Are you thinking about making photography a career? Those are the same exact thoughts I had a few years ago.
Well let me tell you, it is possible to make a living off of photography, especially in today’s digital age. I’m living proof of it.
I don’t even make a living doing traditional photography photoshoots, but I’ll explain that a bit more later.
In this article, I’ll be sharing my personal experience making a living off of photography through both content creation and traditional photoshoots.
I will also be providing insight into the photography industry and where I believe the future is heading.
If you’re interested in pursuing photography full-time or part-time, and all the ways you can monetize your photography skills, then this guide is for you.
Let’s dive right in.
If you’re more of a visual learner, be sure to watch the video version:
Table of Contents
Is Photography a Good Career?
If you enjoy photography and it makes you happy, then yes photography is a good career.
But there’s a lot to unpack with that above sentence.
The first thing I want you to notice is how I said “if it makes you happy.”
When I first decided to get into photography and start thinking seriously about making it a “career,” the word “passion” was being thrown around a lot.
You often hear that word a lot — passion this, passion that…that word gets used a lot.
Here’s the thing:
I have a passion for photography, but I also get burnt out of it sometimes.
I think people often feel that in order for them to feel confident in making something a career that doesn’t follow the traditional path, they believe it needs to be something they have a deep burning passion for 24/7.
The truth is:
Photography and everything that encapsulates photography does currently make up my career — it is my niche.
But do you want to know the reality?
There are some days when I don’t even want to think about photography because I’m just tired of talking and thinking about it.
Photography is also not my sole “passion.”
I am passionate about many things.
I am passionate about life, music, human connection, and understanding more about the world we live in.
So my point?
If photography makes you happy, then yes photography is a good career.
If you feel like you don’t “qualify” to make photography a career because you’re not thinking about it 24/7, then throw that thought away.
What is Good?
Now the second thing I wanted to point out, is how I stated that it’s a “good” career.
Well, what is good exactly?
Good is subjective and everyone’s definition of good can vary.
Good can mean many things depending on your perception of good.
For some people, “good” can mean it makes a lot of money, for others, “good” could mean something that aligns with their values, for others, “good” could mean it’s something that gives them more time to pursue what they like to do.
So saying a particular field makes for a “good” career is too subjective.
With that being said, I’ll be diving into those three definitions I just mentioned throughout this article.
I’ll give the quick rundown right now.
Photography as a career can make you a lot of money.
I believe any niche or skill set can make you money in today’s digital age.
I’ll be explaining that a bit more later.
In terms of values, photography can align with a lot of them such as freedom, solitude, tranquility, human connection, helping others out, etc.
In terms of time, just like any other business you create, it can provide you the opportunity to “be your own boss” and make your own schedule.
Now I’m not saying that time and work don’t need to be put in (because it does).
I’m just saying you get to at least decide when to put in the time (for example I’m writing this article at midnight right now).
Now let’s take a closer look at the money side of things.
Do Photographers Make Good Money?
Yes, photographers can make good money.
As mentioned earlier, becoming a photographer most likely means becoming a business owner and starting your own business.
Whether it’s you photographing clients or becoming a content creator, the sky is the limit!
The thing is:
If you become a photographer for a company or for someone else’s photography company, then the sky is still the limit because you can also become a content creator!
According to Salary.com, an average photographer’s salary in the United States is $57,422.
But this salary range is if you were to work for a production company or go in-house for another company or agency as their photographer.
While this is a great way to get your foot in the door and provide steady income, I’ll mostly be discussing owning your own photography business in this article.
And when it comes to the question of making good money, the answer largely depends on the type of photography career you pursue:
I define a traditional photography career as one such as becoming a headshot photographer, wedding photographer, product photographer, commercial photographer, etc.
One where you take photos for people and in exchange they give you money.
Traditional photographers could also sell photo prints every once in a while and do speaking engagements, etc.
Non-traditional photography careers are ones that have to do with content creation — such as the photography career I’m in.
