Advice to Photographers Whose Photos Don’t Make Money – From a Photographer


We've already touched base on cashing in on your existing photo collection, but what if you're more interested in making money from stuff you're shooting now?  There are two main ways to make money from photography; getting hired to shoot or selling your work as art – each requires a unique approach to acquiring clients and making sales.

take me to the light
Photo by Shoken

What if you're still making sales though?  Photography is about telling a story through still photograph, capturing moments and building memories – here's some tip to get the sales that maybe you are missing out on.

Things to Remember if You Want to Get Paid to Shoot

If you're the type of photographer who's getting hired to shoot, weddings, event coverage, etc. then your job is to capture the event exactly how the people attending it remember it, and the intimate moments and interactions between two or three people.  Blend in, mingle and look for these moments.  What should set your photos apart from say, Uncle Joe at the wedding reception with his DSLR is how you shoot these moments.

  • Utilize fast lenses, shoot wide open, the depth of field alone creates the separation from subject matter to the background that most amateurs don't know how to capture.
  • Get a flash bracket to move your flash off the camera, this will greatly reduce red-eye, but also should flip so the flash stays directly above the camera for less harsh side-to-side shadows.
  • Take the time to do a custom white balance in mixed lighting situations so color representation is accurate too.

If you're a wedding photographer specifically, one of the newest trends is giving a kick-back to your bride & groom for orders placed by guests.  Get the photos into your online store as soon as possible and offer your bride & groom 10% credit towards any purchases they will make, or 10% off the package they bought from you for everything friends and family order.  By doing this, it turns your clients' into salespeople, pushing your service and prints onto their friends and family.

The other current trend is to offer prints from the wedding at a slightly lower price for the first two weeks, then drastically raise them.  Some photographers offer 8×10 prints for $10 during the first two weeks, then the price goes to $30.  This tactic is extremely effective because the event is fresh in the minds of the guests and they can be swayed to purchase in fear of the prices going up.

With both of these methods it's imperative to get marketing materials in the hands of the guests, so work with bride & groom and perhaps offer to print their table cards or place settings for names and roll that price into the package.  This would allow you to get your website and possibly some small marketing info on them and home to friends and family of the bride & groom.

Lastly, keep your calendar updated with the dates of the weddings you shoot, about three weeks prior to the anniversary of each couple send them a nice folded card with an image you shot during their wedding, wish them the best and inquire if they would have interest in doing a follow up shoot and / or if they have had any children so you could get hired to shoot them.

If you're hired to shoot something specific, say a family portrait, head shots or more posed photo, the idea here to getting prints sold is finding out exactly what your client needs and offering them that.  Try your best to never say no.  Provide the client with the best possible experience with you and give them a reason to use you for future events.

What About Selling Your Photos?

Selling photography as art can often be a bit more difficult, but with more options like and the ability to easily sell on your own website becoming available, more shooters are doing this.  If your art still isn't selling there could be two reasons why.  Buyers of photography tend to pass on  pieces they think they themselves can shoot, so only sell your very best shots.  The other reason could be how you are presenting them.  Spending a few extra dollars on a custom cut matte and a nice frame will drive up your total cost, however the look of the piece is strikingly different, and for the better.

Next, don't just look at making prints on paper, utilizing some of the new techniques out there from vendors, the ability to have prints made on canvas that's stretched around bars and hung on the wall in the same way a painting is look simply stunning.  Metallic, or sometimes called Mica paper is a traditional wet processed paper the same as matte or glossy, but has a deep silver tone to it that's simply amazing when light catches it.  Even printing on metalic surfaces can also produce stunning results. Offering your photos on more then just glossy or matte will give your buyers a unique option they may not even know exist.

When selling as art, don't overprice your work.  If you're an unknown artist, look to recoup your costs plus some profit, but make your work accessible.  One of the smartest things I saw a photographer do more than 10 years ago at a photo gallery was so simple and clever, but has stuck with me all these years.  They were offering 16×20 prints on canvas, beautifully done, but very expensive, I think around $1500 each.  They also offered the same photo as a 4×6 taped into a cardboard frame for a much cheaper price (which sold a lot better!).

The last step to selling photos is to let people know you have them for sale!  Utilize free social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to tell your friends and family about them.  Facebook also offers low cost advertising that anyone can buy, which you can use to target specific demographics of Facebook users to reach audiences larger than who you are just friends with.  Attend local art shows, meet with fellow artists of all backgrounds, mingle, exchange business cards and talk with them on how they are getting art shows, selling pieces and making money.  Attend photo workshops and seminars to continue learning what the new trends are.

Don't Forget About Other Potential Income Streams

While shooting and selling prints are the two most common ways to make money for photographers, don't forget that you also have a skill that people will pay to learn. Many photographers supplement their income by taking classes of students through the basics of photography. Once you get established in this way you can even start taking seminars of people (see Scott Bourne and Rick Sammon as photographers who have been very successful doing this).

The other option is writing about photography. And this doesn't need to be as difficult as getting a book or magazine deal. The great little self-published PDF guides of people like Mitchell Kanashkevich and David Duchemin are in huge demand. In fact, we know that Mitchell financed his last overseas trip from selling his guide to lighting in photography! We also know well that there is a huge online demand for this type of information that is presented well.

In short, treating photography as a business is at the core of making money from it. If you want to go pro (and we admit not everyone wants to) then honing your potential income streams is how to do it.

About Author

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

The market is saturated with print on demand sights, stock sites and those happy to down load your work(illegally)as screen savers. Maybe people should think back to the time of film and(if you were shooting then) why you got into Photography(though I do wish I had today’s knowledge when I first started out with film-that’s life). Not everything in life is about money. When you start to think about the money you are not making from Photography, maybe think about another Hobby/Job. Stay with Photography because you have a passion.
ps. I don’t try and market myself but have sold through out the UK/Europe, U.S.A and back home in Australia with about a 60% mark-up. Want to join a community of Photographers/Artists on the chance of selling your work?


All valid points, photography is one hobby that anyone can recoup their investment in gear and profit a little bit, with some basic skills. I snowboard in the winter, I know I’ll never make back the money spent on gear or lift tickets, but it’s my hobby, that’s it. This article was geared more towards shooters who are actively working in the photography business on a full or part time basis, or those starting out.

I also totally agree about staying with photography because of passion. I know far too many shooters who now only shoot because they are paid to and have totally lost the love for the art.

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