With so many areas of photography to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to invest your time, resources and energy for the best chance of a return. We take a closer look at what areas of photography offer you the best opportunities to earn money.
EVERY GOOD IMAGE that you capture has the potential to make you money in photography, it’s just a case of knowing how and where to sell it. By our reckoning, there are three main areas that a photographer can make money from: services, products and stock.
Each one lends itself to some fields of photography more than others and, depending on the types of images you’re selling, has varying profit potential. Services refers to commissions, whether it’s shooting a wedding, a portrait shoot, for a newspaper or for the National Trust.
Normally this will be a flat fee, however, if it’s a commercial shoot, it’s usually an hourly rate, normally amounting to between $500 and $1,000 a day. Services can also be extended to teaching photo courses, which hold huge earning potential for those photographers with the experience and expertise to run them.
Products are where the money can really be made, especially in social photography, as you may often find that clients spend just as much – if not more buying their images in their various guises as they do on the actual shoot.
For many photographers, such as landscape, travel and fine-art photographers, selling images is their main source of revenue, whether that’s online, in stores or directly to customers. Stock is fairly self-explanatory, but we’ll be going into that in more depth over the next couple of pages.
The very first thing you need to do is decide what field of photography you want to concentrate on. There are several areas of photography that are harder to get into than others and suit full-time pros rather than enthusiasts.
For instance commercial photography, be it fashion, food, products or beauty, normally requires a few years working as an assistant before getting to know the right people and tools for breaking into the business. You could start learning the trade as a part-time assistant if you’re willing to wait even longer and probably not earn much money in the process.
Photojournalism, again, is a difficult job to get into by relying on commissions from newspapers and magazines, but a good way of kick-starting this career is to fund your own assignment and then pitch it to publications when you return. Other areas of interest might be film stills, press, beauty or corporate photography – there are a lot of different avenues to investigate, each with different types of rewards to be reaped.
Target the people who pay If it’s money you want, the biggest earner has to be social photography, which includes weddings, portraits and events. Not only will you be paid for the service, but the potential for selling products is massive because you have a captive audience wanting to pay for the images.
While photographing weddings is a huge responsibility and shouldn’t be done unless you’re confident about your abilities, a family portrait session is more fun to do and you don’t need a studio: lifestyle portraits are perfect for the outdoors where kids can enjoy themselves and relax. Or you could invest in a lighting system and go to your clients’ house for the shoot.
Depending on how involved you want to get, selling albums and prints, rather than giving clients a DVD of images can be a real moneymaker and it ensures that everyone they show your photos to is seeing them at their best. Often, if you’re trading, you can be eligible for trade prices on printing and presentation methods too, which can leave you room to apply a healthy mark-up for the customers, making you a tidy profit.
How much you charge is up to you, there are no rules or regulations to guide you, but it’s a good idea to check out the local competition as you don’t want to price yourself out of the market. Weddings can range from $600 to $3,000+ depending on the package offered and the duration of the wedding. Even as a weekend photographer you have the potential to earn several thousand pounds a year.
The myriad of events you can photograph is endless but sometimes seasonal, for instance football tournaments. Christmas parties, proms and school dances. So, grab yourself a portable printer and your camera, take shots of people on the night, print them immediately and sell them for $10 each. Normally the venue owner takes a slice of your profits, but you’ll still potentially walk away with a healthy sum.
A tough market to crack of all the different types of photography, landscapes is probably one of the most popular to practice, but also one of the toughest to make money from. Too many photographers shoot landscapes as a hobby and then practically give their images away, reducing the need for companies to buy them.
It used to be that landscape, wildlife and travel photographers could rely on stock agencies to supply them a solid income. But as this part of the industry is now overwhelmed by mind-blowing submissions from enthusiasts and amateurs, as well as the professionals, it has driven the price of stock down, making it difficult to earn a living from.
There are some talented photographers who have managed to make these types of photography a full-time career, for instance travel photographer and regular contributor Jon Hicks jet sets around the world for the stock library Corbis Images.
