4 Ways To Make Money As A Photographer

4 Ways To Make Money As A Photographer


Wouldn’t it be nice to make money doing something you love – even if it were just enough to cover the costs of that hobby?

I’m going to share with you four ways that I have personally used to try and make money as a photographer. I’ll share with you my experience with each, advice on getting started, and whether or not I was successful in my attempts. I’ve also found a few more posts on DPS that will help you find more information on a few of these topics if they peak your interest.

The Wedding Photographer

Sneak Peak-7

Wedding photography is probably one of the more profitable ventures – I know for me even having only photographed one wedding I’ve made more in that one day than the other three methods I’ve tried combined. It has a relatively low cost to entry and if you’re lucky enough to be in or know a lot of people in their early to mid 20s you have a pontential gold mine of a client base to tap.

I recently was asked to photograph my sister’s friend’s wedding and after some convicing I finally said yes. Instantly I felt the pressure of the task before me. Even though I had nearly a year to prepare before the big day it still felt like I had a mountian to climb. Now I’d suggest that if you don’t feel this pressure when you’re about to photograph your first wedding then you probably shouldn’t be photographing a wedding. It was this pressure that pushed me to get help and make sure that I did the best I possibly could with the experience that I had.

Four words of advice if you’re going to try breaking into wedding photography

  • Don’t do it for free – No matter who it is! If it’s the president of your company or some stranger off the street find a price that works for both of you and be happy with it. Wedding photography is a lot of work and a lot of responsibly. These photographs will have value to your client (even if they’re not the ones she has on her Pinterest board) because they will be the photographs that freeze this day in history.
  • Find a mentor – You’ll want to do the best that you possibility can and if you’ve never photographed a wedding let me tell you you’re not prepared. There is a million things that you need to know and the best way to learn these things is by doing. I found a great professional photographer who’s been in the business for decades and he allowed me to shadow him on two weddings prior to mine – it was the best thing I ever did!
  • Rent your gear – Odds are if you’re just starting out you won’t have top of the line gear – which at a wedding does make a difference. You’ll need something sharp and fast to get the best quality shots, but you don’t have to invest thousands of dollars in your first go. There are plenty of places that will rent you all the gear you want for a couple hundred dollars for a weekend. For example I rented a Nikon D600 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 for under $170 for 5 days for the wedding that I photographed.
  • Communicate Often – Stay in communication with your bride and groom. Find out their vision, what they expect of you, and who they want featured in their album. The better the relationship you have with your clients going into the wedding the better the photographs will be.

These are four of the most important ways to get started in wedding photography, but by no means is an exhaustive list of wedding photography tips. Here’s the first post in a great series here on DPS about wedding photography for more information.

The Real Estate Photographer


Okay so the global economy is still pretty much in the ICU, but things are starting to look a little better right? After all the housing market is slowly starting to come back to life and as it does there’s an opportunity here for a photographer to make some money on the side photographing interior and exterior shots for real estate agents to use in order to sell the house.

I’ve only done this once and I wasn’t even really looking towards this as an option, but out of the blue a real estate agent who helped me buy my house contacted me after seeing the photographs I share on Facebook and asked if I’d be interested – I agreed to give it a shot.

Again – don’t fall for the working for experience line here if you’re serious about making money the worst thing you can do is start out giving your time away for free so come up with a price and stick with it. The going rate for real estate photography is going to change based on region so you might want to see if you can find local rates in your area.

A Couple Ideas for Pricing Your Real Estate Shoot

  • A Flat Fee – Exterior only typically will be a simple job so you’d probably charge a flat rate for this. If they want interior shots too then you might want to charge on a per room basis.
  • Fee + Commission on Sale – I’ve seen this done before too, but typically you’ll have to have more of a reputation to demand a commission on the sale of the house. That said it’s worth a shot.
  • A Variable Fee – Set your rate based on the property. If you photograph a shack that’s going for less than $50,000 dollars you’d probably have a lower rate than if you were photographing something that’s listed for $1.5 million.

The best part about this type of photography is you don’t really need too much gear. A DSLR, a wide-angle lens and a tripod will go a long way. Here’s a post with a bunch of DPS reader comments on the subject of entering the real estate photography business if you’re interested in more information.

