How not to make easy money as a photographer
Ah, those classic ‘how I earned ten grand a month as a photographer by doing this’ tutorials that seem to be everywhere. That’s why I’m so grateful to people like Scott from Tin House Studio for keeping it real.
In this video, Scott weighs in on some of the insane advice that is out there on the interwebs. He picks four of the most over-stated pieces of advice on how you can earn trillions as a photographer and gives his real opinion on what you can do to be successful.
Sure, you can sell prints, and some photographers do make this a priority and do well from it. However, to do this well, you have to shift your business model from that of a photographer to more of a fine art artist. You will need to approach galleries, host exhibitions, and do everything that painters do to sell their work.
It sounds all lovely and romantic, but I know some professional (and very successful painters), and it is a constant hustle, and they are most certainly not making ten grand a month. Scott says during covid, he made around $300 before costs from selling prints.
Sure, if you’re passionate about printing your work and getting it exhibited, then go for it. But it’s no get-rich-quick scheme.
Get ready to cry into your laptop every time you sell an image if you want to go down this path in this day and age. Sure, perhaps once upon a time, it was a viable option, and some people are still doggedly clinging to that.
However, this hasn’t been much of an option for many years, and even less so now that we have AI image generation. It’s no coincidence that stock sites like Getty and Adobe have jumped onto the generative AI bandwagon.
As Scott rightly says, yes, you can make some money from doing stock photography, but for the time spent doing it, it’s not worth it. You’re far better off doing something else unless you intend to specialise in stock photography, and that’s all you do.
Scott isn’t talking about adding the rental of your own gear here to clients when they hire you, as is common in the videography world. What he’s talking about is renting it to other photographers and filmmakers.
Once again, the time involved in sorting out the gear is not enough to make it worth the income you get. It feels like it should be passive income, except that it isn’t once you look into the logistics.
You’ll have to be around when people want to collect and drop off gear, you’ll need good insurance (people are less careful with rented gear), and you’ll spend time on maintenance. Not to mention answering silly questions and teaching people how to use the gear they are borrowing. It’s a lot.
Once again, you can earn money from this, but not as a side hustle. I’m seeing a trend here!
This makes me laugh a little that any photographer would even consider this. I know fairly successful bands that don’t make money from their merchandise sales. I can’t see anyone wearing a T-shirt with my branding on it. Even I wouldn’t wear one!
Once again, don’t try this as a side hustle, you need to specialise in this. See where this is going yet?
And now one that does work:
This works because all you have to do is show up on time, do the job, and get paid. It’s essentially work for hire. It’s similar to being a digi-tech. You’re hiring out your time and expertise to others when they need it.
However, it’s not always that easy to find these jobs unless you live in a place like London or New York City. Again, it can take away time that you could be spending doing your own work. Still, we all have to eat, and it’s not a bad idea if you need a side gig to see you through the month.
Incidentally, we should all remove this inherent shame that surrounds doing day jobs or side hustles. A close friend is a business coach for other creatives, and she has about four side gigs. She gives bike tours around the city, sells paintings, sings in a band, and has written several books.
My friend does all of these things because she doesn’t want to tie herself down to just one income stream or one creative outlet. She truly finds joy and inspiration in all the things that she does. And that is a strength, not something to be ashamed of.
So if, like me, you aren’t a full-time photographer (I write for an online magazine part-time), then it’s entirely ok. Being a full-time photographer is not for everyone, and it heavily depends on where you live geographically.
But back to that sage advice about earning mega-bucks from your photography. Hint: if someone is earning money by giving you tips on how they earn money, their main income is probably not coming from their advice ;)
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe