If you’ve ever wanted to learn practical monetization strategies in photography– this is advice I would have given myself:
To start off,
What is “entrepreneurship”?
The best definition I have of an entrepreneur:
Someone who is willing to take a risk to improve society for the better.
Entrepreneurship is the act of taking (calculated) risks, to provide value for society. And of course, to make a strong business, you must need healthy profits.
Ultimately, I think the purpose of entrepreneurship isn’t to just make a butt-load of money. Rather, it is best leveraging your skills, your talents, and your passions to empower the rest of humanity.
Realize that you don’t “need” to monetize your photography if you just plan on being a hobbyist photographer. However, there is nothing wrong with monetizing side-income from your photography. Also if you’re brave and bold enough, you can attempt to create a full-time income from your photography.
To be frank, we live in a brave new world of photography. That means, we are swimming in a sea of images– and photographers are a dime a dozen. I think in today’s world, it is more and more challenging to succeed as a photographer– yet, there are more and more opportunities for us to monetize as photographers in creative and unique ways.
The first step is for us to disregard traditional forms of monetization in photography (wedding photography, commercial photography, selling prints). There are brave new ways to monetize our photography — think of photography education, apps, programs, and empowerment through photography.
But how can you create a unique business where you can stand out?
Principle 1: Be your own first customer
I think the best way to creatively monetize our photography is:
Ask ourselves what our needs in photography are, and figure out how you can provide some sort of service to address that need.
For example, when I started shooting street photography, I was scared to death. It took me many years to overcome my fear of shooting street photography. I had to experiment with different street photography techniques and approaches, until I finally found an approach that worked for me.
Then I wondered,
I wonder if there are other street photographers just like me– who want to learn more about street photography, and conquer their fears of shooting street photography.
I then realized that I could teach street photography workshops to help other photographers — just like myself. I was my first customer.
When I first started to teach street photography workshops, the concept didn’t exist yet. Everyone told me that I was crazy for trying to make a living from street photography — people told me it was impossible. Yet 7 years later, I’m still (not dead, yet).
Activity: Brainstorm all the potential ways you think you can monetize your photography
- What challenges, difficulties, or hardships did you have in your photography when you started off?
- If you could give your beginner photographer self some advice, what would it be?
- What are some trade secrets you know in photography that has helped empower you– and how can you share that information with others?
– Idea 1: Teach workshops on motivation and creativity in photography.
– Idea 2: Teach workshops on self-confidence and photography.
Principle 2: Think global
With modern technology and the internet, and cheap flights, the world is your oyster. I believe that modern photographers must succeed by thinking outside the pond– and thinking of the whole ocean.
If you want to succeed as a modern photographer, don’t just stay local. Go international, and think global. Broaden and expand your horizons.
Take a look at Google Maps and see how huge the world is. There are infinite opportunities in photography, if you think globally. Consider big cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Austin, Vancouver, Lisbon, Kyoto, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Kuwait, Stockholm, Oslo, Singapore, Bangkok, Manila, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Dublin, Seoul, Moscow — I could go on and on.
Anyways, the basic concept is that the world is expanding and getting bigger– yet modern technology and travel is making foreign places more accessible.
Global photography ideas to consider:
- Can you create some sort of photography app or service that can help all photographers all around the globe– who all have iPhones and Android devices?
- Can you create some sort of photography service, resource, or educational platform that can empower all photographers from all around the globe?
- Can you teach photography workshops or seminars in popular cities all around the globe?
- Can you do ‘destination’ photography shoots with your clients, or perhaps fly into cities to shoot in foreign cities?
Principle 3: Get discovered on Google with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If you want free and massive traffic to your website, blog, or platform– figure out the fundamental principles of Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The basic concept is that if you have a website/blog/platform– the more useful information you put out, the higher you will climb the ranks of Google.
I am currently #1 on Google for “street photography”, which has benefitted me tremendously.
Consider, if you’re #1 on Google (for anything) — you will not go broke as an entrepreneur.
