How To Make Money in Photography

In this post I will give you a couple of ideas on how to make money in photography – nothing spectacular here, just things that each of us can do to make money from what we love doing.

We all love photography and it is said  “Do what you love and the money will follow” – but is it that easy?
The short answer is NO!  It will take work and dedication but it is possible.

To take photos that sell you need to understand your camera's capabilitiesBefore you can make money in photography you need to become familiar with all (well almost all) things photography related as a first step.  Then you need to become proficient at marketing and running a business.

There is no point in taking great photos and not knowing how to present them to prospective customers. In brick and mortar terms “location is everything” but in today’s Internet world its understanding keywords and what customers search for.

The first step is to become a good photographer.

Become a Good Photographer – It has nothing to do with equipment!

To be a good photographer you need to learn how to become a good photographer and that does not require the latest and most expensive camera equipment. Sure it will help but if you have the fanciest typewrite in the world it does not make you a best-selling author. In exactly the same way the latest kitchen equipment (stove, knives, pots, blenders etc.) will not make you a master chef.

What makes us experts in any particular field is understanding the basics to start with and building on from there. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any field.  Now that may not sound like a lot but 10,000 hours is 250 forty hour weeks – or about 5 years of full time work.

Time to get started then …

You will need a camera with a lens but that is it – you can become a good photographer with your phone camera – and let’s face it the phone cameras are far easier and far better than anything Ansell Adams ever had to work with.

Study the following:

  • Your camera manual – if you want to get the most out of your camera then the least you can do is understand how it works.  There are lots of buttons and menu options, make sure you understand what each one does. This is a basic requirement to becoming a good photographer and the good news is if you do this for camera #1 nothing much changes as you upgrade.
  • Learn everything (there’s not much) there is to know about the exposure triangle – essentially this is the relationship between ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.  They all work together to give different results.
  • Rules of composition – they’re just rules that can be, and are often, broken. But there is a purpose behind each  rule based on the way the human eye views and the brain interprets a photo. There are numerous books on the subject.  But here is an example.  In this image the man is walking from right to left and in strict terms of composition I should have him walking into the image – instead I have him walking out. Why did I break the rules?  Well I felt that being in such a beautiful spot, on such a gorgeous day, him being on his phone meant he was missing everything that there was to love about life on the beach. He had probably traversed this entire stretch of beach without seeing anything or savouring the atmosphere and as a consequence where he was going was irrelevant.  I think it works – despite breaking the rules.
    Learn the rules of composition and know when you can break them
  • Read books, watch videos, join a local or international club and participate as fully as you can in competitions where you will get feed back on your results.  I joined The Photographer’s Guild in the UK because of their Image of the Month (IOM) competition which is of a very high level.  Now you may not want to join something as intense to start with but you may ultimately want to be judged by peers who pay great attention to detail and will provide you with mentoring.  Get your ego out of the way and take criticism as a way of growing.  It’s hard and it hurts when someone doesn’t like a photo you do but try to take your emotional connection away from it and understand that they are looking at it from a different perspective. Repeat the shot and try capturing the emotion you feel in the image so that your viewer feels the same.
  • Study the old Masters (I’m talking painting artists like Rembrandt) and pay particular attention to their lighting techniques and posing.
  • Regularly visit art galleries and photo exhibitions – hell have your own exhibition.
  • Go work for an established photographer – get paid to learn. What could be better?

You Don’t Have to Be a Great Photographer! – Average is okay, good is better.

Take photos of a great variety of subjects under all sorts of lighting conditions. Push yourself to the limits and get comfortable with being uncomfortable if you want to grow.

Shooting in a studio day in and day out may ultimately be your style of choice but those who climb mountains, sit up at night, go to foreign countries and capture a variety of subjects usually produce the “wow” photos. Travelling the world taking photos and writing a blog about it seems a pretty good life to me.  But there again so does studio work (what I do a lot of) – it all depends what floats your boat.

