What Are the Best Ways for Hobby Photographers to Make Money? These Were Mine

What Are the Best Ways for Hobby Photographers to Make Money? These Were Mine

There's a myth perpetuated that photographers either do it for a hobby or they're professionals making money. The truth is, the majority seem to float in the gray area between the two.

The false dichotomy that photographers are either hobbyists making no money or professionals making full-time money doesn't take into account the sizable subset of photographers who have full-time jobs, but still make some side money from photography. I did exactly this through my university degrees, and while it wasn't large quantities of cash, it was important supplemental income. I remember at the time wishing I knew of more ways that I could earn a little on the side from my photography, and so to that end, I've decided to list all the ways I made money while technically still a "hobbyist." I'd also like to kindly ask anyone who has had success in this area to share their methods in the comment section for those photographers interested in monetizing their hobby.

Licensing

I'm going to start with a curveball, and curiously, the route that made me the most money while I was a hobbyist: licensing my images for use. I thought this was just an extension of selling your images on stock websites (which I will return to), but everything I did with licensing happened outside of it.

I was contacted on 500px about a photo I had taken and how the lady contacted me wanted to use said photo on a greeting card. They offered me a fee and then royalties on every card sold with my picture on it. I agreed, and quarterly, I would get a cheque for a few hundred dollars, although this did start to diminish over time. From this, I contacted some other small card companies and sold another two images with similar structures. Had I had more time, I think I could have stretched this further with other avenues outside of greetings cards. For example, the fashion industry use prints from photographs constantly, albeit usually through agencies.

Events

I'm honestly not sure if this is morally gray, but didn't ever have complaints — quite the opposite in fact, as I had a lot of praise and thanks. Every year, I would go to a motorsport event with a press pass. It's a relatively small event — albeit popular — and they granted me a press pass when I applied (which is much easier to get than people think). I shot the cars both racing and on show, and as a petrol-head, thoroughly enjoyed myself. I came back home and spent an hour here and there editing the photos into a reasonably large, but carefully curated gallery. I shared this gallery in every group and forum to do with the event and included my contact information for the drivers to buy a digital download file for them to own and print for private use.

The first year I covered my expenses, my time, and then some. Every digital file I sold was cheap (looking back, too cheap), and most drivers and people involved in the events bought a picture or three. I went back and did the same again the next year, and even now, I will happily do it again if I have no bookings on the relevant days. Events are a great way to network and potentially sell your work, though ensure you tread carefully, get permission from the organizers, and don't go around photographing families and then trying to scalp them for money!

Taken at a motorsport event while still very much an amateur and hobbyist.

Paid Shoots

This is going to be contentious: I made money while a hobbyist by occasional paid shoots for people and small companies, where I charged less than a full-time photographer. In my defense (it's really more offense), I've never had a problem with people who undercut, as they can seldom offer the same level of service, but it's something I did if the opportunity arose. A lot of small start-ups, people, and companies who don't care that much for photography will have a small budget to work with you. They can't afford the full-time professionals — or just won't pay that much — but have mild photographic needs you can cater to.

My words of warning on this tip: you're going to need to do it properly. Get insurance, write up a contract, and act like a business to avoid getting stung; they won't eat into your profits much.

News

Unfortunately with this method, it's not possible for everyone. However, a sure-fire way of making some money on the side with your camera is shooting current affairs. I know photographers who have traveled to capture local troubles and newsworthy happenings and then contacted news and media outlets to sell the photos. I have done this myself too, and it's far easier than I had anticipated. The internet has increased the demand for images and videos of current affairs tenfold, and the rates aren't bad.

Prints

This is a tricky one, but you can have success in it if you're persistent and clever. While I did sell some prints through stock and similar sites (again, I'll come back to it, I promise), I did better selling locally and privately online. Go to local art shops which sell photography prints, preferably with a high-quality example print, and see if they will stock your creations. Contact as many outlets as possible for selling your prints so you have to do very little leg work yourself once they're up and ready.

I had more success with prints selling the file for one-time print purposes and exhibitions (all of which were too far away for me to ever see in person). Back then, I made sure I included a line in the description of my images about contacting me for prints and then, my contact information. I was never inundated (though I don't shoot much landscape photography, which is popular for household prints), but I made some on-the-side cash through this too.

