How to Make Money as a Photographer Online
Just like you, we're creatives at heart, and we understand many of the challenges you face trying to bring your creative skills to market. That's why we wanted to share some strategies to help earn money from photography, even as an amateur. Whether you're a seasoned pro, or a beginner starting out, earning income from your passions can be tough. That being said, it's definitely possible, and laying out the framework of your strategy is half the work.
You Do You
The first step is finding your niche. The good news is your niche is a direct result of your personal preferences and style. Whatever it is you're doing, keep doing it. If you don't already know what 'it' is, take a look through your photos, and see if you can identify any trends in your stronger images. Next time you go out with your camera, keep those trends in mind and hone in on them. Once you identify what type of style you're into, it's time to think about how images like that might be used and by who.
Spread the Word
Now that you have an idea of your style, and who might want those types of images, you can start to build an audience and following. There are a number of ways you can get the word out; Instagram, Facebook, 500px, or your website to name a few. If you have a website, or use a blog to drive traffic to it, all that self-reflection we did earlier is really going to come in handy. Identifying your niche is crucial to building a strong following.
If you're not already on Instagram you should be. You're a photographer, and when it comes to images, Instagram is the place to be. We get it, it's crazy to basically give your photos away for free, but it's going to be one of the best levers for you to build a strong following at a reasonable pace. Your Instagram feed should be used to showcase your best work, but don't be afraid to share some of your failures, your audience wants to connect with a human, not a camera. Use hashtags; and keep your niche in mind when choosing them. You might want to consider using a tool like Hashtagify or Google Trends.
You've started to build a following on your website or social platforms, and your catalogue of five star images is building quickly. It's time to branch out and monetise your creativity. The key here is often diversifying your efforts between active and passive income.
What's the difference between active and passive income? Simple, active income means you're actively working to generate that income; whereas passive income is residual, you keep getting paid after the work is done. If you're hired to take some family portraits, and are paid once, that's active income. Taking a picture once, and selling it on a stock photography website, earning you incremental income long after you took the picture and uploaded it, is passive income.
If you're a beginner, passive income may actually be your best bet. It's unlikely you'll be hired by anyone but your friends or family for the first portion of your career. Larger clients, almost any client, is going to want to see a portfolio. While you're building your portfolio, there's nothing stopping you from trying to sell a few of your images on stock photography sites.
Have a Portfolio
Portfolios are important, and realistically, they're expected. You'll be hard pressed to find a client who will take you on without one. If you don't already have a portfolio set up, now's a good time to start thinking about it. Digital is definitely the way to go, you're going to be able to reach so many more potential clients, and leaves the door open to be discovered by employers. Setting up a portfolio website doesn't need to be a chore either. There are plenty of easy to use software services that can help you host your website. Adobe offers a free Portfolio site with the Creative Cloud Photography Plan, and it's actually pretty decent.
That being said, if you plan on selling your images or prints, you might want to move over to a platform that more easily integrates with a payment gateway. Shopify offers some great portfolio and blog templates, and if you're not ready to start selling just yet, you can use their Dormant plan at a lower price. Starting with a platform capable of processing sales can save you a headache down the road. If you move your entire site over to a new platform, it's likely you'll need to create redirects for all your websites different URLs to avoid damaging your search ranking.
Your portfolio should show your best work, and be easy to navigate. You can think of your portfolio as your cover letter and resume; anyone who's going to hire you is going to be looking at it. Be sure that it's original, and shows off some of your personality; it will help give people confidence that they've found the right photographer for the job. It's important that your contact information is easy to read, and easy to find. If your potential clients don't see a way to contact you, they're not likely to go looking for it.
If you're looking to get more high quality visits to your site, a blog can be a incredibly valuable. Not only does it create a more open line of communication with your audience, it can be a great way to drive traffic to your products or professional design services. Use the information you have learned about your niche, and try to come up with some keywords that might be applicable to your blog. Using well-thought keywords naturally throughout your blog can help surface your blog and website in Google's search results. Blogging, along with most SEO tactics, often do not return immediate results, but can pay off in the long term significantly.
Selling your photos on stock photography websites while you're working on other projects can be a great way to help get your name out while potentially earning some passive income. Many stock photo sites allow you to list your photos for free, and you are paid a commission when your photo is purchased. The list of stock photography websites can seem endless, but Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe Stock, or Stocksy can be a good place to start your search.
Since stock photography is a has a such low barrier to entry, it is quite saturated with many other photographers, so it's important to submit your best work, and images that you think people would search for in a stock photography environment. Again, Google Trends can come in handy here.
Print on Demand (POD)
There are several websites that allow you to list your artwork for free, and when someone purchases one of your prints, they take care of the fulfilment, and pay you a percentage of the sale. Some examples of print on demand marketplaces would be Red Bubble or Society6. Photographers selling in print on demand marketplaces run into similar troubles with a saturated market as with stock photography. The most successful artists on these types of platforms have a strong social media presence, and are frequently marketing their work elsewhere.
Print on demand doesn't only exist in a marketplace setting though. If you have your own website, drop shipping can be a great option. If you're not familiar with drop shipping, it describes the act of taking an order (on your website) and having that order fulfilled (printed on demand) and shipped directly to your customer from the manufacturer. You never have to carry any stock, or worry about printing any labels.
Standing Out in a Saturated Market
The best way to stand out is to form your strategy from a combination of different tactics. Even if your passive channels like POD marketplaces or stock photography aren't earning you much income, the link back from your profile on those sites to your own website can help you out significantly. Links from other websites to your website build credibility with search engines. Different links from different sites are weighted differently; a link from a very popular credible site is not as valuable as a link from a less popular site. Popular websites often have many other websites linking to them, further building their credibility. That means those links from your profiles in print on demand and stock photography websites can actually help boost your portfolio's search engine rank.
Driving traffic to your portfolio isn't the only thing you need to look at though. You're a photographer, we're going to assume you've got good design taste in terms of composure, but think about the wording in your portfolio. It all comes back to the idea of the niche that you're targeting. Who are your ideal clients or employers? What type of language speaks to them? Should your portfolio be formal, or friendly? You worked hard to get these clients onto your website, the text on your website is your last chance to convince them to hire you.
There are plenty of ways to market your portfolio and skills. The best way to differentiate yourself is to be yourself. Keep your niche in mind when crafting anything, and have fun with it.
We hope this guide helps you turn your creative passion into a career path. If you think we're leaving anything out, let us know in the comments!