The Stock Photographer


I’ll be honest here and tell you that I’ve only given stock photography a very half hearted attempt. I signed up for one of the many agencies out there and submitted a handful of my photographs – they didn’t sell – and I gave up.

It’s a very hard industry to break into if you’re just starting out because the agencies typically will feature popular photographer’s work first. One point I’d like to make is that you have to keep in mind that the photographs people are looking for are ones that will help them sell a product or service to their clients and therefore you have to think about that when you take your photos.

Just because I failed at selling anything through a stock agency doesn’t mean it’s not a good source of income for you. After all there are people out there who make good money with stock photography and that’s the main reason I chose to include it in this post.

So if you’d like to know more about getting into stock photography read this article on DPS it’s much more involved than what I’ve gone over here.

The Fine Art Photographer

The Fog Rolls In2

Fine art photography is probably the most competitive and most difficult avenue to break into due to the fact that the market is saturated with photographers trying to sell their photography and the fact that wall space is limited (we all only have four walls in each room to hang photographs on and typically we want those photographs to mean something to us).

Key Points to Think About as You Get Started

  • You’ll Need a Fan Base – Typically people aren’t going to buy a photograph from someone they don’t know or recognize. The best way to start selling your photographs as art is to build a fan base – I’ve done this through sharing my photos on my Facebook page.
  • Quality is Huge – If your sunset photographs look like the ones that dad took on the last family vacation then you’re not going to sell anything. Read more about how to avoid becoming part of the sunset paparazzi here.
  • Uniqueness Will Sell – As a continuation on quality the more unique you can develop your style to be the more likely you will set yourself apart and be able to sell prints to the fan base that you’ve built and even beyond.

Ways To Sell Your Photography

Okay so now that we’ve gone over some of the basics of what you’ll need to do before you even begin to sell your photography how do you actually go about selling it?

  • Direct Sales – If you can build a very loyal and close nit community of people in your town, college, or place of work you might be able to generate sales in this manner. Also, many local coffee shops will allow you to hang your work on their walls for a commission on sales (this is how I got my first print sale). It benefits them in that they get free art to hang on their walls and you get to have a lot of eyes on your photographs. 
  • Online Sales – Smugmug and Zenfolio are the two names that come to mind when I think about online sales (read about why I chose Zenfolio here). There are some other places as well like Etsy, Fine Art America and Redbubble which don’t offer as many features and typically will take a larger percentage of your sale. Again while all of these places will allow you to host your photographs, offer shopping cart options, and even print and ship the photo to your client they won’t promote it for you so we’re back to the first point above about needing a fan base to sell to.

Are you making money with your photography? If so are you using one of the options listed above or do you do something else? Share below!

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John Davenport is the creator of PhoGro an online community that aims to help you grow your photography through engagement with other photographers. Join today! John also offers a free email course 6 Weeks to Better Photos. This course covers the most important techniques you need to learn when getting started with photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Chuck M August 28, 2013 10:58 pm

    None of these 4 ways to make money apply to me, but I am making money with high school student photography, high school sports photography, and product photography.

  • Benn August 28, 2013 01:16 pm

    As a wedding photographer I can say that it took me years to make it a profitable business as there is so much to learn. The comment" I’ve made more in that one day than the other three methods" could be very miss leading as there is well over 30-40 hours spent on each wedding when you calculate all of the work prior to, during and post processing. This is where people go wrong, they think that all they have to do is get a few weddings under their belt, a camera and away they go. Its not the case! be prepared to spend years learning your craft and getting a good reputation. And if you think that there is a market opening in the budget section you can also think again, this has been vacated by a previous person who thought the same thing and due to not earning enough went broke. The only photographers that last the distance are the ones who charge enough to justify the effort:)

  • kara August 26, 2013 12:16 pm

    One of the more lucrative photography ventures is equine photos at horse shows and other events however they are very fast moving and do require an element of horse knowledge to get the best photo

