Like many photographers, you may dream of making money with your photography. There are many reasons for this, and each photographer has their own. It may be to make money to fund new gear, supplement your existing income, or because you want to quit your day job. Whether growing a part-time income is your end goal or a stepping-stone to going full-time, this guide will walk you through how to turn photography into a side hustle.
This is a step-by-step guide, but not all of it will be relevant to you. If you’ve already started making money with photography, you’ll still find this information useful. Take the parts that are relevant to you and apply them to your photography business.
As your side-hustle evolves you’ll find parts of this become more relevant. Bookmark it and revisit it at a later date to see how you can grow your income.
Should You Turn Photography Into A Side Hustle?
No matter where you are on the journey, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself a few hard questions. Answer them honestly, because the answers will help direct your photography business. It’s easier to get started on the right foot than to have to backtrack later.
Before you start any side hustle you need to establish whether there will be a conflict with your regular job. Conflicts can come in many forms. It may be a legal conflict of interest, which will depend on your employer and your employment contract. These are rare, but worth being sure about.
Conflicts are more likely to be about your time and energy. Is your performance going to suffer if you’re putting a lot of time and energy into a side hustle after hours? Will it distract you from your job or tempt you to work on your side-hustle when nobody is watching? Your day job needs to be your priority, so be sure that it won’t suffer.
Take a step back from your photography and try to decide if your work is of a standard that you could be charging money for it. This is a difficult question to answer because we’re so emotionally invested in our art. Sometimes asking others for their opinion helps, and I don’t mean your mum or best friend. Ask a couple of established photographers for their opinion.
Quality is especially important if you’re planning on making money selling photography services to clients. This means weddings, portraits, events, etc. Quality means consistency. Do you miss focus a lot? Do you spend a lot of time ‘fixing’ photos in Photoshop? Can you show up and produce a high level of image-quality every time? If not, you need to spend more time improving your photography technique until you can.
When you turn photography into a side hustle there will be some start-up costs. How much will depend on many factors. At a minimum, you need a website and you need to register your business. There will be any number of extra costs on top of this which will depend on your niche.
There are too many variables to cover in this guide, but you should consider what those costs will look like for your photography business and how you’ll cover those costs.
Generally speaking, people who decide to turn photography into a side hustle are in one of two camps.
- You have spare time and want to use it productively.
- You want to make extra money and decide photography will be a good way to do it.
Neither of these reasons is right or wrong, and many people will be in both these groups. If you’re in the second, you’d be wise to consider if you have the time. Don’t underestimate how much time a side hustle can swallow up.
Of course, you can decide how much time you want to put into it. If making money with photography is your primary goal, you’ll need to put in a lot more time to make it profitable than you might expect. Which leads to the next question…
Chances are that you already have other commitments in your life other than your day job. It could be family, friends, sports or social activities, etc. Wherever they are, ask yourself how a side hustle might impact those commitments. I’ve been known to have too many hobbies, so take it from me, taking on too much can be detrimental to your relationships.
This is especially important if you have a family or partner. It goes without saying that you should discuss the prospect of a side hustle with them first. Your family won’t thank you for the extra money if they never see you because of your photography business.
Will You Enjoy It?
This is one of the most commonly overlooked things when it comes to turning photography into a side hustle. Just because you love photography doesn’t mean you will love making money with photography. Ask any professional photographer and they’ll tell you that money changes things. Not to say you won’t enjoy it, but don’t assume you will.
Think of it this way – cooking and working on cars are two of my many hobbies. Would I want to work as a chef or a mechanic? Not a chance. Enjoying something as a hobby and enjoying it as a business aren’t the same thing.
Choose A Niche
One of the things that attract so many people to a photography side hustle is that you can make money no matter your niche. You’ll likely dabble in various niches with your personal photography, and we all do that. But when it comes to your photography business, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of choosing one niche.
There’s a temptation to approach your photography business from the perspective of maximizing your potential income by being a ‘Jack of all trades’, also known as a generalist. Although this temptation is understandable, in the long run, it doesn’t work.
You’re far better off focusing on one photography niche and becoming a specialist. Your chance of success specializing as a newborns photographer is far greater than photographing newborns, weddings, and landscapes.
Try to avoid letting money be a deciding factor in choosing your niche. I spent a couple of years running a wedding photography side-hustle, and although I loved it at first and the money was good, I realized after a while that it wasn’t the right thing for me, so I called it quits.
If you don’t have the passion for it or you’re only in it for money, you’ll lose interest, or worse, it will be apparent in your work.
