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Making Money in Photography: An Introductory Guide
Need-to-know facts for keen amateurs and aspiring pros!
By David Fleet
The idea of making money in photography appeals to a lot of people. Who wouldn't want to bring in money by doing something that they love!?
But it isn't easy to get a handle on exactly what opportunities you have. Just how do you find out where the demand for your photos is, and then go about meeting it? How do you get your foot in the door?
Well, in this introductory guide, I'm going to run you through some basic ground rules, key facts and worthwhile options to know about when selling your photos.
So whether you're cautiously exploring the prospect of gaining a little extra income, or seriously weighing up the idea of starting a photography business, this should serve to help you get your bearings amongst all the opportunities that await!
A Big Decision: 'Service or Sales'?
As a professional landscape photographer I've developed a good knowledge of the many possible methods for making money in photography. I've also seen the mistakes that people often make - and want to help you avoid them!
So, what has made you decide to earn some money from your photos? Perhaps you have just got hold of a shiny new camera - packed with cool features and with more MP's than your last model - to help you take some amazing shots. Now you've started to wonder: Perhaps my new toy could help pay for its cost in some way!?
There's no getting away from it, photography ain't cheap! It makes sense to a lot of people to think about how they could win back some of the hard earned cash they've spent on their favourite hobby.
If that's the case with you, you're likely searching for a time-efficient way to earn some extra income from your photos. But this brings me to a fundamental rule of the photography industry:
If you want to earn decent money from photography, by far the best way of doing this is providing a service with your camera. In other words, a portrait, wedding or commercial photography business, where you charge for your time and service as a photographer - not merely the prints.
So, for those of you thinking about making money in photography as a career choice, it's often worth viewing yourself as providing a service, as opposed to selling 'products' / prints.
It is true to say that the money is in the act of photography, not the photos themselves. This is a good principle to bear in mind. But don't worry, it doesn't mean that the only option for making money in photography involves devoting your life to it! There are so many other options.
In any case, a lot of part-time photographers offer a service in a very flexible way: Providing workshops and tuition a few times a year, as and when it suits them! This is a popular and smart way of making money in photography, without putting too much time pressure on yourself.
These articles explore making money in photography as a full time occupation in more depth:
Learn the lessons offered up by Nick Stubbs, pro of 25 years, in "The Business of Photography".
Practical action steps, personal stories and words of wisdom!
Tips for Selling Photos to Magazines
Image Copyright: David Fleet
Ok, if you don't fancy dedicating large chunks of your time to earning money with photography, the magazine industry is a great area of opportunity.
You can submit your photos to a plethora of specialist photography magazines that are out there at the moment, all of which need new and exciting photos every month (here's a quick guide to 4 excellent digital photography magazines).
To give yourself a good chance of having your photos selected, find out what format a given magazine prefers to receive images in, and send in a sample of your best pictures in that format, to make life easier for the editor.
Your images should be of excellent quality - and preferably highlight a specific technique so that the magazine can use them as examples to other readers.
Avoid just sending through a bunch of similar photos to the magazine, as this is not the way to get their attention. Instead, try posting a CD/DVD of images accompanied by a contact sheet with no more than 16 photos on an A4 page. Doing this helps the magazine's editor to quickly see whether she likes your photos.
A really useful book to have in your library is The Freelance Photographers Market Handbook. This lists all the magazines, papers and calendar producers out there, detailing what images they are looking for, and even how to submit them!
It's an invaluable tool for making money in photography, and one that will easily pay for itself. It is published every year so you can be sure the details are all up to date. Here's a review of The Freelance Photographer's Market handbook
Making Money In Photography Through Your Own Website
Cool and lively, but not so great for e-commerce.
Funky designs, plus wonderful business features.
Untouchable! Unrivalled success rates for business sites.
Selling prints from a website is an attractive idea. It's a cheap and simple platform from which to make a bit of easy money...right?
Well, yes and no. There's no such thing as easy money in photography! It's true that services such as Clikpic, Wix or Squarespace enable you to create a professional looking wesbite cheaply and quickly. Plus, you can just print your photos on demand, eliminating the need to carry expensive stock.
But the problem is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of other websites all trying to do the same! How are you going to make yours stand out and how are you ever going to get people to visit your website?
The key to success here is getting enough traffic to your website, which, like anything worthwhile, requires putting in some man hours! Here's a summary of how to increase web traffic to your site.