  • Debbie August 23, 2013 03:13 am

    I make most of my money from photography from weddings, followed by model portfolios and lingerie sessions. I have also sold a couple prints through Redbubble. This year I have entered a water drop macro printed on a metal wall float with a high gloss finish in the State Fair, so we'll see how that goes. I decided to try the State Fair because one of my portrait clients had sold a print that way. There is no entry fee, each division offers a cash prize of up $500 and the grand prize is $3500. I chose a very unique image that I was planning to order for my own wall anyway. I do keep my day job, though :-)

  • Tanveer August 23, 2013 12:09 am

    thanks. I hope it'll help me in future :)

  • John Davenport August 20, 2013 08:27 am

    @Mark - You make a great point about FAA's ability to attract people from search engines that is certainly a great benefit to using their service - might have to try and put a handful of photos up there and give them a shot.

    I agree with you that both might be the best way to go - you can offer your 'fan-base' lower prices (while retaining your same profit) and then random people who are just looking for XYZ photo you can still capture some of the sales which may not have found you in the first place.

  • Mark August 20, 2013 07:42 am

    I'm on both Fine Art America and Zenfolio. And they both have their pluses and minuses. No Fine Art America won't promote you as an individual artist, but Fine Art America is incredibly well positioned with the search engines. If you do a good job of describing your work there, i.e. the same terms in your description that a customer would use searching for that art piece, all other things equal, you have a far better chance of showing up in the search engine results for someone searching for art like you make. Without question, I would say FAA wins for SEO.

    Zenfolio has a far more customizable portfolio site with fewer printing and framing options. It allows you to build an online presence that is under your own brand name rather than just building a shop corner in another person's mall. But it's kind of like opening a store in the middle of the desert, you're going to have to work very hard to find customers.

    It really comes down to what you're after in the end. In my case, I chose both. I don't want all my eggs in one basket and long term, I hope to get to that point where my own brand ranks well on its own. In the meantime, it's nice to also catch the sales from people who don't know me but find my work by random chance, i.e. good SEO on FAA.

  • John Davenport August 20, 2013 07:15 am

    Yes you're right Zenfolio & Smugmug are more like creating a website for your print sales as opposed to putting them up in a "market place" so to speak. They offer more customization in that aspect (especially the new Smugmug which basically lets you display your work how you want it to display). They will do just about any printing option that you can imagine from putting your images on standard prints to metal prints, canvases, framed prints, and even things like coffee mugs and mouse pads if you so choose.

    Now not only will they frame and matte your print for you, but they will let you determine how much you want to charge for the framed print not just add a small commission on a sale of a framed print.

    Finally to answer the question about "what does the margin matter?"

    Margin is a huge part of business (arguably it's one of the fundamentals of business) - In my example above if your customers are buying prints for $22 then you could either make $10 profit at FAA or $18 at Zenfolio (which sounds better to you?).

    Margin is a better way of looking at profit then simply looking at the cold hard dollar amount as it shows how much room you have to discount or how much protection you have against cost increases. Say FAA raises their base cost 10% your profit falls $1.20 to $8.80 and alternatively if Zenfolio raises their cost by the same 10% then my profit falls $0.35 to $9.65 and now because my margin is larger to start I'm actually profiting more in the end.

    I don't really want to start a war here though - as I said FAA is a great service for photographers, but I think people should be informed when they make their choices and know that the reason that they are less expensive to join is because they cover their costs a different way - by taking more per sale and less from their members.

    I prefer Zenfolio you prefer FAA it's a no win battle. I've used Zenfolio, FAA, Redbubble, Smugmug and even tried selling directly through my website and self-fullfilling orders (which was a nightmare) in the end I'm happy where I'm at.

  • mike savad August 20, 2013 07:03 am

    compare apples to apples - what are you getting in zenfolio? it usually depends how the print looks, the materials it's printed, the choices of substrates, etc, all this works into the final cost. you mark up your amount you get your price if you sell it. my customers have yet to complain.

    i feel art shouldn't be discounted because it cheapens the artwork itself. if people want to pay for quality they will pay a little extra in a place designated for fine art. it's also a matter as to who shops at these places. till now i never heard of that other place. and looking at it, i can't tell what that site is. they seem to sell a little bit of everything there which makes it that much more confusing to be there.

    as to which i would buy? the best quality. low prices are great if you are giving a random gift and don't care so much about quality. but when it comes to quality people will spend more on something. looking over the pricing there it seems you need to spend like $250 a year in order to sell quality things, that place sounds more like a webpage then a pod. zenfolio sounds more like a place where you would place family snap shots and maybe street photography into. if you want a pro look, and your serious, FAA is a better choice. i make quite a few sales there, more than just a few.