You don't have to be great - good enough is good enough to make money from photography

This is an abstract night photo of one of 5 bridges that serve Hamilton City in New Zealand

Do you have to be great – absolutely not.  If you continually criticise your work you will never produce anything that meets your strict requirements.  however you will know you are good enough when you criticise the most. Look back on previous photos and see how far you have come.

  • Compete with the photographer you were yesterday.
  • Do a 365 – take a photo every day of the year and post it online for others to hold you accountable.  This can be done on FaceBook or in a forum or anywhere you choose.
  • Meet with a mentor on a regular basis.
  • Hook up with a like minded buddy and go shooting together.

There are a lot of really average photographers out there making seriously good money (and more importantly living the life they love) who are very average photographers. Just have faith in yourself – you’ll never be perfect and you will always be improving.  You can only do the best you can on any one day at any given time and in photography that moment never comes back and the photo you capture is the best one of it.

Mediocre photos coupled with positive action beats expert photography with zero output!

Dare to Be Different – It’s less competitive and more sought after

Once you have mastered your gear, learnt about the exposure triangle, understand composing, studied others etc. etc. you will have an idea of what you enjoy doing the most. This is the path you should follow for now (yes it may change later).

Now is the time to specialise!

I am a great believer in learning from others and replicating is fine – but comes a time when you need to be different. You need to have something quite unique.

Dare to be different and have something unique to offerFor example there is always a market for abstract photography.  Here I have taken a photo of a forest and deliberately moved my camera as I took it – the image is clearly not in-focus but yet has an eerie feeling to it and will appeal to many.  You can make a living just doing this sort of thing as you get known.

Or you can take a series of photos and composite them to make a totally different story – I have friend who does this with wedding photos.  She will take a photo of the couple and then put them in the clouds with doves and birds and things and make it all romantic. Does nothing for me but her clients love the photos and she funds her annual overseas photo holiday on the proceeds.

So try to find something that is unique to you, that you enjoy and that has a market. Everything has a market and often the more obscure it is the higher the rewards.

A Thousand Ways to Make Money in Photography

Like any industry there are a thousand (and more) ways to make money in photography.

Let’s explore some a few of those ways.

Offering a photographic service.

  • Commercial photography – OMG the number of businesses that are looking for unique photos for their business is unbelievable.  Some businesses have their own photpgraphic division because of the volume and variety of product they sell.
  • Real Estate Photography – this is easily a full time occupation.
  • Website photography – I do quite a bit of corporate work that start off as headshots for the website and end up being a lot more. My speciality is doing environmental type portraits.
  • Weddings – evergreen but hard work and competitive but lucrative if you market correctly.
  • Portraits – my favourite.  I love human faces and expressions. Portraits has many sub niches such as glamour, men, women, children, couples, generational, family, new borns, graduation, etc. etc.
  • School photography – again a friend of mine does only this and has 6 schools on his books.  He makes a great living out of it because he connects with the families and gets extra work out of them.
  • Boudoir – my favourite!  Just something so incredibly alluring about the genre, where less (revealed) is more (for the imagination).
  • Nude – again tasty is my preferred choice but you can make a good living out of raunchy if that is your thing.
  • Pet photography – this is a huge market and I know someone who does only terminally ill pets.  She makes a small fortune and people fly her around the country to come and take photos of their furry family before it is too late.
  • Hire yourself out as an event photographer – birthdays come to mind as do sporting events.

Selling Your Photographs

You may have decided that you want to take photos of things you love – such as landscapes, wild animals, insects (macro) flowers etc.
That’s great because there is always a demand for these types of photos.  People love a variety of subjects but don’t always have the knowledge or the means to photograph them – these people are prepared to buy other people’s images.

As I type this I am thinking of sporting events, motorsports, biking, marathons, track meetings, football, basketball, rugby, cricket, rowing, skiing (snow makes great photos) blah blah blah instead of etc. etc etc. I think you can see the endless possibilities.

