8 Ways To Make Money as a Photographer Without Selling a Picture
You’re a real photographer. You know what you’re doing, you have the right gear, and you have a strong portfolio yet, somehow, you still find it hard to pay the bills every month. Moreover, you’re burned out from all of the photography you’ve been doing. We’ve all been there, freelancing is an endurance test for the soul!
Luckily, there are ways to make money as a photographer that don’t necessarily involve taking pictures! Your gear and expertise are worth money, so here are six ways to make money as a photographer without taking a picture.
1. Share Your Skills
Since you already know how to take photographs, why not share your favorite tools and techniques with the world? Teaching on Skillshare is a great way to share your expertise on things from street photography to food photography, or even lighting tips and editing tricks. Teaching is a great way to generate earnings and build your brand-- even just publishing one class can open doors to new clients! On average creating a class takes around 15 hours, and the content lives on the site and can generate earnings long after you publish.
Wondering how much you can make in passive income? On average Skillshare teachers earn $1400 over their first six months on the platform, with top teachers earning over $40k a year. Teaching on Skillshare is what drove photographer Henry Marsh to make the transition to a full-time photography career. “Skillshare earnings were the rationale that I gave myself in order to go into photography full-time. Earnings, and the methodology behind Skillshare, allowed me to see that I could create a stable monthly income through photography.” Even though he just began teaching on Skillshare, with two classes under his belt, Henry has reached 800+ followers and earned $1,000 to date.
Great for: Brand Builders
2. Rent Your Gear
Your gear has value, and selling is only a short term solution. Renting your gear, however, is a great way to earn recurring income just by owning the things that help make you a professional in the first place. Own a 5D MKIII? Wouldn’t hurt to make an extra $50 a day to rent it.
For instance, the Sony a7SII was the second most rented item on ShareGrid in 2016 (and looks like a frontrunner for 2017). If you use ShareGrid, a peer-to-peer rental website, and rent your a7SII for $120 a day, renting your camera out once a week will yield $3,000 in a year, essentially paying for the gear you use to sustain your career.
“I think a sustainable career comes through your client relationship but ShareGrid allows me to rent gear near home and at an amazing rate plus the benefit of renting out my gear for a little extra on the side is great.”
Great for: Gear Lovers
3. Edit and Retouch Photos
If you’re a pro at editing and retouching your own photos, you have a marketable skill. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a full-time photo editor is $45,319. This doesn’t have to be a full-time job, though. From Fiverr to Shutterstock, there are lots of places where you can find freelance work to beef up your income. As a photographer, you're on the road hitting the pavement constantly. This can proof to be exhausting and expensive. To have a skill that can be done in the comforts of your home is a cost-effective and easy way to earn extra income.
Great for: The Computer-Savvy
Subcontracting is a great way to manage a lot of work while staying connected to clients (and not losing your mind in the process). However, there’s definitely an art to it. Constantine Savvides, a badass photographer and videographer out of LA, discusses how he got into subcontracting as a way to supplement income:
“It was quite accidental. I had two clients who wanted to shoot the same day. Instead of saying yes to one and no to the other, I hired a trusted friend who's skills and professionalism I could rely on to represent me well. To start subcontracting, the number #1 thing you need is obviously work. The second is a niche. The third is a teachable, scalable method or shooting style. The fourth, and what I'm working on now, is a trusted and professional network of photographers and videographers you can count on to do a great job and be solid ambassadors to you (if there are any out there looking for work, hit me up on ShareGrid!). The most important thing is to make sure you maintain the same quality of work. Otherwise, clients will look elsewhere.”
So, let’s say you’re able to take 15 percent of $3,000 in subcontracted work home in a calendar year. That’s $450 you keep that also maintains strong client relationships for the future. It’s a win/win.
Great for: The Well-Connected
5. Run Photo Tours (Workshops)
If you live near a city or a tourist attraction, or you just love traveling, this is a great option for you. You don’t have to go crazy. Photo tours are a great way to highlight your skills as an experience for others. For instance, Chris Burkard (also a SkillShare teacher) offers workshops in Iceland, Greenland, and California. These tours are exciting because they highlight Burkard’s amazing landscape and adventure photography skills. You could capitalize on your own skills in a similar way.
While it might sound overwhelming to become your own travel planner/guide, the sharing economy has made it easier to achieve now than ever before. With Airbnb’s Experiences category, you can offer photo tours of any size or scope without having to dedicate your life to it. This Night Photography Tour in Detroit shows how easy it is to take basic photography skills and turn them into a unique tourist attraction (and opportunity to make new friends).
Great for: Extroverts/Travelers
I’m going to yield to a 2014 quote from the great Joe McNally about the importance of writing in photography today:
“Very importantly, they will have to find ways to monetize their efforts. That’s the hard thing. How do you find outlets for the work, and outlets that will pay something for the content in fair fashion? That’s the challenge. Which means it gets thrown back on shooters to seek work and be proactive in proposing ideas and keep pushing their name and abilities out there. They will need to know how to write well, and draw up a cohesive proposal, and write a blog and tweet and do the social media swirl. It’s a lot. But the technology available to us now has enlarged the envelope of our collective imaginations, so it’s worth the effort.”
With writing being an essential skill for photographers today, why not capitalize on it? Find an interesting way to tell your story or use your unique perspective to review gear that hits the market. If you’re a tilt-shift master, review tilt-shift lenses and the best cameras for them! You could just test the low-light characteristics on new cameras, like this video for the Panasonic GH5, become the expert on it, and you’ll find an audience.
Great for: The Opinionated
7. Learn How to Operate a Drone
By 2020, the drone industry is likely to be worth $127 billion, and photography is currently benefiting more from the new technology than anything else. If you’ve got the photographic eye, there is so much untapped opportunity in drone photography. Plus, if you own a drone, you can rent out that drone and teach people about that drone and make a drone photo tour and review drones and alright alright I’ll stop. You get the point.
Great for: Tech Heads
Note: I guess you still have to technically take a picture with drone photography, but if you could sell your services as an operator only and, also, I make the rules here so we’re counting it.
This one seems obvious, but it’s critically important. There’s always more to learn, and supplementing your income with an apprenticeship can lead to more skills and connections that could prove crucial down the road. Here’s Constantine Savvides again on the importance of his apprenticeships.
“Without my mentors, I would have nothing. I would have had to figure it all out on my own. I'm so grateful to them for basically giving me a career. Eric Lafforgue was the first who took me under his wing. I traveled with him to a handful of countries (Somalia, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and more). He taught me how to operate in "unconventional" destinations, how to relate to people of any culture, how to avoid getting into trouble. Had I tried to learn it myself through trial and error, I might have really gotten into danger and at the very least would not have been able to get access to the people, events, and sights that clients are interested in buying... In this tight knit industry, it was immensely valuable to have someone raise the rope for me to allow me to get my first publications, build my resume, and make the necessary contacts.”
“I took a one week course at the London School of Photography to learn the basics of the medium. Besides that, I learned everything through the apprenticeship model. It's so much more than just the craft of taking pictures. It's the whole business side as well.”
Great for: Beginners/Lifelong Students
Freelancing isn’t as limiting as it sometimes seems, and it really pays to diversify your income (just ask Chase Jarvis). Since no one is just a photographer, it’s wise to do a little soul-searching and consider how your other attributes might help enrich your career. Your bank account, and peace of mind, will be better for it!