One of my favourite podcasts is “How I Built This with Guy Raz” because you can listen to a plethora of business owners and hear about each of their journeys. The host ends every episode by asking the guest a question like, “how much of your success has been because of luck?”. There’s always a mixture of answers, with some people saying luck had everything to do with it in the beginning, to others who say their hard work was the only reason their business got off the ground. My takeaway from this podcast is that every person who starts a business has a different journey and different amount of privilege, luck, money, education, drive and opportunity. I wanted to quickly share my journey to freelance photography—which may be different to yours.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an outdoor-lover. In my early 20s, I went to university and worked part-time to increase the money in my ‘travel fund’. I was lucky enough to be able to explore 15 countries in a few years. As I was traveling, my passion for hiking grew and when I came back home I started seriously hiking and backpacking any chance I got. From 2015-2018, I was working full-time and working at growing my Instagram page as a side hustle. After putting a lot of work into it, I leaped into the freelance life in January 2019. If you would like to read a more detailed story about my journey, pop over to this blog post.
THE BREAKDOWN OF THE WAYS YOU CAN MAKE MONEY
Now that I explained how I got to this point, I’ll be breaking down the ways you’re able to make money as a travel photographer, content creator, social media influencer (for the lack of a better word), blogger, model—whatever you want! This is a general list and can be for people in any niche—not just the outdoor/travel industry. Keep in mind that there’s always more you can do. Here we go:
- Sponsored social media posts: This is when a brand or tourism board hires you to promote a product or destination on your social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc.). For me, sponsored Instagram posts, both in-feed and story posts, are one of my main revenue streams. You can reach out to brands with a proposal or they will reach out to you when a campaign is live.
- Content creation: Brands need images to share on their social media platforms, website, email blasts and advertisements. This is where you come in! Another way to make money is providing brands with these images and, most importantly, with the digital rights to them. The great thing about this is that there is no need to share the photos on your social media, so these jobs can shooting for brands outside of your niche—which is a specialized segment of the market (ie. the outdoors/travel).
- Workshops, group trips or retreats: This is a great way to not only make money, but also to connect with your audience on a deeper level, travel the world, and have a whole lot of fun. While it would be time consuming and tricky (at first), you can build your own workshop or trip! Alternatively, you can go through a company that handles all the logistics for you (ie. TrovaTrip, Acanela Expeditions, etc.). They receive a cut of the costs for this service but take all the work out of it for you. I currently am working with TrovaTrip on a few trips in 2021 and 2022.
- Print shop: You take beautiful images and people want to buy them! A print shop is an easy way to have another passive revenue stream. This can be a section on your website and you can either print, package and ship the prints yourself or go through a company that does that for you (ie. Dark Room, Pixieset, etc.).
- Podcast: If you are comfortable talking , hosting a podcast is a great way to make some extra cash. Brands will pay you to share ads in the episodes of your podcast.
- Licensing: Brands usually seek you out for this. Licensing can mean they are purchasing the rights to be able to put your images on a magazine, book, billboard, store front, etc. This is very exciting milestone in any photographer’s career.
- Blogging: If you’re reading this, you know that I have started working on a blog. This is a great source of income, an awesome way to provide more value to your existing followers and attract new readers. Companies will pay you to write blog posts about their products or destinations which are called sponsored or co-branded blog posts. You can also make passive income through the ads (usually a box/rectangle within a post) and affiliate links (where you link out to a company’s website and receive a small commission when the reader buys a product—at no additional cost to them).
- Videography: Like Images, videos are a great way to make money. Companies will pay more for videos because they take more time and effort than images do.
- Youtube: This goes hand-in-hand with videography. I haven’t dabbled in Youtube, but you can make some serious bucks doing this! Focus on consistently releasing quality videos and sharing your work on your other social media platforms.
- Modeling: If you’re in your own photos on your social media platforms, brands may reach out to you to model for them in a photoshoot or videoshoot. These are not directed or shot by you, but instead a team of photographers, stylists, etc. that the brand has hired. I’ve done this a few times (even though I was really nervous) and it was a lot of fun! Usually they pay you per day you’re needed and they can use the images how they please. I was in a photoshoot where they used an image as an ad in Outdoor Magazine.
- Courses: Once you have been successfully running an Instagram page, blog, or whatever you excel at, you can take what you’ve learnt to create courses. There are many people out there who would rather pay a small fee than try and figure it out themselves. I have purchased courses on Pinterest and photography in the past as there’s no better investment then investing in yourself!
- Private consulting: This is similar to courses, but on a one-on-one basis. The person learning is able to ask more questions if you go in this direction.
- Product line: If people trust you and you’re an expert in your niche, then why not create merchandise?! This could be a really fun way to put all your gear testing, experience and style to work.
- Subscriptions: This is typically when you provide people with access to additional content that isn’t available for free. Usually this is through a system like Patreon.
- Social Media Management: Because you’re an expert in your field, companies that may not understand social media could pay you to run their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok accounts. This is a great way to put in a few hours a week to make some extra cash. I suggest using a platform like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to plan ahead and mange all the accounts.
- Photo book: People love your work and want to support you, but may not have enough wall space. Enter the photo book! This can hold all of your photos, can be a great gift and coffee table book.
- Stock photos: You can sell photos online by submitting them to a variety of stock photography sites like Shutterstock or iStock.
- Branch out into other worlds of photography: Many photographers I know who shoot travel/the outdoors also shoot weddings, real estate and/or events.