Where to sell?

  • Well you could have exhibitions
  • Make them available online with your own personal site – yes you too could build a site like the one you are reading right now. Its easy ask me how in the comments below.
  • Sell through stock photo sites – and there are hundreds to choose from.  Its like having a whole team of people all over the world selling your photos for you.  All you have to do is upload them.
  • Sell to bloggers who are always on the lookout for photos.

Sell Other People’s Photos For Them

Like you there are those who want to sell their photos for a bit of pocket money. Why not help them and start your own uniques stock photo service?
There are several different types of stock photos available online and you can easily start your own.

  • Imagine having a couple of hundred thousand photos for sale and making a few cents off each sale – the power of numbers.
  • Sell only prints of other people’s photos – one to the site I am affiliated to does this and instead of cents the photographer set’s his/her own price and get a fairly decent sum for their photo.  The website takes care of the printing and delivery and for that adds on its one percentage.  Its a win, win, win.

How to Make Money In Photography -The first half an hour of the 10,000 hours completed

You’re well on  your way, after all the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step!

Jokes aside though I do hope this has given you some ideas on how you too can make money in photography.

My parting bit of advice is to not get too hooked up into the whole making money side of it just yet.  First learn by doing and have fun doing it. This is not something I want you to hate doing – I want you to get up and look at everything and think “how can I photograph this so it looks interesting?”

Have fun – do the things you love and the money will follow.

OH and as always please leave me your comments below – anyone and everyone welcome to comment and I would love comments from you if you are already making money from photography.

20 Comments

  1. Hi Lawrence,
    I do need to become a good photographer. My niche depends on it. No matter how hard I try my architect daughter still says my photos are mediocre! Your post has been helpful, I’ll pay more attention to the points you have given here. And I’m sure I’ll get better over time.

    • Hey Juliet. Thanks for the comment.
      I think personal and authentic photos are so much better for blogs and websites. While stock photos are good and certainly serve a useful those who aren’t able or have the time to take their own photos I find originality stands out.
      That having been said original photos sell well too.
      If I have helped in any way to get you to improve the look of your website I am thrilled – just remember to sell your excess photos and keep the special ones for yourself.
      Thanks once again for commenting.
      Lawrence

  2. Great article, Lawrence.
    I love your photos and that one with the bridge – so nice. Yes, you certainly made my first 30 mins out of the 10,000 hours achievable. But you are right, it does not take much to make a start – just the effort. Also, no fancy expensive camera – a modern phone can get anyone started. Thanks for all the tips and potential that the photography world holds. Much success to you.
    Michelle

    • Hi Michelle – thanks for the compliments on the photos, really glad you like them.
      Yes a phone camera is adequate for most photography but can come up short when you want to print, depending on the size of the desired print.
      And much success to you too 🙂
      Take care
      Lawrence

  3. Hi Lawrence, I can take decent pretty decent photos with my phone, but for high resolution poster size photos of my daughter’s paintings we hire a photographer with a fancy camera. My phone does ok for the photos on her website. But i could definitely improve. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Tara – well there you go. You know one photographer making money by hiring himself out. 🙂
      Yes any decent size print requires a bit more by way of pixels and resolution than the phones can give at this stage but they are catching up fast.
      Keep clicking,
      Lawrence

  4. I started selling photos I’d taken on vacations through a couple of stock photo agencies several years back, when photos were still being shot on film as well as digital. It made me a small side income and I’m just your average photographer. Not all the images I submitted were accepted so you must be prepared for this if you join an agency yourself.

    I haven’t submitted any photos in a couple of years due to changing life circumstances, but those photos that were accepted still sell from time to time.

