In the last decade, photography became one of the most popular hobbies globally because of how accessible digital cameras and smartphones have become.
Now, it’s not only a hobby but also a profession and a means of income for many—even for non-professionals.
From shooting product photos to image manipulation services, the digital era has brought plenty of ways on how to make money with photographs.
Luckily, more businesses are seeing the value of photographs in their content and have provided photographers with more avenues to showcase their work and make money as a photographer.
Why should you start making money with photographs?
Photography is a valuable asset for businesses in terms of marketing and building their brand.
We live in a highly visual society where images have become necessary for businesses to attract their audience and increase their sales.
In fact, good photos on a website can increase conversions by 161%.
From simple product images on an e-commerce website to elaborate ad campaigns for an agency, high-quality photos are highly-paid and sought-after by businesses.
Demand will never stop as businesses look for ways to improve and maximize their visuals for their campaigns.
That’s why many photographers have turned their passion into a profit.
And, you can too.
However, before we share tips on how to make money with photographs, you should first equip yourself with the following basic setup to effectively work as a photographer.
How to make money as a photographer: Starter Pack
Here is a checklist of the essentials that you will need before you start earning through photography.
1. Get a quality camera
Let’s start by saying that a ‘quality’ camera doesn’t have to be expensive.
After all, not all expensive cameras produce quality results.
What makes your camera a ‘quality’ camera is if it has the features that you need to get the job done. (Let’s be honest, we don’t use some or most of our camera’s features.)
With that in mind, what should a ‘quality’ camera have?
Place importance on these three features:
Your lens is one of the most vital parts of your camera.
Professional photographers often have a prime lens and a zoom lens.
A prime lens can be anywhere from 12mm and 5200mm but has a fixed focal point, while a zoom lens has a zoom ring that allows for using a range of lengths.
Having one or both helps to capture photos with more depth, but your standard camera lens will also work fine.
Most digital cameras have an LCD screen to preview what you’re about to capture.
However, when in broad daylight, light bounces off your screen making it difficult to see your shot.
With a viewfinder, you can see the subject clearly in harsh light.
When you take your shot using the viewfinder, it helps you balance your shot by naturally tucking in your elbows to your sides, stabilizing your hands.
It’s the main portion of your camera and it can be available in various shapes or sizes.
DSLRs are on the heavier and bulkier side while digital cameras are more compact and lightweight.
Make sure your camera’s body is durable enough so it can withstand constantly being held or used.
Keep an eye on these major parts when looking for a quality camera.
Don’t have the funds to buy a DSLR camera?
That’s fine. Your smartphone can be your next best bet.
Many smartphones have decent cameras that allow you to take DSLR-like photos.
One of the cheapest smartphones you can find with great camera specs is the Vivo V15 Pro (48MP, 8MP, and 5MP rear cameras at 380 USD).
What’s good about smartphone photography is it allows you to quickly and conveniently capture photos, edit and retouch it to improve the photo’s quality, then share it across your social media profiles.
In photography, keep in mind that your camera captures the photo, but you take the shot.
In the end, it’s how you will effectively use your camera to bring out that quality photo—and that’s how to make money with photographs.
2. Invest in proper equipment
Whether you’ll take photos in a studio or the great outdoors, investing in a few good pieces of equipment will make your photos better and your life easier.
Photographers use various equipment or means just to get the shot that they want—like using a drone.
But here are some basic equipment that you’ll find useful for most situations.
Whether it’s big or small, a good sturdy tripod can be your best friend.
It helps capture steady wide shot photos and take a series of photos with the same background or angle.
Make sure its legs are heavy enough and its feet have a good grip to help keep its balance on all kinds of surfaces and weather conditions.
Reflectors allow you to spread and even out the lighting on your subjects and can be used indoors or outdoors.
If you don’t have the budget, you can make your DIY reflector by using aluminium foil or a silver gift wrapping paper.
- SD Memory Cards
Most photographers own several SD cards just in case their memory runs out in the middle of the shooting session.
Aside from this, you can use various cards for different clients allowing you to temporarily sort your files before you transfer it to your hard drive.
- External flash
Most built-in camera flashes are good, but since it only points to one direction (toward your subject) it can create harsh shadows.
Most external flashes can be directed in other directions to bounce off the light. Some already have a diffuser available.
As a result, your photos have even and professional-looking lighting.
While you can still take amazing photos without some of these gears, these are nice-to-haves that can help improve your photos and capture that perfect shot.
3. Install photo editing software
No matter how good a raw photo maybe, most photographers enhance or retouch their photos using image editing software.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop are popular choices for both professionals and beginners.
However, you would need to pay for Adobe’s monthly or annual plan to have full access to its features.
For a free online alternative, try Canva, Adobe Spark, Pixlr, and Aviary. All of these are also available as apps, making it perfect for smartphone photography.
After covering what you would need, it’s time to answer that big question.
How do photographers make money?
There are plenty of ways that photographers can make money as long as you get creative about it. From shooting events to even teaching online, here’s how to make money with photography.
1. Take photos for businesses
Gone are the days when a website was just a supplementary part of a business’ marketing strategy. Now, it’s a vital part of the growth and success of a business.
From hotels and restaurants to hospitals and gyms, businesses leverage websites, social media channels, and mobile applications to communicate with their consumers.
That’s where photography comes in.
These businesses need to create ads, social media posts, and website content with photos and images that will grab the attention of their consumers to engage and sell to them.
That’s not all, these businesses might still have offline marketing materials, so they need photos for their brochures, flyers, and posters, among many others.
Some businesses hire a full-time photographer, but some hire a freelance photographer who can shoot on call or who can already provide the photos the company needs.
Some photographers already have connections to some businesses, so it’s easier for them to offer their services. Others build their portfolio online until they get scouted by businesses.
But don’t worry, it’s possible to find freelance or full-time photography work via online job platforms.
A good tip for getting hired is knowing what kind of photography you’re good at and for which industry you would like to work in.
Of course, that should show in your portfolio.
2. Shoot events
This is a classic way to make money with photography locally — at least before the COVID-19 crisis happened.
Photographers are always a staple for weddings, birthdays, and company events, among many others.
When taking on events, it’s always best to form your team so you can be sure to cover all parts of the event.
When creating a quote for your clients, remember to factor in the hours you would have to spend on pre-production and post-production as well as logistics like transportation.
Additionally, make sure that you or someone from your team knows how to quickly edit or retouch photos on the spot as some clients would look for packages with same-day photo edits.
If you don’t have the photo editing skills or you simply don’t have the time for it, you can reach out to us. Our team of seasoned photo editors can work on your photos and send them back to you within 24 hours. (We even have a 12-hour turn-around-time for our clients who need their photos rushed.)
3. Sell photos to publications
One of the most popular ways on how to make money with photographs is by selling them to magazines, news outlets, and other publications.
After all, these publications never go without images, both offline and online.
It’s one of the decent gigs, but it’s also one of the most difficult to get into.
Not only do publications usually have their own team of photographers (which is also difficult to get into), most publications would only reach out to well-established photographers in the industry.
This is why establishing a good portfolio, sharing it online, and connecting with a community of photographers is one of the best ways to get noticed by publications.
Or, instead of waiting for publishers to discover you, you can start by submitting relevant photos to their online sites.
Just be sure to carefully read their submission guidelines.
4. Sell Stock Photos
We can’t tell you how to make money with photographs without telling you about stock photos.
This is one of the most popular and most basic ways to sell images even if you’re not a professional photographer.
From people and buildings to animals and food, stock photography offers a wide avenue for you to sell your photos.
Here are some of the popular stock photo websites to sell your photos to:
One of the most popular sites to sell stock photos is Shutterstock. It gives its contributors 20% to 30% of their monthly image sales.
