The photography industry is in turmoil. The age of the professional photographer is coming to an end while the rise of the smartphone is bringing the art of photography into the hands of millions. Strange days indeed. Amidst all this change both Canon and Nikon have announced mirrorless cameras that are poised to breathe new life into both vendor’s dedicated camera lines. Will they? I don’t believe they will and in the end, mirrorless cameras are simply a incremental improvement on the road to the true next-generation photography tool; the smartphone.
What IS a mirrorless camera?
Simply put, a mirrorless camera is a camera that, unlike a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, lacks a mirror that typically allows the photographer to view the scene through the lens using an optical viewfinder. When developed, the mirror approach was a great way to frame your photos before you pressed the shutter button. Now, using digital viewfinders found in mirrorless camera systems you no longer need the mirror apparatus to frame your photos. You can just view the scene directly off the camera’s sensor. This is a fantastic improvement over that standard DSLR approach for several reasons; no mirror means the camera can be smaller, using a digital viewfinder means what you see is much closer to how the final photo will look when taken. Both are really good improvements, and are clearly better than the classic DSLR, but all is not well in mirrorless camera land.
Mirrorless is incremental improvement, smartphones are a revolution.
So let’s get down to the heart of the matter. At the end of the day, mirrorless cameras are just an incremental improvement over what came before in DSLRs. There I said it. Nothing so far seen in the mirrorless world is what I would call revolutionary. Lots of small improvement have been made in the latest models from Nikon and Cannon but neither has produced something that truly changes how we take photos. Are mirrorless cameras smaller? Sometimes, but the smaller they get the more compromises you end up with.
No dedicated camera system, mirrorless or otherwise, available today has anywhere near the flexibility of a smartphone.
All hail the smartphone!
What if I were to tell you that a camera vendor had convinced all of it’s customers to upgrade their camera once a year? Even better, what if that same vendor was able to also “upgrade” the quality of the photos taken by those cameras using just software for free? Obviously there is no dedicated camera vendor willing to operate on that type of upgrade schedule and none of the traditional camera vendors seem willing to give out major feature-inclusive software upgrades for free. They just cannot compete. I’m completely convinced that smartphones and the camera hardware they are rapidly iterating on a annual basis will dominate the photography world going forward. The harsh reality for the camera vendors is that the smartphone is rapidly gaining in both image quality and feature set over traditional “dedicated” cameras. Let me be clear, this is not a bad thing for photographers, but it’s really bad news for camera vendors. I foresee a future where virtually all photography is done using various types of smartphone-style devices. Today’s iPhone and Samsung Galaxy already can produce amazing image quality and include features that are simply not feasible using traditional dedicated camera systems. Upstart vendors such as Light (with their L16 camera) are attempting to bottle some of this lightning into unconventional form factors but it’s not likely to gain any significant market share as Apple and Samsung rapidly continue to create better and better hardware and accompanying software. Just look at how far things have come in the last ten years and then imagine what the next ten will bring!
What’s a photographer to do?
My advice is simple but might not be for everyone. If you consider yourself a professional photographer you are likely going to spend money on whatever you think might be useful regardless if it only gives you an incremental improvement. For those semi-pro folks already using a DSLR, don’t invest in a mirrorless system unless you know exactly what you need and the system clearly offers up an awesome step up that really improves on the quality of the work you create. Prices on DSLR pro-level lenses are crashing (finally) which makes getting the high quality glass you need to produce amazing images far more accessible. If you are looking to get into photography and are not coming from a DSLR then my advice is to get yourself a high-end smartphone along with a cheap, second-hand pro-level DSLR with some good quality lenses if you feel the need to “look professional”. The money saved over a state-of-the-art mirrorless system will get you several smartphone upgrades and likely some awesome glass for your DSLR. When the time comes, you can place that DSLR on the shelf for your kids to ask about when they grow up.
Ultimately, the camera market will still exist in the future, abet in niche market form only, while the art of photography itself will grow and expand in new areas thanks to the innovation we are seeing now.
Agree? Disagree? Give a shout out in the comments below!
