Do you know what the photography industry was worth in 2021? 11.5 billion US dollars.
Yep – almost 12 billion dollars. This means photographers are in high demand and customers pay a pretty penny for their services. And that number is likely going to rise in 2022.
Your question now is: how do photographers get jobs that not only pay, but pay really well?
We’re here to show you how to monetize your skills as a photographer online, using the right resources, and the best channels for promoting your work.
Table Of Contents
- 10 steps to make money as a photographer
- 1. Select the niche(s) you want to be known for
- 2. Be one of the best in your niche(s)
- 3. Build a solid portfolio website
- 4. Network with the right people
- 5. Invest in social media marketing
- 6. Determine your rates
- 7. Make it easy for clients to find, contact, and hire you
- 8. Find passive income channels
- 9. Consider NFTs
- 10. Work for an agency
- 1. Select the niche(s) you want to be known for
10 steps to make money as a photographer
A solid number of photographers are getting paid big bucks for their craft.
How do they achieve this? The steps we’ve highlighted below will show you how.
1. Select the niche(s) you want to be known for
A marketing saying goes, “If you’re speaking to everyone, you’re speaking to no one.”
Would you rather go to a dentist for a tooth extraction or a general doctor with “some” experience in dental care? That’s right, you want the one who specializes in solving your tooth problem.
It’s the same for photographers. Choosing a niche will help you market yourself better. Take Nicole Anderson, for example. Nicole is a brand photographer, and in a recent podcast interview, she shared how she felt the need to try everything so she could reach more people. Yet later on she realized honing her craft in brand photography helped her to become an expert in that niche, and sell her photography savvy even better.
But picking a niche doesn’t mean you can’t explore other types of photography or change your niche. You can always try various niches and change to another if you please.
It may mean you have to take on fewer clients, but the truth is, you don’t always need so many clients to make good money as a photographer.
What you need are high-paying clients. And specializing allows you to charge more.
So, how can you niche down?
- Search online for profitable photography niches like wedding, event, product, or real estate photography.
- Write the list of profitable niches you’ve found. Pick more than one niche, but it’s advisable to have three at most.
- Research and see if there are people interested in hiring photographers who specialize in your chosen niche(s).
- Work with clients in those different 2-3 niches you’ve picked to see what you like or don’t like.
- Brainstorm and research to find lowkey industries that need high-quality photos to market their business.
- Search for people already in your niche on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or your network and speak to them. Also, search for their online presence to see how they market themselves.
- Follow YouTube channels in your niche(s) and watch their videos to learn more and sharpen your skills.
2. Be one of the best in your niche(s)
Being the best in your niche is important if you want to stand out from the sea of photographers around the world. But, as Daniel Kordan, a professional photographer, says, “People start their photography career asking how to earn money – not asking how to make a good picture.”
That’s why anyone can hold a camera these days, but not everyone who holds a camera is a good photographer. Becoming the best in your niche helps you move from the hustling and struggling photographer life to being the first name everybody thinks of when they need their pictures taken.
How can you do this? Kordan advises that, “First, you need to take a good picture, then you can think about how to earn money.” You can achieve this when you:
- Take photography classes on YouTube, Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare, etc., to hone your photography skills.
- Understand the basics of photography.
- Work with more experienced photographers in the same niche as a second shooter.
- Work for free or at a discounted price to get a feel for the experience and to gain more exposure.
- Join group photography classes online or offline.
- Practice as often as you can with test props and collaborative shoots.
- Tell a story with your photos and share it with your audience.
- Always continue learning and practicing.
- Be open to constructive feedback and criticism.
3. Build a solid portfolio website
As a photographer, a solid portfolio gives you visibility. It leaves a digital footprint that, in turn, redirects high-profile clients to you without you having to hunt them yourself. You can also optimize your portfolio for search so potential clients can find you when searching for photographers on Google.
Professional photographer Tiffany Nguyen says, “Keep building your portfolio, and when you’re ready to look for work in the photography business, be selective about the photos you share. Be sure that you know why you’re including each photo and what skills you want to showcase with it.”
This strategy also works if you have diverse and unique projects scattered across different platforms.
Your portfolio is what will group them together into one big picture that your clients can see all at once. Plus, in the long run of your career, this will save you the time and stress of locating them individually.
Mathew Ree is one professional photographer that uses website portfolios to his career’s advantage. His portfolio houses a brilliant carousel slider featuring wedding photography and engagement events.
Creating your first website portfolio can seem challenging, and it’s easy to make mistakes. You’ll want to consider intuitiveness, color scheme, security, and speed, as well as other factors to make sure your clients have the best experience while interacting with your website.
Such factors include:
- Ensuring your website images load faster
- Categorizing the images so it’s easy to browse through
- Making it easy for clients to contact you through the website
- Showing your pricing upfront so clients can have their budget ideas ready before contacting you
It’s easy to overlook these details, which is why many photographers’ websites fail. But we’ve written an article on the 10 common mistakes to avoid when creating a photography website to ensure your website doesn’t fall into that pool.
