How To Make Money From Portrait Photography

Beautiful portraits come from the right technique and equipment. And here, we will be your helpful guide on knowing how to make money from portrait photography.

Hobby Cents Staff Writer
Updated on:

Photography is a wonderful hobby because it can open up all sorts of channels for your creativity. The result is an expression of how you perceive something. Your camera is a powerful tool because you can use it to influence people’s emotions.

Two photographers can take a photograph of the same subject, but people can get a different feeling from each photograph. Portrait photography is especially interesting because you are photographing another living being that also has emotions.

A good portrait photographer can make a very good income if the public likes his/her artistry and style. If you are a photo hobbyist and would like to see if you can make money from portrait photography, here are some suggestions for you to consider.

What Do You Need To Get Started In Portrait Photography?

The Right Technique

In order to get started, you need an understanding of what portrait photography is. The technique you use is quite different from what you would use in other forms of photography, such as landscapes or still life.

In portrait photography, you want to capture the personality and attitude of the subject by posing the subject and using various lighting, backgrounds, and props to help reflect the personality of the subject.

With that said, the technique is quite difficult to master. You can pose the subject, but the result must look natural and unintentional, so the subject’s true personality shines through.

One of the things that you need to do is to learn the right techniques and gain those skills needed for a portrait photographer (that is if you don’t already have them). You have to know how to connect with your subject and learn his or her personality.

Then you have to decide how to pose the subject to best reflect that personality. Next is the technical aspect of lighting, which you can use to further reinforce the character of the subject. And finally, there is the choice of background. What type of background would bring out the essence of your subject? 

If you can perfect those techniques, you are well on your way to becoming a great portrait photographer.

The Right Equipment

All serious photographers need a good camera. If you have been a hobbyist for a while, you know how widely camera equipment can differ in terms of quality and cost.

Professional quality equipment can be very expensive, but the technical quality of the images that they produce is so much better than what a cheaper camera can do. So, get the best camera and lenses that you can afford without going into financial hardship.

You will need some basic accessories:

A tripod

It makes things so much easier if you don’t have to hold your camera all the time.

Basic lighting equipment

You’ll need basic lighting equipment for controlling the lighting on your subject. You will need a couple of light stands, the appropriate light bulbs, and an umbrella reflector to reflect the light.

Having the ability to manipulate the light is especially important if you plan to take portrait photos outdoors because it will allow you to take photos almost any time of day without relying totally on the amount of sunlight or weather conditions.

Photography backdrops

These are more for studio photography. If you want to set up a spare room as your mini-studio, you should have a couple of neutral backdrops. Standard white is fairly common to start with. You can add backdrops as you advance further in your business.

Equipment for photo editing

You will need a computer and photo editing software. Adobe Photoshop is a common one to use, but there are others on the market.

Reference Materials

Even the best professional photographers in the business continue to learn and hone their techniques.

Invest in your photography education by taking classes, attending workshops, reading books and photography magazines, joining professional photography organizations, and anything else that comes your way that can improve your artistry.

The better you become in your art, the more people will notice your talent, and you will get more business.

make money from portrait photography easiest way
You could start offering your photography services first to your family and friends.

What Is The Easiest Way To Make Money In Portrait Photography?

The easiest way to make money is by offering your photography services to family and friends first. If someone has a birthday celebration coming up or a special event like a graduation, for example, offer to take photographs of the event with no obligation.

Have the guest of honor and the family pose for you. After the event, show them the proofs of what you took and see if they like any of the photographs. If they like some of them, they can pay you to make a print for them. 

You can go a step further and offer to make a photo book with a collection of pictures. Another way is that you can sell them the digital photograph for a higher fee.

The higher fee accounts for the fact that you are selling them the rights to the photo, which allows them to use it in any way they want without the need to ask you for permission.

If you are one of the invited guests at the celebration, you are going to attend anyway. So, why not see if the host would like a semi-professional photographer to record some of the memories?

