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From galleries to magazines, there’s cash to be made from your very best snaps
If you have a relatively recent iPhone, it’s got a great camera built into it. You may well use it for all kinds of snaps, and perhaps this has slowly grown into something of a hobby. Your iPhone will always be at the ready, to capture the very best photographs you can get; and you’ll increasingly find yourself going out of your way to capture particularly interesting subjects, because photography has become a pursuit in and of itself.
Assuming this isn’t a purely personal endeavor, you may have shared your work with friends and family. But it’s possible to take a bigger step, and actually make money from your efforts. This feature explores whether you should, how you can, and important things to be mindful of regarding rights.
Be realistic – but ambitious
First, it’s important to outline that becoming a photographer is not a road to immediate riches. Just as you are armed with an excellent camera everywhere you go, so are millions of other people. And although you may have a great eye for imagery, even in that you are far from alone.
You must therefore be realistic about the opportunities and prospects that lie ahead, should you decide to pivot your photographic efforts and attempt to make some money from them. Initially, chances are that you will make little. But, if you can regularly spot and capture interesting subjects, and gain a bit of a following, there’s cause for optimism and ambition.
These days, relatively few people consider physical media. Our lives are full of streaming video and music, instant access to thousands of digital snaps, news and blog posts on tap, and enough games to choke a hundred Pac-Man champions. But digital is ephemeral, and so there is increasing value in tactile content.
Should your own photography have an artistic edge, explore local art and photography exhibitions, to see what kind of thing others are selling. You could then start considering working on an exhibition of your own.
Naturally, typical 6-by–4-inch snaps from your photo printer are unlikely to have the impact required to snare the general public. For something more arresting, think bigger or differently. You could consider outputting your best work as canvasses (as per the depicted photo from Hello Canvas), or constructing interesting murals and juxtapositions from multiple shots.
In all cases, ensure your images are of the highest possible quality. And remember there’s nothing wrong with retouching them, as long as you’re not attempting to pass off your work as having come straight from the lens. So delve into the likes of Affinity Photo and Snapseed, to get anything from the perfect crop to an artistic and visually arresting collage. Go easy on the filters though – overdoing things can rob a photo of its magic.
Another money-making opportunity is licensing your work. Generally, this involves uploading your best images to a marketplace, and hoping they’ll appeal enough to people in editorial and design industries. Should your work be downloaded, you’ll earn some cash.
When taking this route, research again pays. Check out what’s popular, and areas of interest that are lacking on a particular service. Carefully peruse the service’s licensing terms – generally, you’ll retain non-exclusive rights to your image, but there may be limitations in terms of subsequent professional usage. Then be choosy regarding what you upload – only objectively good stuff (which, remember, may sell multiple times); don’t flood a service with your wares!
Be mindful the amount you can get paid for each sale varies wildly. For example, popular service Shutterstock pays from as little as 25 cents per download. The more ‘boutique’ EyeEm will give you 50% of a sale, which ranges from $20 for a social network license through to $250 for print.
In fact, EyeEm is a good place to start if you want to sell your photos, even if you subsequently move on to other services. It’s simple and sleek, with a smart iPhone app for uploading images. It also offers missions – little projects by brands to get you thinking and snapping. Be careful to read the terms in each case, though, and realize many of the prizes are showcases or the chance to win kit, rather than hard cash.
Whatever route you choose with your photographs, be aware of rights issues. By default, copyright always remains with you, unless you choose otherwise. If you start making a name for yourself, and a newspaper or website takes and uses an image you haven’t licensed, they do not have that right. This is also the case if alterations are made to your work – such changes are not enough to take ownership from you.
You can demand the perpetrator remove the image, or – and this is often a better tactic – bill them for it. (Investigate current rates before doing so – you don’t want to be fobbed off with a paltry $10 or so.)
Of course, this all changes should you license your work, such as to one of the aforementioned services. Under those circumstances, you lose sole control of your work the second someone else buys any rights to it. If you remove an image from the service, the purchaser will still retain their license as per the terms agreed when the sale was made.
Making an effort
When it comes to the potential for success, much rides on the time and effort you can invest. Whichever path to making money from photography you choose, you cannot take anything for granted, nor that people will magically discover you. So any such efforts must be twinned with getting the word out over social media, immersing yourself in relevant networks, and also getting your own website online, acting as a hub for your activity.
This might all seem overwhelming, but do remember that every photographer started somewhere. Many now making a great living in the field started by dipping their toes in the water at some point. As ever, there’s no time like the present to start that particular journey yourself.