In times past, photography used to be exclusive of professionals and to even think of making any money from it, you’d have to be double sure of your skills. Now, thanks to the proliferation of the internet, even a high school kid can make money from photos taken with his smartphone camera.
More than any time in the past, the world is hungry for visual content, and as a photographer, your photos form part of the content. So whether you’re a hobbyist or a practicing professional, if you’re serious about making money online from your photos, then you definitely can. But unless you’re a professional, you probably won’t make millions.
Like every other creative entrepreneur out there, making money from photography is all about harnessing the same creativity at the heart of your work and applying it to the monetization of your talents. As with most creators turned entrepreneurs, success comes down to three things;
- Finding your niche
- Building an audience
- Creating several streams of income
Before you even try to sell or license your photos online, it is important that you’re familiar with most photography rights and licenses and what they mean. Terms such as creative commons, royalty free, editorial use, retail use, exclusivity etc. and what they mean as regards your photos should not be foreign to you. You may check out this guide for a list of common photography licensing terms or do your own research.
Now to Making Money With Photography.
1. Stock Photography
I start with this because it is by far the easiest and uninvolved way to start making money from your photos. Stock photography websites allow you to license digital copies of your photos to people who need them, usually blog owners, webmasters, online businesses and generally anyone in search of visual content. So in effect, when you “sell” your photos on stock photography websites, you’re actually selling the right to use them to the buyers which means you can sell them over and over again as many times as people are willing to buy.
Getting started selling stock photos is as easy as signing up on any one of the numerous stock photography websites, submitting your photos, adding keywords so people can find them and wait for them to be accepted. Once they’re accepted, you get a cut whenever someone buys your photos, easy-peasy. Before joining any stock photography website, you should make sure to read their terms of service because the percentage you get differs from site to site. Below are some popular stock photography websites which I would recommend to get you started:
- Getty Images
Getty Images attracts brands and publishers looking for high quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The photos here net higher prices, but royalties vary (20% for many) depending on your standing as a photographer. The standards for becoming a contributor are also higher.
A micro-stock site where photos are cheaper, non-exclusive and where the way to get more downloads is by contributing a lot of images that can be used as visual metaphors. Don’t expect to earn as much here, but it’s a good place if you’re just starting out.
iStock is the micro-stock offshoot owned by Getty Images. Their commission ranges from 15% to 40% depending on whether the photos are exclusive or non-exclusive.
500px isn’t just a stock photo site, but a community-based platform for photographers. You can follow other photographers, list your photos in their marketplace, and participate in Photo Quest competitions for prizes. The community is full of stunning, creative shots with a 30% commission payout.
Stocksy is a popular mid-range stock photography site. The standards to be accepted are higher, but it also generally pays out a 50% commission.
Just remember that as far as selling stock photos go, more is better so make sure to submit your photos to as many stock photography websites as possible (as long as they’re not exclusive) to increase your chances of making a sale and also building your audience as you go.
2. Blogging Photography
If you’re as good with words as you are with your camera, then you should consider blogging. While it won’t make you a colossal income (or even any income at all in the beginning), it is probably one of the best way to build an audience and get your brand out there. Starting a blog is easy as pie and you may check out this post on how to get started with blogging. Again it won’t make you a lot of money, especially in the early days, but the recognition and traffic you’ll get is worth the effort. If you’re able to generate sizeable traffic to your blog, you can also become an affiliate marketer for various photography products which is also a nice source of passive income. Remember, multiple income streams.
3. Sell Prints, Photo Books, Calendars, and More
If you have some really beautiful pictures that people might want to hang up in their living room, then it’s worth giving this option a shot. You can easily set up an online shop to sell print versions of your photos through an e-commerce setup like Shopify. What’s more, you could even have your photos printed on ceramic mugs, pillow cases, phone covers, t-shirts and any other items you can think of to sell through your store. And you can do everything without moving a muscle (besides setting up your store) with a drop shipping solution like printful. They handle everything like printing, packaging, and shipping, and send you a cut of the sale (about 20%). You could also use a website like Etsy if you don’t want to set up your own store.
It doesn’t stop with prints though, you can create photo books about a certain theme or calendars with your photos and sell them through your store. You can use a service like Blurb or Shutterfly to create, print, and ship them on the demand.
4. Network and sell photography as a service
If you’ve implemented any of the above methods, then you’ve already started building your network. This is not a move that will specifically make you money in and of itself, but it will highlight your other endeavors and bring your work to the forefront. And as everyone knows, nothing is better for an artist than recognition.
Make use of visual social media networks like Flickr and Instagram to showcase your work and build an online portfolio. People start taking note of you and whenever they need a photographer for offline engagements, you’re on top of their minds. Granted, this is a long-term strategy but it’s one that’ll pay off in the long run.
5. Teach Photography
If you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve probably acquired a trove of knowledge that most newbies usually struggle with. So why don’t you leverage this, and create an online course on topics that you know most people usually find difficult. You could write an ebook, create a video course, start a membership site or you could even start a YouTube channel. Even though you might not get paid much through YouTube, you’ll undoubtedly raise more awareness about your work and even expand your network further. Even better, you start having fans…celebrity status loading.
If you’ve got the knowledge, use it to build another income stream. On the internet, more is always better.
Whether photography is your hobby, your side gig or full-time hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to how you sell your photos online.
Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love and what you’re good at is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.
If you have another strategy that’s not mentioned in the post above, do not hesitate to let us know in the comments. Do not forget to like and share.