For example, if someone is interested in street photography. He/she will sooner or later find this blog– and learn more about street photography through my books, street photography 101, street photography composition lessons, or my epic ‘Learn From the Masters of Street Photography‘ series. Then, the individual might one day attend one of my workshops, purchase one of my products from my shop or on Amazon, or spread the word about me.
Google SEO and Discoverability
One of the most difficult things in today’s world is to become “discovered”. Even back in the day, the dream was to get “discovered” by some magical producer or talent scout, and suddenly we would become rich and famous.
One of the biggest benefits of Google over other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram:
Google is an open platform, which allows more discoverability.
Consider– people can use Google to search a term like: “street photography”, “street style photography”, or even “street photographers who are addicted to coffee”.
Whereas if someone goes on Facebook/Instagram — they can search a hashtag and ‘discover you’ — but they will only land on your profile page, not your website.
Google > Facebook/Instagram/Twitter
One of the biggest reasons why I deleted my Instagram was that it was a major distraction for me. And also ultimately, even with around 60,000 followers — I only got 20 people a week to click on my biography link to my blog.
As of Jan 11, 2018 — take a look at the site statistics of this blog. Google has sent me 3,339 referrals, while Facebook (with my ~100,000 fans) has only sent me 453 referrals. Twitter has sent me only a paltry 52 referrals, and Instagram is pretty much non-existent, with only 8 referrals. Interesting note– Flipboard has sent me a ton of traffic (3,048 referrals).
The reason why I think this information is important to know:
As a digital online marketing strategy, focus on Google, ignore Facebook/Instagram/Twitter.
For more information on Google SEO, Allen Murabayashi wrote a great post on me on PhotoShelter: “Eric Kim Proves the Value (and Fallacy) of SEO for Photographers“.
Activity: Start your own photography blog
Probably the #1 photography online marketing advice I could give anyone is:
Start your own photography website/blog.
If you want an “open source” and paid approach, that will benefit you in the long run — I recommend:
- Register your own website/domain on bluehost.com with your first name last name photo (like erickimphotography.com)
- Install the wordpress.org platform
- Pay for and install the “Genesis Framework” by StudioPress and purchase one of their themes. I currently use the ‘Studio Pro‘ theme, and used the ‘Monochrome Pro‘ theme in the past.
Then, start posting your own photos, your own writings, videos, etc.
Practical tips on photography blogging
- Don’t feel that you need to write a lot. This is up to you. If you already post photos to Facebook and Instagram, post them on your photography blog instead.
- Whenever you post new photos on your blog, share that link with your friends/family via email or messenger, and on Facebook.
- Don’t aim for perfection in your blogging or posting photos. Just post photos that you think are 80% “good enough”. This will help you conquer perfectionism, and actually do something, rather than just brainstorm and come up with ideas. Ideas without execution never take flight or grow wings.
Principle 4: Three-Price Tier
In psychology, there is a concept called “framing”, covered in the excellent book: “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. The basic concept is that humans don’t intuitively know what something ‘costs’. Therefore to price yourself and your services, you must “frame” your prices compared to other things.
In practical terms:
With your photographic services, offer 3 pricing options (the expensive option, the medium-price option, and the affordable option.
Most people go with the medium-price option.
For example, let’s say you want to go buy a car. You might step into the dealership, and what the salesman (very smartly) does is show you the most expensive option — perhaps the $100,000 BMW M3. Then you think it is too expensive, and then the salesman shows you the more “affordable” $35,000 BMW 3-series car. By comparison the BMW 3-series looks like a great deal. This is when you get “framed” into adjusting your own internal concept of “value” or “affordability” — or the feeling of “getting a deal.”
Anyways, when you are pricing yourself, don’t just offer one pricing option. Offer three:
- Exclusive/Expensive option: Bundle additional goodies, services, or value.
- Medium-priced option: The standard service.
- Economy/affordable/value option: A slightly stripped-down version, with still good service/value.
