In photography or any art form for that matter, the journey from passion to profit can be both challenging and overwhelming. Internally, we must confront and mediate the usual suspects, such as self-doubt and self-value, while also nurturing a genuine sense of worthiness and deserving.
1) Start Small
On the external front, there exists a plethora of variables to sort, along the lines of establishing rates, attracting clients, selecting products, and differentiating in an, often, overcrowded marketplace. The prospect of delving into all of this can be daunting, to say the least. As with anything, we must learn to walk before we can run. The key is to focus on one thing at a time.
2) Manifest Personal Value
For the longest time, despite what family, friends, and colleagues were telling me, I simply could not see the value in my photography. Without that deep-seated value, it felt impossible to ask potential clients to pay me for my services. I didn’t feel I was talented or capable enough to step into the realm of “professional” photography. Rather than merely focus on portfolio building, I started to photograph personal projects. Sessions, series, or editorials that had significance to me as a person and artist. In doing so, I began to find genuine value and merit in what I was creating. From there, it was relatively straightforward to translate that value into something tangible I had to offer potential clientele. Beyond that, my personal projects opened a variety of doors I would have never expected, doors that led directly to paid work.
3) Bolster Appreciation
Once initial momentum is established, it’s important to cultivate an appreciation for the importance of photography. As photographers, we capture and archive priceless, once in a lifetime moments. We create heirlooms to be handed down through generations. We build brands and embolden entrepreneurs. We empower individuals to see and embrace their unique beauty. We artistically catalog bits and pieces of the human experience. You, as a photographer, have a distinct vision and perspective of the world. What you have to offer is singularly unique and wholly irreplaceable. When a client pays you for a session, print, or project, they are paying for an experience and image, or set of imagery, that no one but you could provide and create. Monetizing your passion is merely an outgrowth of confidently sharing your vision and art with the world.
4) Appraise Your Artistry
So, how do we translate that self-value and appreciation into profit? Pricing is a subject that is definitely beyond the scope of this humble article. More than likely, what you are considering charging is far less than those in your area would be willing to invest; whether we’re talking about session fees, print products, or the like. Take some time to learn about what other photographers in your area are charging. Seek to price yourself above the bottom of the pack. I know, from personal experience, it’s a lot easier to find clients at a higher price point than it is to start low and try to increase prices drastically. If you’re only charging $100 for a session versus $1,000, sure it’s going to be easier to find clients. However, you’ll need to find 10 clients versus 1. Plus, the clients that pay the least will expect the most. Strange but true. Beyond that, at the lowest price point, the competition is fierce. Raise your rates and focus on competing only with yourself. Regardless, the important thing is to start charging. Period. I’ll never forget the first time someone paid me to photograph them. I doubt you will either. It’s a very special and significant moment.
5) Curate Products
Onto the domain of products. Personally, I believe that the photographs we create should exist tangibly, as prints. Society is so desensitized to digital screens. When I started focusing heavily on print, my profits soared. Additionally, the way I related to my photography changed drastically. There is nothing like holding a large print in your hands. Similarly, there is nothing quite like handing that print over to a client. The pride and joy you will experience when you start printing your work and offering prints to your clientele are, honestly, indescribable. Even if it’s only for yourself or your friends and family, start printing your work today, if you’re not already.
6) Build the Tribe
I can’t stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with those who not only support but challenge you. Go to meetups, attend workshops, join groups on social media, reach out photographers that you admire, etc. By doing so, you’ll quickly discover that we’re all at different points on a very similar journey. The best photographers in the world share similarly humble beginnings. We all struggle with self-doubt. At times, we all become overly critical of ourselves as photographers and artists, and of the imagery that we create. Know, without question, that you are not alone on this journey. Know, without question, that you can and will get to where you want to be. I know you can and will. I know, because I’m sitting here writing this.
Follow your passion, develop your style, cultivate an appreciation for our craft, print your work, and build a tribe of other creatives and artists. In doing so, profit will become a natural outgrowth of your passion. Now, go get behind the lens and click the shutter with confidence and gratitude!
Jonny is an internationally-published, award-winning photographer based in Denver, Colorado. Though he is best known for his portraiture, fashion, and fine-art work, he is also an accomplished creative director and educator|mentor. Forever fascinated with, and intrigued by the photographic craft, Jonny revels in the opportunity to creatively interweave his two great passions; people and art. He considers it a privilege and honor, every time an individual steps in front of his lens, and is driven by the challenge of creating authentic, engaging, visual narratives. As an educator and mentor, Jonny strives to empower others in the photo-sphere with the knowledge, skills, and self-assuredness to realize their own respective creative projects and artistic vision(s). When he’s not behind the camera, or immersed in Photoshop, you can find Jonny savoring coffee, penning poetry, lifting heavy things, herding cats, shopping for fabric & props, painting backdrops, watching The Simpsons, or exploring the grandiose realms of nature.