How to Earn a Living as a Photographer

Written by Mark Rogers

You’ve got an eye for composition, an instinct for lighting, and a talent for capturing the perfect moment. But how do you turn your skill and passion for photography into a career that pays the bills (and then some)?

Many Beginnings

Fine art photographer Charles Santora started taking pictures as a hobby, but eventually left his corporate job to pursue a full-time career selling his artwork. Beth Rose Goin (who specializes in portraiture and art photography) was once the entire photography club at her high school. Nature photographer Christopher Morgan took a film photography class his freshman year of college.

There are countless ways to begin your journey as a photographer—and almost as many career paths you can follow. Let’s take a look at some options. 

Fine Art

Charles, Beth Rose, and Christopher all produce fine art photography, which is different from commercial photography. The lines between the two can be blurry, but some would agree that what makes a photograph fine art is the intention behind the photo: the photographer aims to express an emotion, mood, or vision in a personal way. Fine art photographers have the final say over the look and feel of an image they create, while commercial photographers have less control, answering to their client’s vision and timeline.

Make It Snappy

One of the fastest-growing markets for professional photographers right now is social media photography. Brands and businesses are racing to connect with their base (and potential customers) through a strong social media presence. This has created a growing market for shots that are polished and appealing, while still managing to look candid and unposed. 

Find Your Niche

Commercial and industrial photography as a whole is a wide umbrella that covers a range of niches. You might specialize in photographing real estate, sporting events, fashion, wildlife, or travel. Food photographers and stylists bring cookbooks to life. Science photography is also a high-demand field people often overlook when planning their career. 

Capturing the Moment

Another potential career path is event and portrait photography. Some photographers specialize in destination weddings, corporate headshots, pet portraiture, or even boudoir photoshoots (which have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade).

A Different Kind of Stock Portfolio

Another popular way to monetize your photography is by selling your photographs to stock photography companies like iStock. Experts suggest uploading frequently and shooting a wide range of options to maximize your earning potential. Making passive income from stock images is trickier than many people realize—there’s a lot more to it than just uploading your favorite shots. But those who learn the market needs and produce sellable images can build a nice supplemental income this way. 

In the News

Photojournalism is another career path to keep in mind. Some photojournalists are self-taught, while others complete university degrees in photojournalism. Other professionals suggest pursuing education in a particular subfield (say, government, economics, foreign languages, or others) and adding journalism training later. 

Marketing is a Must

No matter which photography field you choose, the more well-known your work is, the more opportunities you will have. For Chris Davis, a commercial photographer in the advertising field, photo shoots are only a fraction of his work. “If my work days were represented by a pie, the time I spend behind the camera would only be a sliver,” says Chris. The majority of his efforts go toward getting his name and work into the marketplace via social media, blog posts, and email campaigns. 

For more marketing advice, check out these articles:

Top 10 Tips for Selling More Art: This article is geared toward artists, but the principles can be applied to photography. 

Writing an Artist Biography vs. Statement: These suggestions can give your photography business added credibility — and give you clarity in defining your goals.

Advocacy for Artists: Giving Back in 2021: See the many ways Frame Destination is committed to supporting artists and photographers. 

Pricing Your Work

One thing to consider when assigning value to your work is the overhead you incur. That could include the time it takes in post-processing, driving to locations, and the overall cost of your photo gear. Hobby photographers may not take all of this into account if they have a day job, but professional photographers should factor these things into their pricing. 

Keep Growing

Regardless of the path you take in building your career, aggressively improving your skills and portfolio is a must for all photographers. Knowing your strengths, investing in your own growth, and learning to recognize and capitalize on trends are all skills that will pay dividends when it comes to building your career.


Last Updated July  27, 2021

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