Turning Pro: Part 4 – Money making ideas

Turning Pro: Part 4 – Money making ideas


Image by Romain Guy

This post is the final installment in a series of posts on Becoming a Professional Photographer. See previous posts at How to Become a Pro Photographer Part 1, Part 2 (Getting Started) and Part 3 (Marketing).

Making Money

There are several factors to consider when deciding how to price your work:

A) How much is your time worth by the hour?

B) How difficult is it to achieve?

C) Will it lead to future commissions?

D) What does your customer want and how much will it cost you to achieve?

E) What is the market rate for what you have been asked to do and how will your service compare?

A good way of knowing where to begin is to weigh the uniqueness of your talent and photographic abilities against how high the demand is for it. You don’t have to have a set price structure – and you can differ what you charge on a case by case basis (as long as you haven’t advertised otherwise).

Getting your prices right can take months of honing – gently testing what you can and can’t charge with each and every inquiry. Whatever you do – don’t be pressurised into cutting your costs drastically to make a sale or get a commission. Be sure that you are 100% comfortable with the fee you have quoted. If you are getting paid less than you think you should for a job then this will only affect your images and work ethic in a negative way. Generally speaking if you are good enough – people will pay what you ask.

To help you get started, here are our ten top ways to make money as a professional photographer:

  1. Sell your prints through your website: Many website packages allow users to add in a ‘shop’ facility which you can easily link to a Paypal account. Therefore all a customer needs to do is choose an image they like and pay for it, and all you need to do is send them the requested file or post a print and receipt.
  2. Sell your services as a photographer: There are hundreds of options here – whether its photographing  newborns, weddings, businesses,  bar mitzvahs – there is plenty of avenues to choose from.
  3. Sell your images to a stock site: With a sensational amount of choice, all genres of photographer will enjoy the benefit of selling images to stock site as everytime someone selects your image you get paid. Read the terms and consitions carefully as each site varies its payment and rights policy.
  4. Sell your images to online and magazine publications: Purchase a freelance writers  handbook to discover contacts to a wealth of publications. Alternatively use an online search engine to generate results. Email the editorial or design staff introducing yourself and your business and attach a few thumbnails of your best work. Then follow up with a phone call after a week or so to see whether they would like to hire your services as a photographer.
  5. Competitions: You may not think it but people can actually make a solid living from winning competitions. There are many high-ranking photography competitions out there that reward winners with huge cash prizes and top-end kit – what is more this may mean you can pursue individual or personal projects to fulfil the briefs. One of the most resourceful websites to find active competitions is: www.photographycompetitions.net .
  6. Become a photography tutor: If you are very talented photographer and have a good way with people, why not set up your own line of workshops? Depending on where you live in the world you may need to get a license for this line of work. Tailor-make courses to suit: various levels of user, preference of genre, gender or age. Furthermore you can run one-on-one courses or teach in larger groups, likewise you could do short courses that run for a couple of hours to one day – or provide training over longer periods of time such as a week.
  7. Create an exhibition: What better way to show off your art and attract attention then holding an exhibition. You don’t need a prestigious art gallery to achieve this – it could even be held within a local library or cafe! Use this opportunity to sell framed photographs to the  visiting public and don’t forget to alert the press! We will be running a how to exhibit guide very soon – so watch this space!
  8. Self-publish a photography book: This is a great way of showing off your own work and you can sell the product to friends, families, local stores and even online. Visit  websites like Blurb www.blurb.com and LuLu www.lulu.com for more ideas and ideas – and watch this space as we will soon be running an article concerning self publishing soon.
  9. Create a range of products such as greeting cards and calendars and sell these online or approach specialist card/calendar companies to sell these for you.
  10. Attend events – whether it is a yacht race or gymkhana – and sell the images after or at the event to those photographed. Taking photographs of people and the things they are passionate about is big business. Just be sure to get permission from the event organisers and approach people, especially children, with careful thought and consideration.

Once the commission start to roll in you’ll need to channel time management and hone your organisational skills to meet the customer’s demands by their deadline. Once this has been achieved send an invoice and never ever forget to do your taxes. All the best of luck!

