Why you’re not making money as a photographer

“I’m in shock. Thank you Elizabeth for not sugar coating it.” -Shannon

“Thanks for your insight, and much needed swift kick in the pants!” -James R.

I’m pretty straight-up. Like zero sugar coating, but LOADS of E numbers (E for Elizabeth – har har). I’m the kind of friend who will tell you if your tag is hanging out. Or if you have toilet paper on the bottom o’yer shoe. So let me be frank.

The reason you’re not selling your photography is that you’re too busy selling the idea of photography.

Say what?

Yea. Totally. Photographers who make money do it by selling their photography printed on stuff. Like ya know…pictures? And another thing…it’s YOUR fault that all your clients want is a disk. Because all you’re doing is selling them on the idea that their session with you is meant to result in a bunch of screen-optimised digital files to plaster allover Facebook. Because that’s what YOU do, dummy!

What gives me the right to talk to you like this? Because I gave myself this same speech when I was hit in the middle of a bottle feeding with -like- the biggest epiphany of my business-woman-life:

I’m not selling clients on prints because I’m selling them on digitals

How am I selling digitals? By plastering them allover my goshdarn website. And my goshdarn Facebook page. WE are guilty of selling the idea that this is what our images are for. So people who see your work will either…

a.} Look at it and think “ooh that’s a pretty mass of pixels on my screen” and move on or

b.} Look at it and say “Oh my. I must hire that photographer so I can have pretty pixels of me in the internets, too!”

So how do we remedy this problem? How do you FINALLY start MAKING MONEY with your business? How do you start actually selling your work for -ya know- money? You need to…

  1. Find the products you love. Just love prints? That’s fine! Want to offer a limited number of different products? Keep it simple? That’s FINE! (but don’t just offer them. SELL them!)
  2. Start producing these products.
  3. MOST IMPORTANTLY become a product photographer. Photograph your products. Post pictures of those on your Facebook page. Blog about them. Rave about them. Make them look sexy, baby! Because that’s what you’re supposed to be selling, right? Not the idea of photography. But actual photography. As in…photographs. As in your work actually printed on paper and hung. on. someone’s. wall.
  4. And here’s the other MOST IMPORTANTLY…you NEED to be selling these in person. There is no way around it. These are your excuses and this is why you need to do it now.
Want to be all artsy fartsy and tell me “ooh but I don’t like selling” or “oh yea but I’m just not that confident”? Fine then. Be an artist. Make art, allow people to oogle your stuff for free. Don’t make any money. That’s cool. There are plenty of artists not making money, right? If you’re not businessy then why are you in business? Just be an artist, then. Ain’t no shame in yer game.
Ok people…go. Get off my blog now (but come back tomorrow) and DO IT already!
Pin It
  • Overcome objection with: “I know how you feel, I felt the same way, but what I found was that I never printed my photos & just had a disc of photos sitting in a drawer. Would you like a 16×20 or 11×14 to display in your home?” or something like that…

  • I totally agree, and I have been online researching this information everywhere. The problem with me is that I am in a tourist location and 95% off my business is summer tourist wanting pictures on the beach. Then they go back home, 4-14 hours away. So I have no choice but to sell totally online. I would love to grow my business beyond selling the disc and a few prints however I need to find a way to do it w/o being in person. This article was actually the first I have found that has at least an idea how to, by blogging products and taking pictures to show, that at least is a step in the right direction.

  • Erjaliisa

    I really enjoy your stuff. Erja from Finland

  • Renee

    Haha, you crack me up! What a simple concept, selling actual tangible items! I love your point about selling what you love! I am going to go through my product list and do some weeding! :)

  • photography

    I have been striving towards this and have my first “order session”  tomorrow.  Its for a client who bought a large print or two in the past, but I am very interested to see the difference from online viewing and adding the sales session in a client who already buys well!!  Thanks for the kick in the pants reminder!!

  • Amielongphotography

    WOW this was very insightful….Loved it!!!!

  • Christina Ruhlig

    So true, and I’ve been preaching this doctrine right along with you!

  • Agodlife

    Love this post! ALL OF IT! Thanks for keeping it real!

  • GW

    I do close to 100 viewings a week and ALWAYS push CD’s.  I have 4 viewing staff who do the viewings and I stay at home.  Income is approx £60K to £80K per month….5 studios, 25 staff.  I was the only photographer and viewer just over 2 years ago.

    Digital can work :)

  • Amanda

    GW, is that your income alone of do you have to pay a staff of 25 from that? Because that would suck if you did.

  • Thanks for posting this. Although I think there’s a place (a huge one) for digital sales in our digital world, I also believe there’s still a demand for products. We photographers just need to get our heads around the idea of “demand generation” marketing, and the first step is just as you have said: show the products.  

  • Jenneffer Vazquez

    I just found you to yesterday and I’m addicted to your blog. It so happens that our pricing structure is actually extremely similar! I didn’t copy I swear because remember I just found your blog yesterday. Anyway I agonized over pricing for a long time and finally found what worked for me.. For awhile anyway, now I feel like I do need to make a few tweaks here and there starting with raising the digital negative collection or Ooh LaLa. I am slowly moving into in person sales, when I would usually sell anywhere from $15-50 dollars on an online gallery I’ve sold up to $350 in an in person session complete with a canvas and large prints. I definitely know exactly where I am going now :)

  • Alena Belleque

    I would love to know your thoughts on where a person who cannot yet afford a DSLR (ie: using a (nice) point and shoot) should start on their journey to professional photography and owning said business. I have received a LOT of flack for daring to offer lower cost mini-sessions while saving for a professional grade camera, because “it cheapens and undermines true professionals” – even though I offer beautiful images, understand light and composition, and do not offer pictures, rather offering one of a kind art (even if produced using inferior equipment). If you agree with my detractors, I will of course be disappointed, but will understand that you have a right to your own opinions. I only ask because I like what you have to say in other aspects, and value your opinion, even if in the end your answer to this question is not what I might hope to hear.

  • elizabethhalford

    Hella Alena! I would need to see some of your work to comment :) I’ve had a look at your blog and facebook page but can’t locate your photography.

  • Laling Ramos

    oh my gawd, i think you describe me well on this blog. Do i know you? LOL. Thank you for this. it’s an eye-opener for me.

  • Kcole

    What happens if you sell face to face, and they hate the photos. It’s like a massive slap in the face.
    How do you deal with that situation.

  • elizabethhalford

    Well if they hate the photos, there’s two possibilities:

    a.) you didn’t set proper expectations

    b.) you need to become better at photography before making a business out of it.

    The expectations one is a biggie. Read this:

  • amy

    I am almost 6 years in and for my business…I disagree. I am profitable selling digital files and my clients are printing their images and average about $2000 per client. Low overhead. Minimal time. Cut and dried. It is what it is. I think in person proofing is a waste of everyones time. I’ve tried it. the photos sell themselves. if people want them and they can afford them they get them. That’s how i see it anyway.

  • rambharose


  • rambharose

    what are u talking about bitch….kutiya hai tu

  • Dorothy Crandall LeMay

    Thank you I will be changing the way I do business.