For Photographers: 11 Ways to Generate Income During A Slow Season (Bloomington – Normal IL Photographer)

Should photographers specialize or generalize? While I believe it’s important to be known as a certain “type” of photographer, specializing in your photography skills doesn’t mean you can’t diversify your income streams. Diversification is just good business.

Most photographers have to ride out a slow season: that is, the post-holiday-portrait, post-wedding, cold season, when landscaping is dead, colors are dull, nobody moves, construction slows, publications go on hiatus, there are no major holidays, budgets are tight, and therefore, no one hires photographers. Including me. While my business does not singlehandedly support our family, we do rely on my income to plug holes and give us a certain quality of life. And, like all photographers, I definitely experience slow months that make it harder for us.

Over time, I’ve figured out a few ways to sustain some cash flow during those slow times when I am not booking jobs. Illustratively, over the past 18 months, despite being pregnant, spending two months in the hospital on bed rest, two months in the NICU, raising our son, and relocating my business across state lines four times, there were only 3 months in which I made no money, even though I only shot a handful of jobs. Since I faced some rather unusual challenges as a business owner and I’ve been forced to diversify, and thought I’d pass along some of what I’ve learned.

Holly Baumann Photography Sources of Income January 2012-December 2013

Holly Baumann Photography Sources of Income January 2012-December 2013

This list is not intended to be quick fixes for fast money. Rather, the items below are long-term sustainability strategies: how to use down times to reinforce your business infrastructure so money streams in later without much effort. All of these suggestions go hand-in-hand. They work together in a domino or circular effect, so they are listed in no particular order. Do as many of them as you’d like, all at once. If you aren’t already doing these things, it may take some time and money to get them in place, but over the long run, the investment will pay off many times over for you.

1.  Improve Your SEO and Metadata.

  • I keyword all of my images while importing them into Lightroom, and then save the metadata to my files. Online forums like Flickr and SmugMug automatically attach them to the image online, which then makes the image searchable by those keywords. Additionally, I copy and paste all of those keywords into the blog post for that job/image.
  • I keep a Word document on my desktop that lists all of my generic keywords (i.e. “Bloomington Photographer, Normal Photographer…”). I copy and paste the entire list into the keyword section of every blog post, in addition to any custom keywords for that specific post, and the image keywords.

2. Sell Stock.

I do not currently sell stock on via stock houses (working on that), but I have sold stock imagery many times via my blog, posts to Facebook, from hits on my website. I can attest to the fact that you do not need to have an account with a major stock house to sell stock. You do, however, need to have a) good metadata embedded in your images, b) a strong online presence, c) regular blog posts, d) a stock image license/invoice template you can quickly customize, e) an understanding of how to negotiate a usage license, and f) model and/or property releases already in place for every possible stock image.

3. Consult.

If you develop good relationships with other photographers, both those better and worse than you, those relationships may generate consulting gigs over time as they get to know you and your specific skills. Those less knowledgeable than you will hire you to teach them, and those more accomplished will hire you to do their dirty work. In either case, you win. You are either generating a new revenue stream for yourself, and/or learning from the best, which will make you better.

I’ve consulted with newer photographers on website basics, social media marketing, and contract writing (to name a few), and also consulted with much more elite photographers like Shevaun Williams on specific projects that advanced her business. While a non-compete is required in such situations, if you are well-networked and have your own niche as a photographer, it is unlikely that you will share a client pool with many photographers, so this is a non-issue. Consulting was a particularly valuable income stream while I was on bed rest – I literally held meetings in my hospital room.

4. Blog.

I’ve said this before, but allow me to reiterate: blogging generates more business for me than ANYTHING else, ever. Period. But you must blog effectively.

This will really horrify some old-school photographers, but I sold rights to a personal iPhone image to a PR/ad firm with a two-year advertising license for four figures. How? Because I blogged it, and both the image and the blog post were key-worded. This underscores the value of blogging and key-wording, even when it is personal content. You just never know what image may sell.