    ---Mike Savad

  • John Crothers August 20, 2013 06:36 am

    I really can't speak about Zenfolio because I have never heard of it before today. From what I gathered looking at the site it is basically a site to create your own website. FAA allows that but it also allows people to buy your work, even if they don't know who you are. FAA is a place for people to BUY art. I have never sold just a print there of any image. I have sold framed prints, acrylic prints, metal prints and even greeting cards there.

    Again, I can't speak for the quality of the prints from Zenfolio because I have not purchased anything from them, but I can say the quality of the work from FAA is outstanding, archival prints. Plus they will frame and mat my prints and give me a piece of that on top of my profit on the print itself. They also offer buyers a 30 day money back guarantee to assure them they will be happy with the quality of the work.

    The profit for both places is $10.00, what does the margin matter?

    I can build a website on FAA like on Zenfolio. I get unlimited uploads, a thriving community of fellow artist on their discussion board, I can link my FAA sales page to my personal website. All for $30.00. Zenfolio starts at about $30.00 and goes WAY up from there.

    I think anyone serious about selling fine art should consider FAA.

  • John Davenport August 20, 2013 02:52 am

    @John Crothers – Hi and thanks for the comment and question....

    Yes in principle you are correct – FAA will let you set your profit, but at what cost to your customers?

    Here’s a rough example for you which I did using my Zenfolio account vs a free account I have at FAA..

    Say I want to sell an 8x10 print and return a $10 profit per sale. At FAA the base cost for this 8x10 print is $12 contrast that to Zenfolio where the base cost is $3.52. To make my $10 profit/sale for this 8x10 print at Zenfolio I can offer it to my customers for $13.52 dollars, a 39% discount over the $22 that I’d have to offer it at FAA to make the same dollars/sale.

    To look at it another way... At Zenfolio I have a profit margin of 74% [profit ($10)/total cost($13.52) *100] and at FAA the profit margin slips to 45%. To match the same margin/sale you'd have to charge roughly $50 for an 8x10 print. Now of course these are just some numbers I pulled out of thin air and the "cost" of the print really doesn't come out of your wallet as it's just built into the sale price of each product you offer - but given the same print priced at 14, 22, or 50 dollars which one would you buy?

    All in all - I think sites like Redbubble and FAA are great for those who don't have many sales/year, but if you're selling more than a handful of prints I'd expect it'd be more profitable for you to jump to one of the other alternatives.

  • John Crothers August 20, 2013 01:02 am

    I would like to point out that I have been a member on Fine Art America for over a year and I am not sure where you got the information that they don't have as many features and take a larger percentage of your sales. FAA allows YOU to set the profit you want to make on an image, be it $1.00 or $1,000.00 FAA does not set the profit the artist makes at all. In my opinion FAA is one of the BEST sites for artist to sell their work. Not to mention a premium membership only cost $30.00 a year.

  • Corporate Photographer London August 19, 2013 05:32 pm

    I work in the corporate photography sector and this is very competitive as well. I tried selling stock photography through my own site and Alamy. The problem with trying to make a living from stock photography is their are millions and millions of images available and some sites sell them so cheaply that it is barely possible to cover the cost of a shoot if you use models.

  • Cathy Cawood August 19, 2013 09:31 am

    The last couple of years I have made themed calendars on Zazzle and sold a few. I think if I promoted them better and had more, I could sell more.

  • Mark August 19, 2013 02:30 am

    I have found out that putting photos on Flickr has resulted in several sales out of the blue, including one for the cover of a novel. You need to be out there with good tags.

  • Mridula August 18, 2013 11:32 pm

    Thank you for telling that what I like is the most difficult to break into. I am going to hang on to my day job :D


  • Scott Pakulski August 18, 2013 05:19 am

    Yes! I do make some cash from my photography mainly from the art fair scene but an occasional sale fro Etsy too...