No matter what career you want to have, you’re going to have to start from somewhere. When you’re an aspiring photographer, finding those first couple of gigs could be a major struggle. Despite the struggle, many newbies still manage to make some money while they learn the ropes.
How do beginner photographers make money? There are several ways that people who are green to the world of photography can make extra cash. The most common ways include:
- Working as a studio assistant
- Getting casual clients
- Getting a part-time job at a portrait chain
- Selling stock photos
If you’re trying to embark on a new career journey as a professional photographer, you have your work cut out for you. It’s an expensive career choice! However, there are still ways to get paid while you learn, even if you are so green that landscapes have nothing on you. This guide will offer you a full run-through of the most popular options.
More on Making Money as a Beginner Photographer
No matter what career choice you make, there’s always a way to get paid while you learn your trade. Photography is no different in this sense. The key to making money as a newbie photographer is to use what you have available to you and price yourself reasonably.
This typically means that new photographers will have to lower their rates significantly, work for minimum wage, or just use their natural networking skills to carry them over while they learn. The methods in this guide are the most well-proven, but there are always other routes you can take. All you have to do is think about them!
Before You Start: What Will You Need?
If you want to earn money as a photographer but don’t quite have the skillset to get good hires, you’re going to need to have something that shows you’re serious about your work. To get started, it’s best to have some of these items below:
- A Smartphone. Smartphones have plenty of apps that you can use to make money by selling stock photos. They also make it a cinch to post your shots on social media and take quick shots.
- A Computer. Apple computers are the industry standard in the creative field, but there are photo editing software kits for Windows PCs that can do just as well.
- Photo Editing Software. You don’t need to have Adobe Photoshop’s full suite, but you should have something that can help you smooth out imperfections in your photography.
- A Camera. A DSLR is considered to be the industry standard. You can rent one if you don’t own one. If you can’t afford to rent one, there may still be some ways to work around it.
- Lighting Equipment. Though it is possible to get a great photo without it, having any sort of lighting equipment, even if it’s just a reflector or a beauty ring, can help.
Putting Together Your Strategy
When you’re trying to make money as a newbie photographer, you’re going to have to hustle. A little planning and strategy can go a long, long way. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your income plan:
- Get a day job in photography, or don’t quit your day job yet. Most photographers don’t work in the field full-time, simply because it’s so hard to find enough clients to make it doable. Make sure you have backup income until you can make ends meet.
- Keep your eyes open for side gigs, even if you have a regular income with photos. Whether it’s selling stock photography or doing real estate pics, having extra money will improve your bottom line.
- Always keep an eye for portfolio-worthy shots. As you improve your skills, your portfolio will become your calling card. A photographer with a good portfolio can charge more, attract more clients, and join professional photography groups with ease.
- Remember to network. In photography, it’s often a matter of who you know rather than what you know. Always make a point of making a good impression with others, since you never know who will be your big break.
- Choose your TFP wisely. Time for Portfolio is a term that’s used for shooting a model for free in exchange for portfolio improvement. It’s a good way to network but be careful. Not all free shoots are worth it.
How Much Can Beginner Photographers Expect to Make?
It all depends on how you market yourself, how you view your photography, and your area. People who are in urban areas will have more opportunities and higher wages than those in rural areas.
If you dedicate yourself entirely to photography and go so far as to get a job as a photographer’s assistant or at a chain studio, you will also see better results than if you choose to treat your photography as a hobby.
Option 1: Be a Studio Assistant
The easiest (and fastest) way to get some money as a photographer while you learn the trade is to apply as a studio assistant. Photography studio assistants help seasoned professionals take photos, coach their clients in posing, and edit photos.
Becoming a studio assistant is fairly easy in large metropolitan areas, as many photographers won’t ask for any qualifications aside from an avid interest in photography. That being said, many top independent photographers prefer to hire people who are currently in art school or have a basic portfolio available to them.
Why Become a Studio Assistant?
Though the pay is often close to minimum wage, being a studio assistant does offer some perks that make it worth it. These include:
- New Skills. Being a studio assistant means that you will be able to get a better grip on skills that are typically taught in photography school…for free!