    If you regularly submit photos to an agency and start building a large portfolio of accepted photos, there’s no reason you can’t generate a nice little income stream from your hobby! 🙂

  5. This is a great article for anyone who may want to go into photography. There is a learning curve but it can be done. I would love to learn it but do not have enough passion to begin the journey. However, it is very interesting and I love great photos.

    • Hi Cynthia.
      Lovely to read your comments and very flattering that a non- active photographer stopped long enough to read the article and to post a comment!
      I am sure you have passion in other areas of your life and can fully understand the old “so much to do, so little time”
      Once again thanks for popping in.
      Lawrence

  6. Great article. And so true. The camera doesn’t make a good photo, it is the photographer.

    I too love photography and was earning some money at it. I have discovered I prefer taking photos of birds, flowers, bugs and my dog for my self pleasure. Sometimes I create books or posters. I started out by joining camera clubs and they have critique nights and contests. Those are good if you want a second opinion on your work.

    Most real estate agents are going to take their own photos, but if you get a drone and can take aerial photos, you can offer something they do not have access to. They are great for large homes.

    I did some sports photography. Just like schools, sports teams (I’m thinking kids games) usually have contracts in place the year before. That group is a tough nut to crack. I think that sports photo day is horrendous for the photographer and the parent. The parent may have several kids and different times to be photographed or a child could be sick and they could miss out. Then what? I would always set up a team photo right before a game in case anyone missed. If someone couldn’t make it, I photographed them later and added them to the photo. It takes practice, but you can do it.

    Every parent has a phone and takes photos of their child. What I did was offer something they couldn’t get. Make a composite, trading cards, posters, magazine covers, etc. I would attend each game of one particular team. By doing that, I would eventually see every team in that league. (I was single at the time and my weekends were free.) I would pass out business cards and leave a notebook with sample photos on the bleachers or try to find the team mom to assist with passing out business cards or getting an email list (for a discount on her photos). Don’t ask the coach, he is way too busy. I found with a long lens and a DSLR, I would be allowed inside the fence when parents weren’t. I would stand near 1st or 3rd base to get photos of the batter. That is a shot parents can’t get. Of course, you have to watch for those foul balls!

    Pet photography is great. Start by contacting your shelters and rescues. Offer to take photos for free for the experience and let them use them on facebook to help their animals get adopted. Produce a calendar for them to sell as a fundraiser. There are companies out there that aren’t expensive. Make sure your contact info is on the calendar. Host a photo session at the vet or pet store. I even saw a guy with a large van as his mobile pet photography studio.

    Offer to take photos at children’s parties. Parents have enough to do and need a helping hand.

    Go to flower nurseries and take photos. Ask permission first. No one ever told me no. Just stay out of hte way of customers.

    BMX racing. With a pro looking camera, you can usually get in where the public cannot. One day I asked if I could take photos and I just figured it would be from the fence, but they gave me a photo pass and I got to be right in the middle of things. Again, watch out for your safety.

    Get the Photographer’s Market book. I guess they still print those. It is a list of every company looking for photos. All those calendars you see for sale in the stores, they need photos. Take a look at the subjects if you need ideas. There are some crazy ones out there.

    I recently posted some photos of flowers in my yard taken with my camera phone. I was amazed at the response. That is why I enjoy photography. Showing something to others that they might not get to see. Have you ever noticed the flowers planted in front of shopping malls and businesses? Open your eyes to what you may not have noticed before.

    Just my take on a few ideas that I tried.

    I never thought of opening my own stock photo company. I have tons of photos sitting around. Thanks for the idea.

    • Wow Shelley – what a wonderful comment full of some unique and simple ideas that anyone can do if they take the time to get out and show themselves. You clearly are a very confident person.
      Asking someone if you can take photos almost always gets a positive reaction and for those times when they don’t – well you just saved yourself what would probably have been an unpleasant confrontation.
      You sound like you were pretty successful at photography and I’d be interested to know why you stopped marketing – surely the photos of your birds and flowers would sell, if not as free standing then as calendars and the like.
      Thanks once again for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated.
      Lawrence

      • Shelley Atkinson

        I worked with a great lady that officiated weddings at her home. These were people that wanted more than a justice of the peace, but had neither the time or money for a huge wedding. It was a great niche market for both of us. Unfortunately, she moved and shortly thereafter, I moved.

