If You Want to Make Money in Photography, Stop Taking Pictures of People

Are you a photographer that owns a business or are you a business owner who offers photography? That realization can sometimes mean the difference between having a successful business or not. Here’s why you should stop photographing people as the sole subject of your imagery.

This video from FlashFilm Academy gives an interesting take on the business side of photography and how to market yourself to a valuable level of clientele. Many of us are focused on portraiture at the retail level, and that work may be your bread and butter, but could you add a level of commercial photography that would enhance your bottom line? Could this work for you if your subjects would still be a predominant part of your imagery, but at the same time enhancing your work with a story and a product? 

Many photographers have their niche that they are in and enjoy, but sometimes, it’s a great idea to work on different types of imagery or even different segments within photography. Some stand-out photographers like Mike Kelley found a new revenue stream just by trying a more commercial and product-centric genre; in his case, it was airplanes. Those types of imagery may be outside your current wheelhouse, but it’s definitely worthwhile to explore if you’re looking to expand the content and type of clientele you want to offer services to and work with. 

We also noticed FlashFilm Academy used one of Fstoppers' images in their video from our "How to Light and Photograph a Beer Bottle Advertisement," and we've linked that video below for you to check out.

Fstoppers also offers a full tutorial on how to create exceptional product photography, "The Hero Shot: How To Light and Composite Product Photography with Brian Rodgers Jr.," that could be a boon to any photographer looking to elevate their imagery and truly begin to go after the product photography market.

Does your photography business offer several segments to appeal to different types of clients? What type of photography work have you found to be the most successful for your business?

If you're looking to become better at the business of photography, don't forget to check out "Making Real Money: The Business of Commercial Photography with Monte Isom."

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17 Comments

John Dawson's picture

The fact that this is on FStoppers is hilarious. They are all about people and landscapes.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I think it’s good to have product photography here from time to time, however, comments are typically minimal which shows it’s probably not a top topic. When I first came to this site I was like what train did I miss? It was all f1.8, f1.4, Godox and mirror less or die. I had no clue even Paul Buff had passed years ago and I started questioning my self regarding clients real demand for all the very complex composites I saw. That’s how I got really intrigued and got back into visiting photography web sites.

Hey if you don't mind what websites do you visit? I'm always looking for good photography websites to visit. I really aim to find the websites of photographers themselves vs. social media sites, but that's super difficult if you are using a search engine. Most search engines prioritize results that will make the search engine owner money over actually listing relevant results. Because of this I look through here and 500px and hope photographers have their sites listed on their profiles. that's about the best way I can find currently of finding new photographers.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Not many really. I don't search for inspiration, I just like to keep myself informed. DPReview since pretty much it's start, and iso1200.com. https://strobist.blogspot.com when I don't forget it exists. Updates are not daily, so I tend to review a couple month at a time

Nice. I've never heard of ISO1200 so i'll check them out! I went to the strobist a lot when i first started flash photography. it was a a HUGE help for me. Thank you!

Dan Howell's picture

He's complaining about Booty photographers, not People photographers. Why doesn't he title it as such. I question his logic in putting recognizable branded products in model shots. It completely negates their value as stock images. It generally reduces their appeal as editorial images. Somehow I don't see Corona chasing after a photographer that plays around with putting a bottle in their booty shots.

While true that the booty genre has never had a high level of remunerative opportunities, dropping in products is not going to change that. If it were possible to compare the number of paid opportunities for photography of people versus photography of objects I would bet on the people side without question at both the retail and business-to-business level.

Of course adding product/still-life skills can't hurt and probably only helps a photographer, but the premise of this video will not be changing any photographer's profit picture in this economic climate.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I agree, posting a model with a specific product in hand will probably not go far. In fact, I think if the brand sees it and like it, it is more likely to bring it in a meeting and get the agency to produce something similar in concept. Clients like to control anything regarding their product and money is not an issue, especially if you compare the cost of stills vs video, it's peanut.

You are underestimating the lemmings and use of buzzword blizzards by clueless sales people pushing digital marketing.
They call it native advertising and it's how Influencers make a good chunk of their money.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Yes you are right. There is that crap and I think native and influencers are part of the reason I tend to watch more on my tv than I have in years. It's just too much advertising garbage on the net right now. Click, click, click and more idiocracy.

Robert Nurse's picture

I saw this last week and really enjoyed it. If you enjoy portraiture and landscapes, find a compelling way to include product or make use of themes that might play well to a brand.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

100% of my work is product, sometimes with people. I probably have a different "training" or "approach" on this compared to portrait photographers. I am not saying it won't work, but I don't think I would rely on the concept to get regular work. In product photography, finding regular clients is the goal in my opinion. It's a different channel where connections is everything and that world is tiny. Most of us probably don't build these connections in a short amount of time. Clients learn to trust you and you must understand that they only hire you because you do exactly what they need, not necessarily what you may want to do, at least not often. So creativity may not be something you get exited the same way. A large part of my work is not portfolio worth and some I could never show, but I have to make someone else's vision or need happen in a short time and all the time to get called back. That's how I get repeat work. I don't even look to find fancy work but I like the technical and business end of what I do. When the client trust you, more doors open, they'll send you to other companies and you keep diversifying a little more each time. Yesterday, I heard back from a client I emailed photos I shot for other clients over a week ago. Apparently this falls within a service they are about to need in the near future. So no rush, but within a year I may get to double the work I do with them. Same client I worked with about four years ago a couple times, but the middle contact had poor understanding on his role, probably new, and I lost the client. But then 2 years ago, someone in that same office remembered me and had my contact, put me with another project manager and I have been doing work again for that company. I think many people are attracted buy product when they see cool videos but then they realize it's not about fun but producing within deadlines, often with clients right there. In fact we often shoot for companies designers who are themselves interested in making a living in photography. Kind of awkward but not that bad if you understand how the industry really works.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Great video!

My first thought after reading the title was "but people have all the money." I know. I just thought it was funny.

And they spend it on themselves, purchasing things...

"Product photography is where the money is, but I'm selling education instead."

Hint, hint.

Jay Allan's picture

Hmm, I shoot girls almost exclusively and it his been extremely lucrative for me ;) I do get his point though and there is not much room at the top of the glamour market for new GWCs :) Just like any business if you are reliable and good at what you do you work your way up, make connections, and start to make good money. I am in my 27th year of shooting and it took me a few years to really make money at it.

Dan Howell's picture

Given that there are about a 10th of the magazines than there used to be and web sites pay about a 10th of what magazines once did, the profit prospects for entry-level thru established pros is bleak in the girl genre. I think the real problem with the video's point is that entering a genre of photography strictly for profit potential without passion is ill-advised. His advice of injecting branded products into model shoots is similarly misguided.