- Experience. Having experience in a photo studio means that you will be able to apply for better jobs later on.
- No Equipment Needed. If you are broke or on a budget, then being a studio assistant will give you the equipment you require.
- Networking. This is a great way to meet other photography pros!
- Portfolio Improvement. You also get a lot more shots you can use to show other future clients your skills.
Is a Studio Assistant a Good Option?
It all depends on the studio. Some indie studios work with fashion labels, modeling agencies, and other similar outlets. If you’re lucky enough to work with one of these, then you most likely are going to learn amazing skills and meet extremely high-paying clients.
Sometimes, associating with the right studio is enough to get you paying gigs alone.
How Much Do Photography Studio Assistants Make?
This all depends on your qualifications and the studio in question. According to Indeed, being a photography assistant will average approximately $13.04 per hour. If you are a full-fledged studio assistant who aids in graphic design, the hourly wage goes up to $31.53. Not bad.
Option 2: Get Casual Clients
Let’s just face it — even in the age of smartphones, there will be moments where people just need to have someone who’s good with a camera. Whether it’s for a dating profile or for simple headshots, most people will have a moment where they need your help for their photos.
If you’re dealing with someone who has a casual need, you won’t get asked if you have a portfolio. You won’t get paid much either, but it’s a start. You can find casual client gigs on job boards like Craigslist or through word of mouth.
Why Get Casual Clients?
Casual clients can be hard to come by at first, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Quick gigs are an excellent way to network with others, build up your portfolio, and make a little money on the side.
Besides, by putting yourself out there, you may find that casual clients can start coming to you.
The more important aspects of casual client hunting are the ways they work with your schedule and assets. This is a very flexible, part-time gig. At times, you don’t even need a DSLR to do it, making it a great way to get in on the bottom floor.
How Good Is This Gig?
In most cases, getting quick “dating profile” jobs or real estate jobs will help you get beer money, but it won’t be a steady income. However, if you get good shots during these gigs, you can include them in your portfolio to market yourself to better-paying clients later on.
You can also offer this service as barter for something in return. This is more common than you might think. For example, the person you take a headshot of can help you with your website.
How Much Can Casual Photoshoots Pay?
This all depends on the client and the requirements for photos. Some clients, such as real estate professionals, might pay $10 to $20 per photo of a home. Others, like business execs who need a dating profile, might pay $50 for an hour’s work.
The issue that many photographers have with these gigs is their reliability. Many casual, “quickie” gigs are “one and done” deals. If you want to make a steady income through this route, you will have to work hard to do so.
Option 3: Get a Part-Time Job at a Studio Chain
The ideal method for people who want to earn and learn at the same time is to work as a studio assistant to an independent photographer. However, not all areas have open photography studios. Those that do sometimes have a high level of competition for those places.
If you can’t find an indie studio in your area that will take you, there’s another way to get a similar experience. This would involve you going to a studio chain like Glamour Shots or The Picture People and applying there as a photographer.
Why Is a Studio Chain a Good Idea?
Much like being an indie studio assistant, working at a studio chain has its own perks. These include:
- Not Having to Own Equipment. When you’re taking shots at a studio, all the equipment is already there for you. This gives you access to thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment in most cases.
- Learning Basic Skills. Chain studios don’t usually get to do hyper-creative shots the way indie studios do. This can limit what you learn at the studio. Even so, it’ll give you time to practice lighting setup and quick shots.
- Customer Service. Studio chain clients aren’t going to be the same type of people as indie chain clients. Indie clients often know how to pose better and might be more cooperative. Studio clients can be young children that you need to chide into cooperating.
Is Working at a Chain Photography Studio Worth it?
It all depends on what your end goal is. Studio chains are good for basics skills. But if you need time to learn how to use editing software or network, you won’t get it from a chain studio. However, if you want to get a cushy mall job that might promote you to a managerial position, you might be in luck.
