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So, who's making money out of their photography?

Duff photographer

Active member
Howdo all,

Photography has changed substantially over the last couple of decades. One of these changes is that many pro' photographers are no longer making the money they used to.

The main reason for this of course is that the coming of digital has made photography more accessible due to the relatively inexpensive means and ease of producing a final image once the equipment has been bought. There has been a surge of 'up-and-coming' photographers that are seeking to turn their interest/hobby into a business. In the last 20 years, I have frequently come across many that had a business plan of setting up a website, selling landscape prints over the internet or pushing their wedding photography by under-cutting established wedding photographers, etc., etc., all at the same as the other million or so budding pro's out there (and good luck to them of course). However, I wonder how many actually made it work. One thing is for certain, at least in the UK, the established pro's that I know, either wedding, landscape, commercial or whatever, are no longer making the money they used to. Many, including a lot of well known names, have turned more to teaching photography to the newly initiated (including, ironically, a few hopeful of becoming pro's). I know a couple have done so as a necessary means to supplement their waning (or even absent) income from the images themselves.

I've also noticed that the interest in photography, whether as a business or for pleasure, varies from country to country, and here it often varies from genre to genre. To expand on the latter, landscape photography is popular in Canada because Canada has landscapes worth photographing (often to the point where photographers, unrelated to one another, gather in large numbers at a particular site to record an image). New York City apparently has a large number of street photographers because it has a lot of streets, and NYC is the place to be to do that sort of thing. Etc.

Cost to the customer also seems to be a factor. In the UK, it is now difficult to sell a print over a certain price point (which is close to the production cost) due to the average 'spare cash' possessed by your 'average Jane and Joe' being very low, while in other countries that are a little more affluent, many don't think about spending a 'couple of hundred' on an inkjet print.

Finally, I'm sure there are differing cultural attitudes towards photography and photographers that could be expanded upon.

So, what's the situation in your part of the world. Have you been making money? Have you been able to set yourself up in the last 20 years and now are able to rely solely on the income from your photography? Or does your experience reflect mine? What are your thoughts on this and what is your assesment of the reasons behind it?

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Well-known member
IMHO many pros have turned to being tour guides for the masses of hobbyists who want to call themselves pros or improve their photographic results with new locations.

dj may

Well-known member
IMHO many pros have turned to being tour guides for the masses of hobbyists who want to call themselves pros or improve their photographic results with new locations.
I and several photographer friends do this but do not charge for it. We take people we already know, usually on an individual basis; not masses of people. Sometimes I am the one being guided.


Active member
So, what's the situation in your part of the world. Have you been making money? Have you been able to set yourself up in the last 20 years and now are able to rely solely on the income from your photography? Or does your experience reflect mine? What are your thoughts on this and what is your assesment of the reasons behind it?
I'm surprised you're even asking these questions. The demise of this 'profession' started happening decades ago.

Set your self up in the last 20 years ? I moved on 30 years ago when the value of photography began diminishing.

Camera technology, even before digital, just autofocus and autoexposure alone, were enough to allow unskilled individuals to take images that were commercially viable. Viable because they sold these images for less. The quality was not the same but the opportunity for an uninformed or non-discriminating business owner to cut their costs took the market value and acceptable quality of photography into a sleep decline.

From 1987 to 1990 I worked non-stop shooting for a large ad agency and made a great living. 4X5 chromes, all painstakingly shot with the 4.5 stop dynamic range that could be reproduced in print. The agency loved my work but the pace was relentless and so I took a 6 week vacation. When I came back the AD and account rep had started shooting the jobs themselves with a small format, automated camera. They had lowered the bar for an acceptable image so far there was no point in my pursing them. They also drove the agency out of business within 3 years because their work was so poor. This scenario repeated itself with other clients.

Yes, many pros are teaching because they have so little work. And there is a seemingly endless supply of naive individuals who think they can be a 'Pro.' Of course it's all online. That well known school of photography that used to be here in So Cal. It's long gone.

Profoto has a light just for use with smartphones because they're trying to stay in business and that is the market.

AI is the new devil. It allows a smartphone to shoot and do all the corrections you used to do in PS or whatever app in seconds. Resolution can be up-sampled so that a 20MP sensor is all you need. Need that perfect bokeh ? Choose this preset.

