It can be a daunting task when you first start looking for ways to make money in the photography world or find photography jobs. On one hand, there seems to be, and are, many different avenues you can take to achieve an income, but on the other hand, each of these avenues can be difficult to break into.
I created this list to help focus you on your path to finding the right way to achieve income through your work. Take your skill level, your location, your situation, your short-term goals, and your longterm goals all into account and choose the strategies that you think will be most effective. Hit those strategies hard. There is no need to waste your valuable time on the other stuff.
1. Friends, colleagues, and family
There are few photographers that I know who did not gain their first photography jobs through friends and family. Your friends, colleagues, and family already know you and your work ethic (which I hope is strong). They trust you and will be willing to recommend you. Some will even hire you. Everyone needs photography in some way and people often want to work with a person they know. Let that person be you.
Think about how your network can help propel you where you want to go. Who might they know who can help your career? Ask for an introduction. If you want to do business or law firm portraits, ask your friends who work for those type of companies to put you in touch with the person who hires photographers. In addition, influential people (connectors) can be a big boon to your business. Reach out to any of these people that you might know or seek out an introduction from a friend who might know them.
Send out an official announcement about your business. Create a mailing list, and send out a professional looking email that talks about your services and how you can help people. It’s one thing to talk in passing to your friends and family about it, but it’s another to be official and explain how you can help them or the people they know while showing your accompanying work.
2. Assisting and internships
Besides your personal network, assisting and internships are the other primary way that you can effectively break into the photography business. Be prepared to make coffee and sweep floors (tip: if you learn to make good, strong coffee, everyone on a photo shoot will love you). Doing this will allow you to learn about how a true photography business runs quicker than at any photo school. It will give you a nuanced insight that you cannot get in any other way.
If you assist a portrait photographer, you will learn about lighting really well because you will be in charge of setting up the lights. If you assist for a wedding photographer, you will likely be a second shooter. In that role, you will gain invaluable wedding experience without the risk of shooting a wedding for the first time without any support.
It will allow you to build a new network around you. The photographers you work for will pass along jobs that they cannot do. You will make friends with the other assistants and you can help each other out in the future when you all start shooting on your own. The relationships and skill building that happens in these environments is invaluable.
3. People that need photographs for their wall
If you are aiming to sell your photographs, you can market directly to businesses, restaurants, local galleries, everyday people, collectors, and your network. You can be a go-to person for gifts. However, keep in mind that this is a very hard way to make money. It can take years of dedicated work to build up and you will need to actively market yourself.
Studying marketing and selling is important for anything you do on this list, but particularly if you are aiming to sell your work. Most photographers choose other ways to make a majority of their income at first while building up a print sales business over time.
4. Local businesses
You know the needs of your local businesses well, and most likely you already know the people who own them. Figure out what they might need, whether it’s business portraits, shots of their food or products, event or conference photography, or work for their walls. Approach them with a plan in mind, and ask to set up a meeting to discuss your ideas and how they can benefit.
Better yet, if you know anyone that works for the business or has a relationship with someone who does, ask for an introduction first. Introductions will give you a huge advantage.
5. Couples, weddings, and engagement photography
Wedding photography is a big business for photographers. It takes a lot of time to get good and is very hard to do well, but it is one of the best ways to make a good living at photography. If you are aiming to start off with wedding photography, I suggest trying to at least work as a second shooter for a while to gain a portfolio and skills.
But there are other ways you can take advantage of this as well. You do not have to be a wedding photographer to be an engagement photographer. Couples and family photography is a very viable business wherever you live and engagements are a big part of that, whether or not you are a wedding photographer. Learn the best locations in your area to photograph and market to families and newlyweds. This may also be a good first-step to transition into the wedding world.
If you are in an area that gets any sort of tourism, you can become a photography tour and workshop leader. Learn about all the best locations in the area and the best times to photograph them. Learn some history too. Just because you are running a photography tour does not mean that history isn’t important. People should be able to get to know more about what they are photographing. They want to learn that stuff. Market yourself through hotels, tourism companies, local tourism boards, and Google.
7. Actors, artists, and students
There is a whole photography sub-industry that caters to creatives and students. These genres do not usually pay as much as working with business firms, but they can as you improve and move up. Go advertise where these people hang out. Find a connection at your local schools. Learn which of your friends have high school age children that need photos taken, then begin to work with their network of friends. Try to get into acting or art schools.
8. Conferences and events
Event photography is another way that photographers can start making money right away. Event photography is on the easier and less stressful end of the photography spectrum, as long as you are okay with the socializing. There is not as much pressure involved as shooting a wedding, and the technical skills are not as difficult to master as other forms of photography. Learn to use your camera, your flash, how to shoot in low light, and how to get people to smile in photos and you’ll be good to go.
9. Trade and art shows – networking events
Seek out all of the trade shows whose members you think you might be able to work with. Whether it’s a business related show or a local tourism event, many of the attendants will need your services. Meet people, get to know them, don’t come on too strong, and let them know that you’re there if they ever need your services. The more you attend these different events, the more people will recognize and get to know you. Just this exposure can be very valuable in the long run.
In addition, many areas have arts and crafts fairs and shows. This is a great way to get your work seen by your community. It’s a lot of work, so plan carefully and try not to go overboard at first. Do your research coming in, and use the time at the show not only to sell your work but to get to know people in your community. Even if someone is not ready to buy your work, it doesn’t mean that they will not want to in the future or for a gift. Get to know them, and see if they want to sign up for your mailing list, so you can keep your work in front of them in the future.
10. Organic: Google and social media
Due to all the competition, ranking highly in Google is tougher than it used to be. But with some focus and time, it is very doable. Learning how to rank higher in Google involves too much information to do the topic justice here, but you should follow resources and websites such as problogger.com (our own Darren Rowse’s other site), which will help you learn to make more of your living through the internet. You will need a website of course. Also keep in mind that besides a variety of unique factors, Internet links are the lifeblood of ranking highly in Google, so it is necessary to figure out how to get other people to link to your site and mention your work.
In addition to your email list, build a Facebook business page and an Instagram page to grow your following. This will help you keep your work in front of people so that they will remember you the next time they need your services.
11. Local internet marketing
You can market your work to all types of business on the internet. However, local websites can be the most important. Local news sites, blogs, or wherever your community hangs out on the internet are important to become a part of.
Think about how you might be able to work with these websites or be of value to them. If you join certain communities, you do not want to go crazy marketing to them. Join the community, be a valuable member, answer questions and offer advice, and just get to know people. That’s how you market in these situations. If you do this the right way, they will like and trust you and will want to work with you in the future.
12. Other photographers
There is so much competition between photographers that it can get incredibly frustrating. Other photographers share the same passions that you do, and they are going through the same trials and tribulations. Seek out the good ones and become friends with them. Offer to help them if they need. Pass along jobs if you can’t fulfill one. Grow together.
Over time, you will surround yourself with an invaluable community and you will all be stronger together. The photographers who feel too competitive to give you the time of day will then not have the advantages that the rest of you do.
Making money in photography can be challenging and hard especially when you’re getting started. These tips should give you some ideas to move forward with in your photography career. If you have any other ideas that have worked for you please share them in the comments below.