As a content creator, I’ve been able to earn a full-time income by creating educational content, working with brands, and monetizing my content.
Some months are better than others in terms of money (my best months have been +$10,000 and my lowest months have been around $3,000).
Don’t get me wrong:
I still do portrait photoshoots for clients every once in a while, but it doesn’t make up the majority of my income.
The income may not be as “steady” as traditional photography careers.
But once you have the correct systems and processes in place then it can become more steady.
I also believe it also offers more flexibility and autonomy.
This is because you can increase or decrease the content production anytime you want.
Now let’s take a closer look at the current demand for traditional photographers and non-traditional photographers in the job market.
The Current Demand for Photographers in the Job Market
The demand for photographers in the job market is constantly evolving.
If you’re thinking about getting into photography as a career, it’s important to understand this current demand.
Let’s take a look at both the demand for traditional photography careers and non-traditional photography careers.
Demand for Traditional Photographers
Overall, when looking at photography as a whole, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of photographers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
Since there are many niches of photography, I’ll be covering the most popular ones which include portrait photography (covers headshots), wedding photography, and product photography.
When taking a look at the trend and demand for portrait photographers, one way to do this is to look at Google Trends:
When we take a look at the trend chart for people searching for “portrait photographer” we can see that it has stayed the same within the past five years if not even increased a bit.
Let’s now take a look at the trend chart for wedding photographers:
Similar to the “portrait photographer” chart, when we take a look at the search demand for wedding photographers we can see that it has been increasing over the past five years.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the demand for product photographers:
Similar to all the other two charts, there has only been an increase in the demand for product photographers.
This makes sense:
With the rise of eCommerce businesses, more and more business owners need high-quality product brand photos to increase the perception of their brand and sell more products.
Demand for Non-Traditional Photographers
As we’ve seen, traditional photography careers such as wedding, portrait, or product photography have a more established demand.
But non-traditional photography careers such as content creation are also on the rise.
In fact, in this study by Supply Gem regarding Creator Economy Statistics, the content creators in the Photography niche are often the most monetized.
And speaking from personal experience, this makes sense because most photography gear are often high-ticket items.
This means creators could make more money and there are always people looking to improve their photography!
Here’s the bottom line:
As a content creator myself, I’ve found that there are plenty of monetization opportunities available as a creator.
Especially with the growing demand for visual content across various industries.
Such opportunities revolve around affiliate programs, brand sponsorships, ad revenue, product creation, and courses.
Why I love the content creation aspect so much is because the amount of money you make is solely based on how hard you work and how valuable you’re able to make your product or service.
Don’t get me wrong:
You’ll need to know some marketing and SEO, but at the end of the day, your career lies in your hands and it’s not up to any office politics or annual raises.
While traditional photography careers may offer more established job opportunities, content creation can offer more unique and diverse opportunities.
These opportunities could even boost your career in a traditional photography field.
If you become a popular photographer creator, it could even help you land more traditional photography gigs because now you have a name for yourself.
Whether you’re a traditional photographer or content creator in any niche you pick, it’s important you stay up-to-date on industry trends and demands to capitalize on opportunities.
This leads me to my next section — the challenges of picking photography as a career.
The Challenges of Working as a Photographer
Whether you’re making traditional or non-traditional photography a career (or both), it comes with its own set of challenges.
The most common challenge among both of these is the constant need to adapt and stay up to date with the newest and latest technologies and trends.
This can be particularly difficult if you are a photographer who is more “old school” and doesn’t stay up to date.
With the advent of social media and building an online “personal brand,” the need to have at least one form of social media and a well-optimized portfolio online is crucial for landing more clients.
As a content creator, I’ve faced my own fair share of challenges as well.
Consistent Content Production
One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered is the need to constantly produce fresh and engaging content that stands out in a very crowded market and niche.
It can be both time-consuming and mentally exhausting at times.
Especially when you spend a lot of time on a piece of content but it doesn’t get the engagement you were hoping for.
