How to Make A Living Using Just an iPhone

How to Make A Living Using Just an iPhone

Last year I profited nearly half what I made at my day job in freelance photography using nothing more than my iPhone. I've spent the last 4+ years on Instagram building a following and client base that has allowed me to vie for projects and relationships with clients to make money. That has slowly grown to allow me full creative freedom to shoot with nothing more than an iPhone and get paid for it. Now, before you go and sell off all your Canon or Nikon gear hear me out, this is not as easy as it sounds, but I'll lay it out for you.

I started my photography career around the time I joined Instagram, it was a place for me to escape my daily routine job of designing with something totally new and challenging. I shot mainly with my phone and didn't own a nice "big boy" camera. I simply did the best I could with what I had and could afford; photography is not a cheap hobby let, alone career. About two years ago after posting the best shots I could possibly muster from what some consider the hardest place to make beautiful, Indiana, I created a following of 24,000 people on the social network. That finally gave me some fire power to go after clients and mention that I had a following on Instagram to help promote products and services. I had even caught the eye of a few businesses like GE, Harry's, and even Apple later on. 

Followers Don't Matter but they Definitely Help

​Before you jump on me and say "but I don't have tens of thousands of followers," I started out with just under 2,000 followers before pushing for photography and social media campaigns. That doesn't sound like much but I would create a deal with clients in trade in exchange for posts on my page as well as a few extra shots for them to use and share my name along the way. Simple as that, as those clients began to stack up I was able to continue to push for more work and in many cases ask for pay. 

Unlike some of my favorite photographers on Instagram, like Benjamin Heath and Tyson Wheatley, they have close to a million followers and can push for gigs with Mercedes and large tourism boards around the world with a bit of ease. My path has a been a bit more gritty even at 67,000 followers. Having to push around many talented beginner shooters that will work for literally nothing in exchange for their name being attached to a brand though, I have found my way. 

​Followers truly don't matter, but they help. It's a huge sell when talking with clients but in the end if the contents not good, it's not good. The follower shock when people see my page is always welcome, but realistically I have over 60,000 followers and engagement between 300-800 likes per image with a few 1,000+ posts in there. That is not great but its definitely not terrible. If you want to find a guy doing it right, check out Dani Diamond's Instagram page. His engagement is through the roof at a smaller follower base. The key stat that I have been able to track is that depending on post schedule and content I will have completely different waves of likes shot to shot. What that means is I do have a larger reach and depending on the photo and message it will reach a specific type of person. That is fantastic from a brands perspective and something you can find out yourself with a few paid stat checks online. 

Big Breaks Do Happen and Taking Advantage is Key

I'm not sure I can quickly say this was my big break, but it was pretty damn exciting, and was even more fuel going forward when talking to clients. I had noticed a campaign my first couple years on Instagram where General Electric would host an InstaWalk with various influencers and super fans. Though GE had already picked the their influencers I was pushing for what they called "super fans" by entering my name in the contest and mentioning why I would love to be a part of it. Needless to say after a few DM's and some comments on their business page as well as a few emails to their marketing department I was in! I traveled to Cape Cod to shoot the things GE was working on with renewable energy in wind turbines. This gave me the chance to meet and shoot with one of my all time favorite photographers mentioned before

This event had helped me in so many ways besides just being able to work with a big client on campaign shared globally. I was taking notes on how the entire project worked making plans to create my own formula back home on the local scale. It also gave me the obvious push to more clients mentioning that I had worked with GE. I can't stress enough once you have a bigger client under your belt it truly does help in talking with companies you want to work with in the future. Reaching out to them, mentioning a big name and or other projects you have done and showing examples of work is always a fantastic way to push for more. 

What to Charge for an iPhone Shoot

Finally, this is one of the biggest questions I get when talking social campaigns and shooting with nothing more than my iPhone. What should I, or can I, charge for a shooting with my iPhone? To be completely honest I don't approach it any differently than I would for shooting with my DSLR. There is no difference in my mind between the images I take with my iPhone and those that I take with a professional DSLR. The social aspect is the only thing that changes and the mindset in clients that they can get a high quality product at the end for use in multiple aspects, including print. 

Early on after adding my email address to my social channel bio sections I began getting requests for work with various companies. Strangely enough, watch companies are popular on Instagram, such as Daniel Wellington and MVMT. Both these companies reached out and offered simple trade, wrist watch for a post on social. With my love of watches and a base for beginning down this path of product based campaigns on Instagram, I loved the idea. I used both of these companies as a beta for working with many brands in the future, and decided whichever one does well per post I would reach back out with package deals including high res images along with posts to social for a range of $50 per post to $2,500. The strong engagement was simply my way of saying, this works well and do you want to pay me? The selected brand came back to me and picked a package in the middle which then grew into a relationship that I still work with to this day. 

Over the last two years I have been able to work with brands such as Harry's, Pepsi, Jim Beam, Linkin Park, Apple, and many more. Connecting with each of these brands has never been the same as some have reached out to me via email, which is in my profile, or through my own power contacting them via the Instagram app itself. Another way is to become an ambassador or influencer for an agency that represents many brands via social media. There are no shortage of apps and companies out there that offer this type of service such as Snapwire or Speakr in the way they hold you on a list of talent and then contact you when they have project that fit your style. Many of these pay incredibly low, but it's a start into the market of mobile photography and gaining relationships with some big brands.