There are simply no shortcuts to building a career as a freelance photographer. Making money out of something you love is really hard, but it absolutely can be done. But before we get into how let’s just acknowledge that we photographers have had it a little rough in recent years. Newspapers and other publications have been laying off entire teams of staff photographers. Camera phones and cheap digital cameras have turned pretty much everyone into a photographer. And huge numbers of businesses seem to be under the impression that anything published on the Internet is fair game to be stolen and used for free.
With all this happening, in such a short period of time, it is easy to see why photographers new to the industry might be feeling jaded about their prospects of turning their passion into a profession. And yet, despite all the above, I believe it has never been a better time to become a professional photographer. Thanks to the Internet and social media, there is such a huge interest in the visual arts it can be hard to keep up. Millions of people around the world are viewing and interacting with photographs in such volume, there is an almost insatiable demand for new work. All of this opens up so many opportunities for those brave enough to try. But where to start?
Find Your Niche
Presumably, the best place to start when attempting to make money out of photography is deciding what you want to sell. As with any business activity, the laws of supply and demand very rarely fail. Where supply outweighs demand, prices will fall. That is a fact. And with so many hobby photographers prepared to allow their work to be used for free, in exchange for seeing their name in print, we have that oversupply in droves.
Inevitably, the only way to counter this is to offer products and services which are in demand, but under-supplied. In the world of photography, that means finding a niche, something to allow you to stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t much matter whether that niche is something very specific, such as exclusively photographing diamonds for the jewelry industry, or a specialty within a wider genre, such as a portrait photographer concentrating on head shots. The key is to provide a unique selling point, a service that very few others offer.
Of course, finding that niche is easier said than done, and individual style will only develop over time. But the very first step to making money from photography is to choose a specialty that customers are actually prepared to pay for, one without a large pool of competitors willing to undercut your prices.
Be Really Good
So if step one is offering a service customers are prepared to pay for, surely step two is being really good at that service. How to define “good” in photography terms is a whole other conversation, but for the purposes of this discussion, the only definition which matters is that of your customers. Those customers will only pay for your services if they see value in the work which you do, and believe they will achieve a return on the investment they make.
As with most skills, some aspects of your photography will come naturally to you, others you will need to work at, but either way, you need to be sure you feel sufficiently competent as a photographer to deliver upon the assignments you win. Developing those skills will take time and commitment. In my own case, as a travel and documentary photographer, I have to spend long periods of time on the road, as I travel between assignments. Being away from home can be difficult, but this is the commitment I have had to make to in order to succeed in my chosen niche.
Perhaps the most import skill to develop, besides photography, is effective marketing. If your customers don’t know you are there, they won’t buy from you. Without a doubt, social media is one of the most important means by which photographers can market themselves, but certainly not the only means. Email newsletters, blog posts, exhibitions, and events will all play a part in getting the words out that you are open for business.
When marketing yourself, don’t be afraid to communicate your strengths. Your customers want to know you have the ability to produce the goods for them, and your confidence will help convince them of this. Some might see this as showing off, but sometimes there is a need to blow your own trumpet. Effective self-promotion is a skill every photographer needs to develop in order to new business.
Don’t Undervalue Yourself
As any freelancer will tell you, pricing the projects you pitch for will be one of the most challenging aspects of your work. Charge too much and you will put customers off, charge too little and you will sell yourself short. But of these two challenges, underpricing is by far the more difficult issue to rectify. As with any other premium product or service, your customers will infer value based on price. If your pricing doesn’t accurately reflect the work you do, it will be far more difficult to build a client group willing to pay the rates you need in order to sustain your business.
The solution is to create a sensible pricing structure, which adequately takes into account the unique selling points of your work, and then finding the discipline to stick it while you build your client base. Of course, that is far easier said than done and turning down a paid assignment, even a low paid one, is difficult to do when you have bills to pay. But you must find that discipline.
Ultimately the success or failure of your business will be based on more factors than price alone. Providing your pricing is realistic, to begin with, offering constant discounts will probably not give you a better chance of success and may even harm your future growth. Instead, value your work enough to demand the price you deserve.
