How Do I Start Making Money as a Photographer?

following passion
Some guys and gals jus’ sittin’ around, following their passion

It happens at least once a week.

“I have been a photographer for a whole year now, and I think it’s time I turned pro. I have over 5000 photos on my hard drive: how do I start to make money from them?”

And then, wait for it…the ego driven amateur forever declaration: “I think most of them are really awesome!”

And no sooner is it posted somewhere on the internet, than the mug advice starts to flow, the majority of which falls into one camp or another:

From the utterly useless –

“Don’t take any notice of what anybody tells you, just follow your passion!”

To the completely ridiculous –

“Just keep taking as many photos as you can, of everything you see, and then before you know it, they will start selling!”

Well what kind of advice can you actually give apart from the bleedin’ obvious? Forget ideas of becoming a professional until you learn how to take a decent photograph, and then move on to learning how to take a saleable photograph, and keep practicing until you can do it time and time again, until at least six out of every ten photographs you take are potentially saleable?

OK, although it is completely arse about, and so amateur, rather than how a professional thinks, you could meticulously go through your five thousand photos, and pick the best to lodge with micro stock agencies. Experience says that after only one year as “a photographer”, out of 5000 pics, you will be lucky to find 50 which are in anyway good enough to be saleable, let alone “awesome”.

But fess up! Did you discard all of the over saturated sunsets, the pretty flowers, the snaps of little sis with her face smeared with chocolate at her birthday party, the long exposure water enveloped rocks, and the majority of featureless landscapes?

But go ahead and submit a couple of hundred of your best pics to not one, but a whole slew of micro stock agencies, or picture libraries as the more up market versions prefer to call themselves.

And you can bet London to a brick, that the 50 or so the agencies don’t reject, will be an entirely different 50 to the ones you favour.

You may sell a few in the first few months, but don’t put a deposit on the Ferrari just yet, or even on that luxury skateboard.

Statistics which are not so difficult to find if you know how to search for them, consistently show that photographers who have at least 10,000 , preferably more pictures lodged with libraries, can safely assume that for each of those, you may possibly earn $1 per year on average.

So 10,000 pics = $10,000 per annum earnings?…eee-z-eee murneeee!!!

Reality check! Any fewer, especially only a couple of hundred pictures on file as stock and you will may be just fortunate enough to sell one or a couple, maybe even a few, per year.

Well either way, hardly enough to pay the rent? But remember your cut (your royalty or commission) will only be roughly 0.22c in the dollar at today’s rates if you are in someway charmed….feeling like a professional yet?

So now that you have had at least a little dose of reality: did you actually have a look around those sites when you lodged your photos, to get a feel for the type of photo, the subject matter, the setting, the lighting, the colour schemes that they not only prefer, but the ones which are actually selling?
If not go back not only now, but several times a week and study what is actually in front of your eyes, and which so many look at, but few ever see.

In other words stop relying on luck, your “passion”, and your own perceived artistic genius, and start studying the market!

This is one of the main differences between a raw amateur, and a successful professional. While a mug will take photographs willy-nilly, to suit themselves,or on a whim, of subjects which interest them, in styles of setting, lighting, colour and composition which they consider being an artist with a camera, and then trying to find someone who will think highly enough of your artistic vision to shell out some money for them, this is a really sure fire way of wasting time and energy, and becoming penniless very quickly.

A professional on the other hand survives and thrives on the knowledge that he consistently supplies exactly what his chosen market wants and needs….no more and no less.

He studies each of his target markets, be they picture libraries, magazines, or individual clients for what the want, what they have accepted in the past, what they are looking for in the present.

He knows for instance that magazines of all persuasions do not want art, they do not want “I can do better than that”, they do not want cutting edge, or “out there”: but what they do want is more of exactly the same as they have been publishing for at least the last 12 months, and usually longer.

He also knows that his bride and groom for next weekend’s wedding, do not want anything different to the bride’s BFF’s wedding pictures from last June, tempered of course with what the bride’s parents want: nice pictures of their daughter, and all the guests in their best frocks and suits, and make sure Aunty Dorrie’s wart doesn’t dominate the picture too much.

This is possibly why wedding pictures are still plagued with lopsided horizons which came into accepted fashion in the 1980’s and are still far too evident, een amongst those who should know better, and why after five long years, wedding parties are still required to do the Toyota Leap in unison for that “special unique (?) image”.

So at least begin to think like the professional you aspire to be: study your market till it is second nature and then emulate it in every sense, especially technical aspects such as lighting, depth of field, lens choice, subject, colour use and composition. Once you have done that, and can do it, as stated earlier , at least 6 in every 10 “captures”, you can then start anticipating the trends, and changes as they happen, and more importantly establish your own style.

Then and only then: when, editors, picture curators or selectors, and clients say confidently: “that image is exactly what I was looking for, and I can tell you exactly who took that picture as well”, can you begin to consider yourself an established professional.


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