How To Survive As A Professional Photographer

Jeff Colburn

Times have never been harder for professional photographers. They are being attacked on several fronts. The main assault is from:

  • Camera manufacturers – They are making better camera bodies, with more bells and whistles, cheaper every day. I just wish they would make the pro-lenses less expensive.
  • Digital – When an industry goes digital it get eviscerated. Look at the record, movie and TV industries. They still don’t know how to make money on the digital frontier.
  • Amateurs – Those wonderfully talented photographers that shoot for fun. They don’t care if you pay them $1 to use their photo on the cover of a national magazine and don’t have to support themselves with their photographs.
  • Clients – Who want photographs that are ready to use the instant they are made, pay less every day and want unlimited rights to an image for eternity.
  • General attitude – Both providers and consumers now have a mindset of “good enough.” Photographs don’t need to be great, just good enough. High quality professional images aren’t sought out by many buyers, because lower quality and cheaper images will work just fine, thank you.

It’s tough out there, but that’s been the story of people trying to make a living from their creativity as long as there have been creative people. Only now, the Internet lets us all hear about the trials and tribulations of professional photographers.

So what’s a pro-photographer to do? Actually, there are several things they can do to make a living and fight off the evil hordes they face every day.

The first, and most important, thing they have is their imagination. It allows them to shoot photographs in a unique way, creating a “style and look” that is different than other photographers. For example, whenever I see a photograph by Magda Wasiczek I instantly know it’s one of hers.

Imagination can be expressed by subject matter, lighting, composition, photo manipulation and more. Combine these in your own special way to make unique images that others can’t create.

Creating and marketing new revenue streams is also a great way to express your creativity. I go to Renaissance Faires, yes, in costume. For several years there was a photographer, also in costume, who would take attendees photographs as he walked around. After he took your picture he would drop a leather flap that was covering a bulge at his waist. The back of the flap had print prices on it, and the bulge was a wireless printer. For $10 you could get a 4×5 print of yourself at the faire. I’m guessing that he made $200 a day. Not a lot, but it paid for his, food and gas, and still have some spending money.

He was able to enjoy the faire for free and he promoted himself to people who may want to get more prints later or have him do their family portrait. Of course, he handed out business cards with every print.

Other revenue streams can be found in my ebook, “25 Places To Sell Your Photographs.”

Pro photographers can also do things that amateurs can’t, due to time or money. While an amateur can attend the occasional class, workshop or convention, pros can attend more of them. And pros can attend higher priced ones than amateurs, for the most part, can’t or won’t.

A pro can also gather more knowledge and experience than an amateur who’s tied to a 40+ hour a week job. Those are hours the amateur can’t spend learning about photography or hiking and traveling to hard to reach locations.

The amateur also doesn’t have the extra money to buy studio space, loads of lighting equipment or high-end gear. I really want to hear the amateur trying to explain to their spouse how they have to buy that $5,000 lens. “And honey, I will never sell enough photographs to pay for it, or any of my other equipment. I mean, isn’t this lens more important than getting your transmission replaced? Ouch! Hey, honey that hurt.”

Forget the old way of doing business, stop complaining about digital and amateurs and start forging a new trail in your photography career. The rule of survival is adapt or die.

To get ahead, and stay ahead:

  • Master your craft
  • Harness your imagination
  • Be unique
  • Constantly learn more
  • Create multiple revenue streams, both passive and active

Doing this will keep you going. And when the pendulum swings back, and clients want great photographs again, you will be perfectly positioned to take advantage of this gold mine.

Have Fun,


If you’re interested in Fine Art Prints or stock images of Arizona, visit

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