Up Your Game
As obvious as it may seem, in order to stand out from the crowd, you actually need to stand out from the crowd. Simply declaring yourself a professional photographer is not enough, you need to demonstrate you can behave professionally. That means staying on top of your email, following up on inquiries, keeping your website up to date, working your social media networks, preparing your service brochures, and much more besides.
So many photographers neglect these essential aspects of running a business, claiming not to have the time. And yet those same photographers will moan that they never seem to be able to secure paying assignments. How can a photographer expect customers to book new customers if they don’t reply to emails, or maintain their portfolio? Successful, fee-generating photographers will find the time because that is exactly what it takes in order to succeed.
The bottom line is business will very rarely just fall into your lap, you will need to actively go out and look for it. Claiming not to have the time is simply declaring you don’t have the time to make money. So up your game, and get it done!
Growing and maintaining a photography business is no different from any other business, the same tried and tested principles apply. Develop a clearly defined service, for which there is a market. Price that service correctly and deliver it in a professional manner. Nobody, not least other professional photographers, will ever claim any of this is easy. It really isn’t. But if a photographer is to succeed in making money from their craft, these are the steps they will need to take.
Stealing photos from Google or social media has been a quick solution for many, as photography copyright seems to be something too complex to deal with. It’s so easy to just copy, save, and include the perfect shot in your project. Less easy to deal with a potential lawsuit afterwards.
Indeed understanding copyright can take some time but it’s worth it. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a photographer is granted copyright at the moment the picture is taken. What it means is that by saving photos without getting an author’s permission, you may be committing an infringement.
You can finally stop stressing out each time you have to work with visual content because I’ve created a guide where you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about stock photography copyright.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a photographer is granted copyright at the moment the picture is taken. The photographer is the sole owner of the image, and it is illegal to use the copyrighted material for any purposes. There are two basic types of rights:
economic rights to gain financial benefit from the use of the photo by others
moral rights to protect the authorship and object to any modification of the work
If you’re not familiar with photography copyrights at all, the only thing you should remember is that saving images from Google search, social media or any other place without getting an author’s permission is illegal.
What are the photography copyright licenses?
All stock photography platforms offer two most commonly used types of licenses: Rights-Managed (RM) and Royalty-Free (RF). The first one means that a purchased photo can be used only once. Meanwhile, the Royalty-Free license implies a non-exclusive lifelong right to use a photo for one’s purposes, however, within the bounds stated in the licenses of a particular stock photography company.
Suppose you plan to use a stock image for marketing purposes. With a Rights-Managed license, you are allowed to use it only once on one print or webpage. The Royalty-Free license allows for multiple use of an image but it’s equally important to comply with the rules of the license which has a limitation on the distribution of images.
Another copyright license is the Editorial Use Only. According to it, photos are prohibited for commercial use or advertising, as these files may contain images of people without model releases, private property releases, famous trademarks, or other elements that require special permissions. What this means is that images marked “Editorial Use Only” can be used in articles, blogs, non-fiction books, or documentaries only as descriptive materials.
Visuals the rights of which have expired (content is older than 50 or 70 years), been forfeited or waived by the author become Public Domain and can be used for any purposes without requesting the author’s consent or buying it on stock photography platforms.
To find more photos free of charge, search for the Creative Commons copyright license. It is quite comprehensive and has 6 sub-licenses. Among which are:
Attribution CC that allows for modification of works as long as the author of the original image is credited.
Attribution-ShareAlike also requires a credit and means that any deviations from the original work will be under the same license.
Attribution-NoDerivs prohibits modifications but allows to use and share a photo for both personal and commercial purposes. Credits are obligatory.
Attribution-NonCommercial allows using images for personal purposes in case of proper attribution.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike says that commercial use is not allowed but you can modify and share the work.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs means that you can only share the image for personal purposes but modifications and commercial implications are prohibited.
The visuals under Creative Commons license can be found not only at stock photography platforms but also when using advanced Google search and opting for ‘free to use or share, even commercially’ or ‘free to use, share or modify, even commercially’ usage rights.