GetResponse also has an AI-driven Photography Website Builder if you don’t have much time to build your site from scratch. It can help you get your page running (for free) in just a few minutes without the intensity of dealing with codes.
And don’t get us wrong, creating a website from scratch isn’t hard at all. You can build them using one of the free ready-made portfolio website templates available in GetResponse.
4. Network with the right people
The thought of selling yourself may sound unappealing. But here’s a secret – no one knows you exist if you don’t create awareness. So it’s important to network with people, that’s how to build relationships.
But you also don’t want to build relationships with everyone.
You need to network with the right people, and meeting the right people starts by attending online and in-person events that hold high potential for networking.
But this also begs an important question here: who are the right people to connect with?
Usually, these are people who understand your niche as a photographer and will hire you or show you how to make money as a photographer, since they’re in the same niche you’re in. You also need to know where to find these types of people. For example, a wildlife photographer has no business attending a fashion show. He’ll hardly find anyone relatable enough to talk to about his work.
But it’s not just events you should be targeting. Social media strings millions of people together and one of them could be the right person that’ll help your career progress.
Professional photographer Lola Akinmade says, “If you’re not leveraging LinkedIn to build your professional network, start now. While Instagram is great for attention, LinkedIn gets you professionally connected to editors.”
So networking also helps you to get referrals, which means more work and more money.
5. Invest in social media marketing
Social media marketing involves using online platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat, 500px, Behance, and Facebook to market yourself and your photography business.
Photography influencers like Peter McKinnon, Deborah Sandidge, and Dave Yoder use social media to showcase their work and engage with potential clients. Social media is a great way to put your work out there, especially as an aspiring photographer.
Here are a few tips to know before you start using social media to make money from photography:
- Know who your target audience is. Travelers, engaged couples, kids, teenagers, pregnant women?
- Do research to find out the platforms your target audience might be on.
- Consider multiple social channels – especially if you have more than one niche.
- Research your competitor using the above channels and see what they’re doing and not doing.
- Follow and engage with your ideal clients on social media.
- Be consistent.
- Copyright or watermark your images.
Now, let’s look at some of the best social media platforms for photographers:
Instagram offers an intuitive online platform where you can showcase your best work. Combining your pictures with captivating captions on Instagram can help you draw in your target audience easily. Here’s an example from Peter McKinnon; see how he takes us on a journey to the launch of his special collection, Clocks and Colours, with his detailed caption.
We also see the likes of Dave Yoder proving that going crazy with a bunch of generic hashtags is not the best way to promote yourself on Instagram. The best strategy is to target hashtags that are closely related to your posts or niche for better chances of being discovered.
Twitter is arguably the best platform to get people talking. So if you want your target audience to engage with your work and give you unfiltered feedback, it’s the first place you’ll want to start.
You can begin with Twitter Chats. Twitter Chats lets users host conversations around particular topics. As a photographer, you can leverage this to communicate with your followers, or even start your very own class. For instance, Nikon’s Ambassador for the USA, Deborah Sandidge, shows us how to leverage Twitter Chats on the discussion space #togchat.
Starting a YouTube Channel is another effective way to establish credibility as a photographer. It allows you to share your experience with many clients and even aspiring photographers through tutorials and walkthroughs like Thomas Heaton does.
The trendiest social media platform now is TikTok. Though it’s a video sharing platform, photography influencers like Jacob Riglin have been able to grow their fan base to over 600,000 followers just by sharing a video compilation of his best photographs and adventures.
6. Determine your rates
Putting a price tag on your services can be scary, especially at the start-up phase of your career. There’s the constant worry of “what’s too much or too small for my services?”
Eventually, as professional photographer Alex Strohl says, we have to sit ourselves down and think of how “companies will benefit from our work, and we have to be compensated accordingly. Before you bid a job, take a moment to reflect on what size problem you’re solving for them. Imagine you are in the client’s shoes.”
But how can you do that? Consider these two factors for every photography project a client offers you:
- Is the price going to leave enough money to support my career or unpredicted expenses in the end?
- Will I earn a decent profit after deducting all the expenses?
- What’s the current market rate for my services so I don’t overcharge and lose great clients?
If your answer to the first two questions is “no,” then that’s a sign that your rates need to change. But overall, you shouldn’t be so rigid in your pricing that you reduce the possibility of negotiation.
Maintaining flexibility in your pricing gives more clients the opportunity to afford you, even if it means upping their budget a little. This will widen your client pool.
Commercial photographer Karl Taylor offers an extensive photography pricing guide to help you put reasonable price tags on your services. He suggests breaking down the following factors into a spreadsheet to help you get a better sense of how much to charge:
- Studio rent
- Clients budget
- Cost of maintenance equipment
- Annual rates
- Marketing expenditure
- Cost of travel
- A rough estimate of unexpected/surprise costs
7. Make it easy for clients to find, contact, and hire you
A customer’s experience and journey are important for their buying decision. If a potential client finds it difficult to find and contact you, they’ll easily move to other photographers that will make it easier for them.
