At some point or another, almost all hobbyist photographers get to a point with their craft that they begin to consider that classic thought: I wonder if I can make money from photography. As someone with a full-time job outside of photography, I had that itch for years, and eventually began to scratch it in a way that allowed photography to put some money back in my bank account instead of just depleting it.
Making a side income while juggling a full-time job, personal relationships, and your own sanity and sleep cycle can be tough, so knowing the most useful ways to spend your time can be tricky. Depending on your schedule, interests, and skill set, some options for making a side income on your photography may be better than others, so it’s important to choose wisely. With that said, here are some of the many ways to make a side income with your camera.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. If you’re confident enough to shoot a wedding and get results that brides and grooms will be happy with, weddings are where some serious side income can be had. Even photographing a couple of weddings per year can give you a nice side income that can offset gear purchases or costs you put towards travel or education. If you don’t have the lighting equipment needed to photograph a dimly-lit indoor reception, consider limiting the weddings you shoot to ones that happen outside during the day so that the lighting conditions fit your gear.
In order to have a wedding, you typically need two people to get engaged and decide to have the wedding in the first place. And who wouldn’t want photos to commemorate the agreement to get hitched? Many wedding photographers bundle engagement shoots into the wedding photography package. However, for those who don’t have the desire to shoot weddings, engagement shoots could be an opportunity to break into the wedding industry without technically having to shoot weddings. If you happen to find an established wedding photographer in your area that doesn’t offer engagements shoots, you could have an opportunity to cross-market each other as a way to gain more visibility.
Another oldie but goodie, taking senior portraits may not seem to be big-budget like many weddings, but in the age of social media, younger generations, in particular, can provide plenty of free marketing via sharing with friends that can quickly grow your side income opportunities. Check out Stanley Harper’s recent article on how to market senior portrait photography for tips on ways to get your name out into the community and jump start your opportunities.
A good family portrait is something that could be hanging on someone’s wall for years or decades to come. Family portraits are another type of shoot that you can schedule as time allows, and can also gain new opportunities through word of mouth from happy clients. In addition to making money for your fee to capture the photos, family sessions have the potential to yield a large print sale for the many clients who want to see the smiling faces of their loved ones hanging on the walls of their homes.
For many, real estate photos are overlooked as a possible option to make a side income. Many real estate agents are looking for photos on an extremely quick turnaround, which turns off some photographers who may already have demanding schedules. However, if you get your system down to a science, real estate photography can be a quick way to make some side cash. The quality of real estate photos on the market can vary widely. In the Boston area where I live, the real estate market is so crazy at the time of this writing that you could sell a house with a poorly executed cell phone photo. However, in less of a seller’s market, looking for listings with subpar photos can give you an open door to offer your services, which could potentially lead to opportunities to pick up additional gigs from a satisfied realtor in the future.
Some events need photographers more than others, so look for the ones that either pay enough that they are worth your time, or for ones that could lead to money-making opportunities, either directly or indirectly. For example, photograph an event where attendees or affiliates may want to purchase prints or licenses of your photos. If you decide to shoot a charity event, choose ones that may have attendees or sponsors that you would want to network with and secure some side income-making gigs for the future.
The ability to make a company’s employees look good can, in turn, make the company itself look good. Just like with real estate listings, a quick check of a company’s website can tell you who may be in need of some new corporate headshots. Check out the websites of businesses in your area and reach out to the ones that could use some improvements to their staff headshots.
The major benefit of product photography is how easily it can fit into your schedule. In many cases, product photography can be done from anywhere, so fitting a shoot into your night or weekend schedule allows for some convenient flexibility. Look into getting products from an online retailer such as Amazon or from local businesses and capture images of them as your time allows.
Sporting events offer a wide range of opportunities for making side income with your camera. Depending on what level of sports you are shooting, the potential exists for making money from newspapers that want to cover the event, those associated with the teams or participants, the families of participants, or the participants themselves. High school sporting events in particular offer opportunities to team up with local newspaper coverage, but also open doors for team photos or to sell prints of the participants to adoring family members.
In addition to the obvious such as football or basketball, sporting events provide a great opportunity to find a niche that isn’t usually given the spotlight. Yes, getting a shot of the star quarterback is nice, but don’t miss out on chances to photograph the people associated with the event that may not be the center of attention: cheerleaders, band members, color guard, and more. In addition, less photographed sports likely have less great photos taken of them, so choosing a less popular sporting event allows you to avoid competition and make an immediate mark on a team that is rarely in front of the camera.