By giving your client 3 options they usually won’t go with the most expensive option, they will usually go for somewhere in the middle or medium. Therefore my suggestion:
Price your exclusive/expensive option very high.
If you’re an art photographer, offer three packages for your goods/prints: the expensive package (with high-end packaging, printing, and signed), the medium-price package (only signed), and the affordable package (perhaps postcard prints).
If you are a wedding/commercial photographer: present a variety of pricing options. Offer an expensive package (perhaps free album, additional shoots, and premium VIP service), offer an medium option (standard services), and offer an affordable option (still good service, but less time with your client).
Ultimately realize that you dictate your own value/prices for your photographic services.
And if you’re not sure what you should price your services at– price 25% higher than you think you should. The reason is that most of us tend to under-sell ourselves. But remember, your life/labor is not cheap, free, and we will all ultimately die one day. So don’t sell yourself, your time, your labor, your attention, or energy for cheap.
Principle 5: Early-bird pricing:
Realize– that most people like discounts. By offering an early-bird discount, you are more likely to have people signup for your services, workshops, or even book you as a photographer.
Generally for early-bird discounts, offer them around 1-2 months in advance.
The benefit of having an early-bird discount is also that it gives you time to plan your schedule for the year.
- If the normal price for your workshop is $1500, offer a early-bird discount of $995, or $999.
- If you charge $4000 for a wedding/commercial shoot — offer a $3500 early-bird discount if your client books you before date: xx/xx
Another random pro-tip: with pricing, don’t use round numbers like $1000 — $999 or $995 looks better. For example, 99 cents looks better than $1 dollar.
Why does early-bird pricing work?
Most of us lag, or procrastinate on booking things. Yet, if we have a deadline– we are prompted to action. Why? We are risk-averse– we hate losing out on a deal. This is why the mall says: “This sale is only going to last this weekend– don’t miss out!”
Consider– when is the last time you lagged or procrastinated on doing something, and therefore ended up spending a ton of money? It sucks — I know this when I book flights too late, I end up “over-paying” around $500 or so. If I booked something early (early bird) I would have benefitted.
Activity: Add early-bird pricing to your services
How can you add early-bird pricing to your photographic services?
- Can you offer a special deal or promotion, where if your client books you 1-2 months in advance, they can get a $500 discount?
- Also if you sell digital or physical products or books — can you offer a special deal or promotion or sale that only lasts for a week or so?
- Reflect: When is the last time you booked something as a “late-bird” — and suffered as a consequence? How did that feel?
Principle 6: 100% Money-Back Guarantee
Human-nature is to be risk-averse– we hate taking chances when we are unsure about the outcome.
What you want to do is offer people more protection or safety. This is why I think the 100% money-back guarantee is great. By having this guarantee, you will get more people to signup for your services, your workshops, your courses, or even book you as a photographer. Why? People are more willing to take a risk if they know there is a potential money-back guarantee.
For example, whenever I buy a new Apple product, and I’m not sure whether the upgrade is “worth it” or not– I will buy it, with the assurance that I can return it in about two weeks. Generally, I might end up returning a few things, but I ultimately end up staying with an Apple product — and thus, Apple gets my money.
When you’re starting off– and not trusted (yet), you want to REDUCE the feeling of risk in your client.
What if people rip me off?
A fear some folks have:
Someone will book your services/purchase your products for free, and just ask for their money back, and thus you lose out.
In reality, I don’t think this happens. Why not? Human nature is more benevolent, reasonable, and kind than you consider. The news and media makes us think the world is full of these evil people trying to take advantage of each other. But in reality, most people in the world are probably as kind and generous as you.
Practical example: In my 7 years of teaching workshops, I’ve only had two students ask for their money back. And even when this happened– I offered them additional free services, because ultimately– you want to make your students/clients happy.
Skin in the game
Also the benefit of offering a money-back guarantee: you work harder, and hustle harder. Because you know you must perform — you don’t want your clients to ask for their money back.
Therefore my theory is that by offering a money-back guarantee, you perform better. And this is going to increase the likelihood of your client being happy. And a happy client will re-book your services, or spread the word about you with their friends/family.