Keeping Up With Trends
Another challenge as a content creator is the constant pressure to keep up with the latest trends and social media algorithms.
It’s a constant push-and-pull between staying true to your own creative vision and style and feeling compelled to produce content that has intentions to go “viral.”
Despite these challenges:
Working as a photographer can be incredibly rewarding for your mind and spirit.
I’ve found that the satisfaction of creating something beautiful and meaningful, and the ability to share it with the world, is well worth the effort and challenges that come with the job.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of getting into photography as a career.
Pros of a Photographer Career
There are many benefits to working as a photographer. Let’s take a look at them now.
Creative and Fulfilling Profession
Photography in itself is very creative and fulfilling and allows you to express yourself artistically while also making a living.
But this pro also ties into the point I made in the previous section.
If you let “trying to make viral content” get to your head and no longer photograph what you enjoy, then you could lose this feeling of fulfillment.
I’ve found that having a balance between the two works best — creating some content that is meant for “views” while other content is just meant for my own enjoyment.
Another pro of a career in photography is the flexibility it can offer.
Depending on your niche and the type of photography you do, you may be able to work from anywhere in the world while setting your own schedule!
This is one thing I love about photography as well.
Photography sort of forces me to go outside and visit beautiful places because I want to photograph them.
I’m usually behind a computer screen 24/7 so I love that photography makes me enjoy the physical world.
Cons of a Photography Career
Although I believe the pros outweigh the cons of having photography as your career, I still want to list them so you’re aware of them.
The first con is that there is high competition.
Remember those great pros I listed earlier such as being able to make money doing something fulfilling and creative and basically getting paid to travel the world on your own schedule?
Well yeah, other people want that too.
Photography can be a highly competitive industry, with many talented photographers vying for the same jobs and opportunities.
Additionally, working solely as a photography content creator can be unpredictable and inconsistent until you have some systems and processes in place.
When starting out, your income can be very inconsistent so I’d recommend keeping photography a part-time job until you can make a full-time income from it.
Tips for Building a Successful Photography Career
We’ve talked about pros and cons, and now let’s take a look at some tips in order to build a successful photography career, both traditional and non-traditional.
1. Invest in Skills and Education
The first tip I have for you in order to build a successful photography career is to invest in your skills and education.
I believe in this so much that I have a company dedicated to education.
If you take better-looking images, it will only provide more opportunities to you.
It will allow you to charge more and it could help you get a better following as a personal brand because others will want to take similar images to you.
2. Build Online Presence
The second tip is to build an online presence.
Showcase your work on social media and be sure to create a professional-looking portfolio.
This will help you attract potential clients or help you land brand deals with companies if you’re going the creator route.
I discuss in my photography portfolio guide that there are many places to have a portfolio such as on social media, a website, or a third-party portfolio builder.
I recommend that wherever you choose to have your portfolio, you at least have a website with your portfolio for tracking, ownership, and professional purposes.
3. Network and Build Relationships
The third tip to build a successful photography career is to network and build relationships within the industry.
I personally did this by reaching out to other photography blogs and asking if I could write for them.
This allowed me to build relationships with these photographers.
From there, I met other photographers through those photographers.
On the model side, I reached out to local models in my area asking if they wanted to do trade-for-print shoots (TFP) and eventually we became friends.
You could also attend photography events and connect with other photographers and industry professionals there.
4. Play to Your Strengths
When I say play to your strengths I mean focus on making money and building a brand by honing in on what your strength is.
In the beginning, we can’t all be great photographers with great composition, editing, and marketing skills.
There are certain skill sets that we are better at than others (at the beginning without practice).
You may have a knack for editing while another photographer has a knack for marketing.
In this case, you could play to your strengths by offering editing and retouching services for other photographers or creating content around editing and retouching.
My biggest skill set was and is my marketing and SEO knowledge since I was a marketing consultant.
I’m leveraging that knowledge in the photography niche to build a brand for myself and make money.
