These days, just about everybody is a photographer, to some degree or another. After all, smartphones are becoming increasingly popular and the cameras on them keep getting better and better over time. For many of us, that also means we’re already carrying a camera with us everywhere we go. With just an Instagram account, you can become ‘internet famous' if your photos are good enough and you have enough friends to promote you. So, why not try to make money with the photos you take?
But, is this a viable approach? After all, the fact that most people can take photos does mean there is a lot of competition out there.
The simple answer is yes, it is possible to make money with your photos. Exactly how much you make is going to depend on the approach you take, as well as how good your photography actually is. It’s also important to note that the different approaches have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. This can mean that some may work well for you, while others may not even be a viable option.
At a Professional Level
For some people, photography really is a way to make money. In some cases, it may even be their entire income or their business. This is especially true for professional photographers and artists. But, as we will see, trying to make money with your photos this way wouldn’t work for most people.
Professional photography can pay quite well, especially as there are so many types of events where a professional photographer is needed. I know a photographer that made $900 for a 1/2 day photo shoot of a family photos in the Bay Area of California. That doesn't factor in things like editing and printing, but it's still a good chunk of change for a half-day's work.
In this type of situation, you tend to be making money by selling your photos and also by selling your time.
The catch is that making money this way requires a decent amount of skill and equipment. After all, you are trying to get extremely good photos, something that a camera phone generally won’t achieve. As such, this isn’t a field for a novice or a casual photographer. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the $900 payday above was after 2 years of photography school and buying $10,000 in equipment.
In theory, you can learn how to be effective in the field without schooling, and many people do. But, unless you have a major passion for photography and a good eye, it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort. After all, you would have to pay a lot for equipment and spend a lot of time learning, long before you see a cent in earnings.
At the same time, professional photography is a tough industry to break into.
In most cases, people wanting professional photos have to trust that the photographer will get good images on the day (like at a wedding). Getting that trust means that you have to have a fairly good reputation in the field. Doing so takes time and may even mean doing some events for free.
Even if you do have some connections that can help you get started, the road to earning money as a professional photographer is a slow one. Once established, you can pick and choose your jobs just like any contractor, but it takes a lot of consistency to get there. Without passion and drive, consistency is hard to come by during the lean months.
That photographer I keep mentioning? She doesn't do photography any more because the income was too inconsistent. The photographer I have for one of my affiliate sites? Same deal. Went to school for it, then changed fields.
Certainly, there are some people that do it and love it. But, if you are even considering getting into professional photography67, you should be doing so because you love photography, not because you want to make money.
As an Artist
I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to say here – it's a lot tougher to make it as an artist than a business. In many ways, anyone can be an artist. But, being a popular artist and being a successful one – well, that takes time, effort and a lot of luck. Having a style that is somewhat unusual or special in some way can also help.
Now, photography is an art form and people do make money selling photos as pieces of art. In fact, it’s become pretty common to blow photos up onto canvas and sell them that way.
But, as any artist will tell you, the process is not as simple as it sounds. After all, there is a lot of competition out there, especially as people can easily take photos of their own. For many people, even finding somewhere to display and promote their photos can be difficult.
So, for most people, being an artist or a professional photographer probably isn’t a viable option for making money from photos. However, there are other options out there.
Casual Approaches to Making Money From Photos
Most of us probably aren’t interested in trying to be a professional photographer or trying to make money as an artist. Those areas are mostly suited for people with a passion for photography who are willing to put in a lot of time and money to get the equipment and experience that they need.
Thankfully, there are other approaches for making money with photos, especially if you’re trying to earn a bit of money on the side.
In some ways, selling prints is similar to being an artist. However, with this approach, the emphasis isn’t on getting attention or fetching high prices. Instead, it’s more about getting sales. After all, people are often willing to pay a few dollars for a pretty picture, while they are likely to hesitate about paying hundreds of dollars for art.
There are a large number of ways to sell prints.