Personal iPhone Photo, Shot 2012; Licensed as Stock, 2013

Personal iPhone Photo, Shot 2012; Licensed as Stock, 2013

5. Sell and/or Rent Equipment.

  • Do some spring cleaning. You know all of that gear (cameras, lenses, lighting, accessories, old computers, camera bags, etc.) that you hoard just because you are a gear nerd and you might need it someday? Sell it to or on Craigslist or to your friend that wants to start a photography business. If you haven’t used it in a year, it is just collecting dust and losing value – rapidly. (Sidebar #1: One of the surest ways to tell if someone is a pro or a hobbyist is their attitude toward gear. Pros need to show a profit so gear purchases are made strategically, cyclically, and usually, rarely. Hobbyists tend to hoard. I’ve been both. PPA actually advises that only 3-5% of your income go towards capital, which includes equipment!)
  • Don’t let valuable gear just sit there when you aren’t working. Put it to work without you. Spread the word that your equipment is available for weekend rentals if you are unable to shoot. I did so when I was in the hospital, quite a few times. Advertise to the local groups to which you belong (on Meetup, Facebook groups, etc.); post an announcement on your blog and Facebook page; shoot an email to the photographers with whom you network. Prior to doing so, do some homework and write up a contract that your renters will sign, and make sure your equipment is insured. (If you need a template, I have one available for a small fee. Just let me know.)

6. Restore Old Photos.

Everyone has old photos that are tattered and in need of repair. Practice by restoring some of your family’s own photos, and then blog the before-and after images. Think through how much you’d need to charge clients for this service, based on your expertise and time, and whether you’d include prints, etc. After posting your work, you can most likely sit back and watch the requests come in from paying customers. I did a couple photo restoration projects last year and enjoyed it, and along the way, I learned new Photoshop skills, which improves my results for pretty much any type of client.

Example of Photo Restoration Services

Example of Photo Restoration Services

7. Assist.

Learning from the best, while getting paid, is much better than paying to attend a workshop. I’m listed as an assistant in ASMP’s Find-An-Assistant search engine; I participate in an ASMP forum in which members inquire after assistants in various local markets, and I schedule face-to-face meetings with studio photographers and ad agencies that may need assistants. (Sidebar #2: Elite photographers and studios always pay their assistants. They know that a good assistant improves the outcome of a shoot, and makes it more likely that their client will hire them again. Assisting is hard work and deserves compensation. Further, I only do non-shooting assistant jobs. I don’t like giving away my images.)

8. Invest in Continuing Education.

When you have downtime, attend the big conventions; watch online tutorials and webinars; or simply read books. If you have to choose between buying new gear and investing in photography and business education, choose the latter. It will pay more dividends over time.

9. Join Professional Organizations.

I am a member of both ASMP and PPA. The membership fees pay for themselves every single year via a) referrals I get from buyers that find photographers via their search engines and b) discounts on gear, software, and educational events. Membership also adds a certain legitimacy to your name as a photographer. Finally, I learn so much from other members, from the industry publications, and from their various online resources. I could write a post just on this topic; I am a better and more successful photographer because I belong to these organizations.

10. Update Your Online Portfolios.

By updating your online presence (not just Facebook!!) regularly, your work appears in the news feeds of a variety of potential buyers and reminds them you exist, which is half the battle. My updates occur both on a per-job basis and a semi-annual basis, depending on the forum.

  • I add the best {key-worded!} images from each job as I close out each project to my website’s home page, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, and my blog, because doing so is integrated into my workflow. I can publish images to Flickr and my website from inside Lightroom, and I add the watermarked image(s) from the blog post on each job to my Facebook page and Google+ with a link back to the blog post in the caption. I don’t consider a job “done” until I do those things.
  • Less frequently, my calendar includes regularly spaced auto-reminders to update my portfolio images on Behance, Linked In Business, PPA, ASMP, and Google Places with recent work, since those sites require direct posting and specific specs.

11. Shoot Personal Work.

It is very important to be strategic about working without pay, but I jump at the chance to shoot projects for “free” when they meet certain criteria: a) they are high-profile, b) they are likely to generate stock sales, c) they will substantively improve my portfolio, and d) they are likely to lead directly to other paying jobs. The best example is my aerial photos of the Devon Tower in OKC.

Image from the Devon Tower/OKC Aerial Series, Personal Work, One of Several Licensed to 3rd Parties

Image from the Devon Tower/OKC Aerial Series, Personal Work, One of Several Licensed to Several 3rd Parties

I didn’t get paid for the shoot itself, but have licensed images from that series multiple times over for print and web, because I key-worded the images and blogged them. It always come back to blogging!

Hope this is useful. If you have other ideas, shoot me a note or comment below!


About Mosaic Collective, LLC

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, founding member of Mosaic Collective, LLC, which was founded in early 2017 and is based in Central Illinois. I own and operate Mosaic Collective with my partner in business and life, my husband, Nathan. Mosaic Collective, LLC houses our rental property, my consulting contracts (with the nonprofit and public sectors on various work), and also my commercial and portrait photography business, which has been doing business as Holly Baumann Photography since 2008 long before the formation of our LLC. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and sometimes, my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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