If you’re looking for a side hustle to make some extra money, one of the first things you should do is think about your hobbies and the things you enjoy doing. Photography is a hobby for millions of people. If you’re one of them, you may be wondering how you can make money with photography.
The photography industry has changed in huge ways over a relatively short period of time, thanks to technology. Obviously, the transition from film to digital photography has been part of that. Along with digital photography, the quantity and quality of software (like Photoshop) has had an equal impact.
The introduction of the iPhone and other smartphones, with increasingly capable cameras, has turned many more people into hobbyist photographers. The internet and social networks have greatly increased the potential reach and visibility for photographers.
All of these changes mean that there are more people interested in photography now than ever before.
That’s had some negative impacts on the industry. For example, many professionals have a harder time finding work because so many people have decent cameras and good enough skills that the pros aren’t always needed. Many companies who hired full-time photographers in the past now prefer to use freelancers.
I know several excellent and experienced photographers that have jobs in other industries because making a full-time income as a photographer is hard.
In this article, I’d like to cover some of the best ways to make money with photography. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but it does cover the most popular methods, as well as those that should be of interest to anyone using photography as a side hustle.
BEST WAYS TO MAKE MONEY WITH PHOTOGRAPHY
Ok, so you love photography and you love making money. But how can you go about making money using your photography, or at least working in the industry? Here are details of some of the options.
1. TAKING PHOTOS FOR CLIENTS
Probably the most obvious and most common way to make money as a photographer is to work for clients. This often involves portraits. There are a lot of different types of photography and portraits, including engagement, maternity, newborn, family, seniors, fashion, and more.
A lot of photographers specialize, and some do all kinds of different portraits. Specializing is obviously good for branding, which can be really effective in an industry that’s very competitive. While full-time professionals offer these types of services, there are many side-hustling part-time photographers that offer client sessions as well.
Most photographers that offer client sessions have different packages that they offer to make it convenient for clients.
In order to get clients, it’s helpful if you have a place to showcase your photos online. This could be on your own website, and Facebook can also be helpful. After a client session, you can post some of the best photos to Facebook and tag the client (I’d recommend asking their permission first). Include a link to your site or your contact information and you may get business from the friends of your client.
Pros of Taking Photos for Clients:
– Excellent option for part-time work (flexible scheduling)
– Potential to earn a good rate for your time
– Word-of-mouth leads to more business
– A lot of opportunities for specializing and branding yourself
Cons of Taking Photos for Clients:
– A lot of competition
– Dealing with (some) clients can be challenging
2. PHOTOGRAPHING EVENTS
One of the more lucrative ways to make money in the industry is to photograph weddings. Wedding photo packages from a professional photographer are not cheap. If you’re a hobbyist and doing photography as a side hustle, there is a lot of opportunity here. You can charge a reasonable rate and still be a bargain compared to other photographers.
As a wedding photographer, you can also create packages that include additional things like engagement photo sessions, save-the-date cards, custom invitations, photo albums, and more. These options make it possible to make more money from each client that you land.
Although wedding photography can be a great opportunity, there are definitely some things you’ll want to consider before jumping into it. You’re photographing the biggest day of your clients’ lives and some pressure comes with it. You only have one chance to get the photos right, so you need to know what you’re doing.
You may have heard horror stories involving bad memory cards or other technical difficulties that ruin the day. In some cases, lawsuits have resulted from situations like this. Personally, I’d highly recommend that you get some experience in other forms of photography before attempting weddings.
But weddings aren’t the only type of event that you can photograph. Bar mitzvahs, birthdays, corporate events, concerts, and other types of events present opportunities as well.
Pros of Photographing Weddings and Other Events:
– Good income potential
– Many events will be in the evenings or on weekends, which is ideal for most side hustlers
Cons of Photographing Weddings and Other Events:
– There’s a lot of pressure and little room for mistakes
– Probably not the best option for new photographers
3. SELLING PRINTS
There are a few different ways you can go about selling prints. If you’re taking portraits for clients you could offer packages that include specific numbers of photo prints in different sizes.
Today, most clients will prefer to get the digital photos and have the right to print them whenever and wherever they choose. Some photographers charge a premium for clients to get the digital photos and the rights, and for other photographers it’s a standard practice.
