The internet is a crazy place. It has lead to the ability for people to share their photos with the world at a rate that few people could ever have imagined. Some photographers lament this, and claim that it’s harder to generate serious income, but for photographers who are able to understand the value of establishing an online presence, there are some very real opportunities to learn how to make a lot of money with photography online.
Whether it’s to make photography your full-time job, or simply to earn some supplementary income with your passion, as photographers you can (and should) make money online through various sources, using only your camera, an internet connection, and a little creativity and hustle. So if you’re ready to learn how to make money with photography online, here are eleven proven ideas that actually make that happen:
Sell stock photography
While there are some photographers that build careers on selling stock, for many, stock photography is less of a career maker and more of a way to diversify income sources. Hobbyists can earn a little extra cash at something they are already doing anyways, while professionals can help diversify their income for extra security, something that’s often hard to come by for the self-employed. Stock photography is a good option because most will already have a collection of images (just make sure you don’t have a contract from that project that would prevent selling any of the images).
Once you have the photos, selling stock is a matter of navigating the vast number of different providers, getting accepted into their program and uploading photographs. Large platforms like Getty will have stricter requirements, but a wider range of customers. Along with the giants like Getty and Shutterstock, Adobe also has a new stock platform where photographers can upload photos to sell directly from Lightroom. 500px, Stocksy, Dreamstime and iStock are platforms to consider as well.
As you choose where to sell your photos, be sure to read over the contract carefully. Some stock agencies prevent you from licensing images with other agencies. Every platform has different rates, and many will require you reach a minimum amount before withdrawing any income from your account.
Stock photography can make a small but helpful side income, possibly helping to be able to afford more of that pricey gear — just make sure to dig into the platform you choose before you sign up.
Stock photo companies take a good portion of the profit, but selling photos via a self-hosted website or a dedicated photography platform allows you to keep more of the sales, but only if you are willing to do the work to drive traffic to your website. Selling prints (and even digital downloads) online is a good income option for many different types of photographers, from landscape prints for the walls to shooting local little league games and selling images to parents.
Unlike selling stock photos, you’ll have to work to drive traffic to your website, whether that’s building a social media following or developing an SEO for photographers strategy. There are several platforms that help by taking care of the hosting, most of the design, the transactions and even the shipping and printing for you. Platforms like SmugMug, Photoshelter and Pixieset are a few of the several platforms that help make it easier to sell photos online. Check out this review of the best websites for photographers that help make this possible.
Grow a social media platform and collaborate with businesses
Can you really make money on Instagram? If you have a large enough audience, yes. Companies often sponsor posts on social media platforms with a high number of followers. The posts feel less like the easy-to-ignore traditional advertising and often reach more of their target audience. Sponsored posts are popular on Instagram, but some companies do them across multiple platforms.
For photographers, those sponsored posts are often simply an image of a product. Companies look for Instagrammers that reach their target audience, so if you decide to go this route, try to narrow down your focus — focusing on travel photography could get tourism businesses interested in sponsorship, while focusing on fashion photography could lead to paid posts from designers.
Don’t expect to get rich quick, however. Building an Instagram following large enough to attract sponsored posts takes time — but if you already use social media to share your work, taking it one step further with sponsored posts could be a viable option to earn money from your photography online.
Let clients come to you with a visible website
Sometimes, the internet is simply a matchmaker, introducing a client to a photographer, whether that means buying an existing photo or commissioning your next project. Creating a professional website, with an easy-to-find contact section, is a must.
But there’s billions of websites out there — so how do clients find you in all the noise? Search engine optimization, or SEO. By including the right keywords in the right places, your website will pop up when someone searches for, say, San Fransisco Landscape Photographer. SEO is complex enough that large companies hire teams of experts on the subject, but by finding relevant keywords that have low competition in Google AdWords and implementing them in your website content, you can up the chances of finding new clients through a simple web search.
Take advantage of affiliate marketing
If you have a growing following on social media or on your website, you could make a few extra bucks with minimal effort through affiliate marketing. While sponsored posts require communicating with the company, affiliate programs have online sign-ups and can be used while you are still growing your fan base.
Affiliate marketing is simple — if you share a link to a product, you get a small percentage of the sales every time someone clicks on that link to buy the product. For example, if you sign up for the CreativeLive affiliate program, and share a link to a course, you’ll get a small commission whenever anyone buys that course. Companies from Amazon to Adobe offer affiliate programs, and while it won’t result in a full time income, earning a few extra bucks is as easy as signing up online and sharing a custom link for that camera or tripod you’d recommend anyways.
