Making Money From Your Photography

A Feature Article by Dwayne Hackett

-Consider trading the fruits of your passion to finance more of your passion.

Let us say you are a serious, passionate amateur photographer. Your photography skills are steadily improving and as you proudly show your creations to your friends (and maybe the world), you get kind comments and “oohs” and “ahhs”. Sooner or later you’re going to get the request from someone who is interested in your photography and who would like to buy one or some of your creations, or even want you to create some photography for them. You might politely decline or you might accept the opportunity.

Charging money in exchange for your photography may not be on your mind, so you may do it only in exchange for the pleasure it gives you in making art for the world to freely enjoy. But you’ve gotten this far in the article so I’ll say you are somewhat interested in how you can earn something tangible in return. If you do want to receive something tangible in exchange for what you might have to offer, there is nothing to feel guilty of. Consider that to practice your art at present, it costs you not only your time and use of brain cells, but it also costs you, among other things,  money – money which you can use to purchase all sorts of photography equipment and money which can be useful for many other things photography-wise or otherwise. You may be independently wealthy and couldn’t be bothered to trade your photography to finance your clicking passion. You may not want the ‘purity of your art’ to be ‘polluted or corrupted by the germs of commerce’. But you’re still reading, so let’s continue.  The camera and other equipment you’re currently using might have been a gift given to you but you certainly would like to upgrade and add more to your photography kit. Consider those dream cameras, lenses, lights, filters, memory cards, backup cards, backup batteries, camera bags, tripods, remote triggers, external light meters. Then there are computers, laptops, tablets, imaging software. Then you might want to learn even more so you’ll consider maybe paying for some photography education whether books, webinars, instructional videos, correspondence courses and so on. The list goes on and on to the places you’ll eventually want to get to in the quest to perfect this art-form of yours, this passion, this photography lifestyle. (For me I would really like to travel this beautiful country, the Caribbean and even the World on what I propose to call ‘Dwayne’s Great Photo Safari & Adventure’! And I’ll need money to do that, or a fairy Godmother!) What better way to get all of these things you need or want, than by trading in the fruits of your passion?

You may not necessarily want to become a full-time professional photographer but rather you can consider it a part-time venture or what is called being a ‘weekend warrior’. For me, photography is what I do full-time for earn a living. Like most professions, it is not easy despite the mythical glamorous lifestyle non-photographers imagine. It’s challenges are many (and industry practices can always do with improvement,) but I do get to earn a living from following my passion while having a  respect for the profession and art-form while working to ensure customer satisfaction in the real world of business.

Understanding the value of your creations
Your photography is no doubt something very valuable and dear to you. It matters not what the subject matter is. It has some value. A few weeks ago I asked a question on the Guyana Photographers Facebook group (a group of professional photogs, non-professional photogs and photo fans), “What is a picture worth?” and got some interesting responses. I also indicated that it is an open-ended question, free to be interpreted and answered as seen fit. The few responses were mostly intellectual and no one responded with any thorny answer in the line of commerce or monetary value. Photographs all do have commercial value however.  Consider Alberto Korda’s famous photograph of Che Guevara ( which is said to be the world’s most reproduced photograph and which ironically has been used by countless others to generate immeasurable profit even to this day. Ironic both because Korda virtually gave away the image and because Che Guevara, himself being communist, did not believe in the kind of trade and commerce that the image today ends up being used in, such as mass sales of t-shirts, caps and all kinds of merchandise. I highly recommend you read more on the story of this iconic image.

This naturally brings me to the topic of copyright. Photographs are intellectual property and are copyrightable.  A straightforward way of explaining copyright in the context of photographs is that photographs, unlike commodities, are ‘ multipliable’, that is you can copy or multiply it from an original (and in this age of digital technology it is virtually, if not actually, a clone or exact copy of the original). Commodities are not ‘multipliable’ but rather ‘divisible’, for example a pound of sugar cannot be turned into 100 pounds of sugar but would have to be divided into smaller units which would add up to no more than 1 pound.  Not so with photographs! The concept of photographs’ copyrights is that you are the creator of the photograph and hence you will always be the owner of the photograph unless you explicitly give up this right. That you are the owner of the photograph naturally dictates that you have the authority of whether the photograph can be reproduced (multiplied), by whom and under what terms and conditions. Copyright is also best understood to mean ‘the right to copy’ – the right to copy is yours. You may choose to give others the right to copy – permission that is, again under agreed terms and conditions. The digital age does not change the principles of copyright even though it might be easier for your work to be copied by others without your permission.  Though the range of subject matter in photography may seem infinite, you still own the photograph that you create in any case.

Here is a short extract from the book “Copyright In A Week” written by Graham Cornish:
“Copyright falls into two different parts: moral rights and economic rights.
Moral Rights:
As an artist, you have two different ways of looking at your art. Firstly, you will want to make sure that nobody messes about with it by changing it and you will also want to make sure it has your name on it when it is put in any sort of exhibition. You certainly will not want someone else’s name on it. There is the other side of this problem too. You may gain a reputation as an artist and so not want other people’s paintings (or photos in our case) sold or exhibited as if they were your work. They might be lousy paintings and this will damage your reputation as well as deceiving the general public. These rights are called ‘moral rights’ because they have nothing to do with money or reward but are about protecting the ‘self’ in the painting that you put there when you painted it.
Moral rights give the author the right to:
– be named as the author.
– prevent the work being changed significantly
– prevent the work being added to
– prevent anything significant being taken out of the work
– forbid anyone else being named as the author
– prevent their name being added to something they did not create.

