The Truth about Making Money with Photography

No matter where you look online, you’ll find a plethora of blog posts, Instagram memes and YouTube videos telling you how you can easily make money online with photography. Some even suggest that making money online can be as easy as buying an entry level DSLR and starting a photo business. As if it was that easy!

These motivational style pieces of content usually contain money making suggestions like…

  • Product Photography
  • Selling Stock Images
  • Selling Photographic Prints
  • Start a YouTube Channel
  • Photographing Influencers (athletes)

Now don’t get me wrong, all of these are very viable revenue streams….however time for a little reality check!

Product Photography

Product photography is actually a good way to make extra money alongside your Sports Photography business. By building good relationships with clients that are involved with the sports you work in, it often throws up opportunities to shoot things like products. It’s happened quite a few times with me over the years and while its great, you need to take the advice of doing product photography to make extra money with a pinch of salt.

The reality is shooting products for brands and sponsors rarely brings in big money. One of the main reasons for this is, brands who are associated with sports are either 1) huge businesses that are hard to get into and require a lot of skill and knowledge to shoot for or 2) are small brands who are investing hugely into the sport and often have very limited resources for photos.

Small brands simply can’t and don’t allocate a budget for product photography as it isn’t high up their list of business priorities. To be successful at shooting trainers for brands like Nike or Adidas or the like you have to really treat that as a specific business, working hard to create great work that they’ll love. You can’t simply treat it as something to do for a bit of extra cash.

Selling Stock Images

Stock sites are everywhere. From massive world wide sites to small niche websites that tailor their images to a specific target market. It used to be a case that a photographer could go out into the world, shoot a bunch of great images and then sell them all online and make a bucket of cash. Not anymore!

The stock image market has been flooded with free options over the past 5 years and its diluted the business model that used to be there. From a sports photography perspective, selling images to compete with the big agencies like Getty and AP is a mammoth task. Sometimes you’ll sell images for stock but rather than hoping that it’ll be a key part of your business, it’s much better to be mindful of the opportunities and have the ability to quickly and easily sell stock images to a client when they approach you.

Selling Photographic Prints

Prints are actually making a bit of a comeback after a few years of not really being a thing. There’s something amazing about seeing a great sports image, printed to A0 size, mounted and framed. I’ve been fortunate over the years to sell a few and to see the results is very very cool.

As sports photographers, prints can be a nice option to add to your revenue streams if you do it correctly with well thought out images and good pricing.

BUT!

Just to have someone on the internet (or worse, family and friends) tell you to sell prints online and expect them to sell is sadly naive. It just doesn’t happen. If you want to be a Peter Lik and sell a print for $6.5 million dollars then you need to treat the whole thing like a business. That means you need a proper online store, really well thought sales and marketing and of course killer images. Its not just a case of throwing up a few on your website and expecting them to sell. You have to be serious about it.

Will you sell a few here and there? Yes! But to do it properly you have to treat it like a genuine business and work at it accordingly.

Start a YouTube Channel

This one is easy right? Start a YouTube Channel, post some videos, get 1000 subscribers and start monetizing the channel with ads and in the money will come. Well yes. Thats the theory but the reality is very different.

The reality is that sports photography is actually crying out for good engaging video content on YouTube and there’s a few creators who do it well. If you’re good in front of camera, have some serious knowledge and expertise and can build a base then yes YouTube is a viable option.

BUT!

It takes time. Starting your channel now and posting videos sounds easy. But it takes a lot of time to build up your viewers and subscribers. It isn’t easy. Take it from someone who’s run a YouTube channel for nearly 2 years and is still seeing slow growth. That’s how the platform works. If you want to be Sports Photography’s next Casey Neistat then that’s great but realise Casey was creating videos on YouTube for a decade before things really took off.

Photographing Influencers (athletes)

I’ll not beat around the bush with this one.

You won’t make money trying to charge athletes with large social media followers for photoshoots. It just won’t happen. Sorry. And if it does, it’ll be very rare and the margins involve won’t make it cost effective.

‘Most’ athletes don’t have the money to make it a sustainable business model for a sports photographer to make regular side income out of. What the majority of athletes earn is actually very little and those that make the big bucks, usually rely on images from brand shoots or fixtures to populate their feeds.

HOWEVER

Like with product photography, as a sports photographer if you’re mindful of opportunities you can make money working with athletes when you get brands to foot the bill. A big sponsor will often pay for images of an athlete which will allow you to do portrait work with them and working with a forward thinking brand who knows the content you can shoot is valuable, can actually be a great way to make money as a photographer.

So how can you make money as a sports photographer outside of shooting live events?

The picture I paint might seem all very doom and gloomy but the reality is that making money with any kind of photography is hard. But over recent years I’ve developed a good part of the business which is just commercial photography with brands alongside my sports work. This kind of photography comes from the sports I work in and the relationships I’ve built.

If you look carefully in that paragraph, you’ll find the clues to making money as a sports photographer outside of live events be it product photography, selling prints or anything else…..

  • Over recent years
  • Sports I’ve worked in
  • Relationships I’ve built

Making money with Sports Photography is about time, patience and relationship building. I’d love to be able to sit here and give you a 5 point plan that if you follow you can be making cash in 30 days time. Sadly that reality doesn’t exist.

If you’re got a passion for selling prints alongside your event work, great do that but do it passionately and really focus on making that part of your business a success. If you want to shoot products for sports brands, great do that but work hard to hone your product photography skills and make sure you’re not doing it on the whim.

Because that’s what all this is really about. If you’re serious about adding a revenue stream to your business then do it but do it because you’re serious about it and are prepared to put in the hard work!

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