This is one area where I’ve seen most side-hustling photographers differ from most pros. Professionals tend to offer packages of prints or a higher priced package for the digital photos and the rights.
Many side hustlers skip the prints and just give the client digital photos and the rights to print whatever they want. This is one way part-time photographers offer prices that are much lower than most professionals.
You can make some money selling prints to your clients, but the average part-time photographer isn’t able to get a significant markup, so many decide that it’s easier just to offer a CD or DVD with the digital photos instead.
Selling Landscape, Fine Art, or Travel Prints
The other option for selling prints is to take the approach of selling art. Many landscape and travel photographers make a portion of their income by selling prints either on their website or in person at flea markets and other events. Some photographers are also able to get their photos into art galleries.
Landscape and fine art prints can sell for very good prices, so you don’t need to make a ton of sales in order for it to add up.
There is a lot of competition since there are many, many talented landscape photographers. In my opinion, the best way to have success as a part-timer is to specialize in your local area and brand yourself.
For example, if you live in Nairobi you could brand yourself as a “Nairobi landscape photographer” rather than a “landscape photographer”. You could even make it more specific and focus on the Upperhill or Westlands.
Or, if you live near a national park or some other high-profile location, you could brand yourself around just that one location.
Create a portfolio website and only include photos from the specific area that you are specializing in. Use keywords on your site like “Nairobi”, “UpperHill”, or whatever is appropriate. You can also use blog posts, a Facebook page, and an Instagram account to brand yourself.
After a while, you may become known as a leading photographer in your area, and you’ll have a better chance to rank for Google searches like “photos of Nairobi”.
All of this can lead to sales of your photo prints from people who want photos from your area.
The technical aspect of setting this up is not too difficult. You can create a website through companies like SmugMug and Zenfolio. Website visitors will be able to order prints right from your site, and they’ll ship from the print lab straight to the customer.
Pros of Selling Landscape and Fine Art Prints:
– Decent income potential, especially if you are selling larger prints
– Can work well in combination with other monetization methods
Cons of Selling Landscape and Fine Art Prints:
– Lots of competition
– You’re not likely to start making money quickly with this approach
4. HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE (STOCK PHOTOS)
If you’ve ever read any articles or blog posts about how to make money with photography, you’ve probably seen stock photography listed as an option. Many articles on side hustles or monetizing hobbies talk about stock photography as a great option. These articles usually make it seem like you can upload some of your photos to Deposit Photos, iStock, or other stock sites and start making passive income. In reality, making money with stock photography websites today is very difficult.
There are plenty of photographers that do extremely well with stock photography sites, but most of them have been doing it for years and have massive portfolios that allow them to make a high volume of sales. Getting started today with stock photography websites is difficult because your photos are likely to get buried beneath the millions of other photos that are already selling. That doesn’t mean that it’s not an option you can or should pursue, but I want to be honest and realistic about the likelihood of actually making money with this method.
The good thing about selling on stock photography sites is that is doesn’t need to take a lot of time. You’ll need to get approved by any marketplace where you want to sell, which usually involves uploading a few samples of your best photos. If you get approved, you’ll be able to upload more.
If you do want to pursue this, I highly recommend also trying some of the other money-making methods covered in this article. For most photographers, sales on stock photography sites may bring in a small amount of passive income, but it’s not usually a significant amount. If you do decide to pursue stock photography, be sure that you get a signed model release from any models in your photos (any decent stock photography site will require this). If you’re selling landscape or travel photos, you may need a property release.
Pros of Selling on Stock Photography Websites:
– Potential to make passive income
– Make money from the photos you already have
Cons of Selling on Stock Photography Websites:
– Incredibly competitive
– Established photographers control most of the market
– Most stock sites pay photographers very small amounts per sale
– Not likely to produce a significant amount of money
5. SELLING ITEMS
Aside from prints, there are plenty of items and products you can sell that feature your photos. A lot of these things will make you a fairly small profit per sale, but it can add up. My recommendation would be to use this in combination with other methods on this list, rather than relying on this method alone.