Now that we’ve gone through how you can make money being a travel photographer, influencer, blogger, model, you name it.. here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way.
1) PRACTICE EVERY CHANCE YOU GET
Practice is important—especially if you’re a beginner photographer. The better you get at your craft, the better it is for your side hustle. You’ll land more jobs, gain more followers and be able to make time to learn other ways to expand your business. Practice at any chance you get, even if conditions aren’t’ ‘perfect’ or if you’re tired. I’ve learnt so much over the years and it’s from making mistakes and learning from them.
2) THERE’S NO RIGHT TIME
It’s next to impossible to try to figure out the ‘best time’ to jump into the freelance life. It’s a scary thing to do—or at least it was for me. I worked myself to the bone to ensure I was ready, and funnily enough, I didn’t actually feel ready until a few days after I did it. It’s good to prepare yourself and ensure you’re able to make enough money, but also listen to your gut. If you have a solid skillset, strong portfolio, steady(ish) revenue, support from friends, family and peers, you’re set up to make the jump.
3) MAKE YOUR FULL-TIME JOB AS FLEXIBLE AS POSSIBLE
Having a full-time job that is flexible will be a game changer. Thankfully, my previous job was shift work— the shifts were 4am-12pm, 12pm-8pm, 9am-5pm, and a few more. The earliest shift was for the team who was in a different province and in a timezone three hours ahead. I would take the 4am-12pm shift so that I could get to the mountains by sunset or catch up on work. It was a bit crazy, but I loved having more time in the day to put towards my side hustle. Find the loop hole in your job and use it! It’s also noteworthy that I had a great relationship with my manager who supported me and tried to help me as much as he could. Remember to always put in work and don’t skimp out at your full-time job—you’ll need it while your side hustle grows.
4) SAVE YOUR MONEY
Being frugal and saving your money is so important. I would limit my spending any way I could and sell anything I didn’t use or didn’t serve me. I lived at my parents to save up, so if you have that opportunity, take it. Money you save can, and should, be invested in trips, camera gear or any other business-related expense. I would take road trips to neighbouring provinces or states instead of big international trips. I’d always travel on a budget—which included backcountry camping, car camping, making food at camp (and not eating out), splitting costs with four or more people and trying to get things comped with brand deals.
5) PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE
Skip that party and prioritize your side hustle! I chose my social outings wisely and spent almost every weekend or day off either in the mountains, on a road trip or working on the administration side of things. Even if I had two or three days off, I would ‘send it’ to Washington, Oregon, Alberta and even Idaho (17 hour drive away from my house). Making the most out of the time you have is so crucial. Be prepared to spend hours working when your friends are partying—and remember that this will pay off in the long run.
6) BE PREPARED TO START SMALL
You may seem like progress is taking forever… but remember to trust the process! Your first few jobs may not pay as much as you want them to. As you grow your following and improve your skills, your rates will increase. Usually you can charge $100USD per 10,000 followers on Instagram. Don’t expect success overnight and keep at it.
7) BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO
Every freelance photographer, digital creator, model and/or blogger needs a strong portfolio in order to attract clients—as it will prove to them why you should be hired. In the beginning, I only got jobs with clients that I had reached out to. So, start emailing and DMing brands on Instagram. I suggest sending a DM on Instagram sharing who you are, what you do, why you love the brand and then ask for an email you can reach out to. You can also find emails for the marketing or social media team via the ‘email’ button on their feed or on the brands website (I usually look at the footer for a ‘contact’ button). Don’t be discouraged if you only get one response (even though you’ve sent a hundred emails and/or DMs). Take every job you have seriously because good photos = more followers = a happy client = possibility of another job! Apart from brand work, you can collaborate with photographers (if you’re a model) or models (if you’re a photographer) to build a personal portfolio/non-branded images.
8) STAY ORGANIZED
For the first few weeks it could be total chaos because you will have to juggle a lot of things at once. You may have photos to edit, need to plan your Instagram feed, respond to DMs, send out emails, etc—all of which needs to be done outside of your 40 hour work week. Don’t panic. If I learnt anything, it was that staying organized was key. I made to-do lists and put deadlines in my calendar which helped keep my anxiety at bay.
9) DON’T BE DISCOURAGED
Remember that getting started is always the hardest part. It may seem impossible, but you’ll find your flow. If and when you’re feeling down, remember that you’re following your passion, putting the work in and that everything will pay off. Also, avoid comparing your work to other photographers. Comparing yourself to others and their work is really, really common. I do it. You likely do it. It’s normal— to a point. It took me years to realize the importance of getting out of the negative spiral that is comparison. Your sole competition is yourself because improving your own skills to be better than you were yesterday is the only goal. Your journey is different from anyone else’s and thinking negative thoughts is simply a waste of time and energy. Remember that not everyone has it figured it out—it just may seem that way.
10) COLLABORATION OVER COMPETITION
I’m not going to lie, in the beginning, I was tempted to feel competitive with everyone in the same niche as me. Having that mindset creates nothing but problems and doesn’t make you any friends. Collaborating with people (like photographers, models, bloggers, etc.) is always much more beneficial. If you do, you have the opportunity to make new friends, learn new techniques you may never knew of, be tagged on their social media platforms (via Instagram stories or posts) which leads to grown, make trips cheaper by splitting costs and more.
Hope these tips helps you on your journey to the freelance life. If you think of any others, feel free to share them in the comments!