Creative photography seems like a lot of fun but is it possible to make money from? Absolutely it is!
There comes a point when every photographer starts to wonder about making money from photography. Traditionally we might first consider portraits and weddings. They’re the easiest, although the most competitive, to get into. But us introverts shudder at the thought of working with people and many of us worry that turning our passion into work would kill the joy. I know absolutely it would for me and so I never even considered these more traditional fields. Though I do look with envy at those who do it successfully and get offered all the interesting jobs.
Of course, photography work can be found in many genres, event, automotive, real estate, product and food, to name just a few. But any form of commercial work is still ultimately work where you’re no longer doing photography purely for the joy. Now you’re needing to do things that might be outside your comfort zone and interests. And any kind of profession, no matter how engaging, eventually becomes repetitive, second nature and a daily grind.
Throughout the years I’ve watched certain photographers with interest. The ones who’ve become so good at their art and personal work that brands have found value in what they do. It’s an interesting compromise and a career path to aspire to. They create authentically, build a strong following and forge their own path. One such photographer is Joel Robison who many years ago created a concept around Coke bottles for a themed challenge. Someone at Coke saw it, asked to feature it and later hired him as a brand ambassador for several jobs involving worldwide travel. He’s since gone on to market his work in many unique and interesting ways. For a pretty humble guy, his achievements are incredibly diverse and inspirational. He, like other creative photographers with similar stories, gets to make a full-time living, doing what he loves, with little need to compromise his creativity.
That’s why I am devoted to the path of creative photography. It’s my passion. It’s what I’m good at. And I have no interest in working in other genres because I know my heart would not be in it. I have turned down many well paid opportunities because they were outside the concept of who I wanted to be. And these decisions are often filled with regret but it’s important to know what you want and use your limited time accordingly.
Nine months ago I quit my job to pursue photography full-time. That was an incredibly scary leap but I’d prepared for it by saving money for several years knowing this would be my ultimate goal. I knew it would be hard. I had no idea it would be this hard. But my previous job had become incredibly toxic and I knew that if I put myself in a position where I HAD to make money from photography then I would work my darndest to do so. And if it didn’t work out? I’d just find another job.
Last week I sold $2500 worth of artwork which is more than I used to make from my job in a fortnight. I sold one print to a woman who saw my artwork in a gallery 6 months ago and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it. Another was the biggest print I’ve ever sold. There is nothing more rewarding than making money from your own creations, and if I’m capable of doing so, then you certainly are too.
So the purpose of today’s podcast is to break down some of the ways I’ve made money from creative photography to show you that you don’t always have to choose the path of a traditional photographer.
How to make money from creative photography
1. Sell prints of my work - I do this primarily online using reputable art dealers to list my work. Where cost allows I also exhibit my work so that people can connect with it in person. I don’t do any promotion and quite frankly, I probably should, but selling prints is not my primary business model. My prints sell in 3 sizes, small 10”, medium 20” and large 40”. Once someone purchases a print I run them off specifically to fill the order.
Although I haven’t personally made money this way, you can also look into selling your work as digital prints in the NFT space, but like anything, you will need to develop a promotional strategy around them.
2. Photos on products - I have my work listed on some print on demand style product sites, primarily Society6. This allows me to sell my work on items like cushions, clocks, and cloth bags. While not overly lucrative, as the artists only make 10%, it is a good option for a little extra cash here and there.
3. Calendars – Each year around Christmas I put together a calendar of whatever I’ve been working on that year and promote these on my socials. These sell mainly to friends and fans who love to support your creative endeavours but often aren’t able to afford the higher quality work. Calendars with interesting art make really thoughtful gifts so these tend to sell quite well, depending on the theme.
4. Stock images – For general imagery there’s not a lot of money to be made from stock anymore but I have my fine art work listed with specialty stock agencies who primarily sell to publishers for book covers. One sale usually amounts to about $250 plus you get to be on a book cover, which is cool. I’ve also had several companies reach out to purchase images they’ve found in my blog posts so it’s really important not only to list your work on stock sites but to post your images on a website with good SEO so they get found in Google image searches. These will always pay better because you completely cut out the middle man and can provide exactly what the client requires. For me this has usually been photos of specific locations in my city.
5. Retouching – I don’t do it often but it’s absolutely a skill I know I could easily commercialise at any time. Usually this involves editing photos of family or couples into a background photo that’s meaningful for them.
6. Exhibitions – Although it doesn’t happen often, sometimes you will be paid to exhibit your work in a gallery or similar.
7. Winning competitions – Competitions often come with prize money or some other item of monetary value, and if nothing else, if your work is picked as a finalist it’s likely you’ll be invited to exhibit which means free exposure. The most I’ve won is $750 which in the scheme of things is not a lot but was certainly a wonderful gift at the time. But I’ve also won smaller prizes and various other gifts that I can easily on sell.
8. Grant funding – Grants can be a bit of a funny one because they come with various stipulations and expectations. The biggest I’ve received was a $5000 concept development grant. This was from a local government body and I tied my artistic storytelling practice and blogging skills into their need for tourism. My project explored historical stories of the region which I then re-created in my own photographic style and wrote a travel style blog to accompany each piece. While the application process was daunting it was also not especially hard with some preparation. For extra help, take a grant writing workshops or contract an experienced grant writer to do the application for you if this is an area of interest.
9. Commercial shoots – I tend to only do commercial shoots if there’s an artistic angle. For example, recently my friend who is a performance artist needed some photos of her in a costume she’d made and hired me to do the documentation. As photographing people in costume is definitely my area of interest I was happy to oblige.
10. Copyright agency – There’s this magical copyright agency in my country that pays its members a royalty whenever their work is published in print. The payments are very generous and all I have to do each year is list out the places my work has been published. Perhaps you have an organisation like this too?
11. Teaching – You might have noticed that I run a creative photography membership where I teach people all things creative photography right from picking up their camera, through creative techniques, lighting, editing, business and positive mindset practices. This is my full-time job and when it’s more established I also plan to run in-person editing workshops in Lightroom and Photoshop.
12. Talks – On a smaller scale, if you have an interesting technique or specific process you may be invited to speak at photography clubs or other opportunities which tend to come with some kind of gift or monetary compensation.
So there you have it! Twelve suggestions of ways to make money from creative photography based on what’s worked for me. Discovering ways to sell my work took a lot of experimenting and trial and error and I’ve learned an incredible amount and made a lot of mistakes in the process. I share all my knowledge and experience within Creative Photo Folk’s business section where I break down each of these avenues, and more, into step by step detail to help photographers sell their work without compromising their vision.
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