HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH PHOTOGRAPHY

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 PhotosiStock, 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.


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How To Make Money As A Hobbyist

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.

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©Edgar Chomba

Events

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!

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©Edgar Chomba

Paid Shoots

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.

News

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.

Stock

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.

 

How To Prepare for the Leap From Hobby Photographer to Professional

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.

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Image Courtesy ©Edgar Chomba

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.

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Image Courtesy ©Edgar Chomba

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.