Experiment: Offer a 100% money-back guarantee
Just try it out– this strategy may or may not work for you. If you find that too many people ask for their money back, or you’re losing tons of money with this strategy, stop doing it.
But– if this ends up helping you book more clients and selling more products, stick with it.
Principle 7: Emphasize benefits, not features
With your photographic services or products, emphasize the BENEFITS of your services/products– not the features.
- Benefits: The real value that you provide your client. How does your photographic services add joy, excitement, or empower your client?
- Features: A simple description of what you do for your clients. This is the boring technical details.
Benefits are more important than features because they excite and motivate your clients to book you.
For example, if I am going to buy coffee:
- Benefits: Increased awareness, increased mood, joy, optimism towards life
- Features: Roasted for 5 hours, sourced from Ethiopia, organic
I don’t really care bout the features– I want to know how the coffee is going to BENEFIT me. Because I am a creature that wants to benefit and increase my own joy and happiness.
In other simple words,
Appeal to the desires of your client.
What are the desires/motivations/hopes of your client? Appeal to them.
Principle 8: Sell Experiences
This is a big epiphany that I had: you’re not just selling photos or a service– you are giving your client an experience.
For example, when I go to a coffee shop, I am not just going there to drink coffee. I enjoy the coffee shop experience– the experience of being in a lively environment, the experience of chatting with the barista, and the experience of doing creative work.
When I attend a photography workshop, I don’t just want to make better photos. I want the experience of meeting new people, the experience of interacting and learning from the teacher, and the experience of perhaps traveling somewhere interesting/exotic to have a memorable experience.
Experiences stay with you forever, and are more personally-meaningful than services/products.
For example, let’s say you are a wedding photographer. Don’t just say that you will take their photos. Say that you will offer them an ‘experience’. During your engagement shoot, you will allow them to re-live their initial passion for one another. And by offering them a wedding album– you will allow them to “re-experience” their special day of their wedding.
Also with photography workshops– brand them as ‘experiences’. Because experiences are more fun, adventurous, and most of us crave for more novel experiences in our life.
I also know for myself personally — I have found more joy and happiness and excitement in life by having novel and interesting experiences, instead of just buying stuff.
Activity: Brand your services as experiences
How can you brand your photographic services as experiences?
- If you are a commercial photographer: emphasize that your photographic services are an experience– you will give them VIP service and attend to their concerns and needs, you will offer them a free consulting Skype call, and emphasize how they will enjoy the *experience* of being photographed.
- If you are a photography teacher: brand your workshops/classes/seminars as experiences. Emphasize the experience they will have in terms of the EXCITEMENT they will get from their photography, and emphasize the FEELING of empowerment they will gain from their photography.
Principle 9: Selling products
Advice I wish I knew:
Selling products, especially on the internet, is very very hard. Much harder than you will realize.
Like any good aspiring entrepreneur, I read the ‘4 Hour Workweek‘ by Timothy Ferriss. He talks a lot about ‘passive income’ — that by starting a business, you can sell stuff on the internet, and magically let the money roll in.
But I think there is a myth of ‘passive income’. Any income we make must be active.
Also for myself, it took me about 5-6 years of trust-building on this blog before I started to offer or sell any products.
Product ideas for photographers
There are many product ideas you can have for photography:
- Books: Sell educational or art books. For example, Cindy and I sell STREET NOTES, PHOTO JOURNAL, FILM NOTES, CREATIVE EVERYDAY, MASTERS
- Photography Equipment: Camera straps (Henri Neck Strap, Henri Wrist Strap, SAIGON SATCHEL)
- Digital Products: Street Notes Mobile Edition, Creative Everyday Mobile Edition, MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER
- The benefit of using WooCommerce (like we do in our Shop) is that you have more control, you have higher profit margins.
- The benefit of using Amazon: Less stress of shipping and packaging. But lower profit margins.
Activity: What products would you desire?