If you're a good business person and want to work your ass off you can still succeed. But the actual shooting will be the smallest part of your effort.

I do know guys who've made it work. But they're unique and their clients are discriminating.

I chose to work hard at something where I can make a good living and I do photography because I love it, but I do it for myself.
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KC_2020, I love hearing about the industry before the 90s. I remember seeing more event photographers in the 90s and even through the mid-2000s than I do today. Whether it was for corporate events or galas, a photographer was hired. Fancier events had a photographer and an assistant with strobes. I noticed that changing in the 2010s. Now, at say a small corporate function, I often see an employee with a digital camera taking the photos. I even see a phone being used.

One place where firms have not been so quick to skimp is on video. Videographers have not been as fast to go obsolete but they weren’t as common as the event photographers. I suspect it is more of a niche and the people being interviewed are normally executives. There is higher expectation for video, audio, and lighting in, say, an earnings report.

Jorgen Udvang

Subscriber Member
Making money from photography as a pro these days is hard, and it's important to keep priorities straight. Here in Thailand, there are thousands of amateurs who sell their services more or less for free just to get their photos published, or to be able to hang a "Media" card around their necks at events. Also, many of my former clients are now serving themselves. "We are doing that ourselves now. A couple of people in the XX-Department are very interested in photography."

In best case, they ask me to hold classes for their staff, something that often has to be repeated because they forget, didn't understand or simply are too stubborn to follow my advice. Even more people call me regularly for free advice. Luckily, the development of software and post processing techniques go so fast that the advice I gave last week isn't always the best one next week, particularly for people who only do this once in a while. So I have to come back to teach more, for money this time. In any case, advice given during a 30 minute conversation can never match years of experience topped up for hours every week with new knowledge. The problem is that many tend to think that any shiny object must be quality. Few go for pure gold these days.

The last 9 years, I've had a marketing job that included photography and video, so I wasn't too worried about this. That came to an abrupt end last autumn though due to covid, so now I'm halfway retired and halfway back to what I call photography+. I have established a set of rules to try to stay profitable. Some of them are:

- Stay out of fields that are popular among amateurs, like hotels and resorts, popular sports, events etc.
- Make photos (and footage) that are difficult to make, that require knowledge, effort and that are hard to duplicate.
- Offer a wide set of services, particularly within areas that are hard to do without proper knowledge. In addition to photography and editing, I do video and video editing, and I'm currently working on sound design and even music. I'm also a graphic designer.
- Learn and use new technology, particularly new software that can enhance the quality of my work. Many amateurs use what's available, but few of them take the time to learn properly.
- Don't spend money on equipment that isn't needed. Buy second hand when possible.
- Improve my own marketing so that clients are aware of what I offer and the quality of my work.
- Don't be afraid to be direct towards clients when explaining why quality work pays off in the end.
- Always deliver, particularly in situations when most amateurs would give up and go home due to weather, time of day etc.

This phenomenon is of course not limited to photography and other creative work. Established motorbike taxi drivers in big cities in Vietnam lost their work nearly overnight when Grab, an Asian version of Uber, entered the market. Younger hobby drivers were willing to work for Grab for a much lower salary, since this was not their only income. Instead of money being spent on local drivers with local knowledge, most of the business now goes to Grab, a Singapore company, while customers are served by drivers who can't even cross the road without assistance from the "app".

The biggest enemy is the acceptance of lower quality across the field. Companies buy photos and footage from Shutterstock and use free music from YouTube, believing that their office staff can sew it together and make the company stand out in a market that is increasingly crowded with more of the same. Because of this, and the fact that the technical quality of images and footage is mostly high, with the same saturated, plasticky colours coming out of all devices, everything looks the same, and few stand out. Even many large corporations seem to be happy using the same "ready-made" solutions that anybody can buy for a few dollars. There are exceptions, but the numbers are diminishing.

I'm not sure what is worse, the diminishing income for myself or the general lack of quality consciousness. Unfortunately, I see an increasing "dumbing down" of society as a whole. Many will say that it's all a natural development, and we all have to be onboard the technology train and accept what it brings. But when people lose skills and young people are not encouraged to learn new ones, the society as a whole loses out. As it looks now, the next generation will be even less interested in quality results than the previous one. Everybody will be eating the same shampoo and swim in the same polluted Coke... or was it the other way around?

