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Perhaps one of the most popular questions I’m asked when people find out I’m a photographer is how to actually make money taking photos. People often want to know how they can make a little money as an amateur photographer.
Well, in this guide I’m going to answer that question. The good news is that it is definitely possible to make money from your photography. You don’t even need to spend thousands on the latest photography gear to make some money either.
The aim of this post is to share some ideas for how to start making an income from your photography. There are a number of different options, and you can of course try a few to see what works for you.
I’d also say that whilst you can of course make a full-time living as a photographer, this guide is more about making a side-income from something you already enjoy doing. So it is written with the amateur photographer in mind who wants a side hustle or someone to make some extra fun money while in retirement.
So, you could take these ideas and scale them into a full-time business if you want, but I’d suggest starting small to see how things work out.
How to Make Money as a Photographer
Now I’m going to through some different ways you can make money from your photography. You may find one or another option appeals more or less to you, or works better. There’s no right way to do this, only the right way for you!
Stock Photo Sites
Selling photos is often the first thing people think of when they think about making an income from photography. However, unless you are already an established name in the photography world, it can be difficult to find buyers for your photos.
This is where stock photo sites come in.
As you would imagine, there is a huge need for photographs to illustrate our insatiable demand for content. Think of all the photos you see every day when browsing the web, walking around, or reading a magazine.
All those photos have to come from somewhere. And unless the publisher in question has their own in-house photographers, the photos are most commonly sourced from stock photography sites.
A stock photography site is basically a marketplace where photographers can upload their images, and buyers can pay to license those images for specific uses. This can be anything from use on a webpage, a printed novel cover, or as part of a full-blown advertising campaign.
So for example if I am building a website for a real estate company I might head to a stock photo website and search for things like photos of “houses with for sale signs”, “nice single family houses”, “relators”, “mortgage rise charts”, and “people buying home”. I can then pay to license these images for use on the website.
Now, this all sounds great. All you have to do is take a bunch of photos, upload them to some stock photography sites, and let the money roll in? Well… yes. But also no.
There are a few things you need to be aware of when shooting for stock photography sites if you want to be successful.
First, success is a long-term game. Successful stock photographers tend to have thousands and thousands of images uploaded to stock image sites, with each image likely only generating a very small amount of revenue.
Speaking of revenue, you’ll want to temper your expectations. Most stock sites do not pay a huge amount for image use, which can be as little as a few cents per image. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are not the norm.
In terms of time commitment, bear in mind that each image needs to be properly described and keyworded, which can be quite a time burden.
You also need to be aware that you are not going to be the only photographer doing this. Millions of photographers upload their images to stock photography sites, and there are even sites where people happily give their images away for free.
The last thing to be aware of is that for images to do well on stock sites, they often need to be shot in a certain way. Random holiday photos will not do as well as more generic scenes like “woman holding coffee cup looking at computer monitor” for example.
Overall, stock photography is one of those things that sounds great on paper, and definitely can make you an income, but don’t discount the time and effort required to scale this beyond a relatively small income.
Shoot as a second/back-up camera at events
A great way to make an income as a photographer is to shoot at events. Some of the most popular events for photographers to photograph are life events, such as weddings and other celebrations.
However, there are all sorts of events that require photography. I’ve photographed a number of conferences and other corporate events for example. I’ve also been a photographer for a number of festivals.
Companies and conference organizers often like to have a selection of high-quality photos from their events which they can use for future promotion.
Other events that require photographers include sporting events, music events, the list goes on!
Event photography can be a difficult industry to break into though, as most event planners are going to want to hire experienced photographers. And as an amateur photographer, you definitely want to gain some experience before shooting your first wedding or similar!
So how do you go about getting experience? Well, the best way is to try to sign up with an existing experienced photographer as their second or back-up photographer.
Since the main photographer at an event can’t be everywhere at once, you will likely be tasked with capturing images they aren’t able to get. For example, at a wedding, whilst they are shooting the bride walking down the aisle, you might be tasked with capturing candid guest reaction shots.
This can be a great way to gain on the job experience and learn the ropes from a seasoned veteran, and if you do a good job they may offer you a role as a second shooter when they require one.
Once you have sufficient experience, you can consider branching out on your own, although you may find you enjoy the second shooter role. A second shooter often doesn’t need to worry about finding clients, the customer communication, scheduling, or even editing as most of these tasks are often done by the primary photographer.
You can enjoy the photography side of things whilst someone else worries about everything else!
Specialize in in-demand photography skills
There are a lot of things that need to have their photos taken. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is particularly true when someone is trying to sell something of high value like a house or a car.
Photographers can make good money specializing in taking photos of things like real estate, apartments, cars, hotel rooms, motorcycles, farm equipment, etc. While these might not be the most exciting thing to shoot, we know people who make a nice steady income doing this type of photography.
If you can become locally known for high-quality images to help sell used cars, houses, apartments, or whatever, then you’ll likely keep yourself busy as there is always new demand for this type of photography.
Which is where you could come in. If this is something you are interested in, try practicing taking good photos of your own house, car, or tractor. Then reach out to local listing agents, car dealerships, and the like to see if they are need of photos for their products. Over time, you should be able to build a good business this way.
Sell Photos Directly Online
One good option for making money from your photos is to sell them online. I actually have a guide to selling photos online here, but in summary this business model has you offering your photos to sell via a website.
You can obviously set up your own website and image gallery and then handle the ordering, printing, and shipping yourself. But I do recommend using a third-party service of some kind to make this easier to manage.
SmugMug allows you to easily build a portfolio website (no technology understanding is required!), and all you have to do is choose a look and feel, upload your images, set your prices, and then share it with the world.