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

Some Older Comments

  • Rich December 28, 2010 01:54 pm

    @ Gio
    A great response to scare all the wannabes. Sure not every way works for everyone - or we would all be rich. But believing that the plethora of cell phone picture takers will collapse the pro market is misguided. What the proliferation of these standees will do is effectively weed out the mediocre.
    If you are having trouble competing with an IPhone or gramma and her point-n-shoot, than either the person behind the camera it is better than you, or you are chasing the wrong client/market.

    I know of quite a few “photographers” that are making money –Today in 2010 – that have the same competition you speak of. When I look at their work (or mine), I see the value of their skill. More importantly, the clients see it and hire away. I’m reminded of a party I attended recently and took a few photos for the host. Lots of guests snapped away on their phones or P&S, but I got paid for my images. I love the mediocre! They help legitimize the value of my work, rather than steal from it.

    Again, in some cases, like stock houses, the money can be sparse, but then again, the right images are making some serious money.

    So thanks for weeding out the chaff.

  • Eden Connell December 3, 2010 09:34 pm

    Fan page here http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sydney-Australia/Zoom-In-With-Eden-Photography/108567172542044

  • Eden Connell December 3, 2010 09:33 pm

    Yep, I have to agree this has been very helpful...

    Please put out a 5th series!!

    Here is my FB fan page welcome aboard http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/edenconnell

  • NR November 7, 2010 10:13 am

    Gio: I'm sorry, but you dont seem too confident with your own ability or uniqueness.
    Personally, I dont care how many kids got iPhones or what not. My pictures does not look like anything else. I have an incredible vision (not talking eyesight here, but ... vision), and people are willing to pay me for that.

  • David October 11, 2010 03:00 am

    Re. Digital & Photoshop etc.

    Prior to digital, professional photographers (and keen amateurs) used to pride themselves on their ability to manipulate images in the darkroom. I think digitalisation has simply taken photography to the next level, and opened up a whole range of creative possibilities that we not there before.

    And when it comes to techniques such as depth of field selection, composition, developing your vision etc., I'd say digital has made almost no difference at all.

    Plus digital is a lot more convenient than waiting for contact sheets, then selecting the photos you'd like to work with (more waiting).

  • Darren Davis October 6, 2010 08:37 pm

    Agree with Gio,

    Comment: "for me the arrival of digital photography and photoshop which are together in my eyes digital violent have ruined the industry quiet a bit"

    I couldn't agree more! Photoshop has taken the art of photography from "skill and technique" to "cartoonism"

    However, the technology world is here to stay and we have to get on board or lose a trade - sad but true!

  • David October 5, 2010 11:29 pm


    An interesting series of articles and comments.

    I think the fact that everyone has a camera these days has only gone to prove the old adage that it is photographers who take pictures, and not cameras. I.e. most of the resulting pictures are average at best, and often disappointing, as they often don't match the camera manufacturers glossy images.

    Digital has certainly altered the face of the industry. It is now an industry with low entry barriers and is open for many people to try. The solution to this problem has little to do with photography per se, it has more to do with marketing strategy. Not room here to go into this large subject, Jay Abraham does a fantastic job of describing how to do this. Following the marketing strategy of corporations may not help you much.

    One thing to bear in mind is that wedding, landscape, babies etc. are very, very broad market categories. Find your niche in these, and don't be a generalist who can shoot anything. For instance, do weddings for Goths, people who get married in the nude or other wacky takes on it.

    When you specialise, then you can begin to build a brand, a reputation in a given field and start to get the referrals that will become the life-blood of your business.

  • Melissa October 5, 2010 09:27 am

    Thanks Gio for your post! I enjoyed the original article, but your comment added some reality to it--- NOT pessimism!! It is true that EVERYONE has a camera these days, or a cell phone with a camera.

    I take pics of bands on stage, usually local bands: young guys with no money. They don't really want to spend a lot (even though the cost is split 4 or more ways for each band member!) and there are a bunch of kids with iphones that take pics (for free and post them on Facebook).

    I was taking pics on Friday night and I had to fight for space at the front of the stage with an older guy taking pics at two thirds the rate I quoted the band and with a bunch of kids with iphones. And of course, the actual fans trying to enjoy the show!

    So thanks for the dose of reality-- what you said was completely true and REALISTIC!!

