One of the activities I love doing when learning a new hobby is finding ways to pay for it. Most of the time this requires a small investment to get started, but the fun starts when trying to recoup the costs. It is even more fun when you can get paid before you even get started.
In the early 2000s, I used a Motorola KRZR to take pictures for eBay product listings and then upgraded to a Sony Cyber Shot. Looking back at those pictures, they are terrible. At the time, however, they were better than other seller's pictures so I was able to drive a lot of traffic to my pages.
That digital Sony camera was paid for by those auction earnings. I earned money with photography when I knew very little about it (this is why I loved that Walid story from Flynncon). Besides creating my own listings, I freelanced my services to others including business owners, pawnshop owners, and more. I was able to pay for my living expenses and other bills while in college. It sure beat the other wage jobs out there.
By about 2008 I had an opportunity to work with a real estate investor to shoot house and condo rentals along the beach. I loved working near the beach so this would prove to be extra fun for me. However, there was one problem. I sold my Cyber Shot a year prior and that dinky KRZR camera wasn't going to cut it!
So what did I do? Did I spring for another camera? Did I buy something nicer and more expensive? Nope! I used their camera and came out with a nice payday without having to buy everything I needed.
I didn't get bit by the photography bug until later, but this was the genesis of that desire. In the rest of this article, I will show you the what, the why, and the how to get started on making money with photography. We'll go over a few tips on actions I took, analysis on some observations from other professionals, as well as steps I would have taken if I was serious about maining photography (I do IT/Cyber Security work).
Without further delay, let's get started!
If all you have is a general interest, it is time to start doing some groundwork:
- What do you like?
- What type of work is available?
- What opportunities do you see?
Finding the Right Niche
Keeping yourself general can only take you so far. Luckily there is a bevy of niches to choose from. If someone finds a person, place, or thing important, a photograph will likely be needed. If you need some help, there are plenty of articles here on YourPhotoAdvisor to get you started:
- How to Become a (Registered) Birth Photographer
- How to Work as a Baby Photographer
- How to Get Work as a Wildlife Photographer: Complete Guide
- How to Work as a Landscape Photographer
- How to Work as a Travel Photographer
- Where Can a Crime Scene Photographer Work?
- How to Work as a Fashion Photographer
- Where Can a Biomedical Photographer Work?
- What You Need to Know About Product Photography
- Tips for Becoming a Wedding Photographer
- Beginner’s Guide to Concert Photography
- How to Photograph Jewelry Without a Model
Start asking questions and then start answering them! Find the niches available that interest you. Design the customer experience based on opportunities available and start thinking about how you will deliver that experience professionally and safely. Mainly getting general language and even contract templates ready to go.
Think about how long you will store digital files and what this means for your required computer infrastructure to uphold future service contracts.
You don't have to immediately have a business name but at least start thinking of a domain name for your website you can use.
View Sample Photog Profiles
While you are still in the research phase, take a look at what other photographers are doing so you can forge your own path.
The website Improve Photography has an excellent Meet the Team page that goes through all of the authors featured on the site. Here are a few author profiles that stuck out to me:
Brent Huntley is a 32 year old partner at a litigation-focused law firm. He is a hobbyist photographer focused primarily on landscape and travel photography. He also writes articles and shares his work at photographyandtravel.com and is active on Instagram @brentdhuntley.
Rick McEvoy is a photographer based in the lovely county of Dorset in England. This is my Website, and I also have a weekly photography Blog. I specialize in architectural photography – well anything to do with buildings, and extend this to industrial and commercial photography which have similar requirements – stationery subjects, no people, no animals. I also enjoy landscape and travel photography. My dream job is photographing buildings in nice places, which I am working on right now. I have two travel photography websites, one which is completed called Photos of Santorini and a website that I am working on called Paxos Travel Guide.
Nathan works for the state of Utah as a biologist for his day job but does landscape photography on the side. His work focuses on the landscapes of Southern Utah including Zion, Bryce, and the slot canyons of the southwest. He enjoys spending his weekends in the wilderness or selling his photos at local markets. To view his work go to St. Andre Photography.
