Ways to make money and get exposure as a photographer

You have expensive photography gear, the ability to produce phenomenal images, and yet you often find yourself just sitting around waiting for clients. Don’t waste your resources; there are ways you can make use of them. Alina Hardcastle looks how photographers can gain experience and make money.

Build up your following on social media

Nowadays most photographers get jobs through social media platform. Instagram is probably one of the best platforms for a photographer because it solely focuses on images. Here fans have the ability to like or comment on posts and can connect with the photographer via direct messaging.

Matthew Stanely, a 22 year-old photographer who started shooting three years ago, says: “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to build a presence on social media, which has led to a lot of engagements with brands both locally, and internationally. I’ve found social media is the ultimate form of networking. I’ve also tried to diversify the content of my photography as I’ve progressed in the industry. When I started, I stuck almost exclusively to landscape shots – now I shoot everything from fashion to music festivals.”

Warren Papier, who started documenting night life and youth culture with Paul Ward for Diaryofward.com in 2010, adds: “I’d say big breaks nowadays with social media can be attributed to recognition, a “like” or “follow” or “DM” (direct message), from someone who really thinks your work is [good], and even better, if they want to work with you.”

Get credit through watermarking

Although social media is a great platform to get exposure and jobs, you need to ensure that people who have access to your images, credit your work.

Austin Malema, a 25 year old photographer, recently expressed his annoyance under #creditthephotographer on Twitter, because local celebrities had shared his images without crediting him. The one photo was of Pearl Thusi looking down and the other of AKA and Bonang Matheba holding hands while walking. Austin told LiveMag: “It’s like bootlegging, because if you support an artist, you will buy their music. It’s like they’re taking food out of your mouth. It’s even worse if they didn’t pay for the pictures.”

So how can photographers prevent situations like this? Papier says: “I’m pro #credithephotographer for the reasons [Malema] mentioned especially if it’s your means to earning an income. For me, yes do “credit the photographer” because it gets your name as well as your work out there for possible new collaborations and connections with people not in your “friends or following circle”, especially if the person crediting has a broad reach.”

Papier advises: “The simplest thing to do to avoid not being credited by the ‘celeb’, is to watermark the photos but this often ruins the photo and it can just be cropped out anyway.” To mitigate this he advises: “Make sure the photo is shared by you first. In time people will get to know you and your work. You begin to develop a unique style attached to your work. Craft that style until people want to connect with and credit you.”

Stock Photography

There are also plenty of websites dedicated to buying and selling stock photography online. Generally, it’s free when registering onto these sites but the rules and guidelines about what photographs they are looking for and what they will be willing to accept varies i.e. ownership and copyright issues; or certain rules might prohibit you from using photographs which contain certain buildings, logos and brands.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the photographs people are looking for are ones that will help them sell a product or service to their clients, which is something you need to consider when taking photos.  It’s unlikely that you’re going to earn millions but it’s a far more profitable option than sitting around and waiting for a client to appear.

Sites such as Shutterstock and Istock.com are possible money generators.

Market and sell your work on eBay and Gumtree

And don’t forget popular online marketplaces such as eBay and Gumtree, as there are lots of options on these sites.

Also try and approach the following:

(Coffee) shops

Many local coffee shops will allow you to hang your work on their walls for a commission on sales. They get free art to hang on their walls and in return you get to have a lot of eyes on your photographs. So, you need to ensure that you have a decent selection of works and sizes if you are going to approach shops, because each location has different wall space that would need to be covered.

Issi on Bree, a restaurant in Bree street Cape Town, offers artists/photographers the opportunity to display their work. In return, Issi will take 10% off any sale made. Find out if restaurants are part of a wider network. Issi like many other restaurants, partakes in the very popular cultural experience, First Thursdays, which offers artists/photographers a wide range of exposure.


Approach night clubs, music festival co-ordinators and companies involved in brand activation.

“I stumbled into event photography by chance when an event coordinator came up to me at an event I just happened to have my camera at,” says Stanley, who has worked at Rocking the Daisies, and with Huawei, Halewood and many others for event photography.

Papier started off documenting night life and youth culture at night clubs, outdoor festivals along with numerous events.


Stanley highlights that the number one rule in the industry is to always network with marketers, especially those involved with major clothing brands. He adds: “Brands are the only way to make any decent money in this industry, as they are the ones with half-decent budgets.”

Modelling agencies

Photographers should also consider approaching modelling agencies. It’s alright if you’re new to the industry, study the sorts of images that agencies have up on their board and make sure you can show your potential to shoot photographs of a high calibre. You can approach agencies such as Boss Models, Ice Models, 20 Management, etc.


Another option is trying to sell your images to magazines. Try contacting the person in charge of editing or marketing/advertising. Make you sure that you have multiple images that tell a story rather and read magazines in order to see the type and style of articles that are published.

Find your niche 

Stanley notes: “It’s not an easy industry to make money in, let me tell you. There really is no shortage of photographers in any country in the world. In order to make any sort of money, you’ve got to be able to do something that other photographers can’t. Or you’ve got to have a specialty. I would advise budding photographers to focus on content and subject matter that they’re passionate about – if you love cars, shoot cars, if you love surf, shoot surf, etc. Be persistent and the bookings will come. Don’t try and copy someone else’s style or content just because you think that’s where the money is.”

Papier concludes: “Always carry some sort of camera with you. Document everything and do a fair amount of free work if you know it will get you exposure or challenge you. Practice your craft, put yourself out there on social media, connect with like-minded individuals, don’t sleep and be nice.”