How to Make Money From Street Photography

I remember when I was 18 years old; I had no interest in making money from my photography, and I didn’t really have any ideas on making a living from my photography.

1. I didn’t want to monetize my photography when I was in college

I re-read one of my old blog posts when I was around 21 years old, and the essay was on following your passion on life.

The initial advice I gave was this to students entering college:

Follow your passion, but get a stable job.

To me, this was a good idea— because I knew that practically speaking you cannot always make a living from your passion. For example, if your passion is collecting stamps — it might be difficult to earn at least $40,000 a year from that passion.

When I was in college, I studied Sociology. My strategy was initially to become a lecturer or professor — because my passion was teaching and sharing ideas. I was never really that interested in money — I just wanted enough money to pay rent, travel a little bit, and eat.

When I was around 20 years old, I realized I didn’t want to go to school for another 8 years or so to get my PhD. Therefore, I was lucky to get an internship doing a social media marketing internship, that Cindy forwarded to me.

ERIC KIM with Contax II rangefinder, 2009
ERIC KIM with Contax II rangefinder, 2009.

Therefore I realized that I could use my degree in Sociology to become an internet marketer: to use the principles of human behavior and interaction, to build online communities, and to connect people.

So the first good thing I did was “brand” my Sociology degree in a good way to sell myself as a master marketer. I remember when I was in college, everyone always told me:

Downtown LA, 2009

“You’re studying sociology? Do you plan on becoming a teacher or social worker?”

It seemed that most people thought Sociology majors couldn’t be creative with their majors — thus, most Sociology majors were stuck in small boxes. A lot of my friends also had difficulty getting a job after graduating with Sociology, and ended up going to graduate school, or picking up some menial part-time labor.

2. Why I made this blog

Downtown LA, 2009

Anyways going back to the topic: I knew that street photography was my passion at around age 22. But I didn’t realistically think I could ever make a living from it.

Two girls in the rain. Seoul, 2009 / Canon 5D
Two girls in the rain. Seoul, 2009 / Canon 5D

I initially made this blog in 2010 to share my passion for photography. Street photography was something that I was very interested in and I found very difficult to shoot. Therefore, I started this blog as a way for me to share my personal learnings even though I didn’t really know anything. Special thanks to Cindy for the initial encouragement.

Toronto, 2009 Despair.
Toronto, 2009

In a sense, I see the blog as a learning platform in a constant state of flux — of course, I’m constantly changing and evolving, and the blog is also evolving.

3. Can I make a full-time living from street photography?

Piano Keys
“Piano Keys.” Korea, 2009.

After about a year of working at my 9-5 job, I felt trapped. I wanted freedom above everything. I felt like a bird trapped in a Golden cage.

While at my full-time job, I started to steadily grow this blog. I then started to wonder,

“Could I make a living from this blog, and from street photography?”

Reflecting on Life. Los Angeles, 2009
Reflecting on Life. Los Angeles, 2009

At first I had no idea — I came up with some ideas: advertising, teaching workshops, selling shirts, getting sponsorships, etc. It seemed teaching workshops made the most sense — because it’s really hard to make a living only off advertisements and sponsorships, and selling products.

A Lone Dinner
“A Lone Dinner” – Los Angeles 2009

Also the idea of teaching workshops appealed to me— because I love to teach, bring people together, and for me to share my passion. I’ve always had a passion for building communities and bringing like-minded people together. I remember as a kid in Queens, NYC at age 11, I was the one who called all my friends to meetup to hang out.


4. My first street photography workshop

Group photo of street photography workshop attendees in Beirut, Lebanon. 2011

Anyways, my first opportunity to teach a workshop came from Loryne Atoui, who invited me to do a street photography workshop in Beirut, Lebanon. I’m so blessed that the community and Thomas Leuthard sponsored my trip.

Loryne Atoui talking with me in Beirut, Lebanon. Thank you Loryne

The experience changed my life — initially I had no idea that you could “teach” street photography. But, my training taking an honors pedagogy course at UCLA (I taught a seminar titled The Sociology of Facebook and Social Networks) helped me put together a workshop.

Thomas and I at the end of our workshop
Thomas Leuthard and I at the end of our Street Photography 101 Workshop in Beirut, Lebanon. 2011

Teaching a workshop was pretty simple:

  1. Prepare PowerPoint slides with examples and tips
  2. Go out and shoot with students
The Printer
“The Printer” – Beirut, Lebanon

It was a ton of fun — and I ended up teaching Street photography workshops for a living.

