Making Your Photographic Hobby Pay

Making Money at PhotographyA friend sent me an email last week posing an interesting question for all amateur photographers namely, “How do you make your photographic hobby pay for itself?”.

At first I was tempted to tell him it’s impossible because gear lust tends to overcome common sense in most amateurs (and many professionals). The manufacturers keep adding features to keep us dishing out money for new cameras every year. If we fall into this trap (we’re all guilty of this folks) then it’s impossible for amateurs or most professionals to break even, let alone make a profit.

Successful professionals understand this reality very well and look at their gear as capital equipment that depreciates over time. No small business replaces capital equipment before it’s fully depreciated and the key to making money as a small business is watching your cash flow like a hawk.

However, somewhere along the way, serious amateurs begin to realize that their 10 megapixel 20D or 12 megapixel D300 is really all they need to achieve consistent image quality. They come to the realization that a good photograph has a lot more to do with the photographer than with the camera. It’s a profound and humbling realization for most and it’s the time when they sets aside their gear lust and begin their search for knowledge. It’s the time when serious amateurs seek out teaching professionals at workshops, seminars and photo-tours.

It’s also the time when many begin to give back to the photographic community as a whole. This is where many folks really begin to grow as photographers and discover that sharing knowledge freely with others multiplies their opportunities to connect with potential customers, sponsors and other photographers that share their passion.

The next steps amateurs take to make their craft pay for itself depend greatly on the personality of the photographer.

Selling fine art prints or coffee table books to the general public is hard work and most amateurs know very little about their regional market for such images.

Microstock photography is one possible revenue stream but a quick search on sites like iStockphoto turn up thousands of incredible images from very talented amateurs and professionals. (Face it. The stock photography market today is already flush with talent.)

Getting commercial work as an amateur is extremely difficult, given the fact that so many top-notch professionals are already out of work due to the ailing economy and the rapid decline of print media. Competing in the commercial arena means going up against the likes of David Tejada, Tyler Stableford and Kirk Tuck. Not for the weak of heart.

Some how do you make your photographic hobby pay for itself?

  • Control your gear lust and stop spending money for the latest & greatest stuff! The easiest way to break even is to stop spending your hard-earned money on a new camera every year.
  • Volunteer at your church, your local food-bank or your local civic center. NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) in your local area may well need the services of a photographer to document their work. But please don’t under-bid your local pro who needs all the work he can get.
  • Sell to small, local companies that won’t usually hire a professional photographer to shoot their widgets, facilities or staff but want new images for their web site every so often. (Just don’t do this in Sugar Land ;-))
  • Sell your services to local folks that need a simple but professional head shot for a blog, Twitter or Facebook. You don’t need a studio. Make house calls using your minimalist “studio in a box” on-location lighting kit.

If you’re good and can find a local niche for your work, your photographic hobby has the potential to pay for itself. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have gained valuable experience that most hobbyists never dream of.

“Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38)

9 thoughts on “Making Your Photographic Hobby Pay

  1. Gear lust, what an apt term. As someone who’s recently upgraded both lenses and camera I understand that well. This article was seriously a fantastic wealth of simple yet hard to think of by yourself ideas. The opportunities are always there it’s just hard to see them sometimes. I wish this I had seen a post like this about a year ago and not just before heading out on a 6 month trip lol.

  2. Pingback: Art and Photography Articles » Blog Archive » Choosing A DSLR Camera – Some Considerations

  3. Great Post Jeff! Very informative and right on the money.
    But why doesn’t my camera spew money out the top like yours 🙂

    As for the gear lust I have no idea what you are talking about [as I sit surrounded by white lenses and shiny tools (AKA toys)]

    • Josh,

      I think you may have misinterpreted that image. That’s the shot of all my money being sucked into the camera as if by a black hole (which gear lust can certainly become).


  4. Great advice, Jeff! Humbling but excellent ideas. Yeah, gear lust is a killer. I have been working a plan for mine. First, lenses for my next camera upgrade, then save up for the camera itself. Lenses took three years and are done. Saving for camera is well under way. If I buy anything, I way it against the camera purchase. Usually the lust fades.

    Once I get the camera, it will be used for a long time. Until I feel I need an upgrade. Once I buy a camera or computer, I never regret it as I know within 6 months something better will come along.

    • Thanks Scott. You hit the nail right on the head. Having a plan is definitely half the battle. Sticking to it in the wee hours of the morning is the second half. My prescription is simple; don’t visit for at least one week. That will tell you just how bad your gear addiction has become. Cold-turkey’s the only treatment. 🙂


  5. Thank you for this article. I’ve been thinking along these lines exactly but just haven’t ventured out to find the opportunities in my community. I’m going to offer to do some senior portraits for a couple kids who can’t afford them otherwise. I’m looking at it as great experience for me, but also a nice graduation gift for the seniors.

    • Colleen,

      Thanks for reading. It takes a lot of courage to seek commercial work as an amateur. Heck, it takes a lot of courage for a professional. Not for the weak of heart, that’s for sure.


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