Even if you’re a hobbyist, I’m sure the thought of how to make money as a photographer has crossed your mind at least once.
Maybe you’ve caught some traction, and suddenly it’s not just your mum cheering you on, it’s strangers giving you compliments and telling you how much they love your images.
That’s great. Good for you!
But what next? How can we take it to the next level and start to turn the inklings of what seems to be a fun hobby into something more?
Well, here’s a primer on 14 ways to make money as a photographer. By the end of this, you should be able to find at least 1 way that works for you.
Basically as a photographer, you have two options. You either trade a known ratio of time for money, in which you’re performing duties that are service based, or, you spend an unknown time up front and make something that you sell for an unknown amount of total money.
Service based model
When it comes to ways to make money as a photographer, this is the easiest and most straight forward way to do so.
In this model, we’re trading a known amount of time for money. This model is commonly referred to as a freelance model.
- The time you spend vs the return you get is known and predictable (which is a huge deal for managing cash flow).
- You get to interact with real people in a real hands-on way, most of the time.
- At the start, finding clients can be challenging, but it’s not as hard as you might think.
- There’s only 1 of you, therefore, the maximum amount you could be earning is capped at the 18 hours you’re awake.
- Your time is not scalable.
- It takes a long time to build a repeat client list for predictable monthly income.
This is the most common type of work you see in the service model.
Wedding photographers, event photographers, corporate photographers, insert category here photographers, allthethings.
This type of work means that you’ll meet up with someone who has a need and is willing to pay you money, you’ll have some kind of brief or objective to work toward, you’ll go out and do the job, you’ll see if it’s to the clients' satisfaction, then you’ll get paid.
Pretty simple, right?
Of course, there’s a lot of nuance here. If only everything could be so easy
Campaigns usually mean that you’re working with a brand or a larger company, and they have a set of objectives to reach, and they need you to reach them.
Very similar to regular client work - you could even just still call this client work, actually - I deliberately make the distinction because usually the pay is better and the clients actually know what they’re talking about (most of the time).
This refers to what you see as the umbrella term “Influencer marketing”, and when it comes to ways to make money as a photographer, it’s probably the newest of the lot.
But actually, Influencer marketing, endorsements or promoting a brand, isn’t a new idea. I mean, think back to when cigarettes were invented in the 1800’s - the grassroots of new marketing.
It was “cool” to smoke cigarettes. People of notoriety and wealth were the only people really seen smoking, it because a status symbol; something to be desired. Then, things became branded and suddenly one brand of cigarette was better than another because of someone’s endorsement, even though they were really all the same.
Anyway, today, when I refer to brand work, I mean getting paid to promote brands that you probably like and/or can endorse.
Note: You need some level of audience or notoriety in order for your endorsement to mean anything to a brand. How much, of course, varies.
Commercial work is probably the closest thing to doing a full time photography job as you can get, wonderful pay included.
They’re jobs that have specific goals and exist as a small part of a much larger campaign for a company. An example might be like photographing a movie set, or doing a shoot for a big fashion magazine.
Usually, these gigs are a bit extended in duration, are backed in earnest by the company, and the work will be seen at a larger public scale.
If you’re working in the world of freelance, getting commercial work is a wonderful goal to aspire to, in my opinion. The pay is great too.
Workshops & tours
This is one of the hardest ways to make money as a photographer in the service model, I think.
It’s hard because most of the time, you are putting on the show. Which means you have to plan everything. All the accommodation, transport, transit times, and the rest of the logistics. Then, the course content, the tuition, the class structure and syllabus, the presentation of the material. Then, the marketing, the promotion, getting the word out.
It’s a huge undertaking, especially if you’re doing it solo.
Have you checked out my workshops yet?
That’s not to say it’s not worth it - it really is when you price it right - but there’s a lot of moving parts you need to manage here which is why so many people stay away from it.
Also, know that not everyone was born a teacher. Just because someone might be good or skilled at a particular craft, doesn’t mean they’re good at teaching it.
Being good at the craft and teaching the craft are two very very different things.
That being said, if you are a good teacher and you know it, you should totally teach the craft that you know.
When it comes to making money as a photographer, there’s a lot of ways teaching can be utilised, if you’re good at it.
Start a Patreon and use it as a membership teaching platform, say yes to speaking engagements, make the aforementioned workshops, create a course (more on this later), etc.
Sharing the skills you have and delivering it in a way people understand is a fantastic way to generate income as a photographer.
Retouching & editing
There are photographers out there that absolutely hate editing and retouching.
There are also photographers out there who absolutely love editing and retouching.
When you combine the two, what do you get? A win win situation for both people.
This is probably more difficult to find as a job than other service-based income streams, but if you enjoy editing and you can find a client that you can edit for, more power to you.