Hope that gives you a little insight into my world of shooting professionally with my iPhone and also some tips on how you can also build upon the experience you might have down the road. It's not about what camera you might have but rather the great work you can produce and provide to a client. They will always see that over a number on social media or a post that goes viral. If you want to learn more about mobile photography you can check out the Instagram for Business page on Fstoppers or follow me on Instagram!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Andrew Griswold is a photographer and designer based in Indianapolis. Born and raised in Indy he has made a name for himself by staying very active in the creative community in both photography and design. He has also founded a community of photographers via Instagram connecting them with brands to work with and shoot locally.

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Your journey is truly fascinating.

Thanks man, it's been a wild one but I'm grinding towards a few short term goals and seeing what I can do in the long run.

Sorry Sir, you've started building a huge following by posting nice images of Indiana countryside. Now you advertise watches to your followers. Does it make sense? Does it keep respect for your followers?

Is there a question here? I'm confused by literally every letter you just typed.

The same happened to me when I read your article! I scrolled a lot of your instagram page, I can only find tons of snapshots and nothing related to what you've written here about your work with big companies, and where's the point about the relationship between followers and marketing as well. Probably it's me. So I apologize in advance, I'd be glad to see these points in a clearer way. Thank you.

Each snapshot is a paid project which should correspond to the text. Mainly product based stuff. What are you looking for in followers and marketing though?

Ok, it's enough for me. Thanks.

Roby, what you wrote is crystal clear. I think that keeping a solid flow of solid photos for what you are know for will keep the interest of the followers and enable you to slip in the occasional "Ad" shot and still keep your cred among your followers.

I think there is a fine line and if your feed does turn into an advertisement every second post you will lose your followers.

People aren't allowed to change their path in photography from where they began?

Yes, of course.

Andrew, I think you would be successful, regardless of what you shoot with. Oh wait, you are. :)

I am still growing my following, but have a very high engagement rate, which is important to me. Instagram allows us to leverage skills in very creative ways. Let's hope Facebook doesn't screw that up.

I'm not saying there's no future in professional instagramming, surely many will survive, but TBH I believe Facebook already started doing something about the fact, that money spent on influencing campaigns are not going to its pockets:

Simply stunning pictures Sir, you are an inspiration to many.

There is one thing that is common to all in all social networks. And this thing is still strange for me. When I want to follow someone, I follow him, because I like his/her work. This is my opinion. But many people just follow you for one reason. They want to show themselves and if you don't follow them back, they cancel your following. The same for Twitter. So for me, with this fact, is totally unimaginable to reach even 1000 followers if I will not pay for followers :)

Great article Andrew, more motivation to finally join Instagram one of these days. When you were starting out, how did you build your initial follower base? Did they come from other social media sources, or did you spend a lot of time commenting on other people's work?

Thanks man! It's definitely a strong channel to build a following and also a nice portfolio as a photographer. Early on I had no desire to become a photographer or build a following. I simply took photos in and around my city the best I could with my iPhone. In the end I created a local community of Instagrammers early on and it captured the attention of Instagram which then added me to their suggested user list. In that I gained thousands of followers essentially overnight. Since then I've continued to push for great photos and content and believe the connections and work will come then. Sure I've pushed in a few directions on my own.l as well with brands I want to work with. I did comment and connect with LOADS of people early on as well. Getting my name out there and also connecting with creatives from around the world was key for me.

Good to hear the story behind the story, thanks for the reply. Looking forward to reading more of your articles!

Thanks for this informative post Andrew. But I'm confused as to what this has to do with actually shooting on an iPhone, especially when it's paid work (with SLRs still being superior to iPhones), and since your iphone is actually in the shots, which would suggest it was shot on another device. Was shooting with the iPhone a part of the agreement?

Thank you! All of these brands and connections I've made have essentially been through my iPhone or Instagram, an app on the iPhone. All of these photos have been shot with an iPhone and all of these clients have agreed to me shooting with an iPhone and nothing else. Sure I use some lens attachments (Moment Lenses) but mostly my iPhone. I've got 2 iPhones and one is an old one to use only for the lay down shots. Then I'll use my wife's iPhone as well in a pinch.

Ah, could somebody please copy edit this post. Its kind of embarrassing not to mention hard to understand. How can anyone take fstoppers seriously if they let this many flubs on their site.

Noted. Almost missed your comment berried down here below the other 30,000 readers that didn't have an issue with the writing style. Joking aside I am a designer and photographer and far from one with a formal education in writing. Working on it bud.

Good article. It's always interesting to see how people are using social media platforms to make their livings. I am still wrapping my head around offerings to potential clients. If you don't mind, could you expand, a little, about the "package deals" you offer to your clients?


Really appreciate that man. I had started out just simply pushing out any and all types of photography jobs and realized that is not a way to build clients and relationships. I then started working social media campaigns which were really fun but tough to keep going as who know show long just social stuff will last? So I then moved back to the game plan of starting with photography and then using the social side of thing as a bonus or smaller piece to my deals. I would make small, medium, large style packages with various prices, rights usage, and photos. Then those each would have x amount of social posts as an incentive. Works well and you dont need a bunch of followers to make this work in this way. You just need to find clients that are willing to work with social. If they hvae a larger following than you do then ask for mentions on social and vise versa.

I particularly don't understand how you made it. It doesn't really answer any question other than "Just post photos and see what happens, if you build a following, you can get people to do stuff for you." Is that really it though?

This is awesome. Good, inspiring nuggets to build a following and client base. Thank you!

Truly inspirational. I shoot with an iPhone all of 4 years. I too have design ability. Until now I have felt held back by the fact that I only use an iPhone. That changes now as I have viewed your tremendous abilities with just a mobile device and how you have pursued your career.