Pitch on photography job boards
Sometimes, the internet serves as the go-between connecting the client to the photographer — but why not the other way around? Online job boards allow clients to post what they are looking for so photographers can bid on the work.
Using online job boards can be time consuming to write-up a pitch and bid for work, but it can be a viable way for photographers to connect to potential clients. Platforms designed for every type of freelancer, like Upwork, as well as options designed specifically for photographers, like Thumbtack, are good options for photographers who are still looking to build their portfolio while expanding their client base.
Some job boards take a percentage of your earnings, while others (like Thumbtack), require you to pay a fee before you can bid — so be sure to research each platform before jumping in.
Another great resource are sites like ImageBrief, where companies submit briefs for shots that they are looking for, often at exceptionally high price points, and if you have the shot they are looking for, you get paid. ImageBrief is an application-only site, but once you get accepted it opens up a world of possibilities for selling your images, or being hired for commissioned shoots.
Enter photography contests
Photography contests of course aren’t guaranteed sources of income — but offer potential not only for a bit of cash but exposure and a chance to improve your craft. Small contests offer a few bucks or some gift cards, while larger contests offer a few thousand dollars in cash or photo gear. Some contests are free to enter, while others have an entry fee. This contest aggregator site is a great resource on contest information.
To preventing contest entries from turning into a big waste of time, make sure to read all of the contests rules. By looking at the guidelines, you should be able to tell exactly what the judges are looking for — looking at past winners helps as well. Submit your best shot, but make sure it also fits within those guidelines. Most contests are looking for something specific. If you can pinpoint what that is, you’ll up your odds of actually taking home a prize.
The smartphone is serving as a gateway drug, resulting in a growing number of people addicted to photography but lacking in the basic skills. Why not share what you know? First, consider exactly how you plan to teach — you can teach the basics of photography through a blog, an online class or even a YouTube web series. Then, brush up on teaching skills, whether that’s learning how to teach an online class or beefing up your blogging skills.
Great photographers doesn’t always translate into great teachers, but for those individuals whose speaking (or perhaps writing) skills match their photography skills, teaching can be a viable way to earn money from photography online.
Terrified of public speaking, even if “public” is just a video camera? Experienced photographers could offer portfolio critiques instead. Identifying a budding photographer’s weaknesses helps give them a map on where to go next, yet sometimes that photography mentor is impossible to find in person.
Offering photography critiques online allows seasoned photographer to take a look at newbies portfolios and offer feedback that helps them to grow, whether that feedback is via a video, phone call or written email. You’ll need a platform — like a website or social media channel — to spread the word on, but offering portfolio critiques and becoming a mentor is another way to add diversity to your sources of photography income.
Email pitches to magazines
Stock photos are great — but many large publications are looking for images that haven’t been published anywhere else. Enter, the personal photo pitch. Editors are often going from one deadline to the next, so a brief, professional email is often an ideal way to pitch a photo or photo story.
First, do your research and find a few publications that print images with a similar style — and that cover a relevant topic. Then, develop a way to share those images privately. When a magazine is looking to publish unique images, often even publishing them on your portfolio is a deal breaker. Many online image platforms allow photographers to password protect a page or gallery — this is a perfect place to use that feature. You can also embed images into the body of the email (most avoid attachments from unknown senders because of the possibility of downloading a virus).
Then, craft a brief email that offers a few details on the image and why it’s unique. Photo editors are often busy, so keep it brief and touch on just the items photo editors are looking for.
Work as a photo editor
Photoshop isn’t exactly taking pictures — but it can be a viable way to earn money online. Photographers with a full schedule of sessions sometimes outsource their editing to save time. Completing that editing can be a way for photographers still building their business to earn some extra cash.
Photo editing gigs can be found on freelance job boards, or through applying to work with a larger photo editing service. You’ll need moderate to advanced Photoshop skills — and of course enough patience to sit at a computer for long stretches.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
The internet is a vast resource for photographers — and can be a major potential income source if used in the right way. Whether it’s small scale sources of extra cash like stock photography and affiliate links, or bringing in bread-and-butter clients through an SEO-optimized website, the possibilities for making money online are as varied as photography’s many sub-genres.
If you’re serious about making money online as a photographer, then you really can’t afford not to focus on Search Engine Optimization. No matter how you plan to make your money, and no matter what kind of photography you do, everything becomes infinitely easier when your website is well optimized, because people start coming to you. No paying for ads, and no cold emailing.