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How to Make Money as a Photographer in 2023

Photos courtesy of Social Squares

Tired of Not Making Money as a Photographer?

Did you know that most photographers only make about $30-$40k per year? Most photographers sell one photoshoot to a client and that’s it. It’s challenging to generate a big enough stream of clients to generate a full-time income. 

But I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t have to be that way. I left a job in the corporate world to be a brand photographer and I didn’t take a big pay cut to do it!

That’s what I love about my recurring clients’ business model. By focusing on clients who need a steady stream of photos, instead of once-a-year family photos, I filled my book with business — without constantly scrambling for new clients. 

Curious about where the money is? Let me show you!

When I Knew In-Person Sales Was Not Right for Me

If you’re in the photography space looking to make an actual income, you’ve probably heard coaches telling you to do in-person sales (IPS). 

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get into photography to become a salesperson. I became a photographer to create beautiful images and help people tell their stories.

I found myself a young mom of 2 girls, in a demanding corporate career, and all I wanted to do was take beautiful pictures. My side hustle as a family photographer didn’t leave much room for selling art, albums, and prints they may or may not need to each of the families I worked with.

And it felt so weird selling to my friends like that.

At the time, I was in corporate accounting and my husband owned a small business with 25 employees serving over 1200 companies. A lightbulb went off.

I knew at that moment I wanted to serve small businesses.

I could use my love of photography coupled with my business background to serve businesses’ ever-growing need for great-looking photos. It’s pretty rare when a business needs prints, but the best part about it when they do, it’s just business. It’s not selling to a friend.

I got to work talking to brands to find out what they really wanted and how I could serve them. And through this work, my Recurring Clients Method and the Brand Photographers Blueprint were born.

Okay, enough about me. Let’s get you on the right track to really start generating income as a photographer.

How To Make Money as a Photographer

There are so many ways to make money as a photographer, but so many methods lead to a feast or famine scenario where you’re constantly selling, shooting, delivering photos, then starting the process all over again.

So where is the real money at — and where is it not? Let’s look closer.

In-Person Sales

Let’s chat about IPS a little more. The idea behind this model is to make more money from each session by helping the client choose printed products. There is a low barrier to entry because clients pay a low session fee to get started. Then, once they see their images, they get to choose what they want. 

This means there are two sales cycles with each client — one for the photo session itself and one for the albums, wall art, etc after the shoot.

However, in today’s digital age, many people want digital images and most IPS sales models are very against doing that. Plus, though you can dress it up any way you want, you’re still selling products to people — that they may or may not really want. 

Stock Photography

Oh here’s a fun one. If you’ve ever looked for ideas to improve your photography income stream, you’ve seen blog posts promoting submissions to stock sites. This is the idea of submitting photos to Adobe Stock, Creative Market, and other stock photography marketplaces. 

Submit your photos once, they say. Sell them over and over again to reap big rewards. 

It sounds like a great idea until you realize that they pay you $0.325 for each photo. Seriously? You have to sell 30.76 photos just to make $10! Are there really big rewards in that? You have to submit thousands of images just to create decent payouts. And forget about a steady income stream!

You could also become a contributor with Stock Shop, Pixistock, or create your own stock network. But, honestly, all of these take a lot of time and the rewards are not always as exciting as they make them out to be. 

This could be great if you’re just wanting to take pictures, but it’s not going to replace your salary.

Work with Brands

In my opinion, brand photography is the way to go when it comes to making money as a photographer. Small businesses need a steady stream of photography for their websites, social media content, and more. 

Here are a few examples of the types of photos brands need:

  • Headshots
  • Product photography
  • Lifestyle commercial photography
  • Food photography
  • Fashion photography

As a brand photographer, you get to work with small businesses in your area to help them build a library of images so they always have the content they need. 

You work with the same brands every month. For you, that means you don’t have the constant scramble to find new clients as well as wondering if you will be able to fill your book each month. 

For them, that means you get to know them and can provide personalized content that fits their brand in a way generic stock photos never can. You both walk away with great benefits from the arrangement.

And commercial photography pays well. Brands are willing to spend money on these images because your amazing images are going to generate lots of business for them. That’s an advantage that working as a family or wedding photographer will never have.

Bonus! You get to work with them during normal business hours as your clients will generally prefer to schedule sessions while they are at work. 

Other Money-Making Ideas

Is there anything else? It seems like the Internet is overflowing with ways that you can make money as a freelance photographer. 

To be honest, there are lots of opportunities. But only a few of the photographers who take these opportunities will actually make a decent income. 

But for the sake of argument, let’s brainstorm for a minute.

Art Shows or Art Galleries

If you have exceptional images that would make great wall art, you might try getting your work into local art shows or maybe even land a spot in an art gallery. This can be a very lucrative income source — once you get your name out there. 

It takes a lot to break into the art world. And while some people make a lot of money selling their photographs for $5,000 a piece, it takes a lot of work and more than a little luck to get there. 

Editorial work for Magazines or Newspapers

This type of photography work actually does pay well. Editorial photographers take pictures of events, food, fashion, and many other subjects. Their images are designed to tell a story, usually along with a written piece in a magazine. 

The trouble is that the field is extremely competitive. Think about your favorite magazines. Now imagine how many people are applying to work for those magazines. 

Landing a job is difficult, though not impossible. And going it on your own as a freelance photographer for several magazines is even more arduous. 

Assistant Photographer

One way to avoid having to book your own clients is to work as an assistant photographer for a well-established photographer. Or get hired as a photographer for a company. 

You don’t have as much flexibility or control over your work, but it’s less stressful and at least you get a steady paycheck. 

Submitting to Competitions

There are tons of photography competitions to which you can submit photos. Many of them offer big prizes including cash, photography equipment, or software that helps you run your photography business. 

However, there are only a few winners out of thousands of entries. Your photographs could be amazing, but there are a lot of people with amazing photographs who will walk away with nothing. 

Want to Learn How to Grow a Six-Figure Photography Business While Working the Hours You Want to Work?

There are other ways to earn money as a photographer, but let’s bring it in here. I think I’ve made my point. While you might earn some money from these methods, you’re not going to grow a six-figure photography business. 

But brand photography is a business that any photographer can get into! Wherever you live, there are tons of small businesses in your community that are looking for the help you can offer. Brands have a constant need for great-looking images to market their business.

And you can provide them. 

Not sure how to get started? Check out my free training here. You’ll learn how to grow a 6-figure photography business while working the hours you want to work. 

Don’t let anything hold you back from that dream!

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