        My husband and I wanted to build our new house and the lower level was going to be my studio. However, life had other ideas and we couldn’t build that house. We moved to a rural area and people don’t buy large portraits for their walls, so it was ok not to have a home studio.

        Stock photography seemed to make a decline and there is a lot of competition out there. I got busy with other things, but I still make photo books for friends and family and still take photos for pleasure. It is a habit I cannot break! I am taking an online class on making composites. Maybe when I do not have a day job and can focus more on my photos, I will start a stock agency from your suggestion.

        • Life does have a tendency to get in the way and it is sad when dreams are put aside.
          However i do have some very good news for you – no matter where you live or operate from people do spend a lot of money on family portraits as wall art.
          I may be about to change your life – but it will be entirely up to you. Ready?
          https://suebryceeducation.com/ and https://www.ipsmastermind.net/
          Both are sites that teach you how – and are the best on the planet. Plus no affiliate links so this is from me to you with the best wishes.
          I’d love to see you back doing what you love.
          Lawrence

  7. Thanks for these great tips Lawrence, you are right when you say that wanting to be a good photographer has nothing to do with the equipment, but one needs to learn to be able to to take some good shots.
    It’s like playing the piano, you can get the best piano out there but you need to practice A LOT to be a concerto pianist!!
    Sometimes I am lucky and get a great photograph with my cellphone, but I know that to be as good as National Geographic’s photographers I have a long way to go, and need so much patience!
    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • Hello Orion.
      Thanks for your comment. I like the Piano analogy.
      To be good at anything you definitely need a lot of practice – some people are naturals at certain things but too become real expert at it even they need practice, they just don’t need as much as the rest of us.
      Your comment reminds me of a lovely story I read about a well known New York photographer who was invited to a high profile socialite’s dinner dinner party (it sounded like his appearance on the dinner list was a coup for the hostess).
      Anyway she met him at the door and welcomed him into her home adding: “I so love your photos – you must have an amazing camera.” He just smiled and thanked her.
      After a wonderful dinner and guest mingling with after dinner drinks and coffee it eventually came time to leave and the hostess saw each guest off individually.
      Finally came the time for the photographer to depart and he thanked her most graciously adding: “Your dinner was superb – you must have a fantastic oven!”
      I love that story.
      Take care and thanks once again.
      Lawrence

  8. Lawrence,
    I have been taking pictures for the last 50 years of nature, classic autos and home improvement projects. I have tried before to sell some on one of the stock photo sites and got no results.
    What do you think would be the best investment of my time to see if I could sell some of my photos online.
    John

    • Hi John, Thanks for your comments and question.
      The only thing I can suggest, that isn’t already covered in my post, as far as selling stock photos is concerned is to upload regularly and often as the more photos you have up the more likely you are to sell.
      Those that are successful at it also tend to stick to a certain genre or style and get followed.
      Study the ones that sell and see if you can find a common thread.
      You must have a lot of photos over 50 years.
      Best of luck,
      Lawrence

  9. Hello Lawrence,
    I’m not a photographer but I have always admired that even without any accompanying text, photographs tell their own persuasive stories. Because photographs don’t require literacy or familiarity with a particular language, they are also more universally understood than messages that require words. As someone who has studied business communication and as someone who is a big movie buff I really appreciate the insight you have given me on photography. It has made me admire the art and profession even more. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hey Thabo
      Thanks for your comments and insight.
      Photos definitely do tell their own story and often we see a different story than someone else looking at the same photo! I guess it is all about perception.
      Reading about your experience in business makes your comments so much better – thanks.
      Lawrence

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