Photography can be a very costly hobby and if you want to get serious in Street Photography you have to invest a lot of time to complete a series or capture beautiful pictures. If you are working full time you might have enough money, but time is probably very scarce. So the first conclusion is to turn your hobby into a profession to make money while you are doing what you love. What sounds great at first, might turn out to a nightmare and is actually a lot more difficult and less romantic than just walking on the street and photographing. Career decisions have a pretty big impact on your life, therefore here are some second thoughts that you should take into consideration which path you want to trace.
Making Money in Street Photography
Turning a hobby into a profession
Not only in photography, but a lot of hobbies people fantasize about going professional. The thought of earning money while doing an activity that you would do anyway is very tempting. Before we go into the specifics of trying to squeeze some money out of Street Photography I want to describe the general challenges you are facing while transforming from this hobby to a profession.
A big subject is a motivation for why you are doing X-hobby. It’s pretty clear you have a big passion and you do it even if you don’t earn money with it. You are performing this task because it fulfills you, it is fun and makes you happy. Let’s say you are a young football player on the verge of making the leap into the first team and being in the spotlight of higher division teams that could net you a nice contract. Suddenly football isn’t just a game you play with your friends to win and have a nice weekend. There is the pressure to perform, to focus 100% on this opportunity and not to fail. Some can withstand this pressure better than others but if you are not the type of person who performs well under difficult circumstances you risk not only losing the potential contracts and money but also the hobby.
This comes from the conflict between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. “Intrinsic” describes the motivation that comes from yourself, from deep within, while extrinsic motivation relies on external factors that motivate you. Extrinsic motivations can be money, but also fame or recognition. The danger in turning a hobby into a profession begins when the motivation transitions from intrinsic to extrinsic. Once you start earning a little money on the side with photography you might change your focus and chase the money instead of doing what you love. There is no easy way to stop this progression and once the fun vanishes it will be gone. So you are at the risk, not only to miss on a little side money you could make your normal day job but to lose your passion.
Finding a niche
In the poker world there is a saying that you could be 10th best Poker Player in the world, but if you are sitting at a table against the top 9 players you will likely lose a lot of money. The same applies to photography. If you are offering a service like portrait or wedding photography you are going to have a tough time competing in this market.
Especially when you are just entering the photography business it is advisable to find a niche and specialize in a field where the competition is much lower. For example, if you are a Street Photographer then you could focus on different fields for example Flash, Night or Close-up Candids. Focussing on a very narrow field also has the advantages that you can more easily acquire unique knowledge. Would you simply teach or providing services for “Photography” you would be a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Think for a second from the buyer’s perspective. If you want a business portrait would you rather search for a photographer who has been in this field for a decade and is a true master, or would you hire a photographer who is only “good” at portraits but also does sports-photography and a little landscape by the way?
How do Street Photographers Make Money
I didn’t talk about the specific ways of making money in Street Photography yet. The digital revolution didn’t make a stop in photography and has a huge influence on how street photographers actually make their money. While it was profitable to sell images or books as a Documentary Photographer years ago, the businesses have shifted. Photos are mostly available online for free to watch. Street Photographers publish most of their images on online platforms and social media to gain recognition and market their other products. Earning a living as a Photographer means in the digital age to have a diverse portfolio of income streams. Relying only on one big source can be risky when that stream runs dry. Diversifying your income streams is always a good idea because one downfall doesn’t suddenly mean that you are left with no income.
Teaching Street Photography
Most of them now teach Street Photography either through online courses or in the field on weekends. Since it is more secure to diversify the income through different products in case one income source ceases to exist, there are multiple ways to make money. Giving workshops was the latest trend to make a good amount of money with Street Photography. But it requires the teacher to have a really good eye in Street Photography since it is uncertain what might happen on the street and if you are unlucky with the weather you still need to able to adapt and motivate the students to take great pictures. Because of this uncertainty in Street Photography, most photographers have a standard repertoire of shots that are possible under any circumstances.
In the next step, you can re-locate the classroom to the digital world and offer video courses, for example at Udemy. This requires having a lot of experience to share and actually provide some helpful insight into Street Photography. Topics in this online courses cover mostly theoretical parts like composition, gear or tips in general to take better pictures.
You could also share your knowledge through e-books. Writing an e-book is not only helpful for your readers but also gives you the opportunity to think about Street Photography very thoroughly. To sell these you either need to have an already large following on social media or rely on 3rd party platforms.
A lot of work that has been done in the past in a clean studio has been transferred on the street. Think about Street Fashion shoots or sportswear which both emphasize the “urban” factor. Although this style is not candid it could be very well fit your natural style as a Street Photographer.