Figure Out Pricing
View the current market. Find the prices of basic services, all the way up to premium services. Make sure you keep your local market in mind since this is where you are getting started.
Price your services above the cost of doing business so you don't lose money. This is a bigger consideration than it sounds since the actual shoot can't be remote. Editing, organizing, and publishing can all be done remotely. Speaking of which, the job isn't done after finishing a shoot. There are plenty of post photoshoot activities to do.
After you get your basic service down. Start thinking of pricing models and additional services to offer. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
- How to Set Your Prices for Portrait Photography
- How to Price Commercial Photography: The Complete Guide
- Can You Negotiate Wedding Photographer Prices?
- What to Charge for Drone Photography: 11 Golden Tips
- You do need a license to operate a drone!
- Can You Make Money With Macro Photography?
- How Much Should Real Estate Photographers Charge?
- How Photographers Handle Expenses of Destination Weddings
- How Much Should Pet Photographers Charge?
- How Much Should You Charge for RAW Photography Files?
- How Much Should Food Photographers Charge?
Real Estate Photography Service Example
If you have a little photography experience and a “nice” camera then you are well ahead of most real estate agents. I love realtors, but they usually have bad photography skills. Good pictures literally sell and rent homes, condos, and more.
In your research, find out the pictures required, the best lighting and angles you can use, statistics on which pictures were provided on sold or rented homes, and whatever else you can gather to create an irresistible pitch. Your data will become your competitive advantage. Literally, create spreadsheets in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to track everything you can (or at least is reasonable).
When you reach out to book new packages, you will leave more realtors, property management companies, and real estate investors impressed. After you provide solid service, word of mouth will really be able to take off here.
Here's some basic pricing information to get you an easy part-time income of at least $25,000 per year.
- Charge $150 per house for a photoshoot (and additional editing).
- Do a little over 3 per week to get to $25,000 per year (3.2 per week).
- Keep a schedule like every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
- Do it on the way home from work, the gym, errands, etc.
You can get started with limited effort and ramp up your schedule, prices, and services from here.
If you haven't ventured out yet and made some cash yet, it's time for action. I want you to get your first 3 clients. Why 3 clients? The first one will probably be a family or friend, the second one will be luck, and the 3rd client – well, you got something going here. If you don't know where to start, even after choosing a niche or two, then you can skill up with some personal photography projects you can get involved in.
If you don't have anything to show off yet. Start with the aforementioned photography projects and share your photography, articles, and other content. Then as you complete work and develop styles, you can replace personal projects or beginner-level work in your portfolio with better quality work. Even though this is probably backward to most advice out there, the best way forward is through an iterative process. Just start and get better from there.
Before you upload your work, be sure to optimize (reduce size and shrink dimensions) the files. Not only does this make your work load faster, it also opens the door for selling full, high quality photos! To get started:
- Collect the 10 best photos for each style.
- Put together collections or albums for each.
- Present the most appropriate collection or album to your prospective client.
Besides trying to convince your future clients that you can solve their problems, you also need to make it easy for them to say yes and book you.
Word of mouth is great, but you need to automate a few things. Do not discount the power of websites. When done right, they act as an employee that works for you, at minimal cost, 24x7x365, and never calls out. This is probably the fastest way to scale a business, besides hitting the pavement.
- Purchase domain name that you thought about earlier.
- Setup email with purchased domain name so you have a custom email, using a viable provider like Google Workspace or Rackspace.
- Choose WordPress or Squarespace as your web platform. I personally like WordPress but if you don't have the skills or patience, just use Squarespace and get on with your life.
- Setup chosen platform.
- Setup the following pages:
- Homepage or landing page
- About page, include information on how your service fits clients' needs.
- Services page
- Gallery or Portfolio
- Contact, with email form for general questions or comments, and a scheduler or calendar.
