How Photographers Can Make $100k/yr With Their Photography Passion

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How to Make Money with Photography

With the advent of the smartphone, there are few who don’t have access to a great camera on their phone. From selfies to taking portraits on the iPhone, putting Instagram filters to retouch photos and harking for picture credits on a friend’s Facebook display picture, everyone is a photographer today. But as a professional photographer, you know that taking decent photos on the phone does not mean one has the skills to make a good picture.

With increasing use of social media, not only for recreation but even professionally, there’s a rising demand for great visuals for websites, blogs, even Facebook pages. But in an economy where everyone is a self-proclaimed photographer, how does someone who has the skill and talent stand out and make a living? The following are a few ways to make money with photography.

Submit Photos to Stock Libraries

Stock libraries around the world compile millions of photos that are later sold to organizations, businesses and clients. These are simple, contextless photos that can be used by a variety of publications and organizations. If you have a decent portfolio, consider passing it along to stock libraries. If your work is chosen, you get a commission every time a client downloads your photo from the library.

Quality as Well as Quantity

Getting one photo through doesn’t guarantee you a lot of money. The payment depends on the platform you’re dealing with, the type of license for the photo, etc. So apart from quality, it’s key to focus on quantity too. Submit as much fresh content and as often as possible. Some stock photo platforms may also forbid you from selling the same photo to a competitor, so read the agreement carefully before signing.

Macro and Micro Stock Photo Agencies

You can send submissions to both micro and macro stock photo agencies. Macro stock companies, like Alamy and Getty Images, are harder to get through. Photographs captured through a macro lens has a magnification ratio of at least 1:1. These could be portraits of models, product photography, etc. A single image can be sold for $1,000, but your photo has to be that good!

Micro stock companies, like Shutterstock and Fotolia, are relatively easier to join but do require high technical expertise. Photographs taken from a microlens have a magnification ratio of at least 20:1, that is the objects being photographed looks much larger than it is in the final result. A single image is sold for much lesser, so to make a sustained income, you will have to sell several photographs at once.

Wedding or Event Photographer

There’s a whole sub-industry of photography dedicated to weddings and the events surrounding them. Most couples getting hitched want to look great on their wedding day and also want a way to preserve it for posterity. The rising demand for wedding photography, fuelled by pressures of social media, creates various opportunities for photographers to make some good money. Apart from shooting pictures on the actual wedding day, there are other formats that are increasingly becoming popular.

Pre-Wedding Shoot

The pre-wedding shoot is usually exclusively for the couple at a picturesque location. It could be a shoot to make a save the date card or to announce the couple’s engagement. The pre-wedding shoot is usually a semi-elaborate affair, perhaps using props, some great costumes and a beautiful background.

Post-Wedding Shoot

The post-wedding shoot is usually right after the wedding vows are exchanged and the band has opened already. It focuses on friends and family of the couple. The point is to get the wedding afterglow after the stressful parts of the wedding have already been orchestrated, so the photographer can capture the couple and their friends and family in a happy, relaxed mood.

Event Photography

Other than weddings, there are a host of other events you can sign up for. A fashion show, a corporate event, a marathon – you name it and there is every event under the sun that needs a good photographer. Pictures or it didn’t happen, right?

You need to be quick and think on your feet so you can capture great, candid portrait shots. At the same time, you must have a good eye to even make staged group photographs look natural. Several clubs and restaurants have also begun to enlist the services of photographers to share pictures of their patrons on their social media pages.

Magazine Photography

You can always get a job with a magazine. Make sure you understand the tone of the magazine and the nature of photographs they might need. A glossy magazine will need a very different aesthetic from a business or a political magazine. Know what you’re getting into and make sure you can deliver in those specific areas. Here are some magazine photography jobs you may be expected to do:

Model Shoots

If it’s a fashion magazine or a magazine dedicated to jewelry design, you may be expected to double up as a fashion photographer and make models look great. It could be an outdoor shoot or an indoor, green screen shoot. Your job is to make the model and the product you’re trying to enhance – clothes, shoes, jewelry etc – look fashionable and great!

Food Photography

If it’s a magazine dedicated to cooking and cuisines, it’s obvious there need to be pictures of food. Food photography is a skill. You not only need to photograph what’s on the plate but also make it look delicious. Your job is to ensure the plating is great, the colors are vivid and the food looks mouth watering even if its not.

Portraits

A magazine may also need to carry out several interviews and portrait shots are always great to have alongside a profile of a person. To take a great portrait shot, you must keep in mind the nature of the article the portrait will be used for. Is the profile of the person whose portrait you’re shooting a serious one or is it written with some light-hearted humor? Compose your shots accordingly. Knowing the brief well will help you decide the colors, style and approach of your shots.

Spaces

You may also be asked to shoot spaces, perhaps for an architectural or an interior designing magazine. You should know how to work with light and shadow and how to make a physical space look alive in your photographs.

Photojournalism

A bit like working as a photographer for a magazine, a photojournalist not only takes great photographs but should be able to tell a story through those photographs. You can work for a newspaper or a magazine, but your photos should have a strong sense of narrative. Photographers like Steve McCurry and Robert Capa come to mind as names of famous photojournalists.

Writing and News Sense

There are several courses you can enroll in to study photojournalism. The medium has become even more accessible as you no longer need to carry large lenses to get a great shot – several online publications are turning to mobile journalism.

Apart from taking good photographs, it would help a great deal if you also had a flair for writing and a great news sense. What is the objective of your photo? Does it mark something significant in our history? These are all markers of a good journalistic photograph. You will also need to follow certain journalistic ethics, so being a photojournalist may be one of the tougher photography jobs out there.

