The quintisential question that most enthusaists and photography buffs usually ask at some point is how to leverage their passion into profits. In theory, it’s somewhat tied to that adage of doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! While this may be true, the business of photography is hardly about taking photographs. The business side is about networking, marketing, advertising, promoting, expense reporting, taxes, amortization schedules, budgeting, and all the rest. It’s not about taking photos at all. Anyone that tells you different is just not being realistic.
That being said, if you are willing to accept the notion that you will have to work to make money – the question is: how to best utilize your time. The bottom line is that the more you can earn per hour, the better your time is used. Here’s a couple ways you can turn your passion into profits:
Some people take the tack of churning out as many photos as they can to stock sites. This is not meant to decry the practice. There are some phenomenal photo portfolios over on Getty, iStock, and other stock photo sites. I personally know of several people that have built up successful businesses through their stock photography work. Nicolesy is a great example of this. She’s got an excellent portfolio over at iStock. The caveat here is that stock photography is not just product photography. Odds are, most products have already been captured in stock work, so what’s more in demand is stock work of people. This means doing portrait work in studios, on location, and setting up a lot of shots. Model expenses, MUAs (make-up Artists), and all the other associated stuff can decrease your ability to make money quicker than you can imagine, so you have to be organized, effective, and very careful if you want to be successful here.
Others like going the route of event photography. Here the biggest game in town is wedding photographers. The advantage is that it’s seasonal, so you have some down time to regroup and catch your breath. The disadvantage is that…well, it’s seasonal. That means you gotta run and gun non-stop for like 6 months straight because that’s your mone-making season. I know a couple wedding photographers (David Ziser, Kerry Garrison, etc.) and most agree that the busy months are very busy and tiring. It’s great for the Type A personality though, as you get to talk to people all the time. It’s not a non-stop party though, so don’t go into wedding photography just because you like going to parties! Other variants of this are portrait shots for the couples prior to the wedding (think engagement photos), baby showers (after you get married, you have kids, right?)
This is a pretty wide gamut as some niches include portrait work (think head shots of CEO’s), while others are architectural (think photos for annual reports, flyers, brochures, etc.), and others that are more creative. Corporate and commercial work can be a tough nut to crack, because it’s not just what you know but who you know, and working business deals out through lunches, conversations, and other more drawn out processes. For instance, when I did the work for Rotors of the Rockies and did their fleet photos, it was about 3 months of planning, coordinating, and establishing parameters of the agreement. Some of the more successful ones to aspire to include Chase Jarvis, Tyler Stableford, and Zack Arias. These sorts of “gigs” can be profitable, but it’s certainly not like the quick buck you might make off of doing a simple headshot for a couple getting engaged.
A lot of well-known photographers have turned to education as a means of revenue. Whether that education comes from writing books (or eBooks! :-)), leading workshops, holding seminars, or even one-on-one instruction (think tutoring) or even classroom instruction (colleges often bring folks in as adjunct faculty to teach classes) – these all fall under the rubric of teaching photography. Just like any other niche though, being profitable here still takes many many hours of planning, writing, revising, editing, workshop planning, location scouting, advertising, marketing, promotion, curriculum development, syllabus planning, course material preparations, and much much more. Guess what you’re not doing when you are preparing all these materials…shooting pictures!
The list could go on and on about ways to make money, and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. Regardless of which area interests you most, if you are serious about wanting to turn your hobby into a job – be aware of the pitfalls of doing so, because as another old saying goes – There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!