Your Existing Specialties and Photo Archive
Chances are if you want to turn photography into a side hustle, you’ve already chosen a niche and have already started to develop a style of your own. If not, you’ll likely be able to narrow it down by thinking about the subjects that you get the most pleasure out of creating and you are most skilled at.
To help you narrow down your niche, I’ve divided a few of the most common photography niches into two categories – client-based and self-assignment.
The best way to think of them is whether they involve shooting for clients or shooting for yourself. This may help you decide on your niche by considering whether you want to and are able to work with clients or not.
For example, I work as an intensive care nurse, which means twelve-hour rostered, rotating shifts. Days, nights, and weekends. This makes working with photography clients during my days off difficult. Booking weddings, events, portrait sessions would be a major headache for me.
On top of that, I enjoy the freedom that comes from landscape and travel photography. I can shoot what I want when I want. I learned from experience that shooting what clients want stifles my creativity.
If you work a regular 9-5 and have weekends off, you know when you’ll have time for your side hustle weeks and months in advance. This makes working with clients much more realistic.
Client-Based Photography Niches
- Wedding Photography
- Portrait Photography
- Newborn Photography
- Event Photography
- Real Estate Photography
- Pet Photography
Self-Assignment Photography Niches
- Product Photography
- Landscape Photography
- Travel Photography
- Street Photography
- Stock Photography
Of course, there can be some crossover between niches. For example, you might photograph portraits and license them as stock. This can add an extra income stream to your portrait photography side hustle but comes with extra considerations. The point is that even though you should stick to one specialty, you can get creative by finding crossover niches.
Find Your Style
If choosing a photography niche is important, finding your personal style is critical. Think of your style as the way to define your photography and stand out from the crowd.
Your photographic style doesn’t need to be something new and groundbreaking. It needs to be a consistent look that you can reproduce.
Consider Anne Geddes, one of the most well-known newborn photographers in the world. You likely recognize her images a mile away. That’s a style.
Your style is crafted by many things. It’s a combination of your subject, vision, planning, location, lighting, gear, and post-production. It can even be influenced by the way you market your photography.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to photographic style. It just needs to be consistent and authentic. You can take inspiration from other photographers’ styles but resist the temptation to copy them. This is about finding your own style.
Set Up Your Business
If you want to turn photography into a side hustle, you need to take it seriously. This means setting off on the right foot. A little work and preparation now will make things easier later.
If you don’t expect to make enough money from your photography to justify the effort, you won’t. When you expect and plan to grow it into something worthwhile, your chances of success are far greater.
If you make money from photography, you’re in business. You have an obligation to yourself, your clients, and your government to treat it that way.
Tax and Legal
Your legal and tax obligations are the least glamorous part of starting a photography business, but the most important. The rules are going to be different depending on which state or country you live and work in, so I can’t give specific advice.
If you’re not an accountant, talk to one. It may cost you a small amount of money, but not doing it could cost you a lot more later.
Choose A Business Name
The common advice around how to choose a photography business name is mostly based on whether your business involves other photographers or not. If it’s a portrait studio with multiple photographers, for example, you need a generic name. If it’s just you, and always will be, use your name.
As a side hustle, your photography business is likely to be a solo venture, so use your own name. You’re an artist and your art is tied into you and your vision. As your business grows, you want people to associate your work with who you are, and your business name is an important part of that.
The exception is if there’s a chance that you could grow your side hustle into a full-time photography business in the future or take on other photographers.
Buy A Domain
Again, there are a couple of common approaches here. The most common thinking, and my advice, would be to use your business name – yournamephotography.com.
The other option is using the keywords you plan to optimize your website for. For example, if your business is shooting food photography in your town, you could buy the domain yourtownfoodphotographer.com.
Both of these approaches have their pros and cons. It’s worth thinking about the future of your business. If you use a location-based domain, what will happen if you move to another location in the future? What if you want to add product photography to the business? Go with a domain that’s future-proof and buy it.
Build A Website
No matter what some people might say, you need a website. Don’t rely on Instagram or Flickr as your online presence. They won’t always be around, and even if they are, you have to play by their rules.
Your own website allows you to build an online presence that grows with time. This means you’re more likely to get found by Google and build authority. You can use your website as an online portfolio, photography blog, print store, or a combination of these.
There are some great photography website builders available, which do a good job on their own. They have their limitations, though. If you use one of them, I would suggest also creating a free WordPress site and linking it to your portfolio site.