One final tip which I didn't follow through with myself, but I know a photographer who had success with it, is getting a stall at local fairs. Make some high-quality prints of your work, then set up a stall at art or Christmas fairs and markets.

Stock

I left this last because not only is it the most obvious, it's incredibly difficult to earn anything worthy of being called a side income. I've sold images through a multitude of stock websites over the years, both as a hobbyist and a professional, and it's always been negligible. There are mitigating factors, however. Firstly, I have never shot with the express intent of it being a stock image. That is, I've never pandered to the trends and shot images primarily for commercial use. Secondly, I find the effort involved is not worth the rewards (it's important to note I don't shoot many images that are viable for stock agencies), particularly over other methods in this list.

With all that in mind, there are plenty of people who have made money from stock photography on the side. If you can get the ball rolling, there's passive income to be had, but it requires effort to begin with, and then more importantly, consistency with updating your library of images for sale.

Over to You

There are a large number of hobbyists that are part of our community here at Fstoppers, as well as a decent selection of professionals of all experience. So, what areas have you had success making money in that could be done on the side of a full-time career and completed by a hobbyist photographer?

Lead image by Lukas from Pexels

Log in or register to post comments

18 Comments

Simon Patterson's picture

I did dip my toe into the water of making money off photography, but ultimately it took time I didn't really have to give. So I find the best way for me to make money is to stick at my regular job, and keep photography as a hobby to be done when it suits me.

Shawn Clabough's picture

What are the typical news (local/national) rates?

Robert K Baggs's picture

I'm from London so my resource is this: http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/index.php?language=en&country=U...

It might not be applicable to the U.S, but I'm sure there's a relevant version. Also a word of warning that again, I'm not sure is correct for other countries: when you send over images, they invariably won't tell you they're using them. You have to find them and then send over an invoice.

Kevin Richardson's picture

I'm an English teacher in Japan, but go out taking photos whenever I can. I use my photographs when I'm teaching English - "What's happening in this picture?" etc. A lot of my students have asked if they can buy my shots (which I can't do, as that would be against company policy - I'm there to teach English, not sell photos. However, I've given students small prints as a gifts. I'm intending to self-publish a book next year and also exhibit at an arts festival ... I'm learning to make kallitype prints and make my own paper ... I like the idea of everything being handcrafted and unique ... and with a certain amount of wabi-sabi.

Ed Sanford's picture

I have my prints in a couple of galleries, and I sell a few each year. Interestingly, when other gallery owners visit, they will request that you submit to their galleries. I also do artist cards that I print myself and sell them at the galleries as well. I received a request for a print of one of my images on 500PX by a company who had an office building near the location where I made the shot. It was not licensed, so they contacted me directly and I didn't have to pay a commission. I have also thought about doing local seminars and classes. Not a lot of money to any of this, but it is satisfying when the gallery calls me and informs me that a print sold. If you decide to sell anything, make sure you have a bio printed on good paper; for whatever reasons, buyer's like to know who you are and what you've done even if you are mostly an amateur.

When I was in high school (100 years ago) I took the team photos of all the sports. I sold 8x10s to the parents and made good money. In college I photographed art work for students in the Art department. I also did headshots and photos for musicians.

The so-called gray area that the author speaks of is not gray. It is hobbyists making money or the larval stage of pro photography. No sin but not pro.

The argument of "what is a pro" is similar to "what is art". Not easy to define but you know it when you see it.

michaeljin's picture

"The argument of "what is a pro" is similar to "what is art". Not easy to define but you know it when you see it."

I find it rather easy to define. For me, "Pro" means that photography is your primary source of income. "Semi-pro" means that it's a supplementary source of income (that is a net gain), but not your primary one. "Hobbyist" means that you're either experiencing a net loss on your photography or breaking even.

Everything else (quality, equipment, attitude, etc.) is irrelevant. You can have crappy professional photographers just like you had have crappy professional educators and crappy professional security guards.

@Michael, I agree it is easy. What I was politely allowing for is the loud roar of people on the internet that seem to allow for every species of photographer to call themselves pro when they get a nickel for snap.

Michael Cox's picture

When I was doing sports on a community newspaper, I had a steady income stream from parents who wanted prints of imagesI took of their kids. Not everything got into print and they knew that. They would call me and ask if I had anything of their kids in the lady game of whatever.

