If you’ve wondered what it takes to make money with photography, you’re not alone! See what others have experienced, and learn what to expect.
We asked ShootProof photographers: how long did it take you to turn a profit with your photography? These revealing answers will encourage you to keep going – and make smart business decisions along the way!
Want to make money with photography? Prepare, prepare, prepare!
I was profitable within my first year, but I had a bit of a unique situation. When I first went full-time as a business, I already had 24 weddings booked for that year. But prior to that, I was working full-time as a BMW technician. That job allowed me to slowly build my photography business on the side over roughly two years. So when I jumped into doing photography full-time, I had already built the business to the point of being profitable. – Joe Dantone
And definitely don’t overspend!
[I was profitable on] year one – but that’s only because someone taught me to be smart enough to rent gear rather than buy it all during my first year. – Dave S.
I started with my Nikon D7000 and a prime 50mm (instead of using a kit lens). As I did shoots, I added a couple of lenses; a Sigma Art 17-7omm and a 35mm prime. After more shoots, I added some Speedlights, stands, and remote triggers. Several shoots later, I added a couple strobes and modifiers. More shoots: I added a 70-200mm f/2.8. You get the idea. I built my gear collection and software / digital assets as I made money. – Casey W.
What does it mean to “be profitable”?
A profitable business earns more than it spends. This means you should be paying all of your photography-related expenses and yourself. Think of your business like a business, not a hobby. Businesses pay their overhead, such as rent on office space, equipment, lab costs, insurance, etc. They also pay the people who keep the business running – that would be you! Before you can say you make money with photography, you should be earning a living wage that affords you your housing, transportation, insurance, and other personal costs.
You (probably) won’t make money with photography overnight.
I finished photo school in 2001, and I didn’t have a truly thriving, full-time business until 2006. During those 5 years of waiting tables and working an office job, I learned what kind of photography I was good at (documentary), where I could earn a living (weddings), what to charge (more than I expected!), and how to market myself. It was a long road, but the subsequent 11 years as a full-time photographer made it worth it! – Anne S.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for those who want instant gratification. It took me about 5 years to truly understand my business and become profitable. – Peter G.
You have to have clients if you want to make money with photography!
You can have a beautiful website, phenomenal images, and a solid business plan, and you still won’t make money with photography unless you have clients. Getting clients can be as simple as launching a smart social media campaign, and as complex as hitting the proverbial jackpot.
I began my business with prices in the mid-range so I had a harder time getting clientele at first. – Gretchen W.
See what these successful photographers are doing to get clients and keep business coming in:
- Spanki Mills quit taking “safe” photos
- Cassie Clayshulte built a brilliant network of referrals
- Leeann Marie delivers an outstanding collaborative experience
- Charles Gregory earns thousands with his brilliant email campaign
This year I invested everything I am making into [my business] to make me more visible, marketable, and time-efficient. I am hoping to double my business next year. If I do that, then I will be profitable. – Corrina T.
You WILL make mistakes. But you can get back on track!
Event photographer Patrick Williams shared an in-depth story about his early mistakes in photography. The good news? Patrick is now tremendously successful and profitable. So if you find yourself in a bit of a slump, take heart! You can always change course, begin again, and build the business of your dreams.
I did it ALL wrong. In years one through three, I BURIED myself in equipment debt before I had the frequency of business to pay for the gear. For example:
- My first three $5k bodies became obsolete and needed to be replaced before I ever [finished paying] for the first one!
- I bought [instead of rented] every piece of lighting/tech I would need for a shoot–SO STUPID at a time when I didn’t really even know WHAT I wanted to shoot!
- Costly advertising was a big loss in early years. When I see those old ads now and realize how badly branded they were, I shake my head at the fact that I paid $1000’s annually to basically tell everyone who saw the ad how much of a rookie I was!
- Then there was the second mortgage on my house [so I could] build a custom studio addition to my house in year four…
- …and the late-model BMW I bought in year five so clients coming for bridal appointments would think I was more successful than I was.
I knew where I wanted to go, the ‘high end’ perception I wanted to present, and the value of that perception, but I exercised ZERO financial caution or intelligence in doing it.
On one hand, the debt completely sucked and almost put me out of business repeatedly in years six through ten. But there is also a flipside: my nothing-short-of-financially-ignorant dedication to the next level FINALLY started clicking in year eleven!
“I guess you say I dressed for the job I wanted, and now I actually have it – and a custom studio. Oh, and if there is only one tiny bit of info you retain from this comment, I wish for it to be ‘don’t buy a used BMW when you are already broke.” – Patrick Williams
Five expert tips to help you make money with photography.
Maine photographer Thomas Morelli shared his mistakes and successes, the combination of which have garnered him 1,281 wedding and over 15,000 portrait sessions since 1976! The best part? He’s still going strong and loves his job as a photographer!
I started photography full time in 1980: portraits and weddings. I learned some hard lessons:
- “I’m really good, so everyone will call me, right?” (NO. You MUST learn to market to your target market.)
- “I need to be cheap so people will work with me” (NO.)
- “I want to photograph everybody in my town!” (NO. You must be willing to let some people walk away. Not everyone with a pulse is your client.)
- “I will buy all new expensive equipment, go way in debt, and then people will hire me!” (NO. Used equipment and eBay are your friends.)
- “I will take advice about my photography business from everyone who gives it to me!” (NO. Only take advice from people who are where YOU want to be.)
What does your dream photography business look like?
Dream big dreams – but make sure they’re your dreams. Maybe you don’t want the big studio space, but you do want to be able to work from anywhere in the world. Or perhaps you don’t care about booking super-high-end clients, and prefer to shoot a high quantity of more modest events or sessions each year.
Whatever your dream may be, pursue it with passion, wisdom, and purpose.
Tell us your dream – and how you’re getting there – in the comments below!
Written by ANNE SIMONE with contributions from the ShootProof Community Group | Photographs by JOE DANTONE