Can You still Make Money as a Photographer?

Can you still make money as a Photographer?

Johnny “Top Dog” Dawson

I have a DM that I want to share with you guys today. This is a great question. I thought it would be worth sharing in an article because I know many SaveYourBucks readers are looking for ways to create extra income.

I get asked this type of thing quite a bit so maybe this will be beneficial to all. Anyway, this DM I received from Lucas said. Hey, my name is Lucas I am 17 and will soon be graduating high school. I am big into photography and have followed you for a long time.

I’m starting to think about photography as a career. I’m interested in commercial work but people keep telling me it’s not much of a career. Can you give me some advice on this? Thanks, Larry.

High school; I remember it well and the closer you get to graduating the more people in your life start giving you unsolicited advice on what you should be doing, or what you shouldn’t be doing.

People who have never made much money love telling you what you can make money and be successful at, and what you should avoid because you won’t be successful. Of course, all this is delivered with the best intentions; people want you to be safe, they want you to be happy, they want you to be successful, but ultimately that’s something that you have to decide for yourself.

Congratulations on taking action, here is my definition of success that I learned from Atlanta Motivational Speaker Dale Calvert.

Photography is one of those things that’s not particularly easy, but I can tell you that I know many people who have successful careers as photographers doing commercial work. This business has changed a lot over the years and I think that the secret when I look at people that I know who are successful, is finding something that you’re good at that you can deliver in terms of photography and then finding someone willing to pay for this.

It may sound obvious but it’s very common for people who are doing creative work to get involved with the work that they believe is the most interesting, and what they should be known for and compensated financially for when in reality you have a customer base or an audience and that’s what you need to deliver on. If you can figure that out you probably will be very successful.

Today, commercial photography for me at least falls into one of two categories;

  • You have stock photography: In other words, the work has already been produced but you are selling the usage rights for a client to use so this works perfectly with ad agencies, design studios, that are under tight deadlines, a tight budget, and they want to be able to select an image that’s already been made and purchased, the rights to use it on a website or a brochure and a TV commercial or whatever that usage happens to be. So, that comes down to the right usage.
  • Commercial Photography: The other category from me would be commercial photography in the sense that you’re being hired to custom make an image. So, it’s a freelance job, and let’s say it’s architecture or it’s a celebrity portrait, or it’s something that you can’t get stock photography for. I’m not talking about event photography, I’m not talking about weddings, I’m not talking about working in-house necessarily, I’m talking about just commercial photography. I think those are the two major fields that you need to be looking at.

If you’re interested in doing freelance work I do know people who are very successful at it, but it also requires in addition to being a good photographer, being a good business person, and being good at networking.

The best advice that I can give you if that’s the road you want to take there’s no easy way to get there, but I would find somebody to mentor with, somebody that you can go study with, an apprentice with, carry their gear, make coffee, whatever and observe what it is they’re doing, get to know them and get to understand the business. I think that’s probably the best way to figure that out.

Let’s talk about stock photography because this is something that an entire industry has built up around over the last ten to twenty years where it’s really started to grow. Essentially you have a network of agencies that will deal with rights management now they don’t take the pictures they act as an agency to photographers who submit work, and so if you have a really good understanding of what clients are looking for in terms of what’s popular that you see in advertising today, what kinds of things people need images for that aren’t necessarily as specific as a celebrity portrait, or a product shot something that they would go to an agency to get if you have a really good feel and a really good handle on it and you’re doing good work.

You can probably be making extra money selling your work is not just making it a full-time career. I know people who do both.

I know people who do freelance work that also deals with rights management and stock photography with a whole other catalog of work that they do. And I know people that that’s all they do is stock photography and they’re successful at it. So, you have stock agencies which include companies like Shutterstock, Adobe, Getty Images, and what they do is they do the business interface with the clients and so the client might include a graphic design studio or maybe it’s an ad agency, maybe it’s even in-house at a large corporation.

Let’s say that I’m an art director at an agency and I am working on a television commercial and I need some specific types of photography, I can go to one of these stockbrokers websites that can look through the catalog and I can say hey I want these three images and it’s going to cost this. So, for a one-time fee, I am allowed to use those images for that specific ad placement.

Now, the cool thing is as photographers if you’re working through one of these agencies and you get an image that’s really in demand and pretty popular, you can resell it so it might be used in a TV ad in one client situation, and it might be used later in a brochure it might be used in a catalog or whatever that ends up being in the end.

This could be a very lucrative way if you have the right images of making money. Now, the downside to all of this is it’s a lot of work because you have multiple agencies, there are more than three, there are a lot of them. So, basically, when you submit images there’s paperwork that you have to do in terms of model releases, keyword search, all those kinds of things to make your metadata searchable, and you’re competing with other images in there.

This can kind of turn into a full-time job and you’re trying to figure out which agencies are worth my time, and what’s worth my energy and what’s going to pay off the most. This can be lucrative, but if you’re gonna be successful at it it’s also pretty labor-intensive, but I have another resource that I can share with you guys who happen to be our sponsor today.

It’s a company called Wire Stock. Wire Stock essentially is a one-stop service where you can upload all of your images in your keywords one time, and Wire Stock will deliver them to all of the major stock agencies so this includes Shutterstock, Adobe, Istock/Getty, Dreams Time, DepositPhotos, Pond5, so instead of opening accounts on every site the creator is going to open one account submit their images and then basically in one place you’ve got them submitted everywhere.

Now, one of the unique and most valuable features of wire stocks is that they provide a free feature of submitting images without actually having to add keywords, descriptions, titles and categories. This is the only tool that provides the service for free.

You can track and collect all of your earnings from a single site, and so this is what’s cool about wire stock. They provide a single dashboard for tracking all of the sales from all agencies, and it allows withdrawing from all their royalties from sites with a single request.

One other cool feature since we’re talking about this in the context of commercial photography, and a really important business skill that many people need to have just in general whether it’s photography or not, is the ability to adapt to situations and photography has changed a lot in the last twenty or thirty years.

I remember when we started moving to this model of stock photography and rights usage, a lot of people were not willing to adapt to that and they thought of it as a cheapening of the industry and it created quite a big stir with a lot of photographers.

It was just a different way of working and there’s a lot of people who found success with that, and I think as it started to grow even more you have multiple stock agencies so it creates a new problem for photographers, in terms of how do I find the best district for my work. The fact that you can do all this in one place, I think Wire stock is an awesome tool in terms of that adaptability if you’re interested in doing stock work.

So, I would even challenge you to do this, click on the link in the show description, sign up for a free account, go ahead and upload maybe ten or fifteen of your best images, submit them across the board to all the stock sites and see what happens.

Don’t expect to get rich quickly overnight. You may see some success, but what you need to be looking for is your images, the kinds of things that people want to buy through stock. If you can kind of follow that, and you can understand that there’s a customer and you can meet those needs, I think you can be successful at this.

So, Larry, I hope this answers your question and hopefully this has been beneficial to somebody else out there. I think this is a really interesting topic. It’s something that I haven’t covered in a while, I did a lot of stuff on business a couple of years ago.

You know we have them flow into different types of content. I haven’t revisited it much since. I would love to know what you guys think. I think the photography business or any creative work for that matter can be challenging because of the way that some people view it and the amount of work and effort and understanding that needs to be involved if you’re going to be successful with that. Another program I highly suggest you take a look at is the following:

Thanks Larry and all Save Your Bucks readers who have any interest in photography as a side gig.