Economic Rights:
To be honest, most people are at least interested in what their property is worth as anything else. So copyright also offers a way of protecting a work so that the author can have a chance to exploit it by managing the way it is used in a market-place environment. It is the economic value of what we create that really concerns most of us. And this is where copyright really comes into its own. As a property right, the owner of copyright has a product that may be worth a few pennies or several million pounds. Copyright gives that author the exclusive right to manage the way it is sold, hired, licensed or generally made available to the public.”

If you’re going to get into trading in photography, it is compulsory to acquire this knowledge.  The resources to learn more about copyright are many.
Stock or Assignment?
Your photographs are either stock photography or assignment photography. By stock, it means you have the photography already, most likely done as a ‘self-assignment’ on your own initiative and someone wants to ‘purchase’ a copy – you have it in stock. By assignment, it means you have been asked or ‘commissioned’ to create a photograph. Photographers rarely sell photographs. It is a misnomer and a gross misunderstanding. What photographers sell are copies of photographs and/or  ‘licenses to reproduce’.  A photograph always remain the intellectual property of the photographer unless it is explicitly agreed that he gives up all rights and claims of ownership to the photograph.

Photography Markets
All photography customers fall in one of two markets: What are called
1.) Wedding & Portrait Customers and
2.) Commercial Customers.
In  ‘Wedding & Portrait photography’ clients are private individuals who have no interest in reproducing the photography for resale, but rather to have the pictures done for their personal, non-commercial, non-publishing use. Typically, you will make copies of photographs and sell those copies to the client. (With a clear understanding of copyright, you now know that you still own the photographs but the client purchases copies. Usually you retain the right to make the copies. That is copyright in action. You may if you wish give up all rights to the photographs in an explicit agreement for an agreed and reasonable consideration. Barring an explicit agreement you retain the rights to the photographs as in the famous set of words, “All rights reserved.”
In “Commercial Photography” for which the client has the interest of mass reproducing or publishing (making available to the public) the photography for various reasons – these include mainly:
a.) Editorial use (news, magazines…)
b.)Corporate communications use (annual reports, in-house newsletters etc.)
c.) Advertising use (an almost endless list here).
These commercial or business branches of photography can have any subject, (including portraits!) As in wedding and portrait photography, you still own the photographs but this time the client wishes to reproduce the work, often by the hundreds, thousands or even more. The photographer usually gives permission for them to do so in what is called an ‘image usage agreement or license’. Also here, the client may require that you give up all rights to the photographs in an explicit agreement for an agreed and consideration. Again, barring an explicit agreement, you retain the rights to the photographs as in the famous set of words, “All rights reserved.”

I highly recommend that you seek a further understanding of various rights (and responsibilities) in the world of photography. It is going to become necessary once you enter the world of trading in your photography.  Photography is a serious industry and like all other professions, there are standard industry best practices which should be respected by all including old and new.

In conclusion, understanding the different types of photography customers or markets and how the photograph is being used or reproduced and what you are really trading will determine the answers to the big questions of pricing.  New media does not eliminate the rule of copyright but provides great opportunities for photographers in the image-rich form that it (new media) takes. The world is now an image-rich one with an ever growing demand for good photography. Reproduction and distribution of photographic imagery in various ways is ever increasing and is big business. Photographers who wish to get involved commercially have a great opportunity but only if they are aware of the value of their work and the rights they possess as content creators. The practice of photography, like all human endeavours and professions can always benefit with knowledge sharing.

In a later piece I will discuss in greater detail aspects of image usage and permissions as well as a few other related nuts and bolts relevant to our practice of photography

“The Real Business of Photography” by Richard Weisgrau (
“Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer” by Tad Crawford (
” Copyright in a Week” By Graham Cornish
an excerpt from which you can read here:

Dwayne Hackett is a professional photographer practicing Commercial Photography as well as Wedding & Portrait photography.

5 thoughts on “Making Money From Your Photography

  1. Wonderful and informative article Dwayne.

  2. There’s always a trade-off when you make your hobby into your livelihood. But being paid to do what you love is always satisfying. Great article Dwayne.

  3. Lovely article and it really captures the essence of pertinent considerations to make money with a lovely craft. There are two things I wish to quickly add to this wonderful piece:
    1. An “Industry” is only considered one when its practices are regulated and tenets are commonly shared by its practitioners and and acts as a peer review system.
    2. When one decides to accept payment for copies or use of their images, in other words, make money then the following should be given some attention through self reflection or questioning:
    – Do I actually have the skills to deliver a final product as being demanded?
    – Do I have the necessary tools to get the job done?

    If your response to these reflective question is in the negative then one should consider enlisting the immediate help of a “competent” or “professional” individual who can supplement these deficiencies. In my experience it was one way that helped me to grow tremendously. Some persons may want the big payday and feel that they may have to give up too much or may lose that client to the enlisted individual sometime down the road. Life is not without risk but that can be solved by way of a simple contract and first and foremost “tact” and “trust”, or else life is not worth living.

    Again great Dwayne, well received.

  4. Khadi says:

    Thanks, a wealth of information here, good reference for newbies. I hope you will write about your thoughts on how a photographer should go about valuing their work.

  5. […] time to clear up some of the confusion and shed some light.  It also makes a good follow up to Dwayne Hackett’s “Making Money From Your Photography”.   This is not meant just to answer the questions for this “Season” but for future reference […]

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