The advent of mobile phone photography can be a mixed blessing for the photography industry. We all have smartphones, and therefore cameras, in our pockets these days. Everyone can be a photographer, and it’s easier than ever to capture fleeting and spontaneous moments.
However, many industry professionals lament this ease of access. People who get into photography with smartphones as their entry point rarely learn the fundamentals. Instead, they rely on apps and filters to enhance their images.
In response, many people have taken up the hobby of photography in earnest. Perhaps you’ve found yourself moving on from the camera and apps on your smartphone and buying a DSLR or mirrorless camera. This is a great way to take the next step towards improving the quality of your images.
But photography can be a more expensive hobby than most. And at some point, you might have to ask the question: when does this hobby start to pay for itself?
Hobbyist photographers don’t always look for ways to turn their passion into a profitable activity. It usually starts as something they enjoy. If you want to maintain the emphasis on having fun, that’s great.
However, the more you learn about photography, the more you’ll understand that certain shots and techniques aren’t possible with an entry-level camera body, kit lens, and some natural light. Good portraits often require the use of off-camera flash, reflectors, and other tools to diffuse and shape light. Wildlife photography can call for the reach of telephoto zoom lenses. Often, improving your skills will get you further than buying gear, but sometimes you simply need the latter to achieve the result you want.
There’s certainly a line between acceptable and unnecessary expense in this hobby. If you don’t make money from photography, it’s hard to justify buying more gear. But if you want to get a specific shot, you might end up buying a new lens or upgrading your camera body, for instance.
Photographers use the acronym GAS or gear acquisition syndrome to describe the habit of buying more gear to improve. Avoiding GAS requires you to emphasize mastering your skills continually. Along the way, learn how to budget so that you’ll know when those expenses are worthwhile.
Adding revenue streams
The flip side of avoiding GAS is that you could potentially justify gear purchases and upgrades if you find ways to make money from your images. Like a homeowner could pay for solar installation to subsidize their energy costs, you could subsidize your hobby by adding revenue streams.
Submitting your images to stock photography sites or selling prints on fine art sites can be one of the most accessible ways to earn royalties. Because there’s a lot of competition, you might have a hard time making a lot from these channels. But you’re turning otherwise unused photos into potential income sources. It’s a useful supplement to other options.
It might take more effort on your part to create a digital, ‘evergreen’ product such as a paid course, tutorial, or ebook. And you might not feel very confident that you’ve got anything to teach as a hobbyist. But your lessons might be exactly what newcomers to the field would need. And selling such products will allow you to keep earning with no further effort after you’ve created and released them.
There are many other options to make money from your photography without turning it into a full-time job. For instance, you can take on paid gigs. Colleagues might need professionally lit and composed headshots, and be willing to pay you for the work. Friends and family could need an extra shooter at a wedding or other special event.
You can also land part-time photography work online, even in the age of the pandemic. Ecommerce businesses need to showcase products with great photos. They’ll ship products, you handle the staging and send the edited images. Magazines could be looking for specific shots of an event, location, or theme.
Freelance work is a great way to earn from your hobby. But it also heads ever closer towards making your photography a full-time job. It’s essential to make that distinction because turning pro means running an entire business.
If you find that freelance opportunities and additional revenue streams are worth it, becoming a professional can be rewarding in the sense that you’ve made it. But it can also drown you in hours of administrative work, post-processing, and financial management. It’s a significant change from the world of a passion-driven hobbyist. Make sure you’re able to strike the balance that suits you.