The Most Overlooked Paid Photography Opportunities

Photography: GlacierTim

Start thinking about ways to turn images into cash, and at the top of the minds of most photography enthusiasts will be microstock. With dozens of companies begging for new submissions to keep their inventory fresh and attract buyers, it takes little effort to be in a position to make sales. Just shoot, upload and wait. The cost of that easy market access though is low prices and stiff competition. Stock sites offer millions of pictures, only a small percentage of which actually sell and only a small percentage of those sell a significant number of licenses. While some photographers are making meaningful incomes from microstock, they’ve usually chosen to work at it full-time and make a point of shooting the kinds of pictures the market demands rather than the sorts of images they most love to create. There are however a number of other fields which, although not as easy to enter as microstock, do offer real opportunities even for non-professional photographers.

Dance Classes

School photography is big business. According to Chris Wunder, a professional photographer who offers workshops on school photography, the field is one of the few that offers the opportunity to generate $1,000 a day in revenues (although the profits are significantly smaller). It’s also one, he says, that’s becoming increasingly open to smaller studios.

“The tables are turning away from the large, inflexible companies,” he told us. “Plus, other markets photographers have traditionally depended upon (weddings, seniors, children’s photography, etc) have become more competitive, so they are wanting to reach out to new opportunities to fill that void.”

In practice though, photographers looking to break into the school market will struggle to persuade the schools to give up their current suppliers for an untried photographer, especially one with little experience in handling large groups of children. School photography might be a lucrative opportunity, but it’s not an easy one to exploit.

But learning doesn’t stop when the school bell rings. After-school classes provide a different kind of opportunity for photographers. The number of images will be smaller — you’ll be shooting dozens of children, rather than hundreds — but that just makes the logistics easier and there’s a good chance that you’ll be shooting them more often. School shoots take place once a year; dance classes put on performances every few months, and parents are more likely to want to order prints of their little ones jumping and pirouetting than sitting on a stool in the kind of characterless pose that they can create themselves.

The relatively small size of the market means that dance classes aren’t going to be a replacement for professional school photographers. But occasional photographers — especially those with children who take dance classes — can find that offering to shoot and sell pictures of dance performances can bring in some useful extra income without having to compete against large professional companies.

Pro Bono Photography

You’re not going to make any money shooting for free but offering your skills to a good cause can produce something else of value: it can give you contacts — and those contacts can give you income. Top pet photographer Grace Chon, for example, started her photography career while working in an ad firm. In her spare time, she shot free portraits of homeless dogs for a charity. The shoots gave her the opportunity to practice photographing animals and put her in touch with pet owners. Grace now charges as much as $1,150 for a session.

Clearly, not all photographers are going to follow that route. Much depends on the organizations to which you want to donate your images, your ability to network and the willingness of the organizations to use your photos in their material, spreading your name and building your portfolio.

But the way in is simple enough. Choose a cause you want to support and start volunteering. Let people know that you’re a talent behind the lens and start shooting for free. Then let that internship guide you towards a specialization — even a part-time one — in a field of photography that’s important to you.


Blurb has made it easy for photographers to create photography books, but it hasn’t given people a good reason to buy them. Although the company’s online store is filled with books on topics from weddings to the Wade Family’s Visit with President George W. Bush, few of those books ever sell more than a handful of copies. Creating photography books is now simple. Creating books that people want to buy — and marketing them so that those people know about them — is still a struggle.

One kind of book that does have both a steady demand from buyers and a constant need for images is textbooks. Publishers of college books, whether they’re intended to teach budding physicists or produce young sociologists, tend to have stricter image demands than other image buyers do. It’s not enough to know that the picture in the stock inventory is a flower. The publisher of a biology textbook will want to know what kind of flower it is and where it was photographed. They’re more likely to find those sorts of details on specialist science image banks like PhotoResearchers and PhotoTake.

Not all of these images are easy to create. Shots of cells and medical procedures require a level of access that most members of the public lack — which is why stock companies like these often depend on doctors to do the shooting (and why there’s always a demand for them) — but if you have connections that can get your foot in a hospital door or into a university laboratory, you’ll be in a position to create (and keyword) some very sellable images.

When it comes to making money from photography, there are no easy opportunities. There are however, openings that are easier to make the most of than others, or that offer less competition than others, or that are more enjoyable to exploit than others even if they take longer to fulfill. Some paths to selling images might be well-known but there’s no shortage of narrower routes that are no less fruitful.

4 comments for this post.

  1. Reese Said:

    I sold a photo to a biology textbook last year. I didn't even put the photo on a stock site, it was simply a snapshot I had of a sea urchin on flickr and the company contacted me wanting to use it.
    A word of advice to those who may have this same opportunity: The company offered to pay me by giving me a free copy of the textbook. I did my research before responding and knew I should get paid, so when I spoke with them I told them I would have to be paid with money. They asked how much (which I had also researched) and I got what I asked.

  2. Janice Said:

    Yes, selling photography online is just like any other business - if you don't know how to negotiate and what your work is worth, you will most likely never make the money you desire. This article also rightly points out that strategic "pro bono" work can lead to important experience and contacts. You have to think about the desired outcome before volunteering for an assignment and be sure it fits in with your plans for your business.

  3. APhotoAssistant Said:

    Reese, you make a great point! With all the flickr's, photo buckets, stock sites, and other social media photo sites many people are unaware that many companies who need photography from photographers will usually low-ball when offering compensation for your images. They figure most amateur photographers don't know the worth of their image. DON'T sell-out. Do your homework and get the best fee for the image and it's usage. Start my looking at the ASMP Pricing Guides

  4. José Carrilho Said:

    I remember of a initiative where photographers would take a photo to poor people and offer it to them.
    This was a great thing to do since most of us don't have an idea of true poverty and those people could never pay to have a photo of themselves.
    I don't know if this is still going on.


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