of course not and you’d be ill-informed to do so. It just means you’d be marketing to your niche to allow you to work in the following ways. You can use your signature style for a client’s photo shoot, sell it for stock, or put together workshops on the subject.
A look at the different ways to make money from photography
As touched on earlier in this article there are quite a number of ways to earn money from photography, and whether that’s enough to buy a few pints, more camera equipment, or even make a living income depends on how committed you are to it. Now let’s look in more detail at some of these ideas.
1 – Submit to stock libraries
This is a great way to earn a residual income that will last for years. There are two main forms of stock image library; those known as macro stock and microstock. Macro stock sells images at a much higher price, so images need to be unique; whereas microstock sells images at a very cheap price but at high volumes.
Which is better for photographers? There are pros and cons to each, though common to both is a relatively low percentage of the royalties actually paid to the photographer. In both macro and microstock you will need to get model and property releases in a lot of cases.
- This is much harder to join, and your photographs need to be exceptional and unique.
- The images can be sold for thousands of dollars, so the income from just one sale can be significant.
- Images of people are often requested, meaning you may need to pay a model and get model releases.
- Easier to join, though the selection process still requires you to show a high level of technical expertise.
- Images are sold for five dollars and often less. In order to make income, you will have to sell 1000s of images.
- Images designed for mass consumption do the best. Product photography, food photos, and of course people photos.
2 – Join a tour company
Travel and photography go well together, so why not earn money from photography this way? One way to do that is to join a tour company and take photographs of their clients. An example like this is to take photographs on a cruise ship, or perhaps a theme park. The onus is on the photographer to produce results within a set criteria, so this isn’t for everyone as artistic license might not go down well. The job comes with targets, and you will need to take a certain number of photos per day.
The nature of this work can often be seasonal and another option is to photograph vacation programs such as those offered by travel for teens, where part of the job is to photograph the participants and locations they visit.
3 – Become a wedding photographer
We’ve all seen the internet meme showing the professional photographers work versus someone who’s just picked up a dSLR. Wedding photography is competitive, so if that puts you off you’re in the wrong game. The key is to produce a high standard of work for your clients. But how can you do this if you’re new?
- Get good at portrait photography, weddings are about people!
- Learn how to use a flash, there are a lot of low light situations at weddings.
- Become good at retouching photos using post-processing.
- Read articles and books about wedding photography.
- Get a job as an assistant to an established wedding photographer.
The above will give you a good grounding for what’s needed. Wedding photography is a niche that isn’t for everyone, there’s a lot of pressure and you need to be calm. You also need to be a great business person, as you do with any field where you want to earn money from photography.
4 – Photograph couples and events for a fee
If you’re a wedding photographer the chances are you also offer these services as well, as couple’s photos can often lead to you being their wedding photographer. Photographing events is another skill that needs a good portrait photographer who can react fast in a dynamic situation to capture “those moments”, yet is also be proficient at staged group shots.
This type of photography business can be distinct from wedding photography though. It can be run by someone who works as a magazine photographer to supplement their income there. It’s always a good idea to get model releases from this type of work. If the client agrees you can earn additional income from licensing images for stock.
5 – Work for magazines
Earning money from photography is great, it’s even better when your work is published. The magazine market is a tough one though, with the money that’s available to publishers going down, which results in lower commissions as well. Here are a few steps you can take when looking to break into this market.
- Learn to write – This is the most important thing you can do. Publishers love to have the whole package, if you can provide images and text you’re at the front of the queue.
- Work for free – A small magazine published by volunteers is a good place to start. Your chances of getting published, and getting tear sheets are much higher this way.
- Work for a fee – You now have a portfolio of work, and you’ve been published. Look for new magazines to work with, but this time those that have a budget to pay you.
- Be unique – Have a story that’s so compelling the publisher can’t ignore it. That will mean going the extra mile to find it. There may be some risk, for example visiting a sulfur mine to do a photo essay of the miners.