Brainstorm– what kind of challenges have you had in your photography — and what kind of products or information would empower you?
- If you could have the perfect camera bag, strap, or product– what would it look like?
- If you could start photography all over again, and could give yourself a book– what kind of book would it be? Could you write this book?
- What difficulties or challenges did you have in your photography when you started off? What services could you offer to fix your own problems in the past?
Principle 10: Dynamic Pricing
“Something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” – Publilius Syrus
You will never know what something is really “worth” or what you should price your services/things at.
My suggestion: keep your pricing dynamic and flexible.
For example, if you’re selling something and nobody is booking you or your services– lower your prices. If you are offering a service or product and you are overwhelmed and over-booked, increase your prices.
I see economics as a dynamic, flexible play between surplus and scarcity. There will be times of surplus, and times of scarcity. You must keep your pricing dynamic to reflect this.
- For example, if suddenly there is a disease that wipes out 90% of the vineyards, of course you have to increase the prices of your grapes/wine to reflect this.
- Or if you have a surplus of gold (like happened in the past), the value of gold is going to go down.
Don’t think of your pricing for anything as static and fixed. Be flexible.
Even Apple has done this– they are steadily lowering the prices of certain products (like the cheap $330 standard iPad, which used to all cost $500), and also increasing the prices of their high-end products (like the near $1000 iPhone X).
Even Elon Musk‘s model for Tesla was:
Introduce a high-end, expensive, limited-quantity product (TELSA Roadster), then eventually work towards an affordable mass-market vehicle (TESLA Model 3).
Concluding thoughts on Monetization and Photography
Don’t use monetization as a way to ‘keep score’ in your ‘success’ as a photographer.
Consider– is the photographer who is making millions of dollars a year more ‘successful’ than Vivian Maier— who only achieved fame after she died? Or is Vincent Van Gogh “unsuccessful” — because he didn’t sell a single painting in his life?
Realize that monetization is very very important if you are making a full-time living, or aspire to make a full-time living from your photography.
But don’t sweat monetization too much, if you already have a secure 9-5 job, and photography is just your side-hobby or income.
Even for myself now, after 7 years, I still work 12-14 hours a day, and I still don’t feel 100% financially secure — though I currently have around a $200,000 combined yearly income with Cindy.
For myself as the moment — I see ‘success’ in photography and life as the opportunity to work on interesting projects, to learn, grow, evolve, and to share and empower others.
And ultimately remember if you want to be ‘successful’ (in terms of making more money in photography) deliver insane amounts of value to your audience and clients.
And also remember,
The harder you work, the more successful you will become.
Further thoughts on photography monetization, branding, and marketing
Pick up a copy of MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER for more practical life hacks, strategies, and tips on photography marketing, branding, and monetization.
How to Monetize Your Photography
Why Become a Photography Entrepeneur?
Take control of your own photographic destiny:
THE MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER
- CREATIVE CAPITALISM
- How to Monetize Your Photography
- 5 Practical Photography Career Tips and Advice
- 10x Thinking
- How to Hustle as a Photographer
- How to Become Your Own Master Marketer
- The ‘T’ Technique of Success
- Go Ahead and Sell Out
- What is Your Unique Voice?
- Why You Must Self-Promote Yourself
- What is Your Unique Angle as a Photographer?
- Photography Content Marketing 101
- Why You Must Become Your Own Publisher
- The Art of Cross-Pollination in Photography
Photography Entrepreneurship Articles
- Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Pictures to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Flickr
- How to Make Money From Your Photography
- Photography SEO and Blogging: How to Become Number One on Google
- Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
- Now is the Best Time to Be a Photographer
- What Is The Value of a Picture?
- Your Photographic Labor is Not Free
PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS 101
- Chapter 1. How to Make a Photography Blog
- Chapter 2. How to Price Yourself
- Chapter 3. How to Find Your Market
- Chapter 4. Why Teach Workshops?
- Chapter 5. How to Build Trust
- Chapter 6. How to Market Yourself
- Chapter 7: Why Should Someone Attend Your Workshop?
KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Why You Must Be a “Personality” in Order to Succeed
- THRIVE OR DIE.
- Impatience is a Virtue
- Create Your Own Category
- HOW TO DREAM BIG.
- Will Not or Cannot?
- Why Not?
- How to Think BIG
- How to Stay Ahead of the Curve
- How to Invest in Yourself
- The Two Camera Rule
- MEANINGFUL DIFFERENTIATION
- Advice For College Students
- How to Thrive in Uncertain Times
- CANNIBALIZE YOURSELF.
- DO AND GROW RICH
- Does Fear of Punishment Hold You Back?
- HOW TO GET MORE FOLLOWERS
- How to Innovate
- How to Build Your Own Empire
- YOU ARE ENTITLED TO HARD WORK.
- PICK YOURSELF.
- OWN YOUR PLATFORM
- 10 KEYS TO SUCCESS
Table of Contents
Learn how to make a living from your passion:
- Preface. BRAVE NEW WORLD OF PHOTOGRAPHY
- Chapter 1. How to Create Value
- Chapter 2. ZEN CAPITALISM
- Chapter 3. Scarcity
- Chapter 4. How to Brand Yourself
- Chapter 5. How to Build a True Following
- Chapter 6. The Blueprint to Success in Photography
- Chapter 7. HOW TO BE BOLD
- Chapter 8. How to Sell Out
- Chapter 9. GO AGAINST THE GRAIN
- Chapter 10. EXTREME ABUNDANCE
- Chapter 11. Photography Experience Economy
- Chapter 12. Why You Should Make Money for Your Photography
- Chapter 13. How to Become a Famous Photographer
Photography Business 101
How to Make Money with Photography
- How to Charge More Money in Your Photography
- Why You Should Not Pursue Photography as Career
- Can Photography Make You Rich?
- How I Earn $200,000+ a Year From Photography
- How to earn $10,000 a month as a photographer
- Why you must be an expensive photographer
Photography Marketing 101
- Why Have More Followers?
- Why You Should Do Photography Work For Free
- How I Became an Internet Famous Photographer
- Photography Blogging Ideas
- Why You Should Promote Your Own Name
- How to Build a Following
- How to Stand Out as a Photographer.
- HOW TO GO VIRAL AS A PHOTOGRAPHER.
- How to Master Marketing
- How to Sell Yourself
How to Hustle.
- Entrepreneurial Advice to My 18 Year Old Self
- How to Become Insanely Productive.
- 5 Lessons From Hesiod on Hustling
- It is Better to Beg For Forgiveness Than Ask For Permission
- The Free Way to Become Rich
- JUST DO IT.
- 7 Steps: How to Make a Living From Your Passion
- How to Do What You Love for a Living
- How to Create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
- How to Fail Big
- How to Invest in Yourself
- How to Be Bold in Photography and Life
- Mission: Cover Your Rent and Food
- 1,000 True Fans
- The “10x Principle”: The Only Difference Between “Success” and “Failure”
- Make More Value Not Money
- We Live in a Photo Utopia
How to be a Full-time Photographer
- How to Make a Living From Photography
- The 3 Principles of Making Money With Photography
- Advice for Aspiring Full-Time Photographers
- Don’t Go Into Debt For Your Photography
- How to Brand Yourself as a Photographer
- Trust: The Most Important Thing You Need to Succeed as a Photographer
- How to become rich from photography blogging
- How to Make a Living with Blogging
- 50 Blogging Tips For Beginners
- How to Start Your Own Photography Blog
- A Photographer’s Guide to SEO, Blogging, and Social Media
How to Teach Photography
- How to Become a Photography Teacher
- How to Teach a Street Photography Class
- Why I Teach Street Photography Workshops
- Why I Deleted My Instagram
- The Social Media Blackbook for Photographers
- Why Do You Need More Likes or Followers?
- Instagram is Going to Be the Next Facebook
- Don’t Trust “Free” Photography Social Networks