Is Being 'Just' A Photographer Still Enough in 2022?

Is Being 'Just' A Photographer Still Enough in 2022?

Once upon a time, we would learn a skill, practice it, hone it, and that would be our main area of expertise and way of making a living. In 2022, however, it would seem that mastering your camera, actually taking photos, editing them, and then applying that skill might not be everything you need to be a successful photographer in today's climate.

Video Content Is King

We are all aware of the push towards video on popular platforms like Instagram, who are said to be competing directly with the likes of YouTube and TikTok. Photographers are embracing video if we want to get ahead and stay there, whether we like it or not.

So, what does this mean for a plain old photographer in the moving image landscape of social media? Is this the new expected skill you must require to land jobs, meet or exceed customer expectations, and market yourself to an audience or grow your business and online presence? 

Let’s discuss this further, using my personal experience as a hobbyist photographer who can now see a future as a creative entrepreneur in the photography space. Oh, I should probably mention though, I don’t get paid for actually taking photos. Read on, and I will explain. 

The Photographer's Predicament 

I am the sort of photographer who is in a very challenging niche. I don’t shoot portraits, headshots, weddings, events, or families, nor do I take picturesque landscape shots that would be considered fine art. I've never been exhibited or printed in a publication. Just to make things even harder and more financially difficult, I exclusively shoot 35mm film and have no idea how to work a digital camera. I know, I sound like the least ideal person to hire, and that's because technically, I am.   

Lone trolley shot on Kodak Pro Image 100. Image Copyright © Lucy Lumen 

As you can see here, I enjoy a lone shopping trolley, an old sign, a tangled hose, and various other extremely mundane subjects that nearly everyone else is walking right by. These subject choices are the kryptonite killing any chance of my anti-photography competing with more traditionally aesthetic choices in such a hyper-competitive industry. For 10 years, I've strolled around doing my thing and not received a bar of recognition or considered it anything other than the weird thing I did and enjoyed. 

Hand painted sign shot on Fuji C200. Image Copyright © Lucy Lumen 

So, How Do I Earn an Income? 

Fast-forward to 2022 and I now earn anywhere from $500-$700 a month through various income streams all related to my photography, but not directly because of it. These photographs in isolation would struggle to earn that amount, and I am the first one to admit that. 

So, what’s the source of the figures I provided above? The answer is simple: YouTube, mostly. Creating a YouTube channel is the single best and most rewarding thing I have done for my photography and its exposure, no pun intended. For the past 14 months, I have been uploading videos almost weekly with a large amount of help from a partner who picks up all the slack in the areas I lack. We have become a team and together built a channel that is proving to be somewhat profitable with scalable growth on the horizon, providing we stay consistent, of course. 

I am no Chelsea Northrup with millions of views, so my income is coming from a few different places right now: Google AdSense being one, paid sponsorship for videos, Patreon, a small amount from print sales and now recently, writing these articles for the lovely readers of Fstoppers. All of this takes a lot of time but are things I enjoy greatly, so it’s a win-win through my lens. I also have started a podcast, which I have yet to monetize, but it means I have the chance to create long-form content people can listen to while driving or working and continue to build my connection with my audience. 

I recently interviewed 22-year-old London-based photographer Sophia Carey, who has many income streams all centered around her skill set in portrait photography and design. Sophia has scaled her business and diversified her income through revenue streams like Skillshare, where she creates courses on portrait photography, building a brand, and using color theory to improve your work. Video is a huge component now to educating people online and is another reason getting used to becoming more confident on camera and upping your video skills is not only worth it, but also vital and lucrative.   

It's Time to Press Record

All these income streams wouldn’t exist without me having started on YouTube, so technically, they have all come from video and my on-camera presence as a photographer. People value education and entertainment, and I have been able to monetize this venture to hopefully cover costs and come out with a little in my hand in order to keep creating more. 

Without YouTube, I wouldn't have this audience, so this raises the question: is video the best way to scale your photography business and earn part of a living or make it a side hustle? Instagram Reels are being pushed and more of us are tuning into video content, wanting to see the person behind the camera and connect with them even more than their photography. While this won’t suit a lot of people who are camera shy or wish for their work to stand on its own two feet without them as a “personality,” it certainly suits someone like me.

