14 Ways To Make More Money As A Portrait Photographer

You saw this article’s headline somewhere and clicked on it because you want to improve your portrait photography business, right?  Well, this article will do NOTHING for you if you only read it.  Make today a DO day.  Take at least one of these ideas and ACT ON IT if you really want to make your photography business a success.

On a daily basis, photographers across the world scrap and fight to get a profitable portrait photography business off the ground.  It can be tough, but it is also worth it.  Unfortunately, many of these photographers put the cart before the horse, and it hurts their portrait photography business.  Many photographers fight hard to get a client, but don’t have a system in place to earn as much from each client as possible.  Also, they haven’t considered creative offerings that would help them convince clients to book a session.

1. Mini Photo Sessions
This trend is changing by the number of photographers who are advertising in the market right now, but most families do not pay for a photographer for every newborn, every Christmas, every soccer team, every year in school, every wedding, etc.  Most families will hire a photographer for a few of those events, but it is uncommon for someone to pay a photographer multiple times per year for all of these events.  They usually just pick a few.  Usually, the reason for this inconsistency with clients is because they don’t want to spend the money.

You can sell to these clients by offering mini-sessions.  Perhaps the client wouldn’t normally spend $300 and spend an afternoon getting the perfect Christmas card picture, but they may be willing to pay $100 for a short 30 minute session to get a great photo of their new baby.  It's understandable that you need to charge a lot to make your business work, but offering a smaller mini-session can help you get cash flow instead of hoping for more clients.  Remember, you don’t make any money when you’re on the computer doing advertising.  Your money comes from shooting photos and selling photos.

Money you can make by implementing this idea: Depends on a lot of things, but you could easily book 2 or 3 mini-sessions a week that you would not otherwise get.  That could easily earn you $300 every single week as a photographer.

2. Stock photography
You have thousands of dollars of photography gear, you have the ability to make great photos, and yet you often find yourself just sitting around waiting for clients.  Don’t waste your resources!  Grab a model and stick them in the studio!  Spend a free 30 minutes today shooting some photos that would be suitable for inclusion on the iStockphoto collection or on other sites like Fotolia.

Stock photography may not earn you thousands of dollars a year unless you dedicate serious time and resources to it, but it is certainly more profitable than sitting on your duff, hoping to get a client to walk in the door.  Get up and go shoot someone–anyone!

Money you can make by implementing this idea: Many stock photographers report earnings of $1 per image per month that it is on sale at istockphoto and other microstock companies.  That isn’t much money if you only have a few images for sale, but it can be a decent return if you take great photos and have many of them for sale.

3. Heirloom Photo at the reception
This is a super-secret tip, but it works like MAGIC!  How would you like to earn $350 more from every single wedding, without asking your client for a dime? It’s simple!

When you shoot the client’s engagement photos before the wedding, ask the client which photo they would like to have printed HUGE to put in their home. Not a little framed print in the hall, but a centerpiece wall-hanger print.  The kind of thing that hangs above the mantle.  When the client picks the print and you sell them on the idea of having an heirloom masterpiece print in their home, tell them the price.  More than likely, it will blow them away when they realize that a giant 30×40″ canvas gallery wrap like this will cost about $500. So, they want the print, and you want their money.  How do you get the money without asking them to pay a dime?

Offer to print the gallery wrap at your own cost.  Then, make the proposition. You’ll print the photo at your own expense and bring it to the wedding reception.  Hang it on a nice easel at the entrance with a sign and a box.  On the sign, ask for wedding guests to make small donations for the couple so they can get the beautiful photo for their home.

Do this with the agreement that all the money in the box goes to the photographer up to the price of the photo (which can be a lot), and the wedding couple keeps anything above that amount.  9 times out of 10, there is way more money donated than the photo actually costs.  This method could easily earn you $350 more per wedding, and you don’t have to ask your clients for ANY money!  Now THAT is a good idea!

Money you can make by implementing this idea: $350 more per wedding for every single wedding you shoot.  Oh, and this idea isn’t just for wedding photographers.  You could do the same thing by taking someone’s pregnancy photos and then having a great “big belly” photo available at the baby shower. The possibilities are endless with this one.

4. Hit up your contacts
You should keep an email list of clients and prospective clients. You don’t have to spam your clients every week and drive them crazy.  However, it can make you a lot of money if you carefully send emails that will be useful to your clients.  

Money you can make by implementing this idea: Almost impossible to guage with a number, but it is reasonable to say that you will get 2 or 3 times more return customers with this careful follow-up.  You can do the math. That’s a lot of money!

5. Get a second shooter deal
Most of wedding photographers admit that they don’t usually pay a second shooter.  Sometimes it’s a cost-saving measure, but most of them would be willing to use some of the proceeds from shooting the wedding to pay for a second shooter if they knew how to find someone at a reasonable price.  Also, MANY beginning pro photographers would be willing to second-shoot for someone else if they could get their foot in the door.

So, hop online and find a meetup group or a local camera club.  Rub shoulders and find other new pro photographers like you who are looking for the same thing.  Offer to second shoot for their weddings for a reasonable price, and you promise to hire them to second for you when you have a wedding.  Get out there and network!

Money you can make by implementing this idea: First of all, you’ll make money because the service you offer to your clients will be significantly improved by adding a second shooter.  Also, you could easily fill up a lot of free days by earning money as a second shooter.  This idea is a no-brainer!

6. Seize the holiday
The Christmas season is Christmas card season for photographers.  Also, it’s when families are together, so you’re likely to get a lot of request to do family photos.  Photographers who are too casual with their photography business simply put “Available for Christmas card photos” on their website.  Other photographers feel they are being proactive by having a Christmas card promotion.  Snore!  You care about your business and you know you can book more clients by putting a little more effort into your promotion.

Which photographer do you think will be busy in November?  The photographer sitting on their couch writing “Available for Christmas card shoots” on her website, or the one who gets up and DOES SOMETHING today?

Money you can make by implementing this idea: Most people won’t want to pay $300 for a Christmas card photo, but the good news is that you can take Christmas card pictures in around 20 minutes if you have great ideas for the shots.  You could book a LOT of families if you charge a reasonable price and do a good job.  It would be reasonable to get 2 or 3 families a day during November to pay around $100 if you run a good campaign.  Since Christmas card pictures don’t take much of your time, that is a good return for your time (depending on how much overhead you have).

7. Shoot the masses
Most photographers would love to get a deal with local little league soccer (football for all you international folks) league to shoot the team pictures, but most leagues already have established relationships with photographers.  Shooting local sports groups can be very profitable because you get paid by 20 or 30 parents for doing just one shoot.  It’s good economics!

So how do you break into this market if all the leagues already have relationships with other photographers?  Don’t try to take the formal team pictures.  Go to the league and offer to pay them $200 or so for the opportunity to shoot action shots during league play.  The league will be happy because they get $200 for doing absolutely nothing.  All you have to do is go to the game, take thousands of shots of the kids playing sports all day, and pass out little fliers to the parents telling them that they can order pictures of the their kids through your website.

If you set up a Smugmug website with a folder for the soccer games before you go, you’ll be able to put the URL right on the flier.  The parents log on, buy the prints, and then Smugmug ships the prints and collects the money for you.  Dead simple!  It could make for a VERY profitable day.

Money you can make by implementing this idea: Depending on the size of the league and how well you sell yourself to the parents during the game, you could easily earn over $1,000 doing this for a morning.  The trick is to keep going up to the parents and showing them the pictures on your LCD.

8. Freelance for local Magazines
National magazines have a team of photographers.  Smaller magazines on general topics such as cooking can get most of their images from stock; however, local magazines are usually scrapping for photos of local places.  If you start searching the magazine racks around town, you will most likely find that there are two or three small magazines or weekly newspapers.  Send a few photos to the editor and offer more for a reasonable price per photo.

If the editor likes your work and you charge a reasonable price, you could get many assignments to shoot places around town in your free time.  This is also a great way to get your name out there and build your portfolio.  The trick is to stop thinking this is a “good idea” and go DO IT!

