How You Can Start Making Money by Doing Photography

How You Can Start Making Money by Doing Photography

One of the questions I had when starting out was how to get jobs. How to turn my hobby into money? The advice on the internet was few and far between. So, here is my advice to anyone who wants to take the next step and make some cash from their art.

I know the stress of going to a paid gig for the first time. You’re scared to mess it up. Just know that if you got to your first paying gig, you did everything right. All you need now is to show up, shoot, and deliver the files. But, let’s backtrack to the part where you're getting that gig, as that is the unclear bit. Honestly, authors online do make it seem really easy, but in fact, it’s not. It’s one thing if you already have some experience working, but a whole other if you’re straight out of high school.

In this article, we won’t discuss the nitty-gritty of building up a portfolio, finding a niche, and developing your own style. Those things come much later. Instead, we will simply talk about how someone with a camera can get money in exchange for their work. The three easiest genres to start are events, weddings (with a catch), and headshot photography. There is a fourth option, but that is the cherry on top.

Event Photography

I started out as an event photographer, and that was how I made my first income. You need almost no portfolio to do it, and usually, there is someone who needs their event covered by someone who takes pictures. All event photography should, in general, be paid for. There is no reason you shouldn't start charging if you covered two or more events and the "customer" was pleased with the photos.

While I don’t want to say that event photographers are all beginners, I am saying it has a relatively low entry point. Professional event photographers are incredible folks with a million eyes that catch every little detail. I admire people who can run around with gear around their necks. I was not, by any means, a professional event photographer. On one of the jobs, I had a single camera, single lens, and a half-working speedlite from Neewer. The pictures were fine.

A way to get into shooting events would be offering up your services for free to someone who is in charge of any event organization. Then, at that event, network and kindly say you shoot events. There will almost certainly be a job lead for future paid work. If you want paid work now, try googling as many events in your city as you can, and emailing the organizational teams.

Wedding Photography — There Is a Catch

Please, please, please, don’t ruin someone’s special day by taking bad photos. Do not say you can shoot a wedding if you can’t. I have never shot a wedding in my life, and I don’t want to change that. Those pictures will be horrible, despite all my event experience.

At the same time, you can join a wedding photographer as a second shooter or assistant. Knowing how busy and hectic weddings can be, the photographers don’t have it easy. Being on your feet for 12 hours, having to carry strobes, and keeping in good spirits can take a toll on anyone’s health. That’s why many wedding photographers have second shooters and assistants. An average wedding kit includes at least 3-4 lenses, 2 bodies, a bunch of strobes, stands, and many more bits. Your job will be to capture the process from a different angle, hold the light for your boss, and just be a helping hand.

The way to get this job would be to reach out to a few wedding photographers in your city and ask if they need anyone to help them out.

Headshot Photography

Everybody needs a headshot. Doing a good headshot requires years of practice. But doing a simple white background headshot with basic lighting is fairly straightforward if your people skills are on point. Simply look up a way to set up up a 1-2 light setup for headshots and you're ready to roll. My personal go-to for headshots is a simple two-umbrella setup: one in the back for fill light and one to the right or left of the subject for the key. If you want to dive into the art of headshot photography, check out our tutorial with Peter Hurley.

So, how is it done? It is fairly straightforward, actually. All you need to do is get a few mates in, make sure they’re dressed nicely, and take several images which you can use for ads later. Now that marketing is done, create a page on Eventbrite. Make it as simple as possible, something along the lines of “20 minutes of shooting in the studio, two retouched images within two weeks”. You’re not shooting King Charles III, you’re doing a batch headshot session. Make it affordable, depending on what a headshot costs in your city. Eventbrite is particularly good for this, as all the organization part is automated to a large extent.

Extra Option: Assist!

A lot of photographers have an ego proportional to the cost of their camera. To this, I say: read Ego Is The Enemy. If I never assisted, I would not be shooting fashion. My first ever contacts in the industry came solely from being a helping hand on a shoot. Assisting is not only a way to make new connections, it is also a way to see how professionals work. Good assistants always get perks from the photographers. A good assistant is someone who makes your shoot day infinitely less stressful and infinitely better. So far, the best assistant I had, Brandon, gave a world-class on-set neck massage (on top of knowing exactly where everything goes).

Getting in good graces with a photographer can bring a lot of benefits, trust me: everything from jobs, to contacts, to being allowed to use the studio and gear for free.

Closing Thoughts

So, here we are, a guide to starting out with making an income in photography. Of course, these are only the beginnings. Ahead lies a long and exciting journey of image-making. And image-making is, for me, the greatest joy I have experienced thus far.

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9 Comments
Milan Svítek's picture

Another suggestion: take a business course.
Plenty of cheap or even FREE options online so it doesn't have to be a Bachelor's degree.

You can take amazing photos but, if you don't know the business side, it'll be hard to make money from it.

Benoit .'s picture

Umbrellas are also my main tools. I was caught on a "photographers give your secrets up NOW" article recently, but I don't think any newbie or wannabe YouTube "specialists" would find the clicks they expected if was was to comment on how umbrellas can be great for product. They are the secret hidden in plain view. And assistants are not just there to do physical stuff, I find having one around on long shoots to be a major stress reliever, so I don't necessarily ask a lot from them.

Patrick Hall's picture

Assisting is definitely the way to go initially. I feel like so many aspiring photographers fail to really take advantage of assisting other people. As someone who has hired lots of assistants over the years for a variety of projects, I'd recommend working for free one or two times with a photographer you really want to build a relationship with (go ahead and offer to tag along for free, bring it up early) and see if 1) you get along with them and 2) how long it will take for you to become a real, practical help to them. Soooo many times the assistant I've hired isn't self-motivating enough for me to hire them again or they just aren't personable enough.

Once you assist or shadow someone for a session or two, and you are comfortable that you can actual be worth an hourly rate, ask them to start hiring you on a more regular time frame. Do this with a few other photographers so you can pad your income, fill in some empty dates, and make your time a bit of a competition between them all. Soon your schedule will be booked up and you can start raising your rates as you get better and your demand increases. All the while, you should be doing your own photography as well and lining up your own business plans.

This is my top suggestion

S M's picture

I agree with this statement but will also add that when assisting, you are assisting. I've had people offer to assist me, but it turns in to a Q&A session as I am working. I don't mind answering a few questions, but you're still there to assist.

I feel like often times a photographer looking to crack a niche photo market assumes that assisting is actually shadowing to become an apprentice or something.

Michelle VanTine's picture

I was going to echo that same thing. Assisting and practicing on your time is a great way to start earning income and building the right skill set! great tip

Alexander Petrenko's picture

« Those pictures will be horrible, despite all my event experience. »

Nope. They will not. Wedding is a glorified event. Major difference is that in most cases it is hot and sweaty :)