You see, in this world there are two kinds of people, my friend: those with boring jobs, and those who dig. You dig.
The main reason why you became a photographer is because you love it. You enjoy every single day at work, polishing your skills and learning about human nature, while your distant cousin homo officinus spends their days filling in Excel sheets. Yet your landlord doesn’t think that you working for the sake of art is good enough. They want you to pay the bills that have been sleeping in your mailbox for the past couple of months. This is where the million dollar question comes in: how do you transform your passion into a profitable profession?
Photography is a very crowded space, with tons of shutterbugs offering their services for every single genre and price range. However, with the right amount of dedication and creativity, there’s no doubt that you’ll secure enough commissions to make a living – at least a modest one, at the start. You also have the Internet on your side. Today, it’s easier than ever to create a stunning photography portfolio and promote it online to attract more clients. So what’s the missing ingredient here? You need some actionable ideas to start turning shots into cash. You don’t need to look any further because we have precisely what you need.
Here are 15 proven ways to make money as a photographer – and step up your business’ game.
Photograph small businesses
Sell digital or printed copies of your work
Sell your photos on stock websites
Write a photography blog
Invest in your art
Conduct photography tours and workshops
Become a social guru
Sell photos to magazines
Enter photo contests
Get gigs as an assistant photographer
Edit and retouch
01. Photograph small businesses
In 2019, a business without a website is pretty much like a weekend without a lie-in. Restaurants, hotels, yoga instructors: they all have an online platform that they need to fill with beautiful images. This is where you come in and offer to photograph their stores, offices or teams. How do you find them? First and foremost, in real life. Take a walk around your neighborhood and speak to business owners in an informal way about what you do, and how you can help them attract more clients with stunning photos. Bring a tablet or a computer to show your online portfolio, as some people want to see visuals rather than explanations. Don’t neglect the online realm. Many businesses in your area are likely to look for a photographer on Google, and you want to be among the first results that appear – so make sure you’ve worked on the local SEO of your photography website. Money, money, money:
02. Teach photography
Relax, the only math you’ll need here is the rule of thirds, and it’s far less intimidating than the rule of three you learned at school. With time, you acquired tons of valuable tips and techniques that other photographers would love to hear about. You can also give beginner classes for people living in your city, explaining the basics while transmitting your passion for photography. Teaching is known to be the best way of learning new stuff, and will also get you to meet new interesting people.
03. Sell digital or printed copies of your work
Everybody loves beautiful photography. For a long time, the possibility to acquire a piece of art was limited to a small circle of well-off individuals or companies. In the 21st century, more and more companies are offering high-quality shots at a very reasonable price, from just a dozen to a few hundreds dollars. But why should you to go through a reseller when you can market your pieces yourself?
04. Sell your photos on stock websites
If you have a sizeable portfolio of images, you should consider selling them on stock sites. These platforms gather millions of pictures and videos, and sell them to businesses, marketing agencies and media. In return, the photographers receive a commission every time their work is downloaded. The amount per download depends on the platform, the type of license and many other factors. In all cases, the price is still low, so if you want to make money, you should bet on quantity and regularly upload fresh content. Stock sites require you to sign up first. Make sure you carefully read the guidelines, as some platforms forbid you to submit the same images to competitors. Once you’re registered, you can start feeding your account. Every image that you submit will be evaluated before publication – but after a few days, you’ll master the whole process very easily. iStock, ShutterStock and BigStock are the most famous stock names. Don’t neglect the image hosting sites: on top of letting you save your photos for free, some of them let you market them, like 500px.Money, money, money: What makes a winning stock photo? The quality of the shot, a file uploaded in extra high resolution (since it can be used in a lot of different formats) and a subject everyone can relate to. The world of stock images is getting more and more standardized, as the rather unflattering adjective ‘stocky’ tells. Browse the best sellers on various sites in order to see what’s currently working. But what might be even more important than the picture itself, is the way you ‘sell’ it. This market is saturated – around 150,000 new pieces are added every day onto Shutterstock only! Even if you manage to shoot the perfect picture of ‘young and handsome employees mawkishly smiling to a computer screen’, it might never get noticed. To optimize your chances, make sure to add as many relevant keywords in your description. The best tip here is to think of the possible queries someone would be looking for a photo like yours would type in the search bar.
05. Write a photography blog
Itching to reveal the Shakespeare in you? Start a blog! It will boost the SEO of your photography website, contribute to establishing you as an expert in your field, and last but not least: get you some cash. You have a few ways to make money with a photography blog. The first one consists of putting ads, and getting paid every time a visitor clicks on them. The second is by doing referrals – basically, it means that you agree upon showing a specific link in one of your articles. Just like with ads, whenever readers click this link, you’ll receive a commission. The last is by writing reviews about companies’ products or services. Whichever option you decide to go with, you’ll need to prove strong traffic numbers, if you want to make substantial money out of your writing. This means you’ll need to publish quality content. And you’re in luck, since we happen to have the complete guide to writing a blog for your photography website.
06. Invest in your art
“For many are called, but few are chosen”. Making money out of a personal project is the Holy Grail of many photographers – if not all. The road is long, and the results are highly unpredictable, since you never know how gallerists, curators and magazines will accept your work. But when fame knocks on the door, you’d better be there to open it, because it comes with many opportunities to make money as a photographer. Exhibitions, lectures and books are just a few of them. Want to try your luck?