Professional Paparazzi

The paparazzi is a formidable force and is very much a part of the daily news we consume. From airport looks to celebrities walking out of the gym, going to dinner, strolling in the park, there’s always a hunger for information about the personal lives of celebrities. This practice may be scoffed at or frowned upon, but the truth is, most publications keep their offices open through the money they make from the celebrity gossip pages. But becoming a member of the paparazzi needs some prerequisites.

Celebrity Names and Faces on Your Fingertips

To do well in the business, you have to be on the top of your game. It’s imperative to know the names of celebrities and remember their faces by heart. As a paparazzi photographer, you’re constantly on the job. You could make a celebrity sighting anywhere and your camera should be ready for that possibility.

The paparazzi are also known to scout at locations known to be frequented by specific celebrities. There may be a swarm of photographers outside an actress’ regular gym or at the airport. Through networking and being proactive, you will have to familiarise yourself with these spots.

Speed

Speed is of utmost importance in the profession. With celebrities becoming more and more forthcoming on social media, the exclusivity of pictures is directly proportional to the time it takes to get published. If you have a great, exclusive shot, but the celebrity themselves have already posted it to their social media or another photographer with a phone camera has beaten you to it, the photo loses its value. You have to treat each photo like it’s explosive, front page material and work at the corresponding speed by dispatching it to your agency immediately.

Teach Photography

If you have great skills at photography, why not impart that knowledge to others? Teach a weekend course in photography, perhaps, or go full-time. If you have a strong portfolio and the skills to back it, people may want to learn from someone who has something of value to teach. The trick is to make yourself marketable. Use social media, word of mouth and even the traditional advertisements and fliers method to let people know about your classes.

Photography Walks

You can host a walk outdoors and teach a group of students about techniques to photograph buildings, nature or simply people on the street. The idea is to get a group of people to a single spot so you don’t have to teach classes individually. This saves time and also the cost of renting a classroom. Just use the great outdoors!

Online Tutorials

If a physical classroom turns out to be too much of a logistical headache, teach a class online! Host a webinar or upload a course on Udemy and get paid each time your course material is used or downloaded.

Start a Photography Blog

If working for someone else is not something you want to do, start your own blog! There are several domains you can choose from and start making money gradually. Here’s a handy guide to blogging successfully.

Writing about photography will not only give you an outlet to express your thoughts on something you love but also create a community of people who follow your work. By building a following, people will begin to recognize your work. This is one of the best ways to spread the word about what you’re doing. Engage not only on your blog but also build a social media presence. Instagram and Pinterest are tailor-made for sharing great visuals. Some common methods to earn money from your blog are:

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is quite simply leading your readers to purchase a product you have recommended. If a reader goes through your blog to purchase a product you have spoken about, you make a commission. There are good and bad ways to do affiliate marketing, however. You want to be sophisticated and subtle, so only add affiliate links to products you have genuinely used and recommend. You should also try to put relevant links. For example, if you’re talking about phone photography, don’t insert links for DSLR lenses.

Sell Your Work

You can even sell prints of your own work through your blog. This is a much easier process than hosting a show at a gallery and hoping someone makes a purchase. By engaging with your readers, asking them to sign up for newsletters and building a rapport, you’re creating a potential client list. You can put up your work for sale, sell an E-book about photography or sell merchandise, the possibilities are varied.

Enter Photography Contests

There are all kinds of photography contests held throughout the year. By competing often, you not only improve your chances of winning but also better your own work from the feedback you get. The prizes of contests could be cash, equipment or a paid assignment – either way, learning to work within a framework and following a brief will only help you get better professionally. Entering a contest, however, is obviously not the same as winning it. So this is not an option you should rely on for a sustained income, but as a stepping stone to a successful professional career. Some of the prestigious photography contests are the National Geographic Photograph of the Year Awards and the Sony World Photography Awards. If you don’t want to compete internationally as yet, look for smaller grants in your city or state.

Getting Your Name out There

Even if you don’t win, you get your name and work out in the public eye for assessment. If you have a website, it’ll be mentioned on external sites which is great for SEO (search engine optimization). Good exposure only means one thing – more clients and more work.

Become an Assistant Photographer

If you don’t see much work coming your way as a professional, try to get as much work as possible as an assistant to more established photographers. This not only means you can avoid the logistical hang-ups of negotiating with the client but also that you’ll be getting as much experience as you can under your belt. It’s a great position to be in to make your own clients eventually and also make some good money while you’re at it.

Networking

While assistant photographer jobs can be found on job search websites, networking is key. Join a local photography club in your area, keep in touch with what’s happening in the industry and be on the lookout for opportunities. As in any profession, building contacts and a network is of utmost importance, especially if you want to work as a freelancer. Eventually, people should know your portfolio by your name.

Final Thoughts

Finally, being a photographer in a cut-throat job market is not easy. None of the jobs mentioned above is easy money. It takes work, dedication and a whole lot of networking. But putting in the effort to do what you love for a living should hardly feel like work. Of course, there will be days you feel like you can’t put in the effort or that circumstances are too tough. The trick is to persevere through the hard times to cherish the good times better.

Your worth is only determined by how good you are. So if there are long periods of no work, don’t be disheartened. Take a course, attend a workshop, constantly attempt to better yourself. Even once you’re beginning to establish yourself, don’t be complacent. It’s a man eat man world out there and you must have the skills to justify a fat paycheck. Despite everything, however, cherish your camera and enjoy what you do. Not everyone gets to tell stories with pictures, enjoy telling yours!

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