Want to turn your photographic skills into a steady income stream? This article is guaranteed to help you out.
These days, most folks claim there’s no decent money to be made with a camera. But while it might be harder to earn a living now than in the past, photography still offers plenty of moneymaking avenues for both professionals and amateurs – you just don’t realize it yet!
Below, I share the 10 best ways to make money with photography, from the classics (e.g., wedding photography) to more unorthodox options (e.g., photographing tourists). I also offer several key pieces of advice that’ll dramatically increase your chances of success.
So if you’re ready to start earning some cash, then let’s dive right in!
1. Submit to stock libraries
Stock photography may be more competitive than it was back in the film days, but it’s still a great way to earn a passive income that will last for years. The basic idea? You submit images to stock agencies, which then license them out to buyers (such as magazines, websites, and businesses).
Note that there are two main forms of stock websites: Macrostock and microstock. Macrostock websites sell more expensive photos, so the images need to be unique, whereas microstock websites sell photos for a cheaper price but at high volumes.
Which is better for making money? There are pros and cons to each option, though both pay the photographer a relatively low percentage of the licensing fee. Also, stock photography – whether macro or micro – often requires model and property releases, so bear that in mind before you start shooting.
- Much harder to join, and your photographs need to be exceptional and unique.
- Images can be sold for thousands of dollars, so the income from one sale can be significant.
- Images of people are often requested, which means you need to pay models and get model releases.
Examples of macrostock companies are Alamy and Getty Images.
- Easier to join, though the selection process still requires you to show a high level of technical expertise.
- Images are often sold for five dollars or less. In order to make an income, you will have to sell 1000s of images.
- Images designed for mass consumption do well, such as product, food, and people photos.
Examples of microstock agencies are Shutterstock and Dreamstime.
2. Join a tour company
Travel and photography go well together, so why not earn money from photography while trotting the globe? That’s what joining a tour company will allow you to do; you’ll take photos of the company’s clients as you hope from continent to continent.
The onus is on you to produce results within set criteria – in other words, you may not have much artistic license – so it isn’t for everyone. The job will come with targets, and you’ll need to take a certain number of photos per day.
The nature of this work can often be seasonal, and a related option is to photograph vacation programs, where part of the job is to capture the participants and locations they visit.
3. Become a wedding photographer
Ask someone how to make money as a photographer, and the image of a wedding shooter – multiple cameras in tow, with bags full of gear – often comes to mind.
And it’s true: Wedding photography can be lucrative. But it’s highly competitive, too, so if that puts you off, you’re in the wrong game.
If you do decide to move forward as a wedding shooter, it’s essential that you produce a high standard of work for your clients. A few pieces of advice:
- 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.
- Make sure you can retouch photos using post-processing.
- Read articles and books about wedding photography.
- Start by assisting an established wedding photographer.
If you follow these tips, you’ll have a good grounding for what’s needed. Wedding photography isn’t for everyone; you need to stay calm under a lot of pressure. You also need to be a great business person. But if you can get it to work, you’ll make a living taking photos!
4. Photograph couples and/or events for a fee
Couples are always in need of photographers, especially if they’re getting married (and if you’re a couples photographer, you can often successfully combine it with wedding photography ). As with wedding photography, you’ll need to be capable of producing great results, and you’ll also need to do a good job of marketing yourself.
Event organizers also require good portrait photographers who can react fast in dynamic situations yet is also good at capturing staged group shots. To start, contact event venues in your area and offer your services.
Pro tip: If you’re shooting events, try to get model releases whenever possible. That way, you can earn additional income from licensing your images as stock.
5. Work for magazines
Making money with photography is great, and it’s even better when your work is published. Imagine seeing your photos on a page spread or cover of a professionally published magazine…
Unfortunately, the magazine market is a tough one. The money available to publishers is going down, which has resulted in lower commissions. Here are a few items of advice to follow if you’re looking to break into the magazine world:
- Learn to write. This is huge. Publishers love to have the whole package. If you can provide images and text, you’ll be at the front of the queue.
- Work for free. Yes, the ultimate goal is to make money, but it often helps to start out with a small magazine published by volunteers. Your chances of breaking into the business are much higher this way.
- Then work for a fee. Once you have a portfolio of published work, look for new magazines to work with, but focus on those that have the budget to pay you.
- Be unique. Find stories that are so compelling they can’t be ignored by the publisher. That will often mean going the extra mile. And be careful; serious journalism comes with some risk.
- Do your market research. When you’re looking to publish in a specific magazine, make sure you know the style of content they usually produce. Look to offer them content that is the same as their previous work but with a new flavor.
- Find the publisher. Check out magazine websites or hard copies and find the name of the publisher. They’re the ones you’ll need to email with your pitch.
6. Sell your work as fine art
Fine-art photographers sell their work through galleries, websites, art shows, and more. It can be a difficult market to break into, and the initial costs can be high, but if your work is extremely high quality, then you’ll have a shot.