- Do your market research – When you’re looking to target a magazine make sure you know the style of content they usually publish. Look to offer them a package that is the same as their previous work, but with a different flavor.
- Find the publisher – Use the contents page of the magazine to find the name of the publisher that produces it. This is the person you need to e-mail with your pitch.
6 – Sell your work as fine art
Selling your photos as fine art is yet another path to go down. Work that has a recognizable signature style, and which is not generic does well here. You are looking to produce work that people want to hang on their walls, and that has a message. Once again good marketing will help you to succeed in this area, and things like magazine exposure are great if you get it. The following is advice you can follow to enhance your chances of success in this area.
- A project – Go with a project that has a consistent theme. Show your friends this work digitally to get feedback on the interest in this work.
- The venue – Is the venue somewhere people visit? Your chance of success will be better at a popular venue, of course you may need to pay for access to it.
- Promote – Make sure you have good fliers, posters, and perhaps a magazine feature on your work.
- Print size – It’s great to print large, but will those large prints sell? You could end up with a lot of leftover frames that you will need to store.
- Merchandise – Not everyone will buy the frames you have on display, even if they love them. Smaller items such as postcards or a coffee table book are great ways to diversify your income from an exhibition.
- Online art – Have your work available to buy online through a website such as imagekind.
- Guestbook – Have a guestbook available for those who enjoyed your work to sign.
7 – Become an educator
The volume of people with a camera of some description is huge these days. Those photographers are also all potential students, if you have something people wish to learn. Once your work is popular the next step is to offer workshops to people wishing to learn your style. These can be face to face or done online. This may be the most lucrative area of photography income today, with people realizing this it has become a competitive field. How can you earn money from photography this way then?
- Write a book – Choose a topic from one of your strengths, and write a book about it. It’s much easier to produce e-books and self-publish them. There are still traditional publishers who print though, and it’s a great experience to publish a book through one.
- Write articles – This again can be online or in print. This website, Digital Photography School, is always looking out for new writers.
- Workshops – Once your name is out there and your style of photography popular, the chance to run workshops is a good option.
- Mentoring – People always want to learn from the best, if you’re a leader in your field then you can offer people one-on-one tutoring.
- Online videos – It’s not possible to meet everyone face to face, this is where a video is great. You can offer a course of video content that’s either pre-recorded or live.
8 – Work as a press photographer
This is similar to working for a magazine, only you are photographing current affairs up to the minute. Many photographers who work in this field are very experienced and work with an agency like AP, Getty or AFP. Once again you don’t just walk into this field, and you’ll need to get experience first. When there is an opportunity to take photographs of a newsworthy event get out there and take some photos to hone your photojournalism skills. If you have a great photo try pitching it to a newspaper directly. If you can get yourself known it could lead to future work.
9 – Product photography
This is similar to stock photography only you will be commissioned to photograph items that a company sends you. You will need to have great knowledge of lighting setups to photograph the items in a clean way, ready to be displayed on website or in magazine catalogues. It’s possible to do this as a freelancer, you may also apply for a job with a professional company specializing in this.
10 – Take photos of tourists
Another type of photography that’s become popular in recent times is hiring a photographer for your trip. This is different to joining a tour company though. This is usually a day long photo-shoot for a couple or family that want top grade photos from their trip, which they can show off on social media. This work combines the skills of a good travel photographer with that of a portrait/wedding photographer. It’s essential you have good local knowledge of the place you’re photographing, you’ll be as much a tour guide as a photographer. If you want to try your hand at this you could self-promote or use a company like shoot my travel.
How do you make money from photography?
There are many ways to make money from photography, the above are 10 ideas that you could pursue. Though touched on with product photography, food photography can also be very lucrative. Have you used stock photography before? What’s your experience of micro and macro stock agencies, what’s your top selling photo?
Is there any advice you’re looking for before you look to make money from photography? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.