You’re going to want a logo for your fancy new website, but it doesn’t need to be anything special. I’ve had many logos over the years, some professionally designed, some mashed together myself in Photoshop.
If you have the budget and desire for something really visually appealing and unique, find a designer and go for it. Don’t stress about this, though. As long as it looks professional, that’s all that matters. This is especially relevant if you’re niche isn’t client-based and you’re not trying to market yourself to a specific audience.
The gear you’ll need will depend on your niche and style. You need quality gear that helps you create the images you want, but nothing more.
Quality doesn’t need to mean new and expensive. You would be surprised how little gear many professional photographers operate their businesses with.
Many photography businesses have been unprofitable thanks to Gear Acquisition Syndrome. New gear is nice to have, but you can almost always create high-quality images with older, cheaper, or second-hand equipment. Don’t let your lust for gear eat up all your profits and sabotage your business.
Marketing Your Photography
The most often overlooked driver of success in the photography business is marketing. There are a ton of talented photographers who fail in business because they don’t know how to market their work. On the flip-side, there are many average photographers who are wildly successful because they’ve learned the importance of marketing.
Marketing is one of the core principles of good business, and photography is no different. Your eyes might glaze over at the thought of it, but you don’t need to become an expert. You just need to find a couple of techniques that work for you and stick to them.
As with most aspects of the photography business, which tools you should use will depend on your niche, your budget, and your income streams.
If your niche involves shooting for clients, it goes without saying that you’ll need to find them. They won’t come knocking on your door, unfortunately. There has been a ton written on the subject of how to find clients.
As a general principle, avoid working for free. Remember, you’re in business, so start how you intend to go on. The first weddings I photographed were for friends and family, but I still charged them. It wasn’t a lot, but it sent a message – my time is worth something. If someone doesn’t value your photography enough to pay you for it, do you really want to give it to them?
When you have a portfolio that’s good enough to promote yourself and find clients, put it out there and let people know you’re in business. If people don’t know you’re in business they can’t hire you or refer people to you.
If you’ve been a photographer for a while, you likely already have a presence on social media. There’s no doubt that social media is a valuable way to get your work out there, but the way you use it for your hobby and the way you use it when you turn photography into a side hustle are completely different. You need a strategy.
Instead of having an account on every social channel you can find, I would suggest choosing one or two and sticking with them. Each has its pros and cons, and again, which is best will depend on your niche. Whether you choose to focus on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter doesn’t matter. What matters is that you think about where your potential clients are and how to get your work in front of them. Which brings me to…
Despite what some people who have something to sell might tell you, the days of being able to play for free are numbered. Once upon a time, you could get a huge organic reach on Facebook and build large audiences without paying for advertising, but not anymore.
This may seem unfair, but the reality is that if you talk to any successful business owner, they’ll tell you that they pay for marketing. It’s an investment, and if you do it well, you’ll get a return on that investment.
Again, it’s all about strategy. Paid advertising is incredibly intelligent, and you can make your dollar go a long way by getting your work in front of the right eyes. Google and social channels allow you to advertise to highly targeted audiences cheaply.
You could start with something simple like advertising engagement sessions to get potential wedding clients through the door. Advertising a sale on prints of your landscape photography can be highly successful.
It’s a cliché, but you need to spend money to make money.
The exponential growth of blogging over the last couple of decades proves how powerful it is as a marketing tool. Most blogs are either a tool used to market a business, or they’re entire businesses in themselves.
Marketing your photography can either be done through your own blog or as a guest contributor to other, bigger blogs. A blog can be used to share your work, educate potential clients, answer common questions, discuss current events in your niche, whatever you like. The key is to make sure you’re writing for the right audience.
Where blogging can be a game-changer is when you write for blogs that already have the audience you want. Blogs love guest contributors because it gives them free content. You can get your work, knowledge, or voice in front of a ton of people who might want to know more about you and potentially hire you.
Try researching blogs that share your niche and find some that you think you could contribute something to. You don’t need to be an expert writer, but you do need to be able to make yourself understood. There are a ton of resources out there if you want to develop your writing skills, which I highly recommend.
It’s Time To Turn Photography Into A Side Hustle
If you’re ready to pull the trigger on your photography business, there is no better time than today. You have the photography skills, now you need to learn the business skills necessary to turn photography into a side-hustle.
This guide is an overview of the things you need to consider and the steps you need to take, but there’s a lot more to learn. If you want to take this thing seriously and make money with your photography, subscribe below to get notified about new articles from Photography Side Hustle. You’ll receive photography business articles, photography technique tutorials, and reviews of products and services.
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