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How to Make Money with Photography

While most of us get into photography simply for the love of the craft, the dream of generating some income from the effort is always an added attraction. Making that dream a reality isn't necessarily as difficult as you might think. The key is knowing the markets available and those that best suit your work and lifestyle. Let's take a look at some of the possibilities and the pros and cons for each one.

Selling as Fine Art

Let's get this one out of the way first. Why? Because it's one of the most difficult ways to sell your photos. There are plenty of ways to offer your work as “wall art”: a Facebook page, SmugMug, 500px, and many more. The problem is that you're competing with thousands of photographers in this market and it takes more than just great photos to make sales.

You need two things to succeed in this market:

  1. Images that stand out. You need to offer incredible quality as well as something that makes your work unique, whether it's in the captures or the processing. Look at some of the top sellers on these sites and you'll find that they're not your everyday snapshots. This is one area where skills with software like Photoshop or  Luminar will pay for themselves.
  2. Marketing skills. You'll need to know all the angles for getting the right buyers to your sales page(s).

I don't make these points to discourage anyone. I think it's great to “throw your hat in this ring.” Just do so with a realistic attitude and don't get discouraged easily.

Selling Photo Products 

Here's one that many photographers don't think about. There are many sites out there tat will print your photos on greeting cards, coffee mugs, cell phone covers, towels, pillows shower curtains and a whole range of other products. Pixels.com, for instance, lets you offer your work as prints on different media, framed or unframed, and on a wide array of photo products. You create and upload the images and they take care of the printing and shipping.

Pros: This is a somewhat easier market to sell in, especially if you create your images with the products in mind. Some of the marketing is taken care of by the site, and you don't have to worry about printing or framing. You have several different ways to sell each image.

Cons: This is also a highly competitive market. The more unique your work is, the better your chances. The worst problem with this, though, is profit margin. You can't put too much markup on your work on top of the charges for printing and shipping without pricing yourself out of the market. A typical sale on a phone cover, for instance, might net you $5.

Stock Photography

Yes, there's still a good income to be made from selling  stock photos. Agencies like Shutterstock and iStock are cutting checks to successful stock photographers on a regular basis. This has been a viable market for decades and it's still going strong. If you have a lot of photos on hand, you might want to think about giving this one a try.

Pros: You can sell specific rights to a single photo many times over. It's like renting your work out to publishers and other users rather than letting them buy it. No printing or shipping involved; buyers download the digital photo.

Cons: The competition is tough. Some of the best photographers in the world sell stock photos . Standards are very high. your photos will be evaluated before acceptance. (This can actually be helpful in learning to improve your skills.) You'll need to make a LOT of sales to make a profit. Pricing for one-time use of a photo can be as low as twenty-five cents. It can also be hard to ensure that users adhere to licensing restrictions.

Freelance Photojournalism

Some photographers make extra income by working on assignment or selling journalistic shots to local, regional or even international newspapers and magazines. If you can write an article, that's a big plus. It's not a bad way to get your name out there and it can get you into some great events.

Pros: Great exposure for your work. The pay can be good, especially if you're offering an article/photo package.

Cons: You'll need to be available on short notice much of the time. Building a reputation can take time. The work is usually sporadic.

Selling Your Photography Services

This category covers a lot of ground. Weddings, events, portraits shoots, product photos, real estate, insurance photos and similar services are all ways to make good money with your photos, with various amounts of work involved. Comparatively, this may be the best way to make a profit with your camera, but that's debatable.

Pros: You can choose the types of photography that suit you. If you like working with static subjects, shoot products or real estate. If you like working with people, shoot weddings or portraits. There's plenty of demand for almost any type of photographic service, if you can break into the market you like.

Cons: Depending on the type of services you're offering, equipment costs can be considerable. Travel may be involved in many situations. You'll need people skills, even if you're just shooting products, because you're going to be dealing with customers. You're going to have deadlines. Some genres, like weddings, don't offer second chances.

The Bottom Line

There are several other ways to generate income with your photo gear, but this list should give you some ideas. We may cover some of these in more detail in a future article. Whatever you choose to do with your photography, set your standards high and remember that there's more involved than just taking pretty pictures. Above all, remember you're doing it because you love it!

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