Che Devine's picture

I make $300 to $2000 with photography a month. I will state my price of $200 the first hour and $150 each additional. If people seem taken aback by the price, I let them know I have a full time job teaching. Therefore, I can usually work within a person's budget. I give discounts to anyone I know or anyone sent to me. I usually have one or two gigs a week. Mostly I don't say no unless they want it for free. Call local wedding photographers, see if you can work as a second shooter for cheap. Approach resturants, real estate offices, law offices. Get a website up with 5 or 10 pictures, get some business cards printed, and find local businesses to leave them. Advertise on craigslist and other local forums. I am just busy enough that I need to eaise my prices soon. Just don't stop shooting! If you aren't getting gigs, Google what stock photography trends are out there and work on that too.

R. P.'s picture

Promoting moonlighting much?.. Or do you inform the IRS?

Tim Shoebridge's picture

Moonlighting! Such an old fashioned phrase. I'm sure the OP presumes we all have social responsibility and so does not have to mentor us on the importance of paying taxes.

Robert K Baggs's picture

I truly didn't think I had to point out you should pay your taxes.

Simon Patterson's picture

You also failed to point out that readers should not assault anyone, should not graffiti any property on the job, should not take illegal drugs, should not solicit for prostitution, and should not blackmail anyone whilst making money in photography. Tsk tsk, the article was lacking in so many areas! 😉

Jordan McChesney's picture

Article was not clear. Got head stuck in ceiling fan.

Dean Addison's picture

Personally I make more money from band promotional photography than I do from any other avenue, I shoot what I want for fun and to hone my craft but I hold down a full time job as well, so I only use the band photography to pay for additional gear that I need.

Head down to a local venue and hand out flyers with promotional packages on, ask people in the industry!

Andrew Richardson's picture

Not sure what standard press pass language is in the UK, but typically in the US (at least for pro and collegiate events) the language you agree to excludes commercial sales of images you take. Language might not be present for smaller events like you describe, but worth checking out for anyone considering this effort to make sure you don't violate your agreement with the event you get a credential for.

Dave Terry's picture

Another way to look at making money as a hobbyist is through the lens of your taxes.

Keeping a dollar you might otherwise need to hand over to the government in taxes is worth just as much as a dollar in profit.

First, you will need a knowledgeable and trustworthy accountant (unless you fit that bill yourself already) who can take full advantage of the federal and state income tax laws applicable to your situation and where you live. Doing any of the things listed in the article are typically enough to qualify you for tax breaks if you keep all of the appropriate records and receipts related to your activities, expenditures, sales, etc.

You may not think they add up to much, but you may be very surprised how this can radically improve your tax situation in spite of making zero actual profits from those hobbyist levels of effort and expense. Many successful businesses begin as hobbies and the tax laws are written to encourage that type of behavior. As a disclaimer, there are many factors taken into account when it comes to your taxes, so it may not make much difference for some people (especially the more affluent). But for many hobbyists, it can keep some money in their pockets or even return it to your pockets through a tax refund depending on your overall financial situation.

For example, about 7 years ago I began taking photos of bands at their shows. I offered these photos to bands for use in their social media and promotions free of charge for almost a year. I did this for about 30 different local bands. I shot those shows and shared the images because I love doing it. I didn't charge the bands because, well, most local bands are broke af. In the eyes of the IRS, this is no different than a new Taco Place giving away free tacos to promote their business. Tax breaks are waiting there to be taken advantage of.

My accountant was able to take advantage of tax laws having to do with marketing and promotion in order to get a sizable tax deduction for "work" I would have been doing with or without a financial incentive. The laws are deigned knowing that taking losses for a few years are simply the nature of starting a business. It takes risk, and that risk can be mitigated by tax incentives.

I put that money back into my hobby (which is what the government hopes you will do with that returned money) and helped use it to grow my gear over the next couple of years until eventually I could take on more intentionally profitable business.

These incentives don't last forever, and after a few years of taking advantage of them, the IRS expects you to either begin showing a profit (which, it can of course can now tax) which are the whole point of the tax incentives anyway. Because so many begin as hobbyists anyway, this process may be able to help you move into more profitable work, and if you so chose, build a more intentional business around the foundation you've already been laying anyway... or don't. It's up to you.