10 Photography Careers You Can Actually Live Off
“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” You probably have heard these wise words more than once or twice. But turning your passion for photography into a source of income you can live off of is significantly easier said than done.
The first steps are easy enough: Get your hands on a camera, practice as much as you can, and create a photography website to showcase the results. But these three things will only take you so far as a professional. In order to be able to turn your hobby into a job you can live off of, you'll need to put a lot of energy and time into developing your professional skills. And, of course, you'll need to find a specific field in which you can actually make money.
Need some guidance? Take a look at these ten photography careers to get ideas for finding your professional path.
01. Wedding photographer
Wedding photography is often considered the ideal choice for making a living out of capturing images. It covers three of the main points people look for in their career: It’s meaningful, pays well, and there is a high demand for it. Plus, you get to shoot photos people will treasure forever.
The most common way to become a professional photographer in this field is through partnerships. This includes both working with established photographers in the field and building professional relationships with businesses such as caterers, venues, and stores.
Of course, there are some downsides to this career. Otherwise, every photographer would be a wedding photographer. You’ll need to develop excellent people skills, and be ready to deal with demanding clients and stressful situations. You’ll also need to prepare yourself for the wedding photographers off-season, meaning the times where the weather is just not right for people to get married.
02. Commercial photographer
Commercial photography includes images that are used to market products and services. This career comprises several types of photography, including architectural, product, portrait, and food photography. These photos appear in media such as ads, catalogs, websites, and social media.
Different photography careers come with different skill demands, and in order to become a commercial photographer you’ll need to put a strong focus on your technical knowledge. There will hardly ever be a story behind your shots, other than how amazing your client’s business is. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be capturing images people can fall in love with. In fact, any sponsored image from your favorite photography Instagram accounts will fall under the commercial photography category.
Over the last few years, the rise of social media has had a major impact in this field. With large follower amounts and engagement as a seal of approval, more and more photographers are actively reaching out to brands for commercial collaborations. This has resulted in a general shift from meticulously prepared shots to images that aim to look as candid as possible.
03. Portrait photographer
Portrait photography is one of the photography careers with the largest customer demand. This is because of the incredibly broad diversity of types of imagery it includes. From school photos and corporate headshots to professional photoshoots and studio sessions, the number of potential gigs for a portrait photographer is nearly endless. And, of course, let’s not forget about the rapidly growing world of pet photography. Yes, you can actually make a living off taking pictures of cute puppies and kittens.
But with great opportunities comes great responsibility. In order to build a successful career as a portrait photographer, you’ll need to develop strong interpersonal skills and a personal photography style. Most of the people you photograph are likely to have little modeling experience or might even be camera shy, so your charisma will be just as important as your technical skills.
You’ll also need to learn how to negotiate with clients and ensure they’re always happy with the results. After all, most of your gigs will end up coming through referrals.
04. Travel photographer
Travel photography is, for many, a lifelong dream come true. Not only do you get to spend your days exploring new locations and cultures, but you actually get paid to do so. The wanderlust fever is more contagious than ever due to social media. Now, aspiring photographers around the globe are wondering how to actually make their dream come true.
If you truly want to pursue this photography career, start by putting your feet on the ground and think about the hard work behind it. It means getting up early to capture those stunning sunrise shots, carrying heavy camera accessories for hours on end, and staying indoors editing images rather than swimming in the hotel pool. The results will most definitely be worth it, but you need to be ready to put in the effort to get them.
It’s really not easy to make money as a travel photographer. Especially if you take into account how expensive it can be to produce those pictures. Your best shot is to start by building a powerful portfolio with your very best work. Work as a freelancer and sell your photos to magazines and travel agencies. You should also reach out to brands that could potentially sponsor your trips, and try to build professional relationships with travel writers and other authors you could collaborate with.
05. Stock photographer
Stock photography is one of the most accessible photography careers, yet also one of the most commonly ignored. The likelihood of being able to make a living off this type of photography is slim, but it can be a great way to make some extra money.
