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Is Being ‘Just’ A Photographer Still Enough in 2022?

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Once upon a time, we would learn a skill, practice it, hone it, and that would be our main area of expertise and way of making a living. In 2022, however, it would seem that mastering your camera, actually taking photos, editing them, and then applying that skill might not be everything you need to be a successful photographer in today’s climate.

Video Content Is King

We are all aware of the push towards video on popular platforms like Instagram, who are said to be competing directly with the likes of YouTube and TikTok. Photographers are embracing video if we want to get ahead and stay there, whether we like it or not.

So, what does this mean for a plain old photographer in the moving image landscape of social media? Is this the new expected skill you must require to land jobs, meet or exceed customer expectations, and market yourself to an audience or grow your business and online presence? 

Let’s discuss this further, using my personal experience as a hobbyist photographer who can now see a future as a creative entrepreneur in the photography space. Oh, I should probably mention though, I don’t get paid for actually taking photos. Read on, and I will explain. 

The Photographer’s Predicament 

I am the sort of photographer who is in a very challenging niche. I don’t shoot portraits, headshots, weddings, events, or families, nor do I take picturesque landscape shots that would be considered fine art. I’ve never been exhibited or printed in a publication. Just to make things even harder and more financially difficult, I exclusively shoot 35mm film and have no idea how to work a digital camera. I know, I sound like the least ideal person to hire, and that’s because technically, I am.   

As you can see here, I enjoy a lone shopping trolley, an old sign, a tangled hose, and various other extremely mundane subjects that nearly everyone else is walking right by. These subject choices are the kryptonite killing any chance of my anti-photography competing with more traditionally aesthetic choices in such a hyper-competitive industry. For 10 years, I’ve strolled around doing my thing and not received a bar of recognition or considered it anything other than the weird thing I did and enjoyed. 

So, How Do I Earn an Income? 

Fast-forward to 2022 and I now earn anywhere from $500-$700 a month through various income streams all related to my photography, but not directly because of it. These photographs in isolation would struggle to earn that amount, and I am the first one to admit that. 

So, what’s the source of the figures I provided above? The answer is simple: YouTube, mostly. Creating a YouTube channel is the single best and most rewarding thing I have done for my photography and its exposure, no pun intended. For the past 14 months, I have been uploading videos almost weekly with a large amount of help from a partner who picks up all the slack in the areas I lack. We have become a team and together built a channel that is proving to be somewhat profitable with scalable growth on the horizon, providing we stay consistent, of course. 

I am no Chelsea Northrup with millions of views, so my income is coming from a few different places right now: Google AdSense being one, paid sponsorship for videos, Patreon, a small amount from print sales and now recently, writing these articles for the lovely readers of Fstoppers. All of this takes a lot of time but are things I enjoy greatly, so it’s a win-win through my lens. I also have started a podcast, which I have yet to monetize, but it means I have the chance to create long-form content people can listen to while driving or working and continue to build my connection with my audience. 

I recently interviewed 22-year-old London-based photographer Sophia Carey, who has many income streams all centered around her skill set in portrait photography and design. Sophia has scaled her business and diversified her income through revenue streams like Skillshare, where she creates courses on portrait photography, building a brand, and using color theory to improve your work. Video is a huge component now to educating people online and is another reason getting used to becoming more confident on camera and upping your video skills is not only worth it, but also vital and lucrative.   

It’s Time to Press Record

All these income streams wouldn’t exist without me having started on YouTube, so technically, they have all come from video and my on-camera presence as a photographer. People value education and entertainment, and I have been able to monetize this venture to hopefully cover costs and come out with a little in my hand in order to keep creating more. 

Without YouTube, I wouldn’t have this audience, so this raises the question: is video the best way to scale your photography business and earn part of a living or make it a side hustle? Instagram Reels are being pushed and more of us are tuning into video content, wanting to see the person behind the camera and connect with them even more than their photography. While this won’t suit a lot of people who are camera shy or wish for their work to stand on its own two feet without them as a “personality,” it certainly suits someone like me.

I think with practice or a little tweaking, we can all find ways to show up for our audience in new and different ways or possibly open new doors for us other than the traditional “I pay you to take photos of this” model that we all equate to being a professional photographer. While we all complain about the unfairness of algorithms and the struggle to get noticed online for our work, you have to admit that now, more than ever, we all have a chance at creating the career we dreamed of. It just hinges on so many factors that I will leave for another article.   

Social media certainly has its downsides, though, doing the ironic job of making us more connected but more alone, and this will inevitably get worse. So ,why not use these platforms to share and connect, in the true sense of the word, all while giving your work more of a voice, a story, a face to the photographer?

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