There are also a fair few outdoor photographers who manage to sustain a full-time income, but it’s no longer from one main source such as stock libraries. However, it still has the potential to earn photographers a few hundred or thousand pounds over time. For pros to keep their head above water, they have to bring in different revenue streams.
Some photographers do courses and workshops at home and abroad, get publishing deals or self-publish photo books and calendars, or work for photography magazines and the National Trust, while others try newer avenues such as selling their images printed on roller blinds.
It takes initiative and funding to get ideas and products like this off the ground, but you could try pitching your images to companies that can create, or at least sell, the products for you, such as interior design firms or The Art Group.
Take stock of your imagebank You could be sitting on a gold mine and not even know it. OK, well maybe not a gold mine, but at least the funds for a new lens or digital camera.
Most of us will have some great images stored on memory cards or on a hard drive that we’ve forgotten about, because we do not know what to do with them, but the stock photo marketplace is an ideal way to put these generic images to work for you.
Joining a stock agency normally requires you to register and submit a selection of your best work. The agency will then judge the quality of the images and decide whether to allow you to contribute.
If all goes well and your images are accepted, they will show your best picture on their website for companies and individuals to license. You’ll get a cut of the client’s licensing fee, but how much varies from agency to agency. Alamy offers 60% of the sale, which is generous.
While the industry is saturated by stock photo agencies, most are owned by Getty Images and Corbis Images, each with their own image standards and requirements, licensing rules (rights-managed or royalty-free) and prices.
These big agencies can be very selective of who they work with, normally sticking to pros who have been providing them stock for several years. Microstock sites, on the other hand, such as iStockPhoto and ShutterStock, are open to all levels of photographer and “Microstock can be one of the easiest ways to make money. You might only earn $10 per shot but if you sell 1,000 in a year that’s a fair bit of money” reach a huge audience, however they pay less than the bigger agencies.
As long as your images pass the site’s technical requirements for image quality, Microstock can be one of the easiest ways to make money, especially if you have the volume, You might only earn $1 per picture, but if you sell 1,000 images a year that’s a fair bit of money in your pocket.
One way you could get involved with Getty Images is via its Flickr Collection. Instead of submitting images directly to Getty, click on the Request to License link on your photo page and Getty will assess your portfolio for their collection. It’s known for some contributors to have earned thousands through this partnership.
FULL-TIME LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER
Adam Burton is one of the UK’s leading landscape photographers. He’s the author of three photography books, with two more in the pipeline for 2011, and his images have graced the covers of more than 100 magazines, books and calendars.
He’s the kind of photographer who makes going pro look easy: his images are of the highest quality, he has a stream of commissions from a wide range of commercial clients, and, best of all; he’s entirely self-taught.
Learning the nuts and bolts of photography from reading magazines and putting the techniques into practice, Adam went from novice photographer to a leading professional in under eight years but says it’s still incredibly difficult to sustain an income, especially from landscapes, as there’s so many people doing it.
“The best route for me has been to try lots of different things. While I still make money from stock, it’s not as much as I did: now I sell pictures through Getty for as low as $1.40. I produce photography books, do tutoring, sell prints through my website and license images for various uses such as greeting cards, calendars, brochures and books.
“To make money from photography you have to be flexible, have plenty of clients and lots of different revenue streams. You have to be a good business person and really efficient to help your business stand out from the crowd. Building a good reputation is important too as once you become recognized as a good photographer, that’s when things start to get easier.”
Where to sell images online
The internet has created a brilliant platform for selling pictures, whether it be via stock libraries, third-party websites such as Red Bubble. eBay or your own website. There are several companies that enable you to set up a facility to sell your pictures through your website, for instance, Clikpic and Livebooks.
Top pocket-money tip
Try getting your photographs on the walls of businesses such as galleries, cafes, banks and offices – anywhere that could capture the interest of your target market. You might also want to try setting up a market stall or selling greeting cards in a local art shop. Read Profitable Projects for more details.