For example, some people build their own website and sell prints off it that way. This allows people to browse through images and it means that you don’t actually have to make prints until you already have a sale. Other people may rely on a third party site or might even approach local businesses to try and make sales this way.
In general, selling prints can be a way to make money, especially if you manage to sell a lot. VOLUME is what counts here. However, it would probably take some time to find an approach that works for you. Some of the same rules apply here in terms of getting traffic to your site or recognition to your brand. Don't be afraid to put in some legwork!
Actually, Displate.com is a pretty badass way to sell photos online IMO, and there may be similar websites you can use. Most websites like that won't own the copyright to your photos, so you can upload them to multiple marketplaces and earn from different income sources. Of course, this is the boring aspect of selling your photos, but it's just part of the gig.
If you hate selling, how the hell do you expect to make money?
Selling Stock Photos
A range of different sites now offer the ability for you to sell permissions for your images. In some cases, the amount of work you need to do is very little.
Stock photo sites are huge databases of images, which cover every theme and topic imaginable. Business and website owners buy access to those images for all sorts of reasons, such as highlighting a specific point or making a brochure look good. The image you saw on top of this blog post was a stock photo I bought for about $1. I don't have exclusive rights to it, but also don't have to pay royalties on it.
That approach means that stock photo sites need to constantly get more images and they turn to photographers for many of those images. The amount that you get will vary majorly from one site to the next. For example, this is the information that PhotoDune gives for its program.
In this case, the amount you earn is connected to whether you provide the photo exclusively to the site. The amount you earn seems pretty decent but the given example is for a $100 item, while most photos on the site won’t be anywhere close to that figure.
However, it is worth noting that stock photo sites do care a lot about quality. Because of that, it can sometimes be difficult to get a photo accepted and they may also be looking for specific types of photos. If you plan to try to make money selling to stock photo sites it may be possible to learn what they look for over time and specifically take photos with those criteria in mind. Keep in mind that you may discover that the photos needed or the ones making the most money are not a topic that interests you!
One final challenge with this approach is that often sites will pay you based on sales that your photo gets, rather than paying you for the photo itself. That’s great if you take a photo that does sell well but you risk your images simply not getting noticed. After all, stock photo sites do have extensive collections that are constantly growing.
You can use categories, keywords and tags to help get your images noticed and you can even focus on topics that the site doesn’t have many photos over. Even so, it ends up being a bit of a guessing game and you may end up with many images that simply don’t sell.
You can also make money (or earn prizes) with your photos if you enter photography competitions. At any given time, there is a number of these out there and they vary in the prizes they offer and the photos that you would be competing against.
In some cases, you may find that a competition has a specific theme but in other cases, you may be able to enter pretty much anything.
Because photography is an art form, you even have the chance of winning a competition even if you don’t think your photo is especially good.
In general, the process of entering a photography competition is pretty easy. So, if you have some good photos it is probably worth trying as competition. Your odds of winning might be pretty low but you never know.
Selling Photos Through a Website
The internet is a powerful tool for buying and for selling. Where else can you find a huge selection of just about any type of product, without even having to leave the house?
I already mentioned that you can use the internet to sell prints of photos or to even sell the rights for people to use your photos. However, that approach can often seem unrealistic because you need to get people to notice your photos to start off with.
That’s why the process of making your own website is so powerful. When you build your own website, you have the chance to promote it yourself and to make sure that people find it when they search online.
In fact, you don’t even have to sell photos if you don’t want to. Instead, you could build a site that talks about your passion for photography and shows off your photos. You could still make money, by promoting specific equipment that you use or recommend, through photography affiliate programs.
There is also a huge amount of growth potential in having your own site, regardless of what you are promoting.
The process also involves relatively little monetary investment (domain and hosting), which is great for getting started. At the same time, you don’t have to be the best photographer in the world to make money this way. In fact, you could do it just with photography from your phone. After all, you’re using the website itself to get people to see your photos, rather than trying to get people to pick your photos out of a sea of millions of others.