So make it easy for them to connect with and contact you by adopting the following practices:
- Have different social media channels open for conversations.
- Have a website/portfolio for clients who are not on social media.
- Have a rates card on your website and/or social platforms to make it easy to know your rates or your starting price.
- Have an easy way to sign your contract or purchase order through an eSignature.
8. Find passive income channels
One amazing thing about photography is that there’s no one-size-fits-all model to make money as a photographer. While you may be cashing out big with clients directly, the story won’t be the same for another photographer.
The success secret of many photographers is that they diversify their earnings by selling or licensing their works on photography websites looking to pay photographers for their pictures.
This strategy is efficient for photographers who’ve accumulated a sizable amount of pictures over the months or years. You can sell your work to stock photography websites like iStock, Shutterstock, or license them out through Getty Images.
Stock photography websites aside, you can also adopt the following strategies to earn passive income for your photography besides working with clients:
- Enter your pictures into photo contests.
- Create a photography blog or YouTube channel where you can convert views and clicks to money. Jim Harmer reveals how he earned over $140,000 from his photography blog, Improve Photography.
- Start selling prints of your work and photography presets.
- Consider submitting your work to local publications such as magazines, newspapers, etc.
- Work as an assistant photographer.
- Join Job platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, etc.
- Position yourself as a business owner. Learn accounting terms, invoicing, etc.
- Organize your workflow with contracts, invoicing, rate cards, etc. (tip: there are perfectly good invoicing tools out there that you can use right away)
- You can become an affiliate marketer for photography equipment and write reviews for them.
9. Consider NFTs
Non-Fungible Tokens are commonly used to sell digital art, and that includes your photos. They exist on blockchain technology, and their sole aim is to provide a way for artists to sell their work, while still being recognized as the sole owner or unique identifier.
What this means for you as a photographer is that every time your work is sold, you still profit from the sales, and every transaction performed on your work is traceable. Basically, it works as an electronic signature and ensures that you get the profit you deserve for your photos.
Photographer Trey Ratcliff can attest to this. He says, “I get 10% of every subsequent sale until the end of time, so that’s pretty cool! It’s a simple process for the owner of the NFT, really. They view the NFT, click sell, put in a price they’ll accept, and wait for bids to arrive. If someone meets the price it sells/transfers instantly.”
To begin leveraging NFTs to your best advantage, here’s what you can consider:
- Research and decide on the marketplace you’d like to sell your NFTs. For example, Opensea, Foundation, Rarible, etc.
- Set up a digital wallet.
- Purchase the Ethereum cryptocurrency.
- Connect your wallet to your preferred marketplace.
- Mint your NFTs. This process involves selecting your best photographs, assigning titles and descriptions to them, then uploading them.
- List your NFTs for sale.
- Promote your NFTs on social media platforms.
Disclaimer: Information in this article is for informational purposes only and wasn’t intended as and shouldn’t be understood as financial advice. Please talk to a professional financial advisor before engaging with NFTs or cryptocurrencies.
10. Work for an agency
Getting a full-time job under an agency eliminates the question of, “when will I score my next gig?” because you’ll have a steady stream of work flowing in your direction.
“As an in-house photographer, you obviously have job security – even if your company doesn’t necessarily have anything for you to do at the time. As a freelancer, your job security is effectively null,” says Jack Pochop, photographer and owner of Cartridge Thunder.
A photography agency handles the messy part of your career, which involves negotiating deals, networking, and scoring new gigs, which will bring a significant boost to your career.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Not every agency is right for you, which is why you’ll need to do deep research before choosing one. You’ll want to partner with an agency that is not only easily accessible, but also represents a community of photographers in the same niche as you.
Once you’ve narrowed down the market to a short list of agencies you’d like to work with, here are a few great tips to begin your application:
- Put together both a online portfolio and paper portfolio containing prints of your best work.
- Plan your approach. Most agencies advise sending in emails. But the downside is that your email can get lost in a sea of applications. You can stand out from the crowd by calling in to inquire about the agency.
- Know your brand. This may sound ridiculous since you’re the owner of your brand. But one common mistake some photographers make is telling and not showing who they are. You should be prepared to give an in-depth walkthrough into your life as a photographer, and not just stop at the bare basics, such as educational qualifications. Instead, focus on talking about your style, past projects, notable clients you’ve worked with, etc.
- Create an opportunity for the agency to reach out to you. Once you’ve successfully ended the meeting with your interviewer or agent, be sure to leave your contact or business cards behind. This professional approach leaves a longer-lasting impression than an email and portrays you as a reliable photographer, or rather, business owner.
Now you know how to make (more) money as a photographer. However, keep in mind that to succeed at photography, you need time, consistency, and patience. So always be ready to experiment until you find what works for you.