They also don’t demand exclusive selling rights which means you can sell your photos on other stock websites and earn more money.
- Adobe Stock
Formerly Fotolia, Adobe Stock pays out contributors around 20% to 60% for their images, making it higher than most stock websites.
Just like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock doesn’t have exclusive selling rights, allowing you to sell your photos to other platforms as well.
Although Alamy doesn’t have many buyers compared to the previous two, the platform is said to pay its contributors 50% for each sale.
This is a significantly higher base than most stock websites.
With 500px, you can create your online portfolio and earn money from it.
The website also offers analytics and tracking services, so you can check how many people are viewing your photos and how your photos compare to your competitors.
- Getty Images
Getty can give its contributors better exposure due to its larger share in the stock photo market.
However, it is said that Getty pays contributors an average of 20%, which is lower than most stock photo platforms.
Before you upload your photos, make sure it’s professional-looking and usable for businesses for it to gain attention and downloads.
5. Edit and retouch photos
It’s not exactly the kind of work that allows you to take photos.
However, since most photographers know how to edit images, this can also be a good avenue for you to earn money.
Most ecommerce websites hire image editors to enhance or correct the look of their products.
For example, here are just some of the requests that we often get from clients.
If you know how to do these image enhancements and more, this will allow you to charge for an additional fee to your clients.
You can also forward your photo-editing tasks to us so we can handle them for you. You’ll be surprised how affordable our services are.
With our help, you can still enjoy a handsome profit while doing very little to no work since our team of exceptional photo editors can do all the edits for you.
6. Teach photography
Another way on how to make money with photographs, without actually taking photos, is by teaching online.
If you’re already a professional, teaching others about tips and tricks and how to make it in the industry will also help you earn more.
Or you can also create your website, upload your online courses, and charge a fee to download the whole course package.
Similarly, you can also conduct live webinars and have students and other professionals pay to join your lessons.
All it takes to make this happen is to prepare a course that would be valuable and useful for aspiring and professional photographers.
Make sure to find a good area in your home to conduct your courses or webinars.
One great benefit of teaching online is that you also get to establish yourself as an expert in photography and grow your connections.
This allows you to improve your popularity, get noticed by businesses and publications, and eventually get more gigs.
7. Print your photos into products
If you have a lot of photos that don’t sell enough but think that it would look good on a mug, then why not try printing your photos on merchandise and sell them online?
Selling your photos as merchandise means you have to dive into ecommerce and learn the process.
This means knowing how to get suppliers, process purchases, make deliveries, and so on.
However, the good thing about this is you can build your brand and tackle two industries at once.
Your market has become wider as you now have people not only interested in your photos but also your products.
Additionally, selling merchandise would also give other people the need to buy your photos because it’s something that they can use such as shirts, mugs, notebooks, and postcards.
And if those products get used often and used outside, your photographs and products would get more exposure.
For some photographers, this may ‘cheapen’ the value or quality of their photos.
So why not save your best photos for galleries, and print your ‘okay’ photos on tees?
8. Publish your photography blog
Starting a blog is a great way for you to showcase your work and establish yourself in your field.
Aside from photos, writeups will help boost your website’s SEO allowing people and businesses to find your blog on search engines.
Naturally, this gets your blog discovered and it increases your audience reach and traffic.
To make money through your photography blog, create galleries of your photos, and have people or businesses pay for a full resolution of your photos or more photos from your portfolio.
Once your blog gains more traffic over time, you can incorporate Google AdSense or affiliate marketing to your pages to generate extra passive income from it.
Once your photography blog gains the right kind of audience, it’s more likely that you’ll get approached or hired by other professionals, influencers, publications, or businesses.
Having a blogging platform can also open more opportunities such as sponsorships, selling products, and podcasting to generate more income.
9. Join photo contests
Some photo contests give monetary prizes for winning photos.