I’m doing this while I’m consistently practicing and trying to improve my own photography shooting and editing skills so they can soon match my marketing skill level.
5. Focus on One Channel at a Time
Lastly, you’ll want to focus on one channel at a time.
This relates more to the non-traditional photography career route of becoming a content creator.
What I mean by channels are the different ways you can gain views or traffic to you as a brand.
Channels include social media, SEO, PPC (paid ads), event marketing, word of mouth, referral marketing, etc.
The most popular channel by far is social media and most people think that you can’t be successful without social media, but this is far from the case.
I barely use social media and I’m still able to make photography a career.
My main channel is through SEO and driving traffic through article creation and having it rank on search engines.
Find a channel that you want to focus on and hone in on that first, then once you get some traction, hire out and then dive into other channels.
The biggest mistake people do is trying to be on all channels at once and they end up spinning their wheels.
Can Photographers Make 100k a Year?
As a photographer, it is certainly possible to make $100,000 a year, but it will take business knowledge.
If you are considering starting photography as a career, then raw talent will only get you so far.
In order to truly make a career out of it, then you would need to also look at photography from a business viewpoint.
Factors that influence income potential include experience, creativity, niche, marketing, strategy, and the ability to adapt to industry trends.
The three tips I mentioned earlier about investing in your knowledge and skills, building an online presence, and networking are the three main ingredients you need to remember.
You will need to build upon these if you want to make 100k a year either as a traditional or non-traditional photographer.
In order to make $100,000 a year, it’s important that you understand a high-level overview of income streams.
Your “income streams” as a photographer essentially means how you diversify your income.
By offering various services such as stock photography, portrait photography, workshops, selling prints, doing speaking engagements, selling digital products, etc.
In order to reach $100,000 you will most likely need to have multiple income streams to diversify your income and reduce risk.
My income streams include the money I get from photography sessions, ad revenue, affiliate revenue, and digital product purchases.
While making photography a career and earning a six-figure income as a photographer is certainly possible, it is not an easy feat.
As a content creator who has built a successful (and hopefully even more successful!) business in this industry, I can say that it requires dedication, hard work, and patience.
It took me a long time and many long days to just build to where I am today and I’m far from where I want to be.
It’s essential to stay current with industry trends and to constantly want to improve. Persistence and willingness will take you very far.
It will be difficult in the beginning to make photography a career, which is why I recommend having a full-time job until you can make a full-time income.
It is possible, however, to do what you love for a living and reach high levels of success and income in the field of photography.
Just believe in yourself, and stay consistent, you got this!
Is photography a good future career?
Photography can be a good future career as it offers a range of opportunities, but success often depends on developing a unique style, building a strong portfolio, and staying up to date with industry trends.
What types of photos sell the most?
Photos that sell the most are usually those that fulfill a commercial need, such as stock photography, images of food and drinks, lifestyle and travel, and business-related content.
Which photography career is best?
It’s difficult to say which photography career is the best as some may prefer traditional photography careers such as wedding or portrait photography, while others may excel in non-traditional careers like content creation.
Nate Torres is a seasoned photographer and marketing consultant, providing educational photography content while also teaching photographers how to grow their business and brand through SEO. Nate shares his insights on his YouTube channel, “Nate Torres,” and on his personal photography blog, Nate Torres Photography. Beyond the lens, he’s an authoritative voice in the photography industry, serving as a speaker and photography author for renowned photography publications such as Photofocus, SLR Lounge, and Fstoppers. An entrepreneur and lifelong learner at heart, Nate is also the co-founder of Imaginated, an educational platform. Nate shares his insights on his YouTube channel, “Nate Torres,” and on his personal photography blog, Nate Torres Photography. But his expertise doesn’t stop at photography. Whether it’s elucidating the nuances of marketing within the realm of photography or sharing broader marketing insights, Nate Torres brings to the table a wealth of expertise, ensuring readers and audiences benefit from both his photographic acumen and marketing knowledge.