07. Conduct photography tours and workshops
You know your hometown like the back of your hand? You might want to think of becoming a tour guide. But not any tour guide: a photography tour guide. Mass tourism has turned off a lot of people those days, and vacationers are always on the look for more authentic experiences. You can offer to lead them through the maze of your city (or area, or any other specific location) and teach them how to photograph it best. Pair up with travel agencies, join travel photographers and tourist groups on Facebook, and make sure your website is completely up to date.
08. Become a social guru
Is your Instagram hotter than Kim’s? Like all of us, you started small with a few likes from your friends and your mom’s comments under every post (“That’s my girl!”). Since then, you learned how to use Facebook like a professional photographer and you’re now leading a nice empire of followers. It might not sound obvious, but it’s something that you can leverage. Collaborating with online influencers is a popular practice in the marketing universe. Whether we’re talking about new gear, an invitation to a photo conference, or exclusive access to an app, you’ll be receiving a lot of stuff from brands to write and post about. In exchange, you get to keep the gift and maybe even receive a payment for your time and efforts. Warning! Since you don’t want your social profiles to look like a Christmas catalogue, don’t jump on every single offer. Make sure your posts benefit the company you work with, but also genuinely interest your community.
09. Shoot portraits
In an ideal world, you would have your own studio to shoot portraits. Fortunately, you can survive just fine without one. Many clients like outdoor or locations shoots, so you’ll find many opportunities even if you’re as free(lancer) as a bird. Try to be creative and don’t only offer the classic ‘passport’ pictures. People want beautiful images of themselves to put on their websites, their LinkedIn and – why not – even their Tinder profile. Should you limit yourself to bipeds? Of course not. Pet owners want to immortalize their best friends and are willing to pay substantial sums of money to get the assistance of a professional. The only thing you’re missing now is a strong photography portfolio, that will demonstrate the scope of your talent to potential clients.
10. Sell photos to magazines
Did you know? More than 7,000 printed magazines are currently in circulation in the U.S. only. And we’re not even talking of the countless online publications. The same goes in most countries: you have outlets for every hobby or profession, from boar-hunting to WC manufacturers. And since a magazine never goes without images, you have a huge reservoir of commissioned works waiting for you. For photographers, the work goes from covering an event to shooting portraits for an interview, or using your existing content as illustrations. Working for magazines requires you to build a network and make yourself a name in the industry. So it’s highly recommended to start small, and target local and regional publications first, before reaching out to the big brands.
11. Shoot events
It’s one of the most classic ways to make money as a photographer. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, company events… You have plenty of opportunities. It’s physical and can be exhausting, but there’s good money to be made. The amount you can charge mostly depends on your reputation, the moment of the year, and the location. When quoting your clients, don’t forget to take into account the hours of pre and post-production – not only the action time. And for finding contracts, the Internet (again!) has made it easier than ever. For this job, more than any other, you’ll need a complete online portfolio at your disposal. And it needs to be fully SEO optimized. It’s crucial because people looking for an event photographer are most likely to find them after a search on Google
12. Enter photo contests
Some competitions grant you cash, some equipment, some others give you the chance to realize your dream photography project – like Reiko Wakai, winner of the latest Wix Photography contest, who won a high-fashion shoot in zero gravity (you have to watch the video below!). Of course, unless you decide to bribe the jury (and we strongly recommend you NOT to do that), the result of any contest is very uncertain. This is why you shouldn’t rely on this option only, if you want to make a living as a photographer. Even if you don’t win, participating in a contest is always a great way to make more connections, and to have your work and website’s link featured on external websites. It’s good for your exposure, your SEO, and ultimately should help bring you more clients.
SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTOGRAPHY
This probably got some confused looks when folks saw it on our list. We expected that, because this genre of photography is relatively new, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. In fact, it’s exploding.
Here’s what’s going on…
Right now there are photographers on social media platforms (most notably Instagram) who are getting paid to create images for the sole purpose of sharing them with their social media audience.
AERIAL AND DRONE PHOTOGRAPHY
Aerial photography has been around forever, but with the advent of high quality, affordable drones, (like the mega-popular DJI Phantom), that require a relatively short learning curve, this genre of photography has blown wide open. For less than a couple thousand dollars (about the same price as the average DSLR camera) you could be creating stunning aerial images and videos.
This type of photography, now vastly more accessible to photographers and clients, is becoming increasingly popular. Eternally creative band, Ok Go, just released their latest music video, and it featured some jaw-droppingly impressive drone work.
If you always loved remote control toys, and photography, there couldn’t be a better way to make money than drone photography. Look into it.
This type of photography still gets an eyebrow raised, and a “Really? People want that?” when we bring it up, but I can tell you, from personal experience, that birth photos are among the most amazing images a client could ever own.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be on both sides of the lens here, and I’m not surprised at all that this genre of photography is growing rapidly.
Birth photography requires a particular sensitivity, and a whole lot of stamina and dedication, but it is also one of the purest expressions of what draws so many people to portraiture – love, amazement, and joy.
If this type of photography piques your interest then check into it further. It’s becoming more and more accepted, and in demand, and a great birth photographer could quickly become worth their weight in gold. Literally. (Ok maybe not quite literally…)