Product based model
In this model, you’re spending time up front for an unknown return.
This model is risky to most people, because many approaches here take a significant amount of time and resources to build well, with an unknown amount of return for that time.
On the flip side, this is venturing into more of a business-based approach, and building a portfolio of products gives way to an untapped amount of cash flow potential.
A quick note about “Passive Income”: Anyone who thinks this is a “passive income” approach is an idiot and you shouldn’t listen to them.
There’s nothing “passive” about building products and doing it well - not even to mention building a portfolio of them. Just because you trade an unknown ratio of time and money doesn’t mean it’s passive.
Anyway, I could talk about that all day, but on to the more tactical tips:
- Unlimited positive cash flow potential.
- Scalable, even if you’re the only one working on your business.
- Very hard to do well.
- Requires a large, varied skillset (which can be grown over time, of course).
- Sometimes you don’t get to work with people directly
- Can be extremely frustrating to start out with
- Sometimes you have to do stuff you don't like to do
For photographers, this is the most approachable method that most photographers understand.
Selling prints of your hard-won, best images is a simple, easy-to-execute approach that makes sense for many.
It’s not as fashionable as it once was, but hey, you can still go to sleep and wake up in the morning to find an email order in your inbox, right? You’ve just make money in your sleep, yay!
Another easy one for photographers.
Once you learn the ins and outs of editing, you can share your editing style with others through preset packs. This is a great way for people to shortcut their own workflows by providing a look at the thinking you've done for your own style.
One tough thing here is that the market is super duper saturated though, so you'll have to do a lot to stand out.
Let’s step it up a notch or three.
Similar to what I mentioned in the “Teaching” section earlier, if you’ve got a knack or a passion for teaching people, writing books are a great, scalable way to do it.
What’s even better is that most photographers like to express themselves with pictures (duh) rather than words. But man, I can count the number of good photographers I know who are also good writers on one hand, and I know hundreds of good photographers. Hardly any competition, right?
Well, doing it well is another story - that’s a journey that’s just about as hard as they come.
It’s worth it if it’s your thing, though. It always is.
Have you checked out my eBook, "A photography guide to Tokyo" yet?
Check it out here!
On the same level as creating a book, creating a course is also a great way to scale out your love for your craft, if you’re good at teaching people.
There’s so many platforms out there now for creating your very own video-based courses, if you’re into that. There’s also a bunch of products for written courses with built in quizzes and exams and all that jazz.
It’s never been easier to facilitate the backend of creating a course.
But of course (pardon the unavoidable pun), creating the actual course content itself is the hard part, as you could imagine.
Breathe easy, because these next 2 are approachable, low-difficulty products that involve your actual images (which are your products).
Licensing is when you provide conditional terms for the usage of your images to brands or companies to use on their marketing material or otherwise.
If a brand wants to use your image for a social post, you might draw up a contract stipulating the terms of usage, and whack them a price for that usage.
Get something bigger though, say, a commercial, or billboard or something of that nature, and you’re in for the big bucks. Just make sure you don’t undercharge.
Of course, this approach requires a 3rd party to reach out to you, but there’s nothing stopping you from creating an entire business around licensing images. Get creative with it ;)
I’ve yet to hear an actual success story of a photographer who just threw their hard drives onto a stock website and made bank from it.
It’s extremely competitive nowadays, and you have to compete with people who make stock photography their actual full time pursuit.
Seriously. There are so many people out there who deliberately hire models and studios and the like, with the sole purpose of making stock images to sell online.
Sure, dabble in it, see how you go, but unless you get 100% serious about stock, you’ll probably never make anything significant. Prove me wrong, though. Please.
For ways of making money as a photographer, these last two points require that you have some kind of audience somewhere. Ideally on YouTube or on your website. Think of these platforms as your product that you’re monetising.
Ad revenue on YouTube can do well if your videos hit millions of views. Ad revenue on your website can do well if you have a top 10,000 website. Either way, they require a significant amount of people viewing those ads for it to be substantial enough to make a living from.
This is a long play - build up your audience on these platforms over time, and the revenue will grow steadily along with it. There’s no get-rich-quick scheme here, sorry.
Affiliate links are links you share that are tracked, where if someone clicks on them and purchases that thing, you get a very small kickback on that item.
For some people, it works great. But again, this assumes you have enough traffic coming to those links for the conversions to make sense.
However, this is one of those things that are easy to setup and implement, so you might as well do it straight away.
After all, a few dollars here is better than nothing, right?
How do you make money as a photographer?
This is only a list of 14 different ways to make money as a photographer.
Thankfully with this digital age, there’s thousands of ways one could potentially make money, so get creative! These are just my favourite and top of mind methods that work for me.
How do you make money as a photographer today? Care to share? Leave a comment below!
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