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How to Make Money as a Photographer (Step-by-Step Guide)

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photographer taking pictures

When you’re just starting out as a photographer, progress can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. How do you go from, “I want to do this,” to “thanks for the paycheck!”?

It can be a trek from startup to success, but in this step-by-step guide, we take you through everything that you need to do to build up your photography business. Just don’t expect it to be easy or happen overnight!

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How to Make Money as a Photographer

It’s a bit of a process, but there’s no reason that you can’t make money as a photographer. Just follow these steps and work hard!

1. Get the Equipment

man holding camera
Image Credit: goodluz, Shutterstock

You can’t take photos without a camera, but you don’t need to get everything right away. To start, get a quality camera, a few accessories, and photo-editing software.

You should have enough equipment to start your business, but don’t go overboard and buy everything that you can think of right away.

Just get the essentials, and once you get a few clients and revenue flowing, you can reinvest the profits back into your business and grow from there!

2. Practice

man using point and shoot camera
Image Credit: Piqsels

Anybody can grab a camera and start taking pictures, but that’s not what makes you a professional photographer. You need to know what you’re doing and have the ability to take and edit high-quality photos if you’re looking to make money.

3. Pick a Niche

photographer in wedding
Image Credit: alphaspirit.it, Shutterstock

One of the biggest mistakes that budding photographers make is thinking that they can do it all. Even if you’re the most talented photographer out there, this is the wrong way to go.

You might be able to take photos in many different niches, but it’s going to be a pain to build a portfolio for each niche, and more importantly, it’ll be almost impossible to get a customer to take the time to dive through all your work to find what they’re looking for.

However, there are a few niches that play into each other. For instance, if you’re looking to be a wedding photographer, you might also want to specialize in engagement and boudoir photos.

If they’re in the same field and make sense to a potential client, it’s fine to expand to different niches, but don’t overdo it.

You wouldn’t go to a wedding photographer’s website to look for product photography or vice versa. If a potential client sees both things on your site or if they just see the one that they’re not interested in, there’s a good chance that they’ll go with someone more specialized.

The takeaway here is to pick a niche. You can always switch it up later if you want, but when you’re cutting your teeth in the industry, you need to have a signature product to sell.

4. Build a Portfolio

woman selecting photos
Image Credit: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock

Nobody will just take your word for it that you can capture great pictures. You need to have a portfolio in the exact niche that you’re trying to break into.

Unfortunately, this often means going out and doing your work for free or at a heavily discounted price. But don’t look at it as doing work for pennies on the dollar; think of it as getting a chance to do what you love and taking the first step toward getting paying clients.

You can also work with friends and family, as they’re often a great way to build up a portfolio when you’re just starting out.

It’s also true that some niches are easier to build up portfolios for than others. People will often jump at the chance to get free baby or pregnancy photos. If they don’t like them, they can always do it again with someone else.

But if you’re trying to break into the wedding photography business, there’s no backup plan if they don’t like the photos. Just keep this in mind when you’re picking a niche to specialize in!

5. Build a Website

woman using computer
Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos, Pixabay

Some people might do this before building their portfolio, but it’s better to have something to highlight on your website as soon as it goes live. That way, a prospective client doesn’t check out your page, not see anything, and then write you off for good.

Regardless of the timing, you will eventually need to build yourself a website. There are free website hosting sites, like WordPress.com, that you can use to easily create a website even if you’re not the most tech-savvy person.

You also don’t need to invest in all the optional upgrades. The only one that we recommend is getting your own domain name, so your business doesn’t look like it’s just getting off the ground (even if it is).

Ensure that your website makes it clear how to get into contact with you if someone is interested in your services!

6. Network

a cellphone, tablet and laptop on desk
Image Credit: Mariakray, Pixabay

This isn’t “Field of Dreams” — just because you build it doesn’t mean customers will come, begging for your business. You need to network. You start when you’re building up your portfolio and never stop.

Make business cards, and hand them out to anyone who might even think about using your services. Give a few to each of your clients, and ask them to pass them along to other people who might be interested.

Get on social media, and let the world know that you’re open and looking for business. Create a Facebook page and share photos (with the subject’s permission, of course!).

Getting your first few clients is always the hardest part. But do a great job, and they’re the ones who will recommend your business to all their friends, family, and colleagues. From there, it just snowballs. But you can’t rest on your laurels, so never stop networking.

7. Never Stop Learning & Building Your Inventory

woman using camera
Image Credit: Billion Photos, Shuterstock

Once you get a taste of success, it can be easy to just sit back and expect things to keep up. Don’t! Every time you complete a job, see what you can learn from it. Take a few courses on the things that you struggle with, and expand your repertoire.

Now is also the time to start expanding your inventory and capabilities. You should have a better idea of what you actually need and what can improve your photos, so reinvest your earnings back into your business!

shutter camera divider How Much Money Can You Make as a Photographer?

The thing about photography is that your earning potential comes down to your drive and your skill. The Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights that the average photographer makes $18.73 an hour for an annual income of $38,950. The top 10% of earners bring in $37.38 an hour, or just over $77,000 a year. The bottom 10% bring in $11.80 an hour, or less than $25,000 a year.

There’s a wide range here, and it all comes down to how well you do with your business. The money is out there, but you have to do the work and develop the skills to earn it.

Panasonic LUMIX S5 Full Frame Mirrorless Camera
Image Credit: Panasonic, Amazon

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What Type of Photos Sell Best?

It’s the golden question that everyone asks, but it has a ton of answers. Commercial photographers can earn upward of $100,000 a year, but it’s a hard field to break into.

Wedding photography is one of the highest paying per job, but you likely can’t book one every day.

Our advice is to just seek what you have a passion and a skill for. Those two things are really going to determine how successful you are and how far you go in the field.

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Don’t let fear keep you from pursuing your dreams. With a little hard work and dedication, there’s no reason that you can’t become a professional photographer.

Just don’t forget that while this guide is a great starting point, after you reach the last step, you need to keep pushing! Keep learning, networking, and building up your portfolio for future clients!

Featured Image Credit: sergey causelove, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.