Remember the first industrial revolution, when farmers went from a relatively free life growing food for themselves and fellow citizens to working at factory assembly lines for minimum salaries? It's our turn now.
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Active member
  • This phenomenon is of course not limited to photography and other creative work.
  • The biggest enemy is the acceptance of lower quality across the field.
  • I'm not sure what is worse, the diminishing income for myself or the general lack of quality consciousness. Unfortunately, I see an increasing "dumbing down" of society as a whole.
  • Remember the first industrial revolution, when farmers went from a relatively free life growing food for themselves and fellow citizens to working at factory assembly lines for minimum salaries? It's our turn now.
Jorgen I completely agree with you but find these 4 points to be the most significant.

You're very well spoken. That's something that's being lost as well.

Duff photographer

Active member
Making money from photography as a pro these days is hard... ...Remember the first industrial revolution, when farmers went from a relatively free life growing food for themselves and fellow citizens to working at factory assembly lines for minimum salaries? It's our turn now.
I concur with KC, and totally agree with what you've written, much of which is my experience too, not least the "dumbing down" and the lack of respect (or even mere consideration) for long attained experience, knowledge and skill, and not just in photography.

I wasn't too sure about posting a thread of this nature, wary of how my enquiry would be recieved. However, it was a genuine pleasure reading your erudite post, and your thoughts alone vindicate the posting of this thread.

Thank you Jorgen.



Well-known member
I’m in that “camera companies are making money off my photography” crowd :LOL:

I did wedding and engagement for a little while but never got to where it was profitable, I also never really enjoyed it.

Tried to sell prints for awhile but was never successful at that. Even when trying to sell at cost. I don’t think ppl place much value on prints these days, and the market is flooded with landscape stuff these days anyway.

these days I’m just shooting for the fun of it and that is a-ok with me


Well-known member
I was a professional for a few years and did okay. The main thing I learned was that a great way to ruin a perfectly good hobby is to make it a profession. I hadn't taken many pictures after that for a while and then eventually got back into it. Also, dealing with people can take a lot of energy.


Well-known member
Professional this and professional that are anachronistic ideas - pretend safe havens for rent-seekers which are all inexorably being challenged by the ubiquitous march of disintermediation driven by simple economics and technological advancement.

The digital world makes it hard for people to monetize information asymmetry.
There is nothing inherently 'difficult' about making images these days and what used to cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hardware to make 'special' images is now available and does a better job of for virtually nothing - which is why companies like Sinar no longer exist.
Stock image agencies have a lot of images people can buy a set of 10 high quality and to the point, images to populate a website/brochure/poster for (literally) a couple of hundred dollars and change them as often as they like to keep things 'fresh'. All this without having to talk to agencies/art directors/production houses and photographers.
People view images on their phones or computers or tablets much more than on paper - so the distribution of imagery is not a barrier to entry either - media companies do not control or police or act as curators anymore.
Things like 'quality' uniqueness / differentiation / so called 'excellence' are opinions - not facts.

People will pay insurance money for so called professional photographers for certain social occassions- eg weddings ( which are a dying thing anyway) and institutions will invest heavily in specialised imaging technologies that are relevant to their operations and research - but that is a science not an art.

so no - I don't make a dollar out of my photography and most of my shots are for myself - not even shared with family or friends - these days far more interested in documenting my engineering and machining hobbies which are of no interest what so ever to anyone except those who are into machining and making tools.


Well-known member
Pre-covid I used to exhibit and sell prints at local venues like wineries. Post-covid that opportunity has basically vanished. Tasting rooms at wineries have now moved outside or into open air structures where there are no walls for hanging prints. I still make a few prints now and then for my own enjoyment, but I've given up on trying to sell prints.


I just wanted to add a more positive post to this thread as it all feels rather despondent. There is definitely business to be had and good money to be made in photography. You do have to choose your market, build a brand and be good at what you do though.

The bottom end of most markets have been heavily eroded by how easy digital has made things. To be honest though, these were never going to be the customers we wanted anyway. The middle market has taken a bit of a squeeze too as competition has increased but quite a few people have dropped out over the Covid period and there are still many more producing average work and with poor marketing. There’s definitely opportunities.

