As photographers, it's vital not to keep all our eggs in one basket, but to expand our means of income by setting up different revenue streams, one of the most popular of those streams being YouTube. But is it still possible to make money from it in 2020?
In 2016, I started up my YouTube channel, and it wasn't until 2017 that I started posting content. Back then, I focused solely on living off freelancing jobs only, never thinking about expanding my revenue. I wish I give past-me a firm kick in the butt for not thinking about it, because three years later, when everyone had to stay inside, I was forced to expand my revenue streams. In the year's months of isolation, I did more on my channel than I did in three years. I started posting regularly by creating searchable content in line with my profession. I decided to go easy and start posting Photoshop and photography tutorials, with little short films in between.
After a while, I realized that reviews and short films received more views, and I received many more comments from subscribers and non-subscribers alike. I also enjoyed doing those kinds of videos more, so I started shifting my focus away from the tutorials and instead started posting content I enjoyed making more often. In three months, my subscription base grew from around 200-300 to close to 800. While that's still very low, I realized I was doing something right.
Decide on a Strategy and Be Consistent
The first thing you need to ask yourself is why you, as a photographer, need YouTube. Do you want to post behind-the-scenes videos of your photoshoots or upload tutorials? Don't think you're going to come up with some grand idea going viral in 24 hours. Everything has been done, so choose something you're passionate about and stick to it. In the end, your commitment to what you're passionate about will come across in the video and hook your viewers. People don't want to see another copycat. They want to get to know you and understand why they can learn from you.
In the last few months, I tried my best to be consistent with posting content. If there's one golden rule with YouTube, consistency should be your main priority when posting. Pick a day and a time and make sure you consistently post weekly. I'm sure I would gain a much more significant following if I consistently posted videos over the last three years. But unfortunately, it's a lot more complicated than it sounds. YouTube can quickly become a full-time job if you allow it to. Concept to execution can take up to four days, and then, you have three days to edit and possibly reshoot anything if needed. Now, if you're shooting a simple video of just you talking to the camera, it's easy enough. But what if you're shooting on location, waiting for the right weather and light? My last short film took two months to film and edit because of bad weather and waiting for wildlife, so if you're planning on posting weekly, think carefully of what it is you want to shoot and how easy it needs to be if you plan on posting it the following week.
Invest in the Tools to Help Grow Your Channel
When I started on YouTube, the first thing I needed was music to accompany my videos. Don't ever think of using copyrighted music. It will get you a copyright strike and count against you further down the line when you're thinking of monetizing your channel. YouTube has a great free resource to get you started, but if you have the budget to pay for a monthly service, I recommend you try Epidemic Sound. The investment in royalty-free music and sound effects will raise the quality of your YouTube channel and help avoid any copyright strikes against you.
Once you've finished shooting your video, it's time to do some admin. Keywording your videos is never fun and may seem tedious, but it is crucial to rank higher on YouTube's search results. To get the best keywords for my channel, I use a browser plugin called Tubebuddy. It analyzes your channel and provides you with the best ranking keywords to get your channel noticed. The free version works up to a point, but if you want to see what's relevant to your channel, I'd suggest getting a pro subscription. Additionally, they offer a discount with Epidemic Sound as well, making it all the more worthwhile.
Once you've done your keywording and you're busy uploading, work on your YouTube thumbnail. Something bright, minimal, and contrasty seems to work well to get people to click. I'll usually shoot something specifically for my thumbnails and use Photoshop to retouch and add text. Of course, if you're in a hurry, Canva has a few goods presets available for text-based thumbnails as well.
Don't Do It for the Money
I know I spoke about expanding revenue initially, but like all good things, it takes time. If you think you're going to become an overnight millionaire or the next Casey Neistat, you're mistaken. A YouTube channel is a one-to-two-year investment of consistently posting searchable content if your ultimate goal is monetization. To give you perspective, YouTube requires you to have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the space of 12 months to be eligible for their Partner Program. YouTube's algorithm seems to favor longer videos. It makes sense for the platform to push longer videos higher in search results, as it keeps viewers on its platform for longer.
For me, YouTube is a great way to share content regularly, interact with fellow filmmakers, or show prospective clients my work. I use this channel to post content I love creating, not to make money. Every now and then, you're lucky when someone donates a few dollars because they liked your video, but the ultimate payoff has been prospective clients approaching me for work because they found my videos on YouTube.
Share Your Work
Once you've created your video, it's nice to share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. However, I've found that most of my traffic comes from the Reddit community. I try to be as active as possible on the BMPCC4K forums, as the members post some incredible stuff, and it's a great resource to learn from and get inspiration. Sharing your work also makes YouTube's algorithm realize your content is important to the people watching it and thus ranks it higher in the search results.
I hope these tips are helpful if you were planning on starting your channel. It's based on my personal experience and learning from the mistakes I've made in the past. To sum it up, be yourself, don't imitate, find something you love to do and explore that, analyze your content, learn from your own mistakes because that's the only way you'll grow, and get better. Don't focus on monetization. If you're starting a YouTube channel to get monetized, you're only going to end up frustrated and abandon it after a few months when you realize it's taking too long. Do this for the reason you became a photographer: to tell a story, to create something you're proud of, and to want to share it with the world.