I think with practice or a little tweaking, we can all find ways to show up for our audience in new and different ways or possibly open new doors for us other than the traditional “I pay you to take photos of this” model that we all equate to being a professional photographer. While we all complain about the unfairness of algorithms and the struggle to get noticed online for our work, you have to admit that now, more than ever, we all have a chance at creating the career we dreamed of. It just hinges on so many factors that I will leave for another article.   

Social media certainly has its downsides, though, doing the ironic job of making us more connected but more alone, and this will inevitably get worse. So ,why not use these platforms to share and connect, in the true sense of the word, all while giving your work more of a voice, a story, a face to the photographer?

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17 Comments
S M's picture

I think this has more to do with your niche and less to do with making enough money from photography alone.

I live in a "niche" as well shooting architecture and interior design. Though I adopted video 4 years ago when I was still shooting primarily real estate, there are plenty of people in my industry (whom have been shooting as long as I have) that make really good money and shoot exclusively photo.

I wouldn't be shocked to find out there was a photographer in the interiors industry shooting 35mm film and being successful at it. Though I would assume they are truly ~1% that make up the industry.

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hello, thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I think like you say, it's diffcult in some niches to make money off of photoraghy alone which is why the video compenant must be added. I suppose it's a question of whether what you earn just with photo is enough and even if it is it's arguable that everyone could earn more with adding video to their reportior as well.

Interesting to hear about your niche in architecture though. Haha yes I'm sure this a film shooter there somewhere but as you say it would be a minortity for sure!

Have a great day :)

Christoph .'s picture

I made a long term plan about 7 years ago that I wanted to diversify into video to become a more desirable option for those seeking a creator. The writing was on the wall that video was going to explode as the tech improved to create, host and distribute it.

I make a little more than double what I would be on the photo-only path on some rough maths. The next thing to add is 3D capabilities as that will do the same

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hello Chris, thanks for reading! Well it appears in the current climate you have made the right plan with adding video to your skill set. It's so popular and just everywhere now, it seems silly not to. Glad it's working well for you and you are able to continue as a photoragher by adding video as well.

Thanks again for reading and sharing your experience and thoughts. :)

P K's picture

Enough for whom?

For me, certainly. I have neither the interest nor inclination to be all things to all people. I definitely have no interest in videography, I don't care what the current trends re social media are.

Am I risking being left behind? Well, books still exist in a world of television and cinema so there undoubtedly will always be the need for still images.

Not all doors need to be opened.

chris bryant's picture

I prefer some dorrs to remain firmly closed.

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hey thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Absulotely there is a need for still images and by no means will that fade away even with current trends leaning towards video. I think for people just starting out in 2022 though it might not be unless they are in niches proven to be fruitful... and even then it wouldnt hurt them to add some video, whether it just be on social media to act as marketing for their photoraghy service or to offer alongside their photography.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, this is obviously going to be dependent on each persons niche, level, and interest.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

The answer to this question would surely depend on one's wishes and desires, I think. For some being 'just' a photographer would not be enough because they want to be able to work in more fields to earn more and build a bigger client base. Others are into learning new things, so they won't stop at being just photographers exactly because of that. And then there are people (me included) who have no passion for videography and other things, or feel quite content with what they are doing or simply enjoy the process and the whole Photoworks magic that comes along and do not want to take it to the professional level. For them it surely would be enough. It all depends.

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hey Catherine, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I agree with you on how you have broken down the different reasons people would or wouldnot want to look at some form of video. I think the first one you bring up is the most popular and is why so many people are choosing to learn video ro dabble in it for reels or other social media as i will increase their reach and possibly get new clients or build awareness of their work.