If you think your photos are good enough to win, try your luck with photo competitions.
Just a reminder: this is not a steady source of income. This is more for fun, experience, and extra income if you ever win.
However, the main benefit of joining a photo contest lies in the exposure it can give you and your photos.
Winning photos are often announced online or via publications that will put your photo and your name out there.
Some online photo contests determine their winners via online voting from the public. So even if you don’t win, your name and your photos would gain visibility from people in your industry.
This already puts you in a good spot to get scouted.
Some great international photo competitions that you can join are:
- International Landscape Photographer of the Year (Entries until September 2020)
- Sony World Photography Awards 2021 (Opens 1 July 2020)
- Nikon’s Small World Competition 2021 (TBA)
Of course, this would mean you would have to enter many contests to be recognized and to win.
Win or not, this will be a good experience for you to train your skills and put your name out there.
10. Become a freelancer
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 6% decline for the demand of photographers until 2028.
However, this pertains mainly to full-time employment as many companies will prefer to contract with freelance photographers.
In fact, with the world’s current situation, businesses have greatly considered hiring freelancers more than ever.
Becoming a freelance photographer means you will be able to do various jobs depending on your client’s needs.
You must be flexible to cater to a range of services from taking stock photos to photo editing services. Of course, this also means having the necessary equipment as well.
If you ask freelance photographers how to make money taking pictures, they can share various ways with you, but they would also share how difficult the road will be.
If you decide to freelance as a photographer, be prepared to have and to build your portfolio, widen your connections, invest in proper equipment, and constantly improve your skills.
Tips from Seasoned Photographers: How to Make Money with Photographs
We reached out to several photographers and asked for their tips on how to make money with photographs.
Several of them were kind enough to share their tips.
1. Vlad Codor, Lead Photographer & Designer of VladVisual Studio
If they have no previous product photography experience, they need to get a tabletop photography setup (2 square softboxes, acrylic shooting plate, white backdrop). They follow youtube tutorials to get a basic handle of things, they would need to spend a few good days learning the basics.
After that, they should find good listing images on Amazon and try to recreate the image themselves, it’s the best way to learn.
Once this is done and they have some good portfolio images, create a listing that is attractive pricewise on Jungle Scout Market : https://market.junglescout.com
Once you get some work, get as much info from clients as to what they expect and what images they like and ALWAYS try to overdeliver. It’s how you build your returning client base, so you will always have work. (80% of my work is from returning clients and referrals)
2. Dara Dorsman, Owner of Dara Dorsman Photography
My best advice is to keep positive, strong and keep on shooting/editing daily. Use this time to reconstruct your portfolio and business plan if you have less clients, make your work better and stronger. Potential new clients will notice your work and naturally come to you.
Time’s are weird now so don’t feel deflated when most people are struggling financially together. It’s not technically a reflection of your work but a universal struggle…
Chin up and keep on doing the best you can-stay creative in all aspects of life?
Most of my jobs are from previous and ongoing clients and have built a good relationship with them.
Keep shooting and creating, think ahead, write down your goals and what you would like to achieve.
I would check every 3 months with your list of goals and see if you have achieved them or what you can do to get there; is it building on your network? is it bettering your portfolio? Approaching new clients?
Have fun in your work, be kind, don’t lose your confidence and ambition. We are all in very similar situations, it is super tough for the creative industry at the moment, some days are harder than others- so finally I would say, chin up and keep on going!
3. Marion Botella Creative Photographer and Stylist
Stock photography is an easy one, photographers can also sell prints, have seen this a lot during the lockdown.
Another option depending on the level of the photographers is to give classes online, via zoom or skype.
And then the last thing is offering editing for other people who are taking their own photos.
Also, if you’ve never invested in it so far, get help with social media. Now is the time, focus on bookings, personal projects (always to keep showing what you do and always have content), updating your website and get help with your social! You’ll get perfect hashtags, interactions, relevant inquires without losing your focus on your business.