  • Rod October 4, 2010 05:10 pm

    Great info keep it coming as i am a newcomer to site. I have a passion for photography & need people like you

  • Drew Warner October 1, 2010 11:51 pm

    Our blog offers some tips on making money by participating in contests...also about a feature on our site (www.photoscramble.com), where you can name a price and sell to the general public (coming soon).

    The blog is here: http://blog.photoscramble.com/2010/09/22/we-all-take-them-why-not-make-money-selling-photos/

  • Rob in Atlanta October 1, 2010 11:39 pm


    A lot or people here will call you a jaded pessimist...so be ready.

    I applaud your post. It's REAL and TRUE, based on a real photographers experiences. Many people write about theories and ideas, and this is fine...and maybe even some of the ideas will work for someONE.

    However, this is not how it works for the vast majority.

    See my post a little further up. Humbling but true.

    Good post!

  • Wendell Herbert October 1, 2010 03:03 pm

    Not get on your site

  • Carol October 1, 2010 01:01 pm

    Thanks Cindi with an eye.

  • Giovane Stanza October 1, 2010 12:46 pm

    Wow, I might be the biggest party pooper in the bunch here. I am a professional fashion and advertising photographer for several years now. Sometimes when I needed money very hard I would do weddings on occasion. I have assisted a lot very good international fashion and advertising photographers for big money making projects as well as for their own personal work. And as far as I know digital photography has only made it more difficult to make money with photography and looking at your great ten tips I wonder in what year you came up with these and if you are aware that we live in 2010????

    1) Yeah right sell your prints through your website... If you go to an event for example and do that, everybody has their own camera there and people just do not easily pay for this anymore. Plus with things like facebook and other stuff, it is so easy to just "steal" images and never pay for anything. The same with the music industry just download stuff who goes to the store still to actually buy the cd???

    2) Sell your services as a photographer. Yeah again those little pocketcamera's these days have 12.1 megapixels, just put that puppy on program. I've done weddings where the bride was screaming: Why did I hire a photographer all my guests have a camera. I tell you, that one hurts... And I know the phrase: yes but it still depends on who is behind the camera. True but the digital violence as I like to call it has ruined a lot in the industry though.

    3) Haha, sell your images on a stock site. These days if you are lucky you can get 50 cents per picture. That's right, the stocksite will buy the image from you and you never know what (advertising) company has requested the image and for what purpose. And when I was working a lot with advertising agencies in Amsterdam, artdirectors thought they were photographers and if the assignment was not too complicated they would go and take the picture themselves. Especially if it was for web use only and (print)quality was not a big issue. Thanks to technology these days.

    4) HMMMM, sell your images to online and magazines. Everybody that is really in photography knows that is not where the money is.... These days the photography industry is ... (over) saturated. The normal magazines if you work for them and find your way through photographers battlefield they pay your expenses. And for the online ones they don't pay at all (maybe I worked for the wrong ones i don't know.. But Elle girl online doesn't seem a con artist to me...) they tell you that you should be happy that they showcase your work. And magazines don't buy anymore from photographers easily when you already have the image, because you know for 50 cents they get the same at a stocksite....

    5) Competitions are tough and they are not always fair and the prices are not that high you are pretending in your writing. Plus there are so many images all over the web.... It is an image overkill nowadays, it is almost hard to stand out with your image.

    6) Photography tutor, for kids in kindergarten...???? Cheap books about photography are available everywhere. There are millions of forums where you can ask questions about photography. Just google the word photography and all the info you pull up about it, I would say in combination with a digital semi pro camera and internet you definitely do not need a tutor for the basics.

    7) Exhibition, maybe if you have too much money and don't know what to do with it. And you want to spent it on nice prints for your personal 15 minutes of Andy Warhol fame. Who wants to spent on pictures from an unknown artist?? In an oversaturated world of images where photography is not the craft it used to be. Plus this recession, or are we climbing out of it, is also not helpful, people don't spent as they used to, period.
    Plus that exhibition is to me like a real life soap, everybody is a somebody these days, if you get what I mean.