SmugMug handles everything else for you, from processing payment through to collecting taxes, printing the images, and shipping them to your clients. So you don’t need to worry about anything. They also allow you to sell digital images if you want as well.
If you want to try out SmugMug you can get 15% off the plan cost and a 14-day free trial if you use this link. For more details, check out my full SmugMug review here.
Sell Items with Photos on them
When we think of selling our photos for display around the home, we normally think of having them printed for display in frames or ion a canvas.
However, these days you can print photos on a huge array of objects, from t-shirts to mugs to phone cases to blankets.
This hugely widens the market for the options you have for selling your photos. There are many ways you can have your images added to products. One of the easiest ways is through a print on demand service like Redbubble, which allows you to upload your images and choose products that are available for sale.
Redbubble handles everything else, from listing your items in their giant marketplace through to handling sales, printing and shipping of your products.
Of course, you can also design and product your own items and set up your own online shop on a website like Etsy or sell your items locally. We’ve seen people use their photos on all kinds of things from clothing to lampshades to Christmas tree ornaments to jewelry.
Sell photos or photography items locally
When we go on a trip, we love to support locally based artists and vendors. And we’re certainly not alone.
Many people like to pick up a locally produced piece of art from a local artist as a souvenir from their trip, and it’s made all the more special if you can meet the artist behind the work when doing so.
Local shops and galleries are always on the lookout for locally produced works that they can sell. Local and regional arts and craft markets can be a great place to set up. Photos of local attractions and sights can be particularly popular, both with visitors to your area and also with locals.
If you enjoy shooting photos of your home town or city, then selling locally might be a particularly good way to sell your photos as they are likely to appeal much more to a local audience than to a more national or international audience online.
You can either try setting up your own stall at a craft market, or you can reach out to existing galleries, gift shops, cafes, or other local stores to see if they would be interested in displaying your work for sale.
This can be a win-win scenario, in that they get nice art to display and a commission on a sale, and you get to make some money from sales.
Enter Competitions and Contests
One slightly unusual way to make some income from your photos is to enter them into competitions and contests, which often have some good prizes available.
This can also be a good way to learn if your photography really is good enough to sell. In fact, winning a photography competition prize in a national newspaper was one of the motivators for me to pursue a photography career full time.
There’s a huge range of photography contests out there. I’d suggest looking specifically for specialty ones that focus on the type of photos you like to take whether it be macrophotography, birds, street photography, or landscapes.
You’ll also want to be picky about the contests you enter. Some contests have fees to enter them for example, so whilst the payouts might be great if you win, it can result in a net loss overall if you have to pay to enter many contests before you win anything.
You’ll also want to check the terms and conditions of what rights you are giving away when entering a contest. Obviously, the competition will have the right to display your work, but be sure you aren’t giving away the rights to sell your photos for commercial use by mistake!
That’s it for my guide to starting to make money from your photography! If you found this useful, you might enjoy some of my other photography related content. Here are some articles to get you started.
- I have a guide to how to display your photos
- I have a guide to how to sell your photos, as well as a detailed SmugMug review
- I have a guide to my favorite photo editing applications, as well as the best alternatives to Lightroom
- I have a guide to the best noise reduction software for some ideas on how to get the best out of your photos even when they might be a bit noisy
- We have a guide to how to use a compact camera, how to use a DSLR camera, and how to use a mirrorless camera. We also have a guide to how a DSLR works
- Knowing how to compose a great photo is a key photography skill. See our guide to composition in photography for lots of tips on this subject
- We have a guide to what depth of field is and when you would want to use it.
- We are big fans of getting the most out of your digital photo files, and do to that you will need to shoot in RAW. See our guide to RAW in photography to understand what RAW is, and why you should switch to RAW as soon as you can if your camera supports it.
- You’re going to need something to run your photo editing software on. See our guide to the best laptops for photo editing for some tips on what to look for.
- If you’re looking for more advice on specific tips for different scenarios, we also have you covered. See our guide to Northern Lights photography, long exposure photography, fireworks photography, tips for taking photos of stars, and cold weather photography.
- Color accuracy is important for photography – see our guide to monitor calibration to ensure your screen is set up correctly.
- If you’re looking for a great gift for a photography loving friend or family member (or yourself!), take a look at our photography gift guide,
- If you’re in the market for a new camera, we have a detailed guide to the best travel cameras, as well as specific guides for the best cameras for hiking and backpacking, the best compact camera, best bridge camera, best mirrorless camera and best DSLR camera. We also have a guide to the best camera lenses.
- If you want a camera or lens, but the prices are a bit high, see our guide to where to buy used cameras and camera gear for some budget savings options.
- We have a guide to why you need a tripod, a guide to choosing a travel tripod, a round-up of our favourite travel tripods and a review of the Peak Design Travel tripod.
Looking to Improve Your Photography?
If you found this post helpful, and you want to improve your photography overall, you might want to check out my online travel photography course.
Since launching the course in 2016, I’ve already helped over 2,000 students learn how to take better photos. The course covers pretty much everything you need to know, from the basics of how a camera works, through to composition, light, and photo editing.
It also covers more advanced topics, including astrophotography, long exposure photography, flash photography, and HDR photography.
You get feedback from me as you progress, access to webinars, interviews and videos, as well as exclusive membership of a Facebook group where you can get feedback on your work and take part in regular challenges.
It’s available for an amazing one-off price for lifetime access, and I think you should check it out. Which you can do by clicking here.
And that’s it! I’d love to hear about your thoughts on displaying your photos, and am happy to answer any questions you have. Just pop them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.