I Spent a Year Making YouTube Videos About Commercial Photography

I Spent a Year Making YouTube Videos About Commercial Photography

A year ago today, I decided to start a photography YouTube channel offering advice from a commercial photographer's perspective who makes the vast majority of his income from ad campaigns. Here is what I learned.

I, like many, have had a YouTube account for many years. I watch YouTube daily and get great joy from it, but until 12 months ago, I had never really uploaded anything. Then, with very little thought, I started a channel and managed to consistently (bar being hacked for two months) upload to it for the entire year.

Why Did I Start a Channel?

I use to run workshops from my studio for years, and eventually, the time they took for the money I charged was no longer justifiable, especially when it meant teaching after a full day shooting or teaching the day before a big campaign. A combination of this and wanting to offer out advice that I found nearly impossible to find when building my career were the key catalysts. 

Time Constraints

The first video I shot took me an entire day to shoot and edit, which is obviously not sustainable unless this is your main job. More recently, I have got into a rhythm in which two Sundays a month, I pop into my studio for about three hours and record a total of eight videos, which I drip-feed to the channel at twice a week. Then, maybe once a month, I put out a long-form or vlog video, which takes a day to shoot and edit. So, it isn’t too bad time-wise and pretty manageable. 

The Numbers

Growth was slow. Really slow. It took me the full year to hit 11,000 subscribers. But then, I am not surprised by this; rather than hitting photography or professional photography as a niche, I went far tighter and looked at high-end commercial photography with a slight bias toward food. I am just below half a million views in total, which I don’t even think is counted as a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless, I am still gobsmacked that people will listen to me drone on at all. So, I am pretty pleased with this. 

My Earnings

Let's talk nitty-gritty numbers. Financially, this was not worth the work. For the time I put in, I made about £3,500 from ads and £200 from Amazon affiliate links. I was then gifted a further £2,000 of products with no strings attached (I turned down anyone with terms). So, if my math is correct, that is £5,700 coming in, which is less than a single day shooting with usage, so I certainly won’t be giving up the day job anytime soon. 

What I Did Wrong 

At a few months in, I was frustrated by the lack of growth on my channel, so I started to produce lens review videos. Although they got views, it is not really something that I am interested in, nor something that I know a great deal about. I tend to seek advice for the equipment I need on productions rather than have it all stored in my head. Once I got back to doing what I know and focusing on food photography and ad campaigns, things finally started to grow.

The Trolls

For those who are thinking about doing this, but are worried about all of the trolling, my advice would just be to crack on. I have yet to find anyone negative or anyone who is a troll actually put anything out there into the world with their name on it. These folk obviously have problems and frustrations, and this is the way they like to deal with them, so it is best to just scroll on past the comment.  

Will I Continue?

The plan originally was to do this for a year and see how it went. I have really enjoyed learning about video, sounds, and editing, which are things that I just don’t use in my day-to-day work. It has felt a lot like when I very first picked up a stills camera. At this stage, I plan to commit to another 12 months of two videos a week and see how I feel at the end of it. 

I also managed to set up the entire channel without buying any equipment. I borrowed a mic, used a camera that I already had, and a few old battered LED panels that I had in storage for years. Most of my videos are shot with a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 HSM Art lens on an old beat-up Canon 5D Mark II with a Rode Videmic Pro microphone.

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11 Comments

Tony Northrup's picture

I hope you keep at it! Most businesses take a few years to make a profit and YouTube is no exception. You'll get more efficient, learn what gets clicks, add sponsors (and possibly merchandise) and build an audience. You'll also keep making passive income from your existing videos. Good luck!

Walter van Dusen's picture

Hello Scott, thanks for sharing your story. Do you think there is a good time limit for how long the videos should be to garner more views? I saw someplace online between 5-10 minutes in length for more views. Thoughts?

John Ricard's picture

Great article. I love the real world informative content like this. I’ve done a lot of You Tube videos over the years, but I’ve never been willing to make the hard commitment to make so many each month like you are doing. I’d rather just make a video when I actually feel I have something to say. Unfortunately, that method doesn’t work in terms of building an audience. I have some videos with under 50 views! (Others in the thousands).

David Justice's picture

Hey Scott, I enjoy your videos and their real-world usage. I think they're important and relevant to those who mature past the need for lens reviews. My question is did this indirectly help your business? Did you see any increase in business indirectly related to your videos.

I know in the Making Real Money tutorial available on Fstoppers, Monte talks about how his videos increased his visibility and helped validate what he was doing. Was wondering if you saw anything similar.

Brandon Friend-Solis's picture

Please keep it up, it’s all very helpful. Thanks for doing this!

Bert McLendon's picture

These are some of the most current and useful videos I've seen on photography in a long time. Even though I'm in a different genre (corporate events), a LOT of the info crosses over and resonates with me. The knowledge is coming from your day to day WORKING knowledge on the subject, not something you've regurgitated off the interwebs, so that's refreshing. It's great that you are not a you tuber giving advice or useless opinions but a working professional giving real, solid, useful advice, which I think is more useful to the working photographers out there. Keep it up, I always look forward to your videos coming out.

Aleksey Zozulya's picture

seeing your channel gave me the courage to start my own. mine stemmed as a challenge of learning video while quarantined, and sharing tricks from a home studio. what I struggle with is capturing and editing the content in a timely manner. I'm lucky if I have a new video once every two weeks, and have gone live on occasion so I wouldn't have to edit it.

David Love's picture

Youtube is a nice place to store videos for free but a total waste if you're trying to make money. You do all the work and they make the money. It's a scam. They stole America's funniest home videos idea. People give them free videos to display and they make millions off ads while throwing some pocket change back at people. Now everyone is starting to look and act the same and you can't trust reviews with everyone trying to get free gear or sponsorship money.

Steven Weston's picture

I'm happy that you will produce another year of videos. I've enjoyed them and learned from them. I'm looking forward to reading your answers to the comments already posted.

Dana Goldstein's picture

I've really been enjoying them so I certainly hope you continue!

J J's picture

Hey bearded man with the accent; how about that time your channel was taken over for a long time posting weird ass videos. I don’t know if you’re any good at photography but you’re videos are mostly not bad. I felt like your earlier ones were better than your later ones. I liked the more off the cuff less formulaic work you were doing. As someone that runs a commercial studio I enjoyed them. Don’t give up now, I’m bored and the pandemic. It would be interesting to see you step outside the white walls. You have an interesting take on camera gear that isn’t driven by the main stream sense of quality.... for better or worse. I like it but I’m a contrarian.