    8) Self publish a book. Aiaiaiai, I think Helmut Newton and Richard Avedon are turning around in their graves by hearing this. It could be a nice advertising tool, giving it with your newyears wishes to potential customers or past customers, but I still find it kind of cheesy. And to me a book is to honor a great artist, but then on the other hand who am I in this lets make money fast environment that does not care about quality anymore.

    9) EVERYBODY DOES THAT. The calendar is like the new businesscard. NEXT..

    10) Hahahaha, the last event I recently did was the HEINEKEN REGATTA, first of all everybody had a camera with them. Second of all the only photographer that sold images as far as I knew was Tim Wright, who has his own little rubber boat, stands up straight in that dingytoy boat that can capsize any minute, tight with ropes that go from his upperbody to the sides of the boat so he won't loose his balance, wearing a bodyarmor attached to that armor a heavy professional camera I think it was a cannon and a minimum 300 mm lens. But his results are master, nobody can top that, but this regatta king travels the world shooting regatta's.

    And after reading my comments, maybe I am just a big pessimist. But i've seen the photographyworld changing right under my eyes and with pain in my heart. In one way I love digital photography and in another way I hate it. Because for me the arrival of digital photography and photoshop which are together in my eyes digital violent have ruined the industry quiet a bit.

    But then one of my colleague's said: hey Gio listen, when photography came, painters were afraid that they would loose territory and their jobs and now they make more then us.....

  • Nick Rains October 1, 2010 08:50 am

    Oops, I meant Point 3 above.

  • Nick Rains October 1, 2010 08:49 am

    Just a couple of clarifications:

    Point 4 - actually no-one 'sells' images to stock libraries, you contract with them to licence them on your behalf. Images are rarely sold, it's much more common to license them either as rights managed single uses or via Royalty Free licenses. Stock is in a state of total glut these days - huge numbers of contributors and much the same market size. The slices of pie are getting smaller and smaller. If you think of stock as a way to make money out of your spare images you will be disappointed. However, treat it seriously and shoot useful, fresh material in a professional manner and it can be lucrative.

    Point 6 - this is a case of running before you walk. You need experience and credibility, not to mention skill and depth of knowledge, to be able to teach effectively. This is not a useful method for those trying to make the transition to professional.

    The other points are reasonable, the last one is particularly effective idea. Events based around relatively expensive activities like sailing are good places to generate business.

  • jlmiller October 1, 2010 08:38 am

    Yep, have to admit done a lot of those except a few. Ended settling for magazine work and workshops.

  • cindi with an eye October 1, 2010 07:36 am

    Carol. I have been with smugmug for 2.5 yrs. and LOVE them. They have excellent customer service and print labs to choose from.

  • Robert October 1, 2010 07:27 am

    Mmm, good advises but I miss the power of good networking en the lessons we can learn from the book "Fast track Photographer" -> profiling yourself as "the photographer" and not "an photographer".

  • photosbysus September 28, 2010 07:51 am

    Just discovered Blurb thanks to your post! I've been meaning to find creative ways to organize my photos in physical form. Thanks!!

  • Rob in Atlanta September 27, 2010 01:11 pm

    That's some good advice. In my career, I've tried most if not all of those.

    Babies, families and weddings. Not glamorous, but allows you to pursue and hone your real interests while still eating.

  • Carol September 27, 2010 06:47 am

    What do you think of SmugMug?

  • Lloyd Barnes September 26, 2010 01:58 pm

    Great series and advice - thanks!

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalamakia/5023668236/' title='In Motion' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4148/5023668236_a1b618e88e_z.jpg']

  • Wayfaring Wanderer September 26, 2010 09:00 am

    There are some great ideas for the up and comer here.

    I really like this little tidbit: "Generally speaking if you are good enough – people will pay what you ask."

    This is exactly what I need to hear. Weeks after completing my first bonafide photo session, I received a request to do pictures for another friend. At first, I offered to do the session for a trade, but then rethought the idea later, and reapproached with a price in mind.

    I figured that if this is something that I want to do, I need to let the people who want to pay me, actually pay me! :D


  • Debbie Helbing September 26, 2010 07:47 am

    Please, please, please say there will be a Part 5!!! I've really enjoyed reading this series and look forward to each one coming out next. I have taken A LOT out of these and hope to see more. :-)

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!