How to Make Money With Photography and How Much Can You Expect
Live your passion. That’s what you’d like to do, right? Spend your days doing what you enjoy?
Unfortunately, you gotta eat and do adulting things like paying bills. For that, you need money and your passion might not be good enough. Or is it?
There are many ways to turn your passion for photography into an income stream. None of them is a magic wand that will make you rich overnight, but with a little creativity you can make a decent income doing something you love instead of being trapped in a cubicle all day.
The world of photography is crowded, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out your niche. Hold onto your hats as we dive into learning how to make money with photography. We’ve got a lot of ideas coming your way!
Documenting milestones has been a big part of our culture since cameras started becoming more accessible. It started with the big stuff, like weddings and new babies, and continued on from there.
People love being able to document their lives, their families, their special moments — and they’re willing to pay for it.
Traditionally, photos like these were done in a studio. The average person would take their kids each year to the department store photography studio for Christmas pictures or other special events. Those willing to spend a bit more would go to private studios.
Studio photography is still alive and well and there are plenty of photographers shooting photos in a studio. But nowadays you don’t have to have a studio to make it in portrait photography.
People love natural photos of themselves outside or at an interesting location. Lifestyle sessions in the client’s home are becoming popular. Themed shoots in an ice cream shop or old-fashioned diner are also cropping up.
Be sure to know the laws in your area and ask permission to shoot when necessary. (This may include parks, cemeteries, and even beaches so keep a sharp eye out).
Types of Photo Sessions
Just from the variety of locations we’ve discussed, you may be getting an idea that there is a LOT of opportunity within the realm of portrait photography. And there is. The possibilities are virtually endless. A few examples include:
- Newborn (posed or lifestyle)
- Seniors (high school)
- Corporate headshots
And the list goes on.
Some photographers may choose to specialize in a certain type of portrait photography. For example, posed newborn photos require special training to ensure that the baby is not harmed.
Many of those adorable tranquil photos are actually 2 or 3 photos pieced together because it is not safe for the baby to actually be placed in the desired position (or on top of a dog or fireplace mantle). It also takes a lot of time and patience to wait for those tranquil moments that is not necessary when photographing older people.
Toddlers and kids usually require a high-energy photographer who can interact with them on their level to coax out a smile or convince them to hold the desired pose. Some photographers know this isn’t their strong point so they stay away from family photography and focus on couples or seniors. Still other photographers may find that they love the variety and handle several types of sessions.
That’s the beauty of photography. There is no one right or wrong way to do things. Simply market the type of session that appeals to you to attract the clients that are looking for those types of sessions.
Photo Credit: Cara Koch
If you want to make some serious money as a photographer, wedding photography is a good way to do it, but you have to work HARD.
It’s not uncommon for a wedding photographer to work upwards of 10 or 12 hours on the wedding day itself. Not to mention the hours of consultations they have with the clients before the big day to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
After that, you’ll have thousands of photos to sort through and edit before delivering them to the client.
You’ll also have to be prepared for the stress. Weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime event that the clients can’t get back. If you mess up, (i.e. for some reason you lose all the photos) there is no redo like you could do for a typical session (that’s not ideal either but doable). That’s a ton of responsibility and you need to have redundancies in place to protect against this.
On top of that, the people you work with are often stressed out. You’ll have to know how to keep your cool and work with people who might not be quite so calm.
To be successful in wedding photography, you need to attract a lot of clients. You won’t get too many repeat clients, so you’ll have to be constantly on the lookout for new ones. The Internet is a great place to find clients, but you’ll have to pour a lot of time and money into your website and SEO.
All that hard work can pay off handsomely, however. Once you make a name for yourself, you can charge a pretty penny for your services. People value wedding photography and are willing to pay for it.
Weddings aren’t the only events that you can photograph. If you enjoy photographing events, but prefer to avoid the stress of weddings, there are plenty of options for you.
A few examples:
- Birthday parties
- Corporate events
- Bar mitzvahs
- Family reunions
- Baby showers
Like weddings, there are a lot of logistics to understand when photographing events. You’ll need to know the itinerary of the event and what the highlights are that your clients especially want you to capture.
A great way to shoot weddings, yet avoid some of the stress of them, is to work as a second shooter. It is very common for wedding photographers to hire a second shooter for weddings. This allows them to more fully photograph the event.
For example, one photographer can be photographing the groom and his party getting ready, while the other is photographing the ladies. Additionally, two photographers can more fully cover the ceremony and reception, taking photos from different angles to better document the proceedings.
Many people start working in wedding photography as a second shooter. As you might imagine, knowing how to photograph weddings is far more than just knowing your way around a camera. Working as a second shooter first is the perfect way to get your feet wet and learn the skills you will need to be successful as a wedding photographer.
Real Estate Photography
Real estate photography is a whole different ball game. If you find that you don’t like working with living subjects, this may be a great niche for you.
Pictures tell a story that mere words cannot relate. Nowadays, people expect to be able to see a hotel room before they book or browse visual listings for real estate before going house hunting. For this reason, anyone looking to sell or rent a piece of real estate needs high quality photos.