9. Prints for referrals
Most photographers ask clients for referrals.  Every once in a blue moon, you might actually get one from asking.  However, you could be getting 10 times more referrals if you put some thought into how to get the referrals.  Here is one way you could improve your referral system.

After a shoot, offer a free print for each local friend or family member the client refers to you.  The prints will cost very little to you, and the referral is worth much more.  Then, send out a friendly email to the referred friend. Attach a photo from the friend’s shoot, mention that the friend thought that she would like to do a shoot of her newborn or something, and then offer a decent price reduction since the person is a referral.  Some people won’t bite, but some will.  Either way, it gives you a tool to bring more people in the door. It gives you a plan to make your business work rather than sitting around and hoping your expensive newspaper ad will make the phone ring.

10. Portrait Parties
For many years, makeup salespeople, Tupperware salespeople, and your annoying neighbor have been getting sales for their companies by asking people to hold a party and invite their friends.  Then, the salesperson attends the party, provides some entertainment, and then pitches a sale to the attendees.  Some of these parties can be really fun, and others are a bit too pushy.

Photographers, especially female photographers, can take advantage of this idea too!  Do a portrait party where you make a home-studio in the person’s house and take fun pictures of all the women who come to attend.  If you’re clever and can throw a good party, the attendees will love it!  Then, make your pitch and offer a price reduction to do a shoot for the women.  If they have kids, newborns, or even just a spouse, they’ll be on the hook for another session.  If you have the personality for this type of thing, it could be a great way to get clients booked!

Money you can make by implementing this idea: If you are a “people person” and can make the event fun, it is likely that you’d get around half of the attendees to book a session.  Multiply the number of sessions by your normal fee, and you have a great profit, and it was fun to earn!

11. 50% off holes
If you have a decent number of bookings, but you often have holes in your schedule with the studio sitting empty, shoot out an email to some of your clients that you haven’t seen in a while and offer a 50% discount if they come in to fill that hole.

Money you can make by implementing this idea: 50% of your normal booking fee.  It may not be much, but it’s worth infinitely more money than you’ll earn by just sitting around.

12. Get your client in a rut
Sit down for a minute and make a LOOoong list of all the professional pictures someone could have taken of them during their life.  Pregnancy photo, then newborn photo, then a Christmas card, then a shoot when they turn 1 year-old, then a shoot of the kid when they are walking and talking, then another Christmas card, then a family photo, then a school photo when they go in school, senior portraits, engagement shoots, wedding photos, anniversaries, headshots for work, etc.  The possibilities are endless from just one client.

The trick is that the PHOTOGRAPHER needs to clue into this system and get the clients in a rut.  Get them in a routine.  Think about it.  When you get an oil change, the first thing you see in your car after getting back in it is a sticker on the windshield telling you when you need to return for another oil change.  Photographers need to do the same thing.  Right when the client orders the pictures from one shoot, hand them a coupon for their Christmas card picture, or whatever the next routine shoot will be in their lives.  Then, follow up with them when it’s time for the shoot.

Money you can make by implementing this idea: If the question is how much money it’s worth to get 20 shoots out of each client instead of just one shoot for each client, this idea could be worth thousands of dollars and bring return customers for many years to come.

13. Design the graduation announcement/Christmas card/Wedding album/Baby announcement
If you’re a photographer, you already know how to use Photoshop.  That’s all you’ll need to know how to design a fantastic wedding album, Christmas card, graduation announcement, or many other paper photographic goods.  It would truly be a shame if you shoot your client’s Christmas card photo and then lose the upsell by not offering to make the Christmas card.  Also, you’ll be able to do much better than the ugly templates at Walmart anyway.  Don’t make me use the trite “win-win” expression again…

14. Get out there and crush it!
You are now armed with 13 creative ideas to improve your bottom line.  You are now in the driver’s seat.  Are you going to immediately spring into action and make one of these ideas happen, or are you going to leave this site and keep searching for more tips… always learning but never succeeding?  Decide on what tip you’re going to do.

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