4. Vincent Lopez, Professional Portrait and Commercial Photographer of Vincent Lopez Photography
With today’s current situation, the COVID 19 pandemic, it put an enormous recession on most businesses, but what no one realizes, the Photography world has been impacted tremendously.
A lot of Professional Photographers are left without jobs, and cannot find a direction to turn to be lucrative and successful in this day and age. If you are solely a Wedding Photographer, what do you do? You only received a deposit for all the weddings that you had booked for 2020, what about the rest of the money that you were supposed to receive? Or even newborn photographer’s cannot get paid. It’s a very hard time. Can you collect unemployment? For how long? What do you do?
I, fortunately, am lucky to not be devastated by COVID 19 with my Photography business, mainly because the niche that I have pursued for years kind of benefits me during this time. I am known as a “Headshot Photographer” and that’s how I run my business.
The good thing is, but I do not want to sound like a horrible person, but due to COVID 19 a lot of people are going to be needing new jobs and a lot of the times real estate agents like to update their headshot every year or two.
So lately my business has been doing very well now that Real Estate agents have been allowed back to showing houses. Anyways, finding a “niche” can be very detrimental to the way you make money and earn a living.
We have to move with the times and start to expand our skill sets about the type of photography that we decide to shoot. You are not going to make money off of wedding photography this entire year, its a fact, so you have to explore other areas. Go outside the box.
Product photography, headshots, shoot Instagram models for cheap, USE SOCIAL MEDIA to reach out to perspective clients. Everyone is a perspective client in my opinion. But what we as photographers have to compete with is that now a days, “everyone is a photographer, the same way as everyone is a graphic designer”.
You buy a cheap camera, now you are a Photographer… You buy Photoshop, now you are a Graphic Designer. This is a great time to build your portfolio and show the world that you STAND OUT from the rest of the over saturated crowd.
Another thing that we have to realize is that since a lot of people are not making money like they used to, maybe we cannot charge the same amount of money to do a shoot like we used to pre COVID era.
This is not a time to turn away jobs because you want to make more money then what the client counter offered you. It’s time to eat your pride, but not always!!! I am not saying to go out and get pretty much robbed, but we can all offer to take a couple dollars off the asking price. Always ask someone, “what is your budget?”.
If you build it, they will come.
5. Michael Einreinhof, Commercial Photographer of Arclight Images
Off the top of my head I’d say be open to new client bases. If you don’t mind going into people’s homes, real estate photography is booming right now. Home owners and buyers don’t want to enter homes, so pictures and 360 walkthroughs are becoming more in demand.
Another new avenue is color manipulation – I shoot a lot for furniture companies. They have new product colors for this year but don’t want to schedule new photo shoots, so I change the product colors in
Photoshop to create unique images for the new items.
Also, work on email marketing, updating your website and learning new techniques.
6. Julien Fleury, Owner of J-Squared Studios
The way I found to be most useful is to think a little outside the box. I started approaching clients that weren’t necessarily heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies such as medical or technology companies.
Overall it still has been a struggle because mentalities are still in the dark about spending money right now.
So approaching clients that know the value of good advertisement is also another good avenue to take. They are often much more difficult to get as a client but reaching out to those Ad Agencies, chain restaurants and larger companies never hurt.
Just be friendly to everyone you meet. You never know where the next client is going to come from, whether meeting someone at a bar, party or just while on a walk somewhere.
At the end of the day, people are going to hire the photographer that is both good and pleasant to work with.
7. Kiko Ricote, Commercial Photographer of Kikor.com
The way I sell my work is sending one promo piece a month to my list of contacts. I prepare campaigns, for example, 7 capital sins, 10 green commandments, cinemagraphs, VR virtual reality, etc. recently I’m doing a plastic campaign.
As far as getting work at this moment there is not much we can do, but it is the best time to work on your portfolio to be ready for the future. Shoot only the kind of work that you would like to do when things start to get back to normal and remember that people forget you exist if you don’t remind them that you are there and shooting.