You can start by selling photos that are already on your portfolio in microstock platforms such as iStock, Dreamstime, and Adobe Stock. These have a lower entry barrier and account for the largest sales. Later on, work on shooting very diverse images for which you can imagine many potential commercial uses. Professionals in the field recommend uploading a few dozen images a month in order to take full advantage of the opportunities these platforms provide.
If stock photography is something you’d be interested in pursuing, take a look at these pro tips on how to sell stock photos.
Photojournalism is the act of documenting events for publications. The popular saying ‘an image is worth a thousand words’ has never been more true as it is in this photography career, as photojournalists must capture still images that perfectly convey complex stories.
This photography career will put you forefront of news and culture, and will help you become a visual storyteller. Needless to say, it will demand a lot of dedication in exchange. You’ll most likely have to start covering not-so-exciting events and working as a freelancer in order to put together a solid photography portfolio. With time, you’ll be able to start submitting your work for publication and hopefully make a name for yourself in a trusted news agency.
In becoming a photojournalist, you’ll be following the steps of renowned photographers such as Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, David Seymour and, of course, the beloved Peter Parker.
07. Sports photographer
Sports photography is one of the photography careers that has been less affected by the lowering entry bars to the discipline. While professionals in other fields find themselves fighting against smartphones and social media, it’s hard to imagine anything else than high-end tele lenses on high level sports events.
It’s also one of the most dynamic jobs in the discipline, as there is neverending action unfolding right in front of your camera at all times. Meaning, you’ll never be bored but you’ll need to develop incredible technical skills. The bad part is that you’ll need to invest in powerful lenses in order to be able to capture everything going on in the game.
One of the biggest benefits of sports photography is just how accessible it is. You can start working on your career at any time: All you need is to walk to the nearest soccer field or basketball court. Start with amateur games and move towards professional events as your skills improve. Sell your work to local publications or partner with teams in order to get your work out there. Every goal, fault, and finish line you capture will take you one step closer to the NFL, NBA, NWSL, or MLB.
08. Wildlife photographer
Wildlife photography is the antithesis of many of the photography careers of this list. In a world where everything is about action and speed, one of the most important virtues of a wildlife photographer is patience.
While some spectacular shots require fast reflexes and a strong hand-eye coordination, most of the time is spent waiting for animals to do something or appear nearby altogether.
Due to climate change and the rapidly advancing endangerment of numerous species, professionals in the field are now using photography as a tool to raise awareness. Because of this, the popularity of wildlife photography is at an all-time high, making the opportunity to have your work published even more likely.
The path to a successful career starts with a solid portfolio that you can show potential publishers. Submit your images for publication and enter contests to maximize your exposure. Develop a unique style or put together visual stories to maximize your chances to have your work printed, and maybe even exposed in galleries.
09. Fashion photographer
Fashion photography is the perfect middle ground between portrait and commercial photography. If you have good people skills and like clothes at least half as much as you love photography, this photography career will fit like a glove.
Other than fine art photography, fashion photography is one of the professional fields in which you'll be able to make the most of your artistic and creative ideas.
Just like the fashion industry itself, fashion photography is an incredibly competitive area. In order to build a successful career you'll need to become just as good as networking as you are behind a camera.
10. Scientific photographer
Scientific photography is probably the last thing that comes to mind when thinking about photography careers. However, it is an incredibly interesting profession with a very high demand. The job of a scientific photographer is to record data and illustrate technical information for medicine, science, business, and government purposes.
The imagery captured by scientific photographers is commonly used in training, conferences, and exhibitions. Essentially, these photos are meant to capture experiment results in a way that shows the resulting data in a visually alluring manner.
In order to become a scientific photographer, you’ll need to develop a college-level understanding of the area you want to specialize in. Rather than seeing this as a major obstacle, you should consider it an opportunity to expand your knowledge and strengthen your photography skills.
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By Judit Ruiz Ricart
Editor of the Wix Photography Blog