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How to Earn Money from Photography

Earn Money from Photography
Earn money from Photography: Taking a coffee break in Baja California, Mexico.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; If you want to make a career out of nature, wildlife, or travel photography, do it for love. Do it for love. Do it for love. Money is a dirty word, in this context anyway, that can only contaminate and foul this beautiful pursuit to which we have dedicated a sizable portion of our disposable time. If money is a byproduct of simply doing what you love, then you’ll be a happy photographer or artist and most likely a successful one too. If financial rewards become your master, however, you’ll most certainly fail and probably be an unhappy failure at that.

And now, with that bit of virtuous throat-clearing out of the way, I should say that you can indeed earn money from photography. Just remember to take the advice in the previous paragraph if you decide to do so. While an aspiring professional should create a realistic business plan with specific goals, timelines, and budgets, a hobbyist, on his or her own time, can earn a little extra money for that new lens or plane tickets to an exotic photography destination. Following are a few suggestions, in the name of love, of course.

Sell Prints

Selling photographic prints is the most traditional way to earn money from photography, and what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of photography monetization. You can sell directly off your website and print them yourself, or you use a third-party printer such as Mpix or Aspen Creek Photo. In the digital age, selling prints is easier than ever. But unless you have lots of time to devote toward procurement and shipping, this can be quite tedious. However, sites like Photoshelter allow you to choose a vendor and have the entire procurement, printing, and shipping handled for you.

In addition to the above, you can sell physical prints at art fairs and shows, in gallery spaces, and as consignment works in places of business. These are time-consuming options, but if you have the time, it can be fun and rewarding as well.

Stock Photography

There was a time when a photographer could make a decent living by selling stock photography through agencies. Sadly that’s not been the case for at least 15 years or so. By “selling stock,” you – the photographer – are essentially selling image rights. You own the original copyright to the photograph, but buyers could own specific rights for very particular uses. For example, a magazine editor could buy the publishing rights to an image for one issue and one exact size on a page. Based on the size of the image and the periodical’s circulation, the editor and agency agrees on a price for that specific use. The agency keeps a percentage of the fee and the photographer is paid the remainder. Stock sales can still amount to a modest passive income stream  for a photographer but not nearly what it used to be. Getty Images, Shutterstock, and Adobe Stock are just a few stock agency options.

Earn Money from Photography
“Simba” Young lioness in tree, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

If you have the knowledge and desire to teach, sharing what you know can be a fun and profitable way to earn money from photography. Online classes via Zoom, writing ebooks, or leading workshops to photo-worthy destinations are just a few different ways to share your passion. Teaching is a very particular skill, however, which is completely separate from your photography skills. Being a good photographer doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good photography teacher. Be honest with yourself. Are you a good communicator? Are you a good listener? Are you genuinely passionate about teaching others? Are you compassionate? Are you naturally generous with your time and attention? Are you a leader? The answers to these questions should all be considered before asking others to invest their time and money in you.

I’ve mentioned the prospect of NFTs as a potential income source for photographers both here on my blog and quite frequently on my Twitter feed. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are cryptographic tokens on a blockchain representing a real piece of artwork – like one of your photos! The photograph is minted or “tokenized” and certifies ownership on the blockchain.

The world of NFTs can be perplexing and confusing, but real opportunity does exist in this space. I would recommend an all-photography NFT platform to sell your work (without the digital art, cartoons, and gifs crowding your work out), such as Focus Market, to see how your work is accepted. This option isn’t for everyone, but it requires relatively little effort and time for the potential rewards.

Gone are the days when magazines would hire photographers for assignments and fly them all over the world for their photographic vision. So waiting by the phone for a call from a major media outlet for a photography assignment might be a futile exercise. As I mentioned earlier, this is advice for nature, wildlife, and travel photographers. Portrait and wedding photographers, for example, would have other opportunities in addition – or in place of – these listed above. But whatever you do, be sure make it fun and do it in love.

Join The Adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Focus Market

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