I am glad to hear that you are loving where you are at with photography Catherine. :)

Benoit Pigeon's picture

If you don’t make a living at it, you can do anything and as much of it as you want. I’m an electrician, plumber, a mechanic and I’ve even mixed and poured my share of concrete for variety of projects. None of it I have ever done professionally, but since I can take my sweet time to make it all perfect I guess I could make videos, upload them to youtube, eventually make some money from clicks and call myself a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic and even a concrete expert.
The other thing is, yes, you have to know your way around a digital recording device and image processing in order to do a podcast or any video on youtube. If you make very little money from it, you are either using a phone or, yes, a Dslr or mirrorless. If someone is helping you, and you make $500-$700, I don’t see how there is any income in this venture. Yes I may sound like a critic, but my bottom line is to figure out where this article is a making any sense. I think you want to find an extension to film photography and find video a way to get to talk about your passion with others. It sounds more like some sort of photo club turned into a digital media of some sort. I just don’t see how expending from your photography is critical, it’s rather a choice.

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hey thanks for reading and for saring your thoughts. I am a stay at home to a 1 year old and have always worked full time till now so having the space to be able to explore my creativity and start a youtube channel, a podcast, start writing articles etc. has been really fullfilling. I hope that this will grow into something more. With these sort of endevours you really have to build it up for a long time till you see a substantial return and i am willing to take that chance and put in the effort while i have the time to do so.

I think in 2022 with things like video being so popular creatives can make a living or part of a living doing what they love more easily than ever and that is largely thanks to communtites and others sharing their passions for things like film photography online.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I totally understand, but to clarify things, from your title, I first thought you were going to talk about adding video to increase production. In my view and I am even more convinced now, you are talking about video blogs not video production . A misleading title can exhaust a writer pretty fast has we have seen here in the past. Take it as a critic or help as you wish but do consider your titles in the future please.

Scott Hussey's picture

I understand why the author (who is making up to $500-700 per month as a photographer) might question whether or not being "just a photographer" is enough. But maybe we should be asking working professionals (who have been supporting their families for many years) what they think on the subject.

I doubt anybody is ever going to put their kids through college by shooting film photos of discarded garden hoses on the sidewalk. There's nothing wrong with choosing that type of photography. Art for art's sake is noble. But it is rarely ever going to leave one able to pay the bills without supplemental income.

Yes, being "just a photographer" ... or should I say being "exclusively a photographer" is enough.

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hey Scott, thansk for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Sound like you are a professional maybe? I am a stay st home mum I have a 1 year old and my husband works full time as a teacher so this is a side hustle for now and I am enjoying seeing where it will take me.

There are numerous film photoraghy youtube channels who have built careers now and whislt that might not happen to me I can see a future in this possibly even if I do have to go back to wokr a few days. Anything i can do to keep shooting those discarded hoses on sidewalks haha.

For you and many others being exclusively a photographer is enough but for me and my hoses it's not. It depends where you are at and what you are choosing to shoot. I think Catherine above put it well in saying that some might want to add video or explore it to promote themsleves or grow their client base etc.

Glad to hear you are happy in your photography career and thansk for sharing your thoughts. :)

Jeisea Ni's picture

Having a voice, sharing your story and a face is indicative of a true creative growing and perhaps morphing in this environment. It seems your abilities as a content creator transcend the skill set of your craft. There are take aways here from your article, open to opportunities.

Mike Ditz's picture

Lots of different answers.
I am primarily a still photographer but have done some video only projects and well as hybrid shoots where I shoot some video and some still. I found that not to be a very good process. The bigger budget jobs will have a video grew show up too so they get coverage of still and motion.

But i don't think that Lucy is talking about these gigs.
The "content video" I think is a lot different than a story told in motion. I have shot a couple things for influencers who want a bunch of still and a bunch of 10-15 second vertical videos for tiktoc or plinkplop or TRUTH Social (kidding!) so it depends on the client needs and how fluent the photog is in stil/motion/social.

My shoots used to be still with a bit of video but they have turned into the opposite lately

Lucy Lumen's picture

Hey Mike, thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts here. I think you have said it better than me really haha maybe you should be the one writing the articles! I was more talking about video on social media as a component to your photography and how that can either get you more jobs, create more awareness of your brand and then that leads to more sales or jobs. Or in my case I use video as a vehicle to showcase my otherwise pretty useless photography and offer value to the community rather than just expecting to make money off of my "art" alone.

I am still new to writing on here, and in general, so I will spend more time formulating my ideas next time. Thanks for engaging and sharing your experiences with video and photo! :)