While we’re on the topic of shooting subjects that are not often photographed, finding a niche with regard to stock photography is a way to make some passive side income. In a highly visual world, nearly every industry needs photos at their disposal. Yes, you have the potential to make money off of something common like landscapes. However, if you are the only person taking photos of a niche that hasn’t been tapped by other photographers, your chances of making a side income with your camera will go up. Think about what you encounter in your daily life that may not be commonly photographed, and go make it look good with your camera.
Selling prints can be a helpful side income if you know the places to get your photos seen. The first place I ever had the opportunities to hang my landscape shots was in a quaint bakery. While the bakery was a lovely place to grab a morning scone, the space, location, and overall feel did not lend itself particularly well to selling prints. Since this experience, I usually try to avoid places where people go only to spend small amounts of money or no money at all (example: pastry shop, banks, libraries, etc.). Instead, I more or less target three types of areas: those with tourists, those with people who may have been drinking a high-quality alcoholic beverage, or those with tourists drinking high-quality alcoholic beverages.
When looking for the places to sell prints, aim for places like breweries, wineries, art galleries, gift shops, or craft fairs. These places are likely to have potential customers who are either looking to spend money or at least don’t mind spending it after a stiff glass of wine. Ideally, look for places that take low commissions on sales, unless you think the visibility gained will be worth the percentage that is taken out of your print revenue.
For those who don’t want to sell prints in person, set up an online store on your own website, Etsy, Fine Art America, or similar. I find that unless I actively remind my followers about print sales, I tend not to make any, so don’t forget to promote your print store, offer periodic coupon codes and sales, or partner with a charity to which you may want to donate a portion of the proceeds. Each of these strategies keeps your print store visible and give you potential customers different reasons to buy.
If you have gotten to the point that you are comfortable enough using your camera that you think you can make money off of it, you are probably also knowledgeable enough to teach others how to use their own cameras. If you aren’t comfortable speaking in front of big groups, teach students one-on-one. If you can’t find a time to get out in the field to shoot, try running a teaching session over Skype and pass on your photography knowledge remotely. With the affordability of cameras these days, there will be no shortage of potential students who need to learn how to use those cameras.
I’m keeping workshops separate from general “teaching” because workshops cross over into several different areas. As a workshop leader, you are also essentially working in hospitality, making sure your clients have an enjoyable experience, potentially acting as a tour guide out on location, and more. Workshops take much more planning than less-involved teaching sessions and might require you to obtain insurance or permits you may not have otherwise. If done right, however, spending a long weekend teaching a group of budding photographers out on location could be a profitable way to gain some side income with your camera.
Food photography can be done with even basic photography gear, and there is rarely a shortage of restaurants to choose from. As with corporate headshots, check out the websites of restaurants in your area and see who may be in need of some high-quality food photos.
The advancement in technology associated with photography drones over the past few years has opened up new doors that can help you make a side income with your camera. Drones provide a unique perspective, but also have the ability to safely and inexpensively photograph hard-to-reach places. For example, during a recent winter, my city used drones to survey roofs of local buildings for ice and snow build-up. Figure out where your drone can go to take photos that a person without propellers can’t access and you may have yourself some new opportunities to justify that drone purchase.
Photographing Youth Activities
Keeping with one of the themes of this article: parents like high-quality photos of their children. Aside from sporting events, there are plenty of activities that kids partake in that help define who they are. Get involved with a Boy Scout or Girl Scout group. Photograph music or other types of lessons. Shoot photos of dance recitals. Just remember to get permission from the activity organizers and/or parents before taking out the camera, or you may find yourself awkwardly explaining why you are pointing a telephoto lens at children you don’t know.
Write for a Photography Website
I know, I know. I’m writing in an article for a photography website that you should make money writing articles for a photography website. Yes, it’s photography writing inception, but it’s also true. If you have the photographic knowledge and enjoy writing, putting together articles about photography is a great way to put a little extra money in your bank account to fund your next gear purchase.
Write an e-book
For those who want to go more in-depth with their writing than website articles, writing an e-book can be a way to make continued passive income while you work on other projects. Write a photo location guide or write about a particular photographic niche you consider yourself to be knowledgeable in.
Write an Actual Book
They're like e-books, but they're printed on paper and you don't need to charge them…
Sell Your Camera
Ok, fine, maybe don’t sell your camera. But for those who have a knack for making money off yard sales or eBay purchases, flipping photography gear could make you some side cash if you find the right bargains.
Although, technically, if you do sell your own camera, you will directly be making money with that camera. And that was the whole point of this article, right?
Which of these ways have you had success making a side income with your camera? And how have you made a side income that isn’t listed above?