8. Timothy Atkins, Food & Drink Photographer of Tim Atkins Photography
It’s a hard one as all photographers are in a different situation. My work has been greatly affected by the hospitality sector being closed in the UK.
I think anyone working the industry needs to be slightly flexible in their rates without damaging our own industry.
Some ideas would be to offer more of a service but try to keep your rate similar as before the pandemic.
Client relationships are important. Emails are useless. Meetings in person or via video feed is more effective.
We’ve recently started another service photographing products for clients as the Covid19 pandemic has kicked online sales into overdrive.
We are offering a per image fee for product imagery (I never have wanted to photograph products unless related to the food industry, now I’m up for anything). Our low cost service is without the client, first looking at their brand identity, second creating a mood board pitch, third approval and executing the imagery. This helps keep a small team & full creative license on imagery. We have a social media strategist, professional photographer & retoucher all inhouse so it’s great for clients as a one stop shop.
You are only successful on reputation so spread of word is the best way of marketing for our business in my opinion.
I think the photographer’s service is more to make money rather than the photographs.
Stock photography sites can help here and there but if you are not doing it full time it’s very inconsistent.
The photographer could either create imagery at home to sell onto stock websites. As the budgets are lower through COVID-19 & will need some time to recover individuals, brands and agencies may
lean towards looking for stock imagery instead of commissioning a creative team.
If there is a brand out there you would really wish to work with & they are in need of photography, you could approach them and ask if they would like to work together.
You can offer them a test shoot to show them what you are capable of doing. More often than not if they really like the imagery & can afford your rates they will at some point commision you in the future.
9. Shawn Talbot, Shawn Talbot Photography
Many companies are transitioning from brick and mortar retail to online sales. This is a great opportunity to develop your product photography portfolio by capturing products that would otherwise be viewed in-store.
This time off is an opportunity to reconnect with clients and contacts. Network and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals.
Stock agencies often put out regular requests for certain types of images. This downtime may be an opportunity to produce stock photographs.
The best tip I could offer would be that 95% of my business is derived from referrals. With that said, be good to your clients, be pleasant to work with, be professional and be reliable.
You work hard to get the horse into the barn. Make sure you close the back door.
10. Paulette Phlipot, Owner of Paulette Phlipot Photography
I’ve had the best success with connecting to companies whose products I truly align with professionally and personally.
Being home so much more now I am taking note of what I use every day and if it aligns with the type of products I enjoy photographing the most.
Instead of hopefully waiting for companies I love to reach out to me for photography I have started taking the initiative, finding their marketing contact and asking if they are in need of updated photography.
I am also connecting with many restaurants that I photographed for magazine stories over the past several years. Most have reached out to me as their businesses are pivoting they are realizing the importance of a great looking website.
I am sending them a gallery of images from the magazine photoshoot and licensing these images for them to use on their website and social media. I love to be able to help restaurants out this way during such a challenging time for them. And it is also helping me out as I can’t just go and photograph restaurants like I used to with all of the current safety precautions and with so many just doing to-go food.
11. Donald Bowers, Commercial Photographer
A good way too work is with clients that send you product that needs to be photographed by yourself or with maybe, at most, an assistant. Any other kind of photography that includes numerous amounts of people involved I don’t know how much of a good idea that is.
Also stock photography is another opportunity but their rates are sickeningly low at this point. They are dropping at such an incredible rate, for example, it’s below a dollar a shot now and many times closer to ten cents an image. I wouldn’t even suggest stock as a money maker but it is a solo endeavor allowing many to work in the current endeavor.
There are plenty more ways on how to make money from photography aside from what we mentioned.
You just have to be creative with it.
As the world changes and as we go digital, see what else you can tap on to make photography relevant and valuable for businesses and consumers.
The next step for you now is to get your camera and get into action!