Non-generic work with a recognizable style does well here. The goal is to produce work that people want to hang on their walls. Once again, good marketing will help you succeed, and exposure through websites and magazines (e.g., interviews) is very helpful. A few tips:
- Don’t shoot every subject. Go with a project that has a consistent theme.
- Choose your venue carefully. Is it somewhere people actually visit? Your chance of success will be better at a popular venue, though you may need to pay for access.
- Do plenty of marketing. Make sure you have good fliers, posters, and – if you can get it – some local news or radio features on your work.
- Think about print size. If you’re selling at art shows, you’ll need to do printing in advance. And while it’s great to print large, those prints may not actually sell, and you’ll be left with a whole lot of leftover pieces you need to store.
- Consider offering merchandise. Not everyone will buy the prints you have on display. Smaller items such as postcards or a coffee table book are great ways to attract additional buyers and make extra sales.
- Don’t neglect your website. Make sure you keep your work up to date and available for internet sales.
- Have a guestbook available for those who enjoyed your work; ask for their name and email address. That way, you can contact them with promotions!
7. Become an educator
These days, the number of people who use a camera and want to learn photography is higher than ever. If you have photographic skills, then each and every beginner photographer is a potential student!
So spend time ensuring your work gets seen, then start offering workshops for people wishing to learn your techniques. These can be conducted face-to-face or online.
You shouldn’t only focus on workshops, however. There are a handful of additional ways to make money as a photography educator:
- Write a book. Choose a topic that you excel in and write a comprehensive book. While you could get it printed, it’s much easier to produce and market ebooks.
- Write articles. You can write for online magazines and blogs, or you can write for traditional magazines.
- One-on-one mentoring. People always want to learn from the best. If you’re a leader in your field, then you can offer one-on-one tutoring and portfolio reviews.
8. Work as a press photographer
This is similar to magazine photography, only you’ll be focusing on current events. Many photographers in this field are very experienced and work with an agency like AP, Getty, or AFP.
Therefore, you can’t just walk into this field and expect the money to start flowing; you’ll need to get experience first. When you find an opportunity to take photographs of a newsworthy event, get out there and start shooting! Build up a portfolio, and if you get some great shots along the way, try pitching it to a newspaper. If you can get yourself known, it may lead to future work.
9. Product photography
Product photography often overlaps with stock photography – after all, many stock photos feature products! – but it works somewhat differently. Instead of capturing photos on your own dime and licensing them to buyers through an agency, you work directly with businesses. They send you the products, you photograph them, and you get paid for the results (often on an hourly or per-image basis).
Product photography can be done locally, but much of it is done remotely, so don’t be discouraged if you live in a less populous area. Pick an area of specialization (e.g., dog toys, perfumes, or power tools), capture a handful of sample shots of products that you own, then try contacting websites that are in need of a product-photo upgrade.
You’ll need access to a space with at least a few off-camera flashes (a basement or garage studio works just fine!), and you’ll need strong lighting skills to ensure you get high-quality images that are ready for website or magazine display. Note that you can do product photography as a freelancer, though another option is to apply for a job with a professional product photo company.
10. Take photos of tourists
This type of photography has recently become popular, and it mostly just involves following people around on their trips and taking photos.
Note that it’s different from joining a tour company; you won’t be photographing huge groups of people or touristy events, but you’ll instead do day-long photoshoots for couples or families who want top-grade photos from their trips (that they can then show off on social media).
This work combines the skills of a good travel photographer with that of a portrait and wedding photographer. It’s essential that you have good local knowledge of the place you’re photographing (you’ll often find yourself acting as a tour guide as much as a photographer). If you want to try your hand at this type of photography, you could self-promote or use a company like Angle.
How to make money off photography: two quick tips
In this section, I share two essential tips everyone should know before getting into paid photographic work:
1. Diversify your income streams
Everyone knows that putting all your eggs in one basket is risky. The sensible thing to do is diversify.
Luckily, as you should now realize, photography offers many different ways to make money. In the beginning, income from each area will be small. But in combination, all your revenue streams can reach a significant sum.
The biggest advantage of diversification is protection; if one stream dries up, you have others to fall back on.
That said, over time you may find yourself gravitating toward and specializing in one particular type of work. That’s okay, but even after specializing, it’s worth maintaining a few additional income streams; you never know when you might need them.
2. Look for a niche
A signature style, subject, or technique will make you stand out from the crowd. So when you’re just starting out, aim to find your niche and stick with it.
You might use a creative technique like light painting, refraction, or long exposure. You might specialize in a subject, such as babies, dogs, or landscapes. In a competitive world, having a unique approach is a good thing!
Does settling mean you’ve turned your back on income diversification? Absolutely not! It just means you’d be marketing within your niche rather than to the wider world of photography. You can apply your signature style to weddings, stock photography, workshops, and more.
How to make money as a photographer: final words
As you now realize, there are plenty of ways to make money with your photography!
So pick one (or a few) of these ideas. Start determining a strategy. And see if you can start generating income.
How do you plan to make money photographing? Share your thoughts in the comments below!