Everyday, thousands of images are reproduced in books, magazines, websites, adverts, leaflets, calandars and many other places besides. Each and every one of those images was created by a photographer. Many publishers will pay the photographer for the right to use those images. Although, it's worth noting that not all publishers will pay, some will only offer to credit the photographer for their work. As a photographer who's new to how you can make money from your photographs, seeing your pictures earn you money probably seems very difficult to achieve, complicated, hard to break in to and only achieved by professional photographers. However our guide is going to show you just how easy it is for anyone with even the simplest of cameras to make money. Cameras don't come any simpler than your phone! Images taken on a simple iphone can be made available for use by clients. Can you think of a more basic camera than that? Probably not. That's how easy it is to make money from your images. Of course you can also invest in expensive equipment and also sell those pictures. In this guide we'll look at all of the options for capturing those images and how you sell them.
The Basic Types of Photography Creating Income.
We're going to describe five ways you can turn your images and photography skills into an income. Those five ways are stock photography, commercial photography, magazine and newspaper submission, print-on-demand and exhibitions. Five terms that you will come across again and again as you become familiar with photography and creating an income. Lets look at what each one means and how it differs from the other. For the record, we recognise that running photography courses is a photography-related income generator but generally it's a pursuit that isn't based on your actual photographs and making money from your pictures is what we're all about. We also appreciate that you can sell your work online through websites such as Photoshelter® but at this time we don't know enough about this channel to write about it with confidence. When we've been down this route ourselves we will write about it. We never want to miss an opportunity to earn an income from our work.
Editorial and Commercial
There's an important concept to be aware of, which is the different type of uses for an image or footage. They are editorial or commercial. Generally, editorial images (or footage, when we refer to images, we also mean footage here), are of real things, current affairs, people, places, etc, that haven't been set up. An example might be an image from a football match used to illustrate a match report, a street scene or images of animals in a book about wildlife. Note generally, editorial images do not come with model releases. This restricts how they can be used and it's highly unlikely that an editorial image would be used in a commercial context. A commercial image will have been taken for the purposes of selling a thing, such as a product or service. It doesn't need to be real but it should have a model and property release for anyone or any property that feature in it.
You might have heard the terms stock library, stock agent, stock agency or picture library. Library is quite an accurate word for this kind of photography. A stock library doesn't contain books but thousands of pictures, of all kinds of subjects such as people, concepts, places and things and taken by many different photographers. Clients use a library to find pictures of very specific things that match the requirements of their imaging projects. Most importantly the client doesn't have to go out and shoot an image as they can most likely find what they want in a stock library.
When that client uses an image they have found at the library, they pay to use it and some of that payment will go to the photographer and some to the library. (see note 1 below). Photographers create images that they then decide to submit work to a stock library. Note that there is no guarantee the images will ever be used by a client. It is up to the photographer to ensure they create work that is attractive to buyers such that they decide to pay to use it.
An important concept to understand is image licencing. The client doesn't buy the image, they buy a licence which grants them the right to use the image in a certain way, for a certain amount of time, on different media and in certain parts of the World. Also considered is the number of times the image will be replicated.
Stock images and footage can be used for both editorial and commercial purposes but model and property releases will be neccessary for any commercial use. To read more about stock photography click here.
Possibly the best known type of photography. The term 'professional photographer' perhaps refers best to this and is what is generally understood by the casual observer to be what a photographer does to make a living. The Commercial Photographer (CP) takes on commissions from clients to create specific images they need. Those commissions could be to photograph a car, take a business portrait or shoot a wedding. What the photographer points his camera at on behalf of the client can be just about anything you can imagine! A client will set a brief (a list of image requirements) which the photographer is tasked with creating.
The photographer will get paid for the shoot and may only get paid once (see note 2 below). The CP also licences their images to the client in the same way as a stock image is licenced. Before the shoot commences the client and the CP agree the terms which define how the image will be licenced from the CP. Those terms will differ from photogrpaher to photographer depending on how they wish to do business with the client. The photographer always retains copyright to the images as they are creator of the work unless an agreement is made between the client and photographer for the client to become the copyright holder of that work.