At the upper end competition is fierce but there is good money to be had all round.

I’m told that there is a huge demand for wedding photography as so many couples have waited to be able to have big groups together again. Commercial work is recovering well and art fairs have opened up again.

I don’t think there was ever a time when a photographer could put a few prints on their website or in a local gallery and expect to sell very much. You have to build up your name which takes plenty of leg work whether it’s on social media or taking a portfolio of work on the road to art fairs and knocking on the door of galleries.

Personally, I do commercial work of products (so no competition from stock images) and take on private commission from a small number of high net worth individuals. I’d like to do some limited print sales too but I don’t have a wide enough following yet. Leg work to be done there.


Well-known member
Like any other business it requires continuous investment of time and energy. It requires continuous learning and adapting to changes. It requires a longterm outlook, commitment, and patience. It requires building a reputation as someone that can be trusted to: keep commitments and confidences, follow through and follow up, and put client interests first. Those are the things that build relationships over time with clients and decision makers and relationships do still matter in keeping clients and getting referrals of new clients. It's also worthwhile to build friendly relationships and trust with other photographers, suppliers, and anyone else connected to your business or your clients.

That's the short version. A realistic and longer assessment of what is required is discussed by a successful photographer in the video below...



Hi everyone! I might be late to this party but I saw the title as I was roaming the website and felt called upon to leave a bit of a response. A positive one too!

I'm 33 years old and have been a full time (professional) photographer for 10 years now. I'm raising 2 beautiful children in a house I bought. All thanks to the creative industry. I am still actively approached by large ad agencies and brands to work with. All the way down to upcoming musicians and artists that I absolutely enjoy working with.

This 10 year journey wasn't as financially stressful. I think that people tend to get distracted by the money side of making work out of a passion. Prepare for a long story because I'm more than happy to share what it's like in the 'modern day' as a professional photographer based in Amsterdam.

I was 'born' in the digital age. My uncle was a plane spotter shooting on film and I only used a film camera about 2.5 times before buying my first terrible kodak digital camera with a built in lens. Aviation was and still is something I'm very interested in and that's how it all started for me. The love for cameras and photography. I always noticed how my images looked shitty and his prints looked amazing. They had a timelessness to them that I couldn't reproduce. That sense of timelessness is a theme. Hold on to that word for me.

Through this, my passion for camera gear and photography evolved into more. I started doing tiny 50-75 buck shoots for people in my mother's living room and that's how I developed my early skills. With the help of the then still quite undeveloped Youtube, DPreview, fredmiranda and google I learned all the skills I still use today.

So here's a slight catch. The reason I think I eventually found success is that I never pursued photography as a career. I always treated it as a passion. I never put any pressure on my development, talent or work to become a financial symbol of my life. As stated above. It's a passion-killer. It's a tough balance.

I've learned early on to kind of 'feel' what the difference was between a good image and a just below average one. I instantly knew when I took a photo that it was the jackpot or not. I think that knack eventually brought success. Today I would call it if a photo 'moves you'. Makes you feel something. Whatever it is. That's the good stuff.

I moved to Rotterdam from a small town down south of The Netherlands and worked a 4-day basic job and renovated/paid for a space that I turned into my 'studio'. Through friends and by doing shoots I eventually gained a lot of traction in the city and was seen as an 'upcoming' new kid in the scene.

With that, Amsterdam artists and ad agencies started to take note of what my friends and I were brewing in this creative stew that we were. I was asked and given a HUGE opportunity to be launched into the 'high' segment of the industry. Which would have either killed my career if I collapsed under the pressure or made it if I didn't screw it up. It's pretty obvious what happened lol.

So. By being given an opportunity to shoot a black and white campaign that was plastered all over The Netherlands with my 'raw' style of photography I was also quickly represented by two agencies that kind of 'positioned' me as a 25 year old 'upcoming' talent. Which I hated to be honest. I just wanted to take pictures. I hated the idea of being labelled as something 'temporary'. Yes. I'm very much a 'do my own thing kind of guy'. I never felt like doing what other people told me to do. And trust me, before I gained succes I lost a relationship when I wanted to open a studio. My then GF's parents told my GF and myself that I would be a financial disaster. (Giggles)

That determination and grit was extremely important in the long run. Because after a year with agencies and making too much money a 23/24 year old could handle I became unsettled and unhappy. Any industry at this level is opportunistic. Ridden with vultures and a place that when people say they have your best interest, they're saying you're a cash cow. Making obscene money on a campaign and then sitting idle for a while made me lazy. This may sound crazy but I wanted to feel again what it was like to truly 'work' for my money. I found the industry ridiculous.

