Top ten ways to make money in photography
Creating beautiful and meaningful photographs is hard enough, but making a living of them is even harder. For most who manage to do it, there is not a single source of income, but rather a wide variety of income streams that hopefully accumulate to form a large river. Here are what I think are the top ten potential streams of revenue for photographers, in no particular order, since what works for each photographer is different.
Sell prints through art galleries and art fairs. As photography is gaining wide acceptance as an art form, print sales have gone from non-existent to a main source of support for artists in less than half a century. However, who is going to spend three to four figure amounts on a print without seeing it in person first ? Galleries have the reputation, connections and established clientele to sell prints to a sophisticated audience at good prices. Although folks who visit art fairs are generally not willing to pay gallery prices, they are still there specifically to buy art, and come in much larger number than those who stroll into galleries. Combined with the lower barrier to entry, this makes fairs a more lucrative outlet for many photographers.
License images through stock agencies. Images are used everywhere, and the trend is only growing as our culture is very visual. Professional art buyers who are willing to pay proper fees for major uses (eg. global advertising campaigns) go first to a stock agency when they are looking for an image because with millions of images, it is likely than the agency will have what they want. Who has time to scour the web ? In addition, with an agency they are more confident about proper rights clearances (incl. model releases). Agencies have also privileged relationships with big accounts (through volume discounts).
Seek assignments in your area of specialty. Stock is shot on speculation: you put in the money first to produce the shot, and you may or may not recoup it through licensing fees. With assignments, even as you shoot the same subject matter, you are guaranteed a predictable payment as long as you execute the shoot. High profile assignments provide you access that you are unlikely to be granted on your own, as well as high visibility for your work once published.
Provide custom photography. If you cannot find assignments in your area of specialty (maybe because the same subjects are often shot by amateurs), maybe try to cover areas for which new, custom work, is always sought. This includes commercial photography, events, portraits, and wedding. People are always going to get married.
Teach photography. Quite a few fine art photographers hold academic teaching positions, whose reliability gives them the confidence to do personal work. Workshops have been a primary source of income for many nature photographers for ages, but these days, there is more interest in photography as a hobby than ever. At the same time it has created more competition for pros, digital and internet sharing has made photography more fun for amateurs, so the workshop market is only growing.
Speak. As a photographer, you have a unique perspective, and seen more of the world than most. You can talk about your adventures and deliver rich presentations and captivating slide-shows. Your audience goes beyond photographers interested in your techniques and insight, as you kind inspire, inform, and entertain non-photographers as well.
Write. A good accompanying article will help sell your images to a magazine as a package, be it a general interest magazine or a photography magazine – some pay for words, but not images. In the internet age, there are more outlets than ever: third-party blogs, e-books, apps. Writing an old-fashioned book still helps establish you as an authority.
Provide consulting and services. You have acquired very specific technical and business skills in the course of operating your business. I have seen photographers and “creative consultants” charge as much as some attorneys. Tasks range from setting up a printer, optimizing a computer for photoshop, to editing photos, negotiating a license or determining a strategy for selling prints. The easiest way to make money in photography has always been to sell your camera, but you can actually keep it and instead offer new equipment for resale if you’ve developed a following. Don’t let this studio, large format printer, high-end scanner, profile make, or computerized mat cutter sit idle. You can recoup its cost, and maybe beyond, by letting others use them or putting them to use for others.
Seek sponsorships. Even if you are not famous enough to license your name (like for instance Galen Rowell did for Singh-Ray filters), you can still get free equipment and maybe some money for your projects in exchange for an endorsement. Besides the financial benefit, your name will get more exposure as it is featured by the endorsed company in their promotional materials. If you have enough followers, even mere affiliate programs could be lucrative.
Did I forget anything ? Be sure to check the next post in this series for my twist.