This article is part of our Photography Business Startup Guide—a curated list of articles to help you plan, start, and grow your photography business!
On the surface, becoming a professional photographer is easy. The only barrier to entry is buying the necessary equipment, and having a good eye.
However, it is difficult to build a sustainable, successful career as a photographer. An estimated 60 percent of photographers do not last beyond their first year in the business, and another 25 percent drop out in their second year.
So, if you want to become a professional photographer and get paid to sell photos, it’s time to strategize. This guide will cover 10 ways to make your photography business as profitable as possible, from attracting new clients to ensuring that your existing client base keeps coming back time and time again.
1. Offer smaller “mini-sessions”
Plenty of clients will hire a photographer for a large event—such as a wedding—but might not consider hiring one for a smaller session, which they might think would be too expensive or take too much time to make it worth their while.
By offering shorter, less expensive “mini-sessions,” where you might charge $100 for a quick 30-minute shoot, you can maximize your client base, as well as your time.
Mini-sessions can be a great way to get new clients in the door (who will later book you for longer sessions), and for shooting either less popular holidays, smaller events, or fun themes. When strategically integrated into your list of offerings, mini-sessions can be a great addition.
2. Offer discounts for order volume or number of shoots per year
A tried-and-true method: Offer your clients a discount for larger print order volumes, or give them a discount if they book a certain number of photo shoots with you per year. Statistics show that you can potentially sell up to 73 percent more product if you offer it as part of a bonus package; this applies to bulk orders, too.
For example, offer a 10 percent off discount if they buy a certain number of prints from you (the exact number will vary from photographer to photographer), or allow them to use your services at a discounted rate if they book with you four times in one year.
You could also consider offering discounts for shoots booked at certain times of the year, such as a spring shoot when the weather begins to change (which is a nice tie-in with other themed photo shoots—see tip 7!).
3. Consider stock photography
Do you take creative photos that tell a story? You might want to consider selling your photos to stock photography websites. Not only can you earn supplemental passive income this way, but it’s fairly easy to do. You can also license your photos through sites like Flickr, Getty Images, and 500px.
Return on investment for stock photography is largely dependent on how many images you upload to stock sites. While images may only sell for a few cents to a dollar, many photographers have hundreds of images on multiple different stock sites, and the average monthly earnings in 2009 were estimated at over $800 a month.
Photographer Brendan van Son says, “Between my microstock sales, I have averaged about $250 a month on average. The best part of microstock for me is that it’s fairly residual and passive. I spend very little time on it, and it keeps coming month after month even if I stop working at it.”
4. Shoot for free—for a cause
To be clear: You should rarely work for free as it is generally a waste of your time (and clearly doesn’t bring in any income!).
However, volunteering to take photos for a charity event is a great way to network and gain exposure and goodwill within your local community. Include your watermark on the photos and make sure you’re tagged on Facebook for best results.
Or, auction off a photography session for charity. Not only will you be donating to a good cause and getting name recognition, but your new client may turn into a life-long client.
5. Sell large-scale prints or offer unique materials
While standard prints will always be there to help your clients remember their special day, consider offering a stunning wrapped canvas print that they can display proudly.
If your clients are reluctant to pay for a large, expensive print, Jim Harmer of Improve Photography shares this tip:
“Offer to display the print at their wedding (at your cost), with a donation box where guests can contribute money to allow the couple to take the print home with them.” Jim attests that nine times out of ten, you’ll walk away with a profit, at no cost to the couple. Win-win.
In addition to large, wrapped canvas prints, consider offering prints on nontraditional materials, such as metal or acrylic prints.
6. Start a referral program
Offering clients a discount for referring friends and family works on multiple levels: It encourages clients to return—especially if you choose to offer the discount on their next session—and it brings in new clients.
There are many ways you can set your referral program up. You can offer a discount on a future session, or you can offer a discount on prints. However, make sure you only offer this once the friend or family member that your client has referred actually books your services!
7. Offer themed photo shoots
In addition to the standard themed photo shoots for major holidays, senior pictures, and weddings, consider offering some fun themed packages for your clients to choose from.
Many photographers offer boudoir-themed photo shoots, which can also be a great chance to build a relationship with a local hair and makeup salon as well, as you could offer their makeup and hair services before the shoot. Or, consider offering photo shoots for the less standard holidays, such as a Halloween-themed shoot where families can capture their children’s adorable costumes, or take advantage of the changing seasons by offering seasonal shoots.
8. Collaborate with businesses where your target client spends time and money
As a photographer, you’ll need to build solid relationships within your community. While your brides, for example, may have their own makeup artists and hairstylists who they would like to work with, it’s a good idea to make sure you have your own relationships in place as well.
Consider the boudoir-themed photo shoot: You’ll want to offer a package that includes hair and makeup, so you’ll need to partner up with a local stylist or salon.
You can take this partnership one step further by offering a discount for new clients referred by the salon. Create some beautiful flyers or small cards to leave at the salon, showcasing your photography work, with a small discount for new clients.
You could also expand your reach by shooting promotional photos of the stylist’s hair and makeup work, with the stipulation that they refer clients to you or mention your services on all their social profiles.
9. Shoot a sporting event or nightclub
Scope out any events in your area, such as youth sporting events, concerts, or even nightclubs, and offer to shoot these events.
With sporting events, little league or high school teams have likely already hired a photographer; however, don’t let this discourage you.
Jim Harmer of Improve Photography recommends asking teams for permission to take action shots of the players, and handing out cards or flyers to parents, prompting them to visit your site and order prints.
Similarly, club promoters are always in need of photographers to shoot (and therefore help promote) their events. Get in contact with the owners or promoters of local nightclubs and ask if they’re looking for a photographer to shoot their events—or simply show up.
10. Have a contest for a free photo shoot
Are you looking to grow your email list? Hold a contest for a free photography session.
The catch? To enter the contest, have participants give you their email. When they do, add them to your email newsletter. To sweeten the deal, maybe offer those who don’t win the contest a small discount on your services.
To make money selling photos, you don’t have to incorporate every single suggestion in this list into your business strategy. Pick your favorites and add them to your repertoire; not only will you be offering a more diverse selection of services to your clients, but you’ll pull ahead of the pack and set yourself apart as a professional.