Include multiple payment options and have this easy to view and pay.
As you get testimonials and recommendations, be sure to add them to your website as well. This is especially true if you receive any awards or press coverage. That “as seen on” tagline will do wonders for you.
Minimum Viable Gear
If you expect to have a modest start as I did (but in more modern times), that's fine. It is totally possible to make money with your iPhone or Android device. The more important ability in this context is to earn money. Then you can worry about getting higher quality shots with a mid-range camera.
The rest of the gear you need is pretty basic. You don't have to go all out with the exception of items that can prevent a delay in your service. More specifically:
- Extra battery pack (if applicable)
- Extra storage (expansion cards)
- Power bank
The power bank I have is the Anker PowerCore Essential 20000 PD. This is an excellent power source for when you are onsite or off the grid. Why recommend a battery pack and power bank? First of all, not all cameras have hot-swappable battery packs. Other times, the battery life of cameras isn't that great, especially if you plan to do long exposure shots.
This thing has great charge capacity. You can do 3 full recharges during a weekend trip somewhere and still have plenty of charge left. It is compact enough to be able to carry in your pocket or mesh inside your backpack.
Get Additional Knowledge and Skills
Work on the basics and get some on the job experience. If you are not a beginner, still look for ways to improve. Always take at least one major course a year. What constitutes a major course is up to you and your situation. If you can't do a workshop in person, enroll in some online photography courses.
A course I took that I really liked is this Business Basics Course on How to Make Money from Creative Live.
I'll add some of the other courses I have enjoyed in this section in the future as well.
Gradually Get a System Down
Regardless of whether you have a day job or not, approach your photography stream as a business. Keep your finances separate and get in the habit of organizing your files and paperwork. As you progress, make sure you are doing your due diligence to stay organized. Get started organizing in the following areas if you haven't already:
- Come up with a file name structure and catalog organization.
- Obtain permits when required for work.
- Understand copyrights and register work when possible.
- Save clippings of press coverage through newspapers or local magazines (especially trade magazines).
- Keep copies of quotes, proposals, invoices, receipts, and other financial documents. This makes tax season a whole lot easier!
- Keep copies of signed contracts, model releases, and other legal documents.
- Potentially related: Should Photographers Pay Models?
- Update skills, service offerings, and your general resume regularly.
Just because you start booking more clients and your efforts become more profitable doesn't mean your pricing and sales efforts are finished. Consider additional ways you can earn extra money and continue to optimize your service delivery.
In the beginning, start local and work on word of mouth promotions. You can contact clients for testimonials and build up from there. Don't worry about getting into the minutiae of all the marketing channels and tactics you can use. You can add additional efforts later.
Besides a general referral system, you can also look into optimizing leag den on your website and even set up a Yelp or Google listing.
Whether social media is important to you really depends on your requirements and where your clients are. Even though I have a few social media accounts around, the one I use the most is LinkedIn. Find one that works for you:
- Consider building a LinkedIn account.
- Consider building an Instagram account.
- Consider building a Facebook account.
- Consider building a Tik Tok account.
- Post your visual work and links to your articles on each platform.
- Research hashtags in your niche and keep up to date on trends and demand.
- If you want to go beyond a showcase of your work and think about the marketing aspect of social media, schedule the first month of posts (one a day) ahead of time. Keep the momentum going or schedule bursts of posts depending on an optimized schedule you determine.
Evaluate Current Status
By this point, you know how far you want to take your photography skills and have options for the future. You know if you want to make this your full-time job or keep it as a fun side gig. You should have a better understanding of whether you want to freelance, get a job, or start a business.
If you have made it this far, Bravo! You have done substantial work to get that much closer to your dream job!
Before we wrap up here, I want to hear from you. How does this match up with your experience? Do you agree with my approach? What am I missing or what can I expand upon? Did you find that you love photography, but just want to keep it more of a hobby than a career as I did? If the comments aren't open, don't let that stop you from reaching out. Click on the Contact Page link to let me know directly!