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How To Make Money In Photography

How To Make Money In Photography

Often when it comes to professional photography, I get asked one simple question. That question is - How do you get clients to pay? It’s not uncommon to have some troubles jumping from the TF (Trade For) world into the paid world, so I'm here to share with you the tip that every single Fortune 500 company has used to get payment out of clients and build a successful business.

Start Charging Money

Seems ludicrous, I know. I'm not trying to troll you or screw with you in any way, this is just the only way you can start making money from photo shoots. There is no secret formula, or tactic to use for earning money in photography, you just have to start asking for it. Not just asking for it, demanding it. You must keep in mind some very important tips when it comes to this though.

You’ll Lose All Your Previous Clients

If you've been working for friends and family for free, you can expect to lose all of them as clients when you start asking for payment. Sure, your close family might begin to pay, but when you decide to start charging, you can expect to be looking for an entirely new market of clients. This will be intimidating and discouraging, but I promise it’s for the best.

You Might Not Enjoy Your Work As Much

If you've been hand selecting models to work with to build your fashion portfolio and want to start charging, you’ll have to work with anyone who is writing you a check. There is some good and some bad that can come with this. Ultimately though, it just means you'll have to work harder to get great images, but that’s good practice for you anyway.

You Might Have to Adjust Your Portfolio

One important, but often neglected piece of research that must be done when starting your business in photography is finding your clients. If you're shooting beautiful artistic nudes of local models, who are you marketing them to? Certainly that business strategy isn't going to work well when it comes to family portraits and senior photos. You need to find who will pay for your work, and I think you'll find that the modeling industry often doesn't have many buyers.

I'm not trying to discourage you from the modeling side of things, it's just never been an industry with money. Often times, models have either made it or haven't, and they try not to pay photographers on both sides of that fence. You need to research who has the bank roll, and those are the people you need to impress, not your photography friends on Facebook.

You'll Actually Be Making Money From Photography

That's right, you'll actually start getting people who will pay you to do what you love. That's the dream, right? It may not be the amount of money you want, or as often as you want, but it's a start, and that's the important thing to remember.

Worth Noting

Not all of your work needs to be paid, you simply need to make the choice on what is and what isn't, and be stern in your reasoning. I personally, do not make it a secret that I sometimes work for free, you need to make sure that you free work is actually benefiting you. Whether that is in exceptional photos for your portfolio, and a grasp in a new technique in shooting it needs to be something you walk away with feeling accomplished. Remember, it's call trade work for a reason -- both must be benefiting from it.

Effective Marketing

The most important aspect of working as a full time professional photographer isn't the inverse square law, rule of thirds, or Photoshop techniques. It's learning how to effectively market yourself to the industry. Each person has a different approach to this, but I'm not convinced that any of them are rocket science. As for me, I take the "Tell Everyone, Everywhere" approach.


"Marketing is a contest for people's attention." -Seth Godin


Tell Everyone, Everywhere

I order 1,000 business cards every 9 months or so, and use all of them. If you've met me, odds are I've given you a business card at some point in time. Everyone I meet for the first time, I tell them I'm a professional photographer. The wording to that is important to me, as I want people to know that I'm not just some guy with a nice camera; but rather, I'm a professional at my craft. And I sell myself too - I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you can't effectively sell your work and craft to people, how do you expect others to?


I also brand everything. For example, I've even put my business logo in the header image of this article. Did you even notice? If not, good...let me get it into your subconscious; if you did, even better. All of my paperwork and marketing materials is uniformed in style, to help build a brand that people are familiar with. People have recognized me on the street based off of the face outline logo I use, believe it or not.

My clients aren't excluded from that tell everyone mentality either. After working with a client, I hand them a couple of my business cards, and tell them my entire business is built on referrals, and ask them to keep me in mind, and hand a card off to a friend or family member that might need professional photos taken. On average, each client will refer 1-2 additional clients to me, which continues to exponentially grow my business.


Certainly, there is going to be struggles when you decide to make the jump to paid work, and start demanding that your time should be compensated. That doesn't mean that you should be concerned on making that jump though. The struggles will be there, and it's important to weigh your expectations. However, if you're constantly wondering what steps you need to take in order to start charging for work, all you need to do is take that first one. Charging for work isn't hard part to the equation, the marketing and finding your niche is.


Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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Zach, such a great article! I look back at where I started and it indeed was intimidating and discouraging at first, you are so right. I also remember that after shooting for my first 3-5 clients I was out of this world happy and enthusiastic about it. You get to do what you love doing and people are willing to pay you for it!

I hope it's Ok if I add something from my personal experience for your readers?
Whenever you feel like you've improved, don't be afraid to raise your fees. Some say: "You will lose your clients! They won't understand why you're now charging more and will go to someone else". Well, that's ok, you've grown out of your current clientele, and just like in the very beginning you have to leg go and search for new clients who will appreciate your work and pay you what you deserve.

