Using Photography to Beat the Recession


Photography: Arty Smokes

The idea behind Photopreneur was always very simple. Digital photography had lowered the barriers that prevented talented enthusiasts from making money out of their images and we wanted to help them over what was left of the fence. We aimed to do that by providing not so much as a leg-up to imaging riches as a roadmap to all of the interesting new markets that have been popping up.

And, of course, we wanted to explain what to do when you reach them.

We hoped that photographers with skill and dedication would be able to use this information to get published and, more importantly, paid. We didn’t really expect anyone to toss in the day job and take up photography professionally – it’s not easy to make a living as a professional – but we did hope that it would help professionals find their way around the new environment and amateurs add a useful second income to their main salary.

These days though it feels good just to have a salary. That might change things a little. If photography earnings were once best regarded as the icing on the cake – a chance to add a little extra to the month’s take – now it’s also possible to see them as a standby salary: money that can help to pay the bills after the severance pay runs out and before you find a new permanent position.

That’s not as much fun as what we had in mind, but it is a lot more useful.

So if your workplace looks like it could shrivel as the economic climate gets colder, how can you use photography to get ready for the hard times ahead?

Raid Your Photography Hard Drive

You can start by looking at the images you already have.

Whenever we talk to a business that’s looking to help photographers sell images, one of the first things we want to know is what sort of images they want their photographers to shoot.

In fact though, there’s always a good chance that a photographer who wants to contribute to a  new licensing company won’t actually have to shoot anything because he already has a hard drive stuffed full of saleable photos.

To start making money, you might not have to do anything more than pick your best photos and upload them. Your computer could have its own little safe stuffed with valuable goodies ready to have a For Sale sign stuck in front of them.

But first you have to dig out the saleable photos from the images that are just nice to look at. So do it now.

Instead of waiting until the day after the chat with the boss when you’ll be feeling low, desperate and convinced that the shot of your big toe is worth thousands, take the time to go over your hard drive and separate the photos that really could be worth money from the brave attempts at playing with light. Create a folder for shots that could be sold as stock and another for artistic images that you could try selling on eBay.

You don’t have to actually start selling them yet if you don’t want to – although it wouldn’t hurt to try – but just realizing that your talent has already produced valuable work can be very reassuring.

Become a Photography Assistant

You could also use this time to become even more familiar with photography by lending a pair of hands to a professional photographer. Most professionals use assistants at various times and pay a small amount – and sometimes nothing but an education – in return for help with lighting and perhaps some post-production.

Making those connections now won’t just teach you about equipment, posing and all of the other things that professionals do to capture the image. They’ll also help you take commissions and start booking the occasional event client should you be left with more free time than you’d like.

At the very least, they’ll give you the connections that could help you to work as a stand-in for other wedding photographers in your area. As a stand-in job, it’s not a bad way keep money rolling in as you head out for interviews.

Play with Products

Stock can make one useful revenue stream and the odd commission can make another. But it always pays to have as many different ways of generating income as possible.

Many photographers try to supplement their licensing and commission-based incomes with print sales (that are hard to land) and postcards (which take a lot of initial selling and may have even smaller profit margins than microstock.)

An alternative is to sell photography-based products on sites like Cafepress and Zazzle.

On the one hand, these should be an easier sale. More people buy t-shirts and coffee mugs each year than pay out for photography prints. But you will have to do the marketing yourself and the competition can be very intense. Sales often depend as much – and perhaps more – on creating a community around your work and your style than on the quality of the images themselves.

It certainly takes time, so again, it’s a good idea to start now.

As you’re looking through the images on your hard drive, try to identify photos that could look good on a product – and even more importantly, look for a series of images with a theme that will give you a distinct identity and let you build a community around them.

You could even begin building your online store. The building itself doesn’t take time; it’s the selling that can drag on so if you really do need it one day, you’ll want to get started right away.

All of that might sound a little depressing but it really shouldn’t. The economy might be sinking faster than a bottomless ship, but photography enthusiasts at least are in a lucky spot. That’s not just a camera you’re wearing around your neck, it’s also a  lifejacket. You might not want to float around in it for too long but hold onto it, be ready to use it and know how to put it into action, and if you do need it, you might find it keeps you afloat until rescue comes.

And of course, if you find you don’t really need it, you can still have a lot of fun and make a little money playing with it.

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