5. Practical ideas on street photography monetization strategies

Jazz hands. Hollywood, 2011
Jazz hands. Hollywood, 2011

So the question is:

How do I make money from street photography?

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re interested or passionate about street photography — and thinking of making some money from it. Either side income, or perhaps even full-time income.

Girl with pigeon shadow. Paris, 2011
Girl with pigeon shadow. Paris, 2011. The cherry on top is the pigeon shadow in the background.

Some ideas on how to make money from street photography:

  1. Workshops: teaching street photography workshops in person is one of the best ways to teach how to shoot street photography — because a lot of the concepts and techniques are best taught in person (not just on the internet). The benefit of workshops is that they will always be popular — people like to meet other people, and also you cannot “pirate” a workshop experience.
  2. Selling products: selling camera straps, camera bags, photography books. Cindy built HAPTIC INDUSTRIES and have done well selling the HENRI NECK STRAP, HENRI WRIST STRAP, ERIC KIM STRAP, SAIGON SATCHEL, and books: STREET NOTES, PHOTO JOURNAL, FILM NOTES, LEARN FROM THE MASTERS. It is hard to sell products, because you need a lot of trust with your audience. We sell our products on this blog with the WordPress plugin Woocommerce, and also sell products on Amazon fulfillment.
  3. Advertising: I think you could make money from street photography if you sell advertisements on your website, blog, or YouTube channel. I’m generally bearish, or don’t recommend advertising — because you cannot really make that much money off internet advertising (like Google Adsense) unless you have millions of page views.
  4. 1:1 consulting or teaching: teaching street photography with your students as a 1:1 workshop, or online Skype classes. The basic concept is that you take on a student, and you work as their mentor. You can either charge them hourly ($50+ an hour) or you can perhaps put together some package. The basic concept is that you review the portfolio of the student, give them specific assignments to improve their photography, and help guide them.
  5. Selling education: another idea — making videos or ebooks and sell them for a profit. For example, Cindy turned STREET NOTES into STREET NOTES MOBILE EDITION and has done well.
  6. Photography experiences/expeditions/travel tours: this is tied into workshops, but a little more specific — you are selling both photography education, but also the experience of travel and being in a foreign place.
  7. Selling art prints and portfolios: we have done well with Cindy making CITY OF ANGELS, DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, and LAUGHING LADY. You can make money from your street photography by selling them as individual prints, or making an innovative art portfolio and selling it for a profit.

These are some basic ideas on how you can make money from street photography — and of course, the concepts can be applied to any field of photography, or even any niche.

6. Teach your own street photography workshops

Dark skies over Tokyo, 2011
Dark Skies Over Tokyo. Shot on Leica M9, 2011

Personally, I’ve found education to be the most profitable. This is my theory:

More and more people are getting interested in Street photography, because more and more people are moving to cities, and shooting street photography with their iPhones, and want to make better street photos.

Man dodging. Tokyo, 2011.
Tokyo, 2011.

Digital cameras are getting cheaper, and social media for street photography is getting more popular. And street photography will always be difficult and scary (my CONQUER YOUR FEARS IN STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP is extremely popular from 2010-2017, almost 7 years). And street photography is very complicated and difficult to shoot, and even more difficult to teach.

My thought is that any beginner could learn how to shoot portraits, landscape, and macro photos by themselves. But they need an extra push and encouragement in street photography.

Woman with box on her head. Tokyo, 2011
Woman with box on her head. Tokyo, 2011

7. Should I make money from street photography?

Man and shadow. Marseille. 2017
Man and shadow. Marseille. 2017

I didn’t really talk about this yet — but perhaps an even better question is,

Should I make money from my street photography?

Ultimately — it is up to you.

Just ask yourself, why do you want to make extra money from your street photography?

Hand and selfie shadow. Blue and red. Marseille, 2017
Hand and selfie shadow. Blue and red. Marseille, 2017

Do you want to have extra money to have more money to buy more camera equipment? To travel more? Or perhaps do you want to have more freedom in your life to become a full-time street photographer, so you can just spend all your time shooting street photography?

There’s no right or wrong answer. Just be brutally honest with yourself — write on a piece of paper:

I want to monetize my street photography because: _______________________.


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Learn how to make a living from your passion:


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