It’s worth pointing out that working at a place like Glamour Shots generally isn’t considered to be a long-term career option. Malls are dying out at breakneck speed, their wages are low, and truthfully, these studios should only be used as a steppingstone to a better career.
How Much Do Photographers at Chain Studios Make?
This can vary from place to place, but the general rule of thumb is that it won’t be much. For example, the national Indeed average for photographers at Glamour Shots is $10.43. Newborn photographers for Mom365 is a solid $10.
Some positions will offer higher pay, especially if they are management level. However, you will most likely need to work your way up to that level.
Option 4: Sell Stock Photos
Did you ever wonder how some stock photographers get paid? You might believe that they are making a mint off their expert shots. Surprise! You don’t need to be an expert photographer to sell quality stock photos online.
Though there was a time when only experts on salaried positions could sell stock photos, the Internet has made it possible for just about everyone to sell their own stock photos online. You don’t even need a DSLR camera in most cases; a smartphone can work too.
How Do You Sell Stock Photos Online?
There are really two mains steps to this process. The first step is to take the photographs, with or without models. Next, you’re going to need to find a platform that allows you to sell your shots in a pinch.
Once you find a platform, you will need to sign up, upload your photos, and then pick the price at which you sell them. After that, you can choose to advertise your shots online or just wait for the money to come in. If you’re very ambitious, you can also start up your own website to sell your shots.
What Are the Best Stock Photo Sites for Beginners?
Truth be told, almost every stock photo site will have some opportunities for beginners. Some are still more “open to the public” than others are, which makes them slightly more newbie friendly. These stock sites below are a great starting point:
- Adobe Stock. Known as the first major stock photo site, Adobe Stock gives photographers the chance to earn anywhere from 20% to 60% of their sales price on their site.
- Shutterstock. Shutterstock has well over 200 million different photos. It’s one of the most popular stock sites on the net and gives you 20% to 30% of your revenue.
- Alamy. Alamy is a lot more relaxed with its stock photo rules, though it’s not as popular as other sites on the net. This is a great option for people who want high payouts, thanks to its 50% split!
What Are the Perks of Selling Stock Photos?
Aside from the fact that its passive income, selling your own stock photos is a good way to help you get your name out there. It’s an easy way to make something lucrative out of very little, and also gives you the opportunity to experiment with different concepts.
Having a stock photo account also is a good way to earn a small income without having to deal with bosses, set hours, or anything similar.
What Are the Pitfalls of Selling Stock Photos?
Out of all the photography income options listed here, selling stock photos is one of the least lucrative. Due to the flooded market, most stock photographers might earn 25 cents per photo, per sale.
High-end professional stock photographers can expect to earn a couple thousand per year. However, most beginners will have a difficult time earning their first $100.
Option 5: Start a Photography Business or Freelance
I have a bonus option for you. This may be scary to some of you but this can be the best option if you're going all in. Start freelancing your photography skills or start a photography business of your own. Nothing screams creative freedom than being able to serve customers in a photography niche that gives you energy.
You will need to hustle and may need to expand your service offering at first. It is rewarding if you put in the effort. One of my favorite memories is freelancing photography right out of college. I took photos of condos on the beach for a real estate investor. I had previously worked on the beach throughout high school and college, so being able to stay on the beach as I entered my professional era was awesome.
Is Freelancing or Starting a Photography Business a Good Idea as a Beginner?
If you have zero skill and no one to give you a chance as expenses and bills come due, then you may have to work somewhere part-time or follow the advice of the other 4 options.
However, I strongly believe that if no one is willing to give you a chance at a normal job, you need to create your own chance and build the career of your dreams the way you want it, not how it is prescribed by the old guard.
I'll have more information on this in the future!
While it’s absolutely possible to make a decent amount of money as a newbie photographer, it’s not going to be the easiest endeavor in the world. You will need to network, advertise yourself, and be willing to put in the extra work.
With a little luck and a decent amount of effort, it’s possible to earn a living as a beginning photographer. From there, you can use your art and your experience to increase your network, get better-paying clients, and even open your own photography studio.
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