Needs moar dead puppies.

Ahahaha. Thanks for the advice on this one, Jeff

When I was in high school (1970's), I got a book from the library entitled "How to Make Money From Photography". The first sentence was .... "First, you need a pony..."

That should be the answer to every question.

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thank you for sharing, this was a good read. this is going to keep me on track and reminding me about how to run my business and keep it going. got to get up and keep moving forward. mahalos!

Really nice reading! Thanks for sharing this great tip! Will help me allot!

Great article Zach! Nice use of logo placement on featured pic, didn't even notice until you pointed it out :)

I've done all of this and yet to make any amount of money to live off of. Too many egos out there that think they're photographers. . .

I hope you're not really suggesting that your competition is to blame for your lack of income?

Photography is a skill and takes talent. Business is no different but they are two different entities entirely. If you can't figure out how to blend the two to make a living then being in business probably isn't the right choice for you. Just enjoy doing photography and let it be a hobby.

And honestly, it sounds like you're the one with the ego. My apologies if I misread what you were trying to say.

Yep, great article indeed!!! Plain simple and 101% accurate! Thanks for sharing!!!

So, breaking it down, this article basically says:

1. Start charging for your work.
2. Find people who will pay you.
3. Market yourself.
4. Profit.


Loved it! Definitely will try saying "professional photographer" instead of just "photographer", I have a problem of people taking me for a silly young girl all the time.

I'm was same way, it took me awhile to get used to calling myself a pro. Now, it's a lot less awkward and I can say it with confidence!

Read this a few days ago and it has some valid points but it goes beyond just charging. I recently moved and am finding myself shooting for free again and only making money off print sales. I shoot for free just to get my name out into the community. I also knocked my prices down by over 30%... In other words, marketing is key and in photography, word of mouth is 95% of the marketing equation.

If only it was this easy - I have been a photographer for over 25 years and our industry is having the life squeezed out of it - not only are we in a recession and budgets are tight but photography is much more accessible to people so they expect it to be cheaper. In their eyes that little snap they have taken with their low price compact or even IPhone is just as valuable as the studio shot of the family or the couple shot at an event so they aint gonna pay our prices. The explosion of snapshot photography coupled with effect producers like instagram and cheap online printing and product suppliers has left us with very little left. Not only are we affected by the demise in social photography but people are getting their guests to do their wedding pics and commercial jobs are even being covered by keen amateurs with high end slr's that often just have another role within their company. In recent years the regional magazines have cut down their use of pro snappers in favour of sent in readers pics and stock shots which are becoming increasingly cheaper - their budgets for shoots are way below what they should be and it is no longer the case that having your work featured in mags gets you publicised like it used to - as an example this week I have features in two major Surrey Magazines (written pieces as well and pics), have images in one of the two well known big red top society mags, and my images are regularly in the local newspapers and the phone has not started ringing - in the past I would have been inundated - so is it a sign of the times or is my work just not up to scratch? Or is it that the value of what we do has just diminished beyond recovery? I'm still in the game but like most am feeling the pinch ....and am diversifying like hell to keep the bills paid. All that said, I love my job and get to meet some amazing people from all walks of life.
As for shooting for free, yes you are right, there are times you have to but I spent several years recently giving away images to help PR the local area, and offering v low rates to charities but now it is expected and not always credited either - the charities are usually pretty good and if you are going to do free stuff them they are the ones to do it for but you have to be careful if it is a living to ensure you are valued - otherwise, as someone else said, keep it as a hobby. As for competition, some is good and healthy and I regularly network with and pass work on to other pro's but beware of the newbies that persuade you to help them or let them help you then do everything they can to undercut you and steal your clients - It happens!
Don't be fooled into thinking it is an easy alternative to your current 9-5 salaried office job though - there is a lot to be said for holiday pay, paye, sick pay, evenings and weekends to yourself - and sociable hours - be prepared to lose all of these things and find you are competing with a lot of similar people and remember you have to have top notch equipment, insurance, computers and a good business head too.....otherwise good luck!

Great comment Andy. You should consider writing an article yourself. This is all very relevant, realistic and in line with the current trends occurring.

I don't mean to take anything away from the original article though! It is always good to get a little motivation.

That's the best comment I ever read in my entire life. It's such a breath of fresh air to read a photographer's point of view on "the sign o' the times" that isn't bitching about it. Instead, you are adapting and diversifying... which is a model practiced by hundreds of thousands of businesses for a ton of years... yet there are photographers that refuse to grasp it. Anyway, well said, Andy.

Thanks Brian, its a case of die-versify or die - such a shame though that the industry is becoming so diluted and difficult. thanks for taking time to comment and Zach - some great points there - thanks for stimulating debate - a good article.

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I hope its very much helpful for all photographer even as beginner.

thank you so much for helping us push into the next step =)