Network with real estate agents, hotels, interior designers, even companies like Airbnb in your area to find work. Real estate photography can be quite lucrative. Forming relationships with real estate agents and the like can generate a lot of repeat business, something that is sometimes difficult to find in photography.
You will need a fine eye for detail, otherwise you will spend a lot of time in post removing distracting elements or trying to smooth wrinkled bedspreads.
Small Business Photography
Everybody who is anybody has a website these days. One of the key components of a good website that will attract visitors is high-quality, eye-catching images.
Restaurants need mouthwatering images of their dishes that will entice customers to explore their flavors. Yoga studios need zen images that will draw people into their classes. Hotels need exquisite images of their rooms, grounds, and even local attractions to convince people they want to visit.
You can provide those images.
Reach out to small businesses in your community. For best results, don’t just send out an electronic blast. Go out and talk to people. Print out a professional-grade photo book of your portfolio or bring a tablet to show off your electronic portfolio. People are far more impacted by personal interaction and there’s nothing like seeing your stunning images in person.
Social media influencers haven’t been around for long, relatively speaking. But they are having a big impact. In fact, 17% of companies spend over half their marketing budget on influencer marketing.
Many influencers are photographers themselves. They start out posting lots of great photos on Instagram or another social media platform. Then they start being contacted by companies who want them to promote their products…and the rest is history.
However, while the photog influencers may be able to photograph items or other models like their kids or significant others, photographing themselves is difficult. Plus, not all of them are photographers.
The industry is still solidifying itself so there isn’t a lot of “industry standard” to go by. Many influencers will ask for discounted shoots or want to pay in “exposure”. You’ll have to decide what works for you and if you want to accept the terms they offer. Better yet, you should be offering your own terms and they can decide if they want to accept.
Cultivating relationships with influencers can be great fun. They may need shoots quite frequently, which means you may get to work with the same people regularly and perhaps even form meaningful relationships.
Being a travel photographer sounds romantic and is many a photographer’s dream job. Who wouldn’t love to travel the world, taking photos of exotic destinations, documenting cultures, and enjoying incredible experiences.
You’ll get to work with many different types of photography — landscape, cityscape, documentary-style and street photography. You’ll get to meet people all over the world and learn about other cultures and ways of thinking and hopefully share what you learn with an audience.
You’ll get to stretch your skills as a photographer because you’ll be working in a variety of lighting and weather conditions. You can’t carry a studio along with you, you have to learn to work with what you have.
Can You Earn Money as a Travel Photographer?
All this means that being a travel photographer is hard work. It’s even harder to make money doing it. Back in the day, many travel photographers were successful enough selling their photos as stock photography. Now that market is saturated and even trying to sell directly to magazines or travel websites (or get hired by them) is challenging.
Don’t get us wrong, it can still be done. Businesses and magazines are looking for high-quality images all the time and are willing to pay for them. The trouble is that you’re often jostling to be noticed among a sea of other eager photographers.
To get the gig, you have to take better photos and go the extra mile.
Tell a story with your images, you can even write one to go along with it if you are a wordsmith as well. This will help you get magazine gigs and the like.
Because the market is so saturated, many travel photographers are getting more and more creative about how they make money. Some travel photographers are turning their travels into photo walks and workshop opportunities. Others are creating a travel blog or vlog and making money that way. Let’s explore both those ideas a little more fully.
Teach Photography Workshops
A big complaint among professional photographers is that these days “everyone is a photographer.”
Wedding photographers are frustrated by photography students with entry-level cameras offering $500 wedding photos. Portrait photographers are frustrated by people who think they can do their own Christmas portraits on their iPhone.
We get it, running a photography business is expensive. Many photographers spend half their time justifying their prices yet they’re barely making enough to pay business expenses and make a modest living.
Why not avoid complaining about it and capitalize upon it?
If “everyone is a photographer” then everyone is a potential customer. It takes more than a good camera to make great photos and people know that. Even without a trained eye, they can tell that something is lacking in those cheap wedding and DIY Christmas photos.
What they don’t know is what. You can teach them what’s missing and how to fill it in — and earn money while doing it.
If you’re a travel photographer (or an aspiring one) you can fund your travels and even earn extra money by holding photo walks and workshops in different locations.
Leading a photo walk generally involves getting together a group of photographers, taking them to a series of locations, and teaching them how to photograph the scene. If you live in a popular destination, you can do this over and over in your town with familiar locations. Alternatively you can schedule trips to your favorite destinations.
Start a Photography Blog
Photography workshops aren’t the only way you can make money by sharing your photography knowledge. You can also start a blog.
We’ll be honest, the market is getting saturated. There is a long list of successful photography blogs (this site is one of them) that you will have to compete with in order to succeed. You won’t be able to slap up a few posts and start making money in your sleep (despite what many work-from-home blogs may claim).
No, you’ll have to put in a lot of hours for free before you start seeing results. On top of that, those results won’t be very favorable if you don’t carve your own niche in the market.