Some of the options include calendars, postcards, magnets, mugs, and much more. Print labs like Bay Photo will offer some of these things, and print-on-demand sites like CafePress and Zazzle offer many products.
Pros of Selling Items:
– Good supplement to other ways of making money with your photos
– A lot of different possibilities
Cons of Selling Items:
– Usually a small profit on each product
– It’s unlikely that you’ll make significant money with these types of products
6. BLOG, YOUTUBE CHANNEL, OR PODCAST
One way to make money with photography without actually taking photos for clients or selling your photos is to start a photography blog, YouTube channel, or podcast. There are, of course, already a lot of photography blogs out there. But there are also millions of people who read photography blogs, and opportunity is still there.
A number of well-established, popular photography blogs have been around for a long time. My suggestion would be to choose a specific niche or type of photography that you want to specialize in.
You could start a blog on drone photography, travel photography, street photography, wildlife photography, landscape photography, sports photography, wedding photography, camera and lens reviews, post processing, or focus on specific gear or equipment. Specializing will give you a better chance to stand out, be memorable, and rank for searches related to your topic.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
Now that we’ve covered different ways you can make money in the photography industry, it’s time to take some action.
Think about the possibilities and see how to pros and cons match up with your own situation, your skills, and your long-term goals.
Chances are, you may want to use a few of the different methods. My recommendation would be to start with just one, and then add another method after you’ve had some success with the first one.
If you have any experience making money with photography please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
When you’re first starting out with photography, growth seems to happen in leaps and bounds. You’ll measure your growth by the changes that you see in your work and photos that you make. Today, I’ll share some the things I’ve learned in my years of shooting and tips that I think can help you expedite your growth.
Here are some things I wish I knew when starting out.
1. Your Vision Changes
When you start approaching photography seriously, you may never see things the same way again. If your experience with examining things critically is like mine, you’ll suddenly become a student of every photo and video you consume. I can hardly watch a movie anymore without analyzing the cinematography and the way that shots are setup. Cinema is a unique medium, but I still draw so much inspiration from how those expert shots are put together.
Once you start chasing great images, you can count on changing your lifestyle. Waking up early or staying out late to find unique lighting becomes a routine part of life. You might catch yourself analyzing photos for how they’re lit and imagining how to recreate them. Personally, I believe that this process of reverse engineering great photographs is a powerful way of growing your own work. Jumping into photography headfirst brings the right side of the brain alive.
2. It’s an Expensive Hobby
Photography is an expensive hobby, particularly when you prioritize buying gear. After buying your first SLR camera, you’ve committed yourself to buying into a “system” of lenses and flashes that work only within the walls of your own brand. After that commitment, it can be costly to sell off your entire kit and migrate to another system (I’ve pulled this costly maneuver enough times to know).
Avoiding the more expensive side of photography is a two part approach: first, don’t connect your success to the gear you use. This means not buying into the mindset that one more piece of gear will perfect your work. There are no magic bullets when it comes to gear; the best way is to acquire gear is slowly and carefully.
Second, reduce cost in the ways that count. Buying used gear was a bit daunting for me at first, but has proved to be a move that helped me afford cameras and lenses that were otherwise out of my reach. Making smart decisions like fast primes (more on that later) will help you fight gear acquisition syndrome. Keep reading for more ideas on how to make smart gear decisions.
3. Skip the Stops to Start
When I first started learning about exposure, one mistake that I struggled with was trying to learn the exposure scale mathematically. Measuring the stops of light and memorizing the f-stop scale, counting geometrically, and all that stuff is a massive waste of time, at least at the beginning.
More important is learning how the exposure triangle—aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity—relates, and how to balance and approach exposure creatively. Don’t get too worried about counting stops and perfectly balancing light, when there’s so much more that’s more important to learn, like how to pose people, how to see good lighting, or how to find photographic moments.
4. Move to Manual for More Control
The sooner you begin to truly control your exposure, the sooner you’ll become more than a camera button pusher. This isn’t always easy—it requires learning plenty about metering, exposure, focus and more.