If you're lucky enough to have already developed a reputation, or even some fame as a photographer (which is unlikely to have happened yet, since you're reading this!), then people will come directly to your website. But how do we mere mortals make a wesbite worth our while?
Well, some photographers choose to buy pay per click advertizing from Google. Essentially, Google place a link ad for your site on other, relevant sites, and you pay every time someone clicks through the link to your website.
I personally wouldn't recommend this. It gets expensive...fast! Plus return on investment for photography sites tends to be poor.
So this leaves you with the need to build traffic to your website by increasing its ranking in the organic search results of Google. This is far and away the best way to drive traffic to your site. It gives you the chance to leap ahead of competiton, for free!
But...it's very time consuming and takes plenty of hard work.
I would add a final note of warning to the idea of making money in photography through selling prints online. As a professional fine art landscape photographer, I've come to learn that people typically like to see work in the flesh before buying it.
That said, many photographers have made a success of online print sales, and in any case, a great website is likely to lead to other sales - even if not direct orders. This article on the basics of art marketing online may be of interest to you.
Selling Prints in the Flesh
So, if selling artwork to people in the flesh is a great way of making money in photography, how can we go about it? Well, you can sell to tourists through local shops, at craft fairs or through local galleries.
Professional photographer Nick Stubbs shares 25 years worth of advice, tips, insight - and mistakes - in this awesome book!
Let's start at the top of the local sales tree: galleries. To sell your work in galleries you need to be sure of its quality. In addition, the printing, mounting and framing needs to be top notch. Of course, this increases costs and cuts your margins, making careful sourcing of stock very important.
Generally speaking, galleries operate a sale or return agreement with artists. In other words, regardless of how much they've cost you to print and frame, unsold items from an exhibition will end up back in your hands.
Furthermore, galleries know how much we photographers need them, and they're not shy of taking a healthy cut: generally in the region of 30-50%.
This is not to dissuade you from putting on an exhibition in a gallery. It's profitable. It's fun. It's good promotion. It's rewarding. Indeed, it's one of my favourite ways of making money in photography.
Image Copyright: David Fleet
But be prepared for the unsettling feeling of investing in stock before any money has been made! On the bright side, if a gallery owner - who knows the market inside out - agrees to display your work, then you can assume they think it's likely to sell.
Plus, if you're selling your photographs in a gallery, you will probably be charging premium rates. So all those costs for great quality printing and framing needn't damage your profit margin at all!
Whereas most visitors to your website are likely to have a bit of a browse and then move on, galleries have a captive, buying audience! You have a great chance of selling your work because visitors are interested in art and in a buying frame of mind.
- Local Shops
If there are no galleries in your area, or running an exhibition seems like to big a deal, you can always sell photos in local shops. This is especially good during peak season in popular tourist areas.
As with galleries, you need to invest in stock before any of it is sold, and will be required to give the shop owner a commission - typically about a third. Sometimes, though rarely, a shop will be happy to buy a batch of prints or cards outright, before selling them on. This is great - grab the chance if you get the offer - but far from common.
Using local shops as outlets is a great way to begin making money in photography. Here's is a comprehensive guide on doing so by selling your pictures as greetings cards.
- Local Arts and Crafts fairs
Why not try to get a stall at a local arts and craft fair? Visitors here will be on the lookout for items at a range of different prices. So print a variety of mounted and framed prints at different sizes, to cover lots of price points.
I know quite a lot of people who do really well selling at fairs in this way. If you are happy to spend some long days driving to a site, setting up the stall, selling face to face with the public for the entire day, before packing up and driving home again - then there is no reason why this shouldn't be a great source of income for you.
I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn.
- Pablo Picasso
So, I guess I've made it pretty obvious that making money in photography is not a walk in the park! It's just not the easy money spinner that some would have you believe.
But, I also hope this article has helped you see that there is lots of potential for earning good money with photography. In the end, you really do get out what you put in.
Now, although this was just an overview of making money in photography, there remains an obvious gaping hole! I would be mad not to mention stock photography, as it's one of the most often talked about methods of earning a little cash from your photos.
The stock photography market is such a vast subject, and one that I'd like to talk about in a dedicated article. So, check out my guide to making money in photography through selling stock photos here.
Don't waste time making every possible mistake trying to sell stock photos; read this book!
Have Your Say and Share Your Photos
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