There’s a myth perpetuated that photographers either do it for a hobby or they’re professionals making money. The truth is, the majority seem to float in the gray area between the two.
The false dichotomy that photographers are either hobbyists making no money or professionals making full-time money doesn’t take into account the sizeable subset of photographers who have full-time jobs, but still make some side money from photography. I did exactly this through my university degrees, and while it wasn’t large quantities of cash, it was important supplemental income. I remember at the time wishing I knew of more ways that I could earn a little on the side from my photography, and so to that end, I’ve decided to list all the ways I made money while technically still a “hobbyist.” I’d also like to kindly ask anyone who has had success in this area to share their methods in the comment section for those photographers interested in monetizing their hobby.
I’m honestly not sure if this is morally gray, but didn’t ever have complaints — quite the opposite in fact, as I had a lot of praise and thanks. Every year, I would go to a motorsport event with a press pass. It’s a relatively small event — albeit popular — and they granted me a press pass when I applied (which is much easier to get than people think). I shot the cars both racing and on show, and as a petrol-head, thoroughly enjoyed myself. I came back home and spent an hour here and there editing the photos into a reasonably large, but carefully curated gallery. I shared this gallery in every group and forum to do with the event and included my contact information for the drivers to buy a digital download file for them to own and print for private use.
The first year I covered my expenses, my time, and then some. Every digital file I sold was cheap (looking back, too cheap), and most drivers and people involved in the events bought a picture or three. I went back and did the same again the next year, and even now, I will happily do it again if I have no bookings on the relevant days. Events are a great way to network and potentially sell your work, though ensure you tread carefully, get permission from the organisers, and don’t go around photographing families and then trying to scalp them for money!
This is going to be contentious: I made money while a hobbyist by occasional paid shoots for people and small companies, where I charged less than a full-time photographer. In my defence (it’s really more offence), I’ve never had a problem with people who undercut, as they can seldom offer the same level of service, but it’s something I did if the opportunity arose. A lot of small start-ups, people, and companies who don’t care that much for photography will have a small budget to work with you. They can’t afford the full-time professionals — or just won’t pay that much — but have mild photographic needs you can cater to.
My words of warning on this tip: you’re going to need to do it properly. Get insurance, write up a contract, and act like a business to avoid getting stung; they won’t eat into your profits much.
Unfortunately with this method, it’s not possible for everyone. However, a sure-fire way of making some money on the side with your camera is shooting current affairs. I know photographers who have traveled to capture local troubles and newsworthy happenings and then contacted news and media outlets to sell the photos. I have done this myself too, and it’s far easier than I had anticipated. The internet has increased the demand for images and videos of current affairs tenfold, and the rates aren’t bad.
I left this last because not only is it the most obvious, it’s incredibly difficult to earn anything worthy of being called a side income. I’ve sold images through a multitude of stock websites over the years, both as a hobbyist and a professional, and it’s always been negligible. There are mitigating factors, however. Firstly, I have never shot with the express intent of it being a stock image. That is, I’ve never pandered to the trends and shot images primarily for commercial use. Secondly, I find the effort involved is not worth the rewards (it’s important to note I don’t shoot many images that are viable for stock agencies), particularly over other methods in this list.
With all that in mind, there are plenty of people who have made money from stock photography on the side. If you can get the ball rolling, there’s passive income to be had, but it requires effort to begin with, and then more importantly, consistency with updating your library of images for sale.