Can You Make a Living as a Professional Photographer?

Here is a Guest post from Brian Jenkins of

Do you have a strong desire to make a living as a photographer? Ken Rockwell believes that it’s difficult to make a decent living in the field. As a tip, he offers, “Your success is critically dependent on your ability to educate others why your photographs or photography services are superior. If you can’t, you’re going to get bottom dollar every time.” He also says, “If you can’t differentiate yourself, you’ll only be able to negotiate price and payments. If you’re only negotiating pricing, you’ll always lose to someone newer and hungrier.”

Professional photographer Danny Steyn stated, “An internship with a professional photographer can really give you an insight into both the creative as well as the business side of photography.” According to Stein, it’s really easy to become an intern or an assistant to a professional photographer. He suggests you contact them by telephone or email. Send them your images and be persistent!

Danny mentions that almost all photographers who want to intern for him don’t follow up after the first email. He said that those who keep contacting him get his attention.

Photography Editors

Photography editors seek concise images that clearly communicate an emotion or idea. For example, women’s magazines buy hundreds of stock shots every month. The photographs they purchase typically express a sentiment often dealt with in featured articles, such as a young woman out on a date with her boyfriend. Photographs that speak clearly have a better chance of being accepted by photo editors than ambiguous images.

Photography Agents

Gloria Cappelletti, an agent with the Management Artists’ Organization in Manhattan, stated, “First of all, it’s vital to be known, and an agency is in daily contact with clients and publications.” She went on to say, “That’s the best way for a young photographer to be able to have a connection with them, because usually the photographer is busy taking pictures, and the agent is busy talking to clients.”

Photography agencies also re-sell your photographs in several different markets. They act as mini publicists. Agents suggest photographers treat the first contact with them as seriously as if it were a job interview.

Fine Art Photographers

Art-Support was created for fine art photographers. According to the website, “If you’re interested in the business of art, this site is for you.” The website also provides information about photography events. Photographers have the opportunity to be listed with a link to their websites in the Fine Art Photographers section. Also included is an informative article entitled Where to Display Your Artwork.

Art Photography Galleries

It typically takes many years before art photography pays enough to make a living. Some art photographers sell their images on the Internet, but experts suggest critical attention and the strongest sales are typically due to a relationship with a gallery. Most major cities have at least one photo gallery. Manhattan itself has about 100 of them. Here’s a list of photography galleries located in the United States and in other countries.

Sometimes a gallery manager places portfolios in a backroom inventory and only shows them to specific collectors instead of presenting them in a public exhibition. Also, the industry standard is that the photographer receives 50% of the retail price of the photograph.

Microstock Websites

Microstock generally refers to photographs uploaded to the websites of agencies which then add them to their image library. The photographs are typically sold for very low prices or for royalty-free use. A percentage of each sale goes to the photographer. Some photographers report they receive from thirty cents to three dollars for a single microstock, depending on the agency. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s possible that one quality photograph could be sold hundreds or even thousands of times.

Photographers at forums report that it’s difficult to make a living selling photos to microstock websites. However, apparently a very small percentage do make good money.

The photographs for microstock agencies should be cropped to leave space for advertisers to add text, if required. Images are often use for advertisements.

Think Like an Editor

Go through magazines and decide what is it about the image that makes it suitable for that specific magazine article. Photographers need to think like an editor – what image would you put on the pages to enhance the article? Send your photographs to the editor of the magazine with a cover letter and a stamped self-addressed envelop if you wan them back.

Area of Specialization

Specialize in an area that requires in-depth knowledge and a passion for the subject. Fill a niche currently neglected or a niche poorly addressed. If you can afford it, find a specialization that provides high financial barriers and try to corner the market.

Making a good living as a professional photographer isn’t easy. There’s a lot of competition, so you have to be a good marketer. Exceed your clients expectations and they’ll likely come back for more and recommend you to other people.

Brian Jenkins writes feature articles about a variety of different education and career topics, including pieces that offer career advice for those in the photography field, for

3 thoughts on “Can You Make a Living as a Professional Photographer?”

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