Venturing outside of the automatic exposure mode is the single largest step you’ll take to transition from camera button pusher to artist. When you begin to control the photo and can handle the nuances of exposure, you are turning the exposure process upside down and envisioning an outcome for the photo. You can learn to handle backlighting, creative exposure, and many more scenarios than the camera can handle on its own.
A great intermediate step is to learn to control one additional factor at a time. First, understand ISO and the impact on image quality as well as the light reaching the sensor. Then, you can branch out to controlling shutter speed and aperture and considering the visual outcomes of those settings as well. Jumping into shutter priority or aperture priority is a decent training step toward getting to full manual exposure modes.
5. Make Time for Shooting
It seems awfully basic, but I often found myself forgetting that the only way to truly improve is to keep your camera in the hand everyday, constantly making images. If there’s one way that I continue to fall short, it’s blocking off time between work to make images.
6. Prioritize Lenses
One key to avoiding spending too much money on photography gear is to buy smart and get the purchase right the first time. Looking back, the first two years of my photography hobby were spent leapfrogging from one camera body to the next. I was in search of megapixels, more autofocus points, and anything that I thought could improve the outcome of my photographic work. In the process, I always had a way of avoiding what I should actually upgrade: lenses!
As long as you are married to the inexpensive kits lens that comes with the camera, you’re going to limit your work. Although it’s totally possible to make great photos with the kit lens, it has its limitations; typically it’s an 18-55mm lens with a slow aperture. That slow aperture limits you to well-lit environments. As you stop down the lens to f/8 or thereabouts, it can be very sharp, but can still be lacking.
This tip might seem to contradict constantly acquiring more gear to make better photos, but there is some truth in upgrading the glass in front of your camera. It’s more important to make the right upgrade by choosing faster (larger aperture) lenses that give you great value in terms of photographic output.
7. Slow Down on Going Pro
After you’ve been shooting for awhile and have started to showcase your work, chances are that you’ll be approached with some shooting offers. Whether it’s a friend’s senior portraits, some landscape photos commissioned for print, or weddings (the most dangerous engagement of all), friends always seem to be looking for someone (usually on the cheap) to capture their precious moments.
Sure, it’s attractive to suddenly monetize your hobby. It can help you to get more gear and also help make ends meet. However, it brings with it some nuances that are hard to measure. Dealing with difficult clients who cancel at the last moment, risking legal liability and much more are all parts of the professional process. No matter your relationship with the client, you’re always putting yourself on the line when you accept money for your services. Slow down on going professional and remember to tread lightly.
8. Take Your Camera Everywhere
You’ll never make a good photo with your camera sitting at home. I’ve had to convince myself that the day that I leave the camera at home will be the day I miss the award winning photojournalism opportunity I’m waiting for. Therefore, you’ll rarely catch me without an image making tool. Whether you have an SLR or an iPhone with your favorite imaging app, make sure you keep a tool with you that you can make images with!
Furthermore, this “always be carrying” philosophy has greatly shaped my recent gear choices. I won’t buy another large camera that will live in the bag, because I know that no matter how superior the quality, if it won’t get used, it’s no good to me.
9. Get a Fast Fifty Now
If your current camera is an interchangeable lens type, I can’t think of a better “second” lens than the 50mm. With its fast aperture, typically f/2, f/1.8, f/1.4, or it can help you to tackle low light situations and also help you to control depth of field in a way that the kit lens never can. If you’re using an smaller, APS-C sized sensor, a 35mm lens will create roughly the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a full-framed camera.
For me, the greatest creative control is the ability to control depth of field. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to how much of the photo is in focus. Wide aperture lenses like the 50mm f/1.8 allow us to limit the sharp portion of the photo to a small portion that lets you isolate a focal point.
10. Learn Your Camera Inside and Out
One way to improve your shooting is to understand the tools at your disposal. When you don’t have to think about the buttons to push and the technical choices to make, you’re free to approach photography as a creative. You’re thinking in terms of light, not spinning the dials that control aperture. When you really learn every option, every setting, every control of your camera, your camera becomes an extension of your eye.
It seems unthinkable, but spending some quality reading time with the camera’s manual is one way to get acquainted. An even better way is to shoot it every day and dig deeper and deeper in the settings.