There are literally thousands of things that you can talk about on your blog that have to do with photography. There are so many aspects to it and so much to teach/learn. Many of those aspects already have dozens or even hundreds of other posts explaining them.
Find something new that few people are talking about. Or talk about that stuff, but put your personal spin on it. You’re the only photographer like you in the whole world and you have something unique to contribute.
The hardest part is getting people to find you. For that, you’ll need to learn all about Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Check out these great tips from SEO superstar Neil Patel.
Create a YouTube Channel
Not a writer? Maybe you’re a talker? Many photographers are making a killing with their YouTube channels.
Create videos teaching photography tips and tricks, offering clever hacks, or teaching people how to use Lightroom or Photoshop. Again, there are literally thousands of things you could talk about here.
Once you get a following you can start selling digital products like Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions. Some people create digital backgrounds to sell or even their photos in print for wall art and the like.
You can also use your platform to promote photo walks and workshops. The more creative and driven you are, the more successful you can be.
Believe us when we say that blogs and YouTube channels are an excellent way to make a lot of money, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Photo Credit: Cara Koch
Sell Stock Photography
We mentioned selling stock photography is a saturated market back in the travel photographer section. Even so, there are those who claim to have made decent money selling stock photography.
For example, check out Alamy’s $100,000+ club. Every one of these photographers claim to have earned upwards of $100,000 selling photos on Alamy, a prominent stock photo agency. There is a common theme among them — they built up a collection of thousands of photographs over decades. In other words, it takes a lot of time and patience to make decent money selling stock.
It can be disheartening at the beginning. Most stock agencies pay the photographer pennies each time a customer licenses their image. Selling commercial licenses can garner quite a bit more. Eventually, some stock agencies will reach out to you and commission specific shoots on behalf of their clients. In that case, you’ll earn far more per image.
Regardless, if you enjoy taking the pictures anyway, why not upload them and start earning a few dollars off them? The only downside is that it does take a bit of work. People can’t buy a photo they can’t find so keywording your photos is extremely important.
Keywording can be time-consuming. Management tools like Xpiks make it easier. Keyword the photos and upload them directly from the app. You can even upload to several stock agencies at the same time, just be sure they are all non-exclusive.
How Much Do Photographers Make?
We’ve taken a fairly comprehensive look at ways there are to make money with photography. Of course, there are still plenty of other ways to make money as a photographer. Plus, photographers are a creative bunch and they’re coming up with new ways all the time.
Bottom line is, yes, it is possible to make money from your passion. But how much can you expect to make?
As you might imagine after reading this list, that’s a hard question to answer.
A wedding photographer who books 10 weddings a year will make far less than one that books 30 — and that’s not accounting for any difference in pricing. A wedding photographer that has made a name for themselves might only book 5 weddings and make more than either of the other two.
Likewise, a YouTuber with 1 million followers will (most likely) be doing a lot better for themselves than one with only 5,000.
That being said, we’ll try to give you some ballpark figures of what to expect. However, these figures are all averages. You will need to set your own prices based on the typical prices in your area as well as your skill level.
Keep in mind that if you’re in business for yourself (as many photographers are) you’re also responsible for taxes, insurance, equipment costs, transportation costs, etc. These prices don’t reflect what you actually take home.
Beginner prices start at $25-$75 per hour. Typical professional rates are around $75-$250. Top professionals may charge $250 to well over $500 per hour. The most elite photographers might even charge an astonishing $10,000 per day!
Keep in mind that prices will also vary by genre. For example, newborn photos generally take more time and require more specialized knowledge than a couples shoot and newborn photographers price accordingly.
Real Estate Photos
For a typical shoot delivering 25-50 photos, a real estate photographer might charge between $110 and $300. Of course, that’s a baseline. If you aim for a higher end market and start shooting multi-million dollar properties, you can charge a lot more.
Staff photographers enjoy a modest median pay of $65,000 per year. Factors that can affect this rate include years of experience, credentials, and of course the company you work for. According to Paysa.com, staff photographers at Getty Images enjoy an average salary of $80,000 per year.
Because of the price tag on wedding photography packages, many people think that wedding photographers are making bank. The truth is, some of them are, but not all of them.
Wedding photography packages might seem expensive to the average person, but there is a TON of work that goes into wedding photography. Far more than just showing up for a few hours on the day of the wedding and snapping a few images.
Yearly earnings are highly subjective and based on how many clients you’re able to book per year. Chron.com reports that most wedding photographers earn somewhere between $37,945 and $77,833 a year.
So, How Much Can You Earn with Photography?
Take the plunge. Follow your passion. Be creative.
There are an infinite number of ways that you can earn money with photography. It takes hard work, determination, and in some cases a bit of patience to turn your passion for photography into a lucrative career.
The bottom line: if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can follow your dream, create beautiful images, and do practical adulting things like paying bills all at the same time.
Ready to start charging for your photography? Check out our post on how to make the leap from “favor” to “job.”