To read more about commercial photography click here.
Fundamental Differences Between Stock and Commercial Photography
There are fundamental differences between stock and commercial photography which are described below.
1. A stock photographer (SP) creates an image with no guaranteed sale. A commercial photographer (CP) is paid to create a specific image for a client.
2. The SP may never make any money from his investment to create the image. The CP is paid when he delivers his images to the client.
3. A stock image may sell one, two or many times, earning money for the photographer without any further effort on the part of that SP. The CP is only paid once for his efforts. (see note 2 below). There are many differences between stock and commercial photography and these are explained further in the articles we recommend you read next. Read our introduction to stock article here and commercial photography here..
Magazine & Newspaper Submission
As a photographer there is no better sight than seeing your work published on the pages of a magazine or newspaper. It's still a thrill for me even after seeing my first published photograph about 20 years ago. Even in today's digital age there are many printed publications that need fresh imagery on a regular basis and much of this comes from photographers who submit their work to the publication's library for use as and when they need that kind of image. To read more about magazines and newspaper submission click here.
Print on Demand
This is a fairly new development whereby you upload your images to a print-on-demand (POD) service who then make your images available for anyone to buy as a print and if the customer wants it, framed too. Some services go even further and not only can your images be purchased as prints but also as phone covers, throw pillows and greeting cards. The beauty of some of these services is that you can set the amount of profit you would like to make for each print.
Another 'photography on demand' type service is that which is offered at one-off events, especially sport events, where a photographer will photograph all of the competitors who pass them and then load up those images on to a website from where the competitors can buy and download a copy of the image for themselves. Sometimes the people who run these services need photographers for certain events so will hire freelancers. To read more about selling your work as art prints click here.
In a nutshell, here we are describing seeing your work hanging as a print on a wall in a space such as a gallery or museum or anywhere that is prepared to let you hang your work. The icing on the cake is seeing your work being purchased by a buyer. To read more about exhibiting your work click here.
That gives you an idea of how you can turn your photographs in to income generators. Once your images start to earn you money you have to become business-savvy and what might start out as a hobby may have to turn in to what is for all intents and purposes a little business. Why's that you may ask? Good question. Once you start to earn an additional income then sadly tax has to be paid on your profits. This means you have to record your income and expenses so tax can be calculated on what you earn. It would be wise to maintain accurate records of all incoming and outgoing transactions to make the calculation of your taxes very easy. Other important concepts to understand are image licencing and copyright as you will be affected by how these work the moment you start to put your work out there for use by other people. All of these concepts are discussed in our other articles with links below.
So as you can see there are a number of different ways you can earn money from taking photographs. Some will be more appealing than others and each one depends on your own personal circumstances. Stock, print-on-demand and exhibitions are a good way to break in to earning cash as they can be done in your own time and perhaps give you an additional income whilst you also hold down another job. Commercial photography can in theory also be done part-time but you have to be available for when clients need you to work so this probably needs more commitment from the photographer. What we have done in this article is give you a summary of each aspect of how you can earn from photography. In the other articles each aspect is discussed in greater detail. See below for links to the articles.
1. A library can hold images that when sold, the price paid by the client is split between the library and the photographer. Sometimes the library owns the image and takes all of the profit. Sometimes the library is owned by the photographer who takes all of the profit.
2. A client will pay a photographer to use the photographer's work and this could allow the client to use those images for a certain amount of time, in a certain part of the world or on specific media like the web. The client may agree to pay the photographer again to use those same images after that initial agreed period or pay more to use the images in another part of the world or on different media like a magazine. See the section on licencing for more information about how this works.
3. Disclaimer - This article comes with no guarantee or warranty whatsoever. Please see our legal page for more information.
4. This article was updated August 2017.
Shoot,upload,repeat is the mantra of many a stock photographer who aims to make as much money as possible from their images. See how that's possible here.
All of our career interviews with filmmakers, filmmakers, broadcast TV and related visual-media professionals.
Image licencing sets the rules for what the client can and can't do with your pictures. See what the different types of licence mean to you.