As I look back on the four years that I’ve been shooting seriously, it’s hard for me to even count the ways that photography has shaped my life. From the friends that I’ve met to the business experiences that it’s brought with it, photography can be such a positive force for anyone from amateur to lifelong professional.
What are some things you wish you knew when starting photography? What have you learned throughout your shooting career?
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.
My last article focussed on what you really need to consider if you are looking into transitioning to a professional photographer and build a career out of it. Today, we get to focus on a few ways here and there in preparation of the leaping toy can do from this lucrative looking business, as many clients would want to put it.
In this follow-up, I will discuss what I believe to be the next and crucial step before you make the leap: preparation.
Knowing what skills to focus on that will serve you well in professional photography life is important, but you’ll still find yourself in the same position as those who didn’t focus on them. That is, at one point or another, you will be at the precipice of hobbyist looking across the gap between the cliff faces to professional pastures; you’re going to have to jump like everyone else. So, how can you best have your affairs in order to sit neatly alongside your well-honed skill-set?
Looking back, I didn’t have enough of these affairs in order. That is, I didn’t have all the useful preparation in place, primarily because I wasn’t sure what it all was. If I could give a list of things I ought to have done before I jumped into photography full-time to give to former me, this is what it would look like.
1. Financial Reserve
It seems counterintuitive, saving money so that you can comfortably try to make money, but it’s correct. I’ve had a discussion on this topic several times with professional photographers.
The motivation for the debate sparking so often is that I didn’t build a nest egg before I went full-time. I stripped my outgoings to as low as humanly possible, committed to living like a hermit crab for a while, and decided that if I threw myself into the ocean without a life raft, I’d have to swim. I would have to swim. It motivated me, but it also nearly broke me.
The argument against this course of action is of course the relief of stress, and I wholeheartedly agree. I was at the edge of insanity many times in the first year, and although the drive did open doors for me, I’m not sure it was the best path. The more financial stability I have, the better my business decisions are, I believe. For that reason, I would suggest that if you’re in a position to build a financial reserve to float your photography turning into a small start-up business — which it is — then do so.
2. Education on Running a Small Business
On the topic of being a small business, education on running one is invaluable. Too often us, creatives have blind faith in the merit of talent and art winning out over all other facets of success, and it just doesn’t work that way. Look for online courses on running a small business (Udemy, etc.); you’ll be surprised how useful some of this information becomes. Speak to an accountant who specializes in small businesses, and ask for advice as well as a guide on how to best keep your accounts. Finally, if you can find someone who has done well in business, ask for a meeting with them or offer to buy them lunch to mine them for information and wisdom. This is one thing I did twice right at the start of my career and it served me well. In fact, one of them became somewhat of a sporadic mentor.
3. Find a Mentor
I have worked with spectacularly successful photographers since I started, albeit in the last two years or so. The little droplets of wisdom that, unbeknownst to them, fall from their brow, are priceless to photographers lower in the pecking order. By the simple act of helping them out, you can garner all sorts of important information on everything from business and networking, to composition and equipment.
4. Do Your Research
The next two tips are obvious to anyone who has looked into starting a business or venture and has completed their due diligence on the sector they wish to enter. However, us creatives can often bolt out of the gate without taking this vital step. I — for the most part — was one of those reckless folk. Ideally, you need to comprehensively research not only how a photography business works and what yours might look like, but the specialties you dream of dominating, who current dominates them, and what you’re expected to produce. I went a more “learn by doing” approach that — without a dose of luck — is unambiguously the worse of the two strategies. Take your time to get the lay of the land.
5. Have a Plan and Set Targets
Once you have a better understanding of what your desired industry looks like and what sort of part you will play in it, it’s time to plan and set targets. Really, this is two points. The planning phase is a direct extension of your research, where you set in place the direction you want to take your photography business right from the starter pistol. However, it has a symbiotic relationship with your targets. You will be planning how to effectively reach your targets, and your targets will be a mixture of short-term and long-term goals, with the former aiding your journey along your plan, and the latter being a metric with which to evaluate the success of your plan.