So... I left the agencies. A 'madman' in a sense. Walking away from what hundreds, maybe thousands would only dream of. But this wasn't my dream. I wanted to work in a way that made me feel good. I absolutely love my craft. I want my clients, my environment and any single person I work with to reflect that. I'd go back to that part time job next week (I kid you not) if photography made me unhappy.

Here's the thing. That first black and white campaign paid 10K in euros. For 2 days of shooting and 20 images to deliver. A week before that was agreed upon (between my sudden new agents and the brand) I was only charging up to 500 euros for a full day of shooting. That was life changing to say the least.

Though spending that single year in that pool and making a reputation of working hard, fast, being on time, easy to communicate with and never missing a deadline. Clients kept hanging around. Agencies still know my name and my work and till this day I will get random calls to book huge shoots. I do zero advertising. It is all reputation based work. People like what I do. They like who I am and I keep it simple. Big brands/ad agencies pay top dollar for my services. Any person looking for photos for themselves (artists/portraits/art projects) get to pay whatever they want to pay if I like the job enough. Whether that's the same amount as my 'usual' fee or 10x less.

God... This is getting long LOL.

So anyways. Here's what 10 years in the industry has ultimately showed me;
- My love for photography ALWAYS goes before career.
- I only work with people I love to work with.
- I have had enough moments where I legitimately wanted to quit forever. Because I thought I wasn't good enough anymore. Or too fed up with the industry. Those are long gone now thank god.
- Money is never the priority. I do gigs for thousands and sometimes just a couple of hundreds.

Now. What I always tell aspiring photographers is that I was simply lucky enough that the right people like what I like. Don't take a single picture for 'what the industry wants'. Do it for pleasure or to make the person you're working with super happy. That's it. I always and still press on the fact that the ONLY thing you can still add to a photograph in these crazy times is your personality. Photography is a service/commodity now whether we like it or not. If you want to be unique, be yourself. It's hard out there. I compare it to the working painters of yesteryear. When photos could be printed cheaply on walls, painters lost a lot of work. So what was left was the artists and/or home painters. Service/Commodity and art.

Photography is huge. E-commerce, weddings, portraiture, events, architecture. But all of those things are slowly turning into 'jobs'. The sad thing is that I've seen many passions die because they thought working with a camera in hand would be special. Right up until they found out that many brands looking for 'in-house' photographers pay little over minimum wage. Which I despise honestly. Considering that the photography carries sales/branding and requires a lot of time and dedication. A higher up marketing salary would be better fitting. But that's the reality now.

I think I'm still able to do this work and live a healthy happy life in the industry because I quite frankly don't give a F about what anyone thinks of what I do or make. But I am also more than lucky to have walked down this path. Made some hard short term choices that would pay off on the long term. I will never ever sell my soul. I absolutely love photography and geeking out over gear.

Another thing. I honestly do think I was discovered because I was one of the earliest to catch onto the 'film look' in the digital age. I wanted that timeless look so I spent my teenage years replicating my uncle's plane photos. That caught on HUGELY before the current trend of film photography. Right when I was in that 'sweet zone' of being a young, hard working, studio owning, Rotterdam in-crowd knowing crazy kid.

This stupidly long story short:
Yes. There's still good money to be made. But the percentage is smaller because there are so many photographers. It's nothing compared to the old days. But when I heard those stories from my agents back then. 50.000 and upwards for a week of work - is ridiculous. So yeah. I'm okay with having to work harder for money. Even though it still sometimes is absurd how much I'm being paid. But I'll gladly take from the rich so I can shoot for free for those who don't have a lot of money :).

Passion goes a long way. Also in the professional world. The two should go hand in hand. Otherwise it'll kill your joy.

Sorry about that LONG story. It's something I tend to do sometimes lol.

Have a great day.

- Marc
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