For reference have a look at the campaigns of “Ivy park” or the Nike commercial shoot by Boogie.
Both pictures have a very urban look and if you are already an experienced Street Photographer, transitioning to this kind of commercial shoots shouldn’t be too difficult and a real opportunity to make some extra cash.
Again, this doesn’t really reflect on the quality of your pictures but the influence through social media followers or blog visits you have. Advertising certain brands, cameras or lenses are another opportunity to earn a little money on the side. Although most companies are more likely to sponsor your gear than giving direct money, this can be an opportunity to test new cameras earlier than the public.
The main point of this should be, to be honest with your audience and yourself. Sponsored images or posts should be marked as such and only gear that you truly believe in should be advertised. Trust is the most costly good for this kind of work and could have a great backlash if you are being dishonest and advertise gear that is clearly inferior and you wouldn’t even use yourself.
How to sell Street Photography
Selling Street Photography is a very difficult task. Street Photographs aren’t exactly mainstream in the sense, that most people would go to IKEA and buy a close-up picture of a stranger and hang it on their wall.
The audience for Street Photographs are mostly photographers themselves or art interested people. Therefore you should sell your photos always at the highest prices. Your pictures might start at a few hundred US-Dollars and go for more than a few thousand.
This might sound very high, but there are people willing to buy photographs for that price. For the Street Photography genre, what I hear from different sources it is always easier to acquire a small but “hardcore” client base. They are the buyers that are willing to pay these prices.
Sell your Street Photography by satisfying such a small client base that is willing to pay this premium, rather than appeasing a broad audience that is hesitant to buy your photographs at all.
No matter which way you want to pursue and how good your photos are, there are other factors that may have even a bigger impact on your success in making money with Street Photography than the sheer quality of your photos. Along with your marketing skills you need a lot of perseverance to endure the years of not gaining out of your hobby.
Take a look at the special case of Vivian Maier. Certainly, her photos had the ability to sell well as her books show today. But during her lifetime her photos never got the recognition they get today because she didn’t manage to convince any editor of her work. Since it was a lot harder and costly to present your work through mail and film prints she didn’t sell any book during her lifetime.
Today we have a lot more tools to present our work and I believe that quality will always succeed through hard work and a little marketing effort. Nonetheless you need to invest a lot of time to actually make it happen.
To put this in perspective I want to show the work and dedication of Casey Neistat, who did short videos every day for over a year.
At the time he decided to do a video every day around March 2015 he had around 500k Subscriptions. It did take him nearly 6 months to gain another half million Subscriptions and overall from the start of his channel more than three years to hit the milestone of 1 million Subscribers. To reach the 2 million milestones he only needed 6 more months and after another 8 months, he got 5 million fans that subscribed to his channel.
The point of this little story is, that he was always a great storyteller and did make high-quality videos regularly. But he needed to do publish a quality piece every day until he hit the critical mass to gain exponential growth.
Similar if you are just starting photography and your business and want to grow your audience you show your work to, the more regular you can publish high-quality content the better. A great photo every once in awhile is good, but if you want to reach potential customers you need to invest time in your photography business every day. Either through creating pictures, reaching out to other people or creating quality content of any sorts.
Good pictures alone won’t get you any money it is the combination of quality, perseverance, and marketing that will make you successful in the long run.
Money in the Street Photography field doesn’t come from the pictures itself. High-quality images are rather a catalyst for your products that you are able to sell. Opportunities to gain money lie mainly in the educational field and commercial work. Street Photography has gained a lot of popularity in the last years and people are eager to try it out themselves. This is the chance for more experienced photographers to pass down their knowledge and supporting beginners to enjoy their hobby a little more.
Being a good Street Photographer obviously helps to start your own business, but it requires a lot more to be successful in the long run. If you don’t see yourself studying tax laws, reading marketing books/articles or photographing anything outside Street Photography, you will have a hard time to understand all the business aspects that will actually sell your work.
In addition to that, there are a lot of risks involved to turn your hobby into a profession. Outside of the risk of losing money, you could also lose the fun in photography when you are under the pressure to sell your work to pay the bills. This could lead to frustration in months that don’t run that well and eventually also affect your quality of pictures. The pressure may negatively influence your creativity and in the long run, you may lose the passion for photography.
Therefore it is probably the best to transition slowly into your Street Photography business. Try to reduce your working hours for your normal everyday job and spend the rest of the day on your side business. If you don’t get bored soon, the income on your side job increases and you aren’t attached too much to your “normal” job you could try your luck as a professional Photographer. But keep in mind that being a professional photographer is mainly about business stuff and less about photography.
Also published on Medium.