A lot of people may not want to invest the money to hire a full-fledged professional photographer for a regular birthday party. However, if you price it right as a semi-professional, without obligating anyone to buy any photos, they might go for the idea because they have nothing to lose.

Even if you took 100 photographs and only sold 10, that is money that you had earned from taking pictures.

If your art is good, word about your skills will get around among your family and friends and will spread out to their respective networks of friends. Before long, you might get more people contacting you for portraits.

How Much Money Can You Make From Portrait Photography?

According to ZipRecruiter, the salary of a professional in portrait photography starts at a low of $15,000 a year to a high of $64,500 per year, with a national average of $36,290 per year.

It is unclear if the salaries are for someone working as a photographer for a company or if they are for freelance photographers. But you can see that the salary is decent.

Setting your price as a freelance portrait photographer can be tricky. Basically, you want to set a price that will earn you a profit after all of your costs are covered.

The costs include what you spend to run your business, the cost of equipment and anything you have to buy for the business, the cost of your time, and how much you pay in taxes. Add that to the how much profit you want to make, and you will have the price you want to set.

Another guideline in setting your rate is to find out what the other local portrait photographers are charging.

Keep in mind that seasoned photographers can command a higher price because people are willing to pay more for the photographer’s reputation. Since you are just getting started, you should set your price a bit lower than a more experienced photographer.

Setting a lower price makes you more competitive in getting customers. As you gain more experience and build a reputation, you can start charging more.

The hourly rate for an established portrait photographer can start at $150 per hour and up, plus fees for prints. Since you are a beginner, a good hourly rate can be $40-$90 an hour.

You can sell your digital images starting at $15 per image. This is just a rough suggestion because it really depends on what the public is willing to pay for your work.

make money from portrait photography career
More clients will come your way once you’ve built up your reputation as a professional portrait photographer.

Can You Make Portrait Photography A Career?

You can most certainly turn portrait photography into a lucrative career! Many professional photographers have a successful freelance business doing portrait photography in the studio or on-site. They get commissions to do portraits for established clients.

The key is to build up your reputation and get your name out there as a professional portrait photographer. Once you are established and have made a recognizable name for yourself, you will see more clients coming your way.

If you want to draw in clients, you will need to do some marketing. Start by building a website that will showcase your portfolio of portrait photographs. If you did many different types, divide them into categories like weddings, graduations, children, pets, lifestyle, etc.

You will need to ask your clients for a release to publish the photos that you took of them. Get help with optimizing your website so potential clients can find you.

On your website, have a page that tells your audience about who you are and what drew you to becoming a portrait photographer. People who are looking for a portrait photographer like to know more about the photographer.

After all, in order for the portrait session to be successful, the photographer and the client must be able to make a connection. So, by providing a short biography of yourself, you open up your world to potential clients so they can get a glimpse at who you are.

Include a blog on your website. Write about photography-related topics that clients might enjoy reading about, such as how to get children ready for a portrait session, how to choose what to wear for a photo shoot, etc.

Also, establish a presence on social media. Join virtual groups relating to photography. Submit articles to photography magazines to see if they will publish them. Write an eBook about portrait photography, publish it yourself, then sell it on your website or on Amazon.

All of this works toward establishing yourself as an authority on the subject which adds to your credibility as a professional in your field. 

Of course, there are lots of ways to make money with your photography hobby. Here are many other ideas you should consider.

In Summary

Making money from portrait photography is not a difficult thing to do. You need the right technique and high-quality equipment in order to produce beautiful portraits of your subjects.

Start by doing short portrait sessions with your friends and family on a casual basis, and sell them the images that they want. Ask them to spread the word about your photography service to their social circles and to refer their friends to you.

Photo sessions don’t have to be in a studio. They can be casual and fun, in various outdoor settings or even at the subject’s home. The key is to bring out the personality of your subject with the photographs.

If your subject tells you that your photographs really captured their “true” character, you have successfully demonstrated what it takes to be a successful portrait photographer.

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