PTM 001: Making Money to Fund an Adoption with Freelance Photographer Justin of One Smile Closer

How to Start a Photography Business

I love to dabble in photography and capturing unique moments of life. If you’re a decent photographer, you can certainly make money by taking photos of people. But live photo sessions can be time-consuming, and they’re not the only way photographers can earn money. Let’s talk about how to make money with photography. 

There are several strategies for making money online through photography. You can sell your photos or merchandise you’ve created with your pictures. You can also find clients to photograph as well as edit photos for clients. 

Sell Pictures

One of the easiest ways to earn money online through photography is by selling your photos. You can sell your photos on multiple websites such as Photo Shelter, Shutterstock, Can Stock Photo, Dreamstime, and iStock Photo. Earn money by posting your own unique images to any and all of these sites and then letting customers purchase the rights to use them. 

Dreamstime is the world’s largest stock market photo resource. And what’s cool about them is that they offer you a revenue share on any sales of your photos. You can even place audio or video files for sale as well. You could earn up to $12 for royalty-free images, and you keep the copyright for all your photos.

People are always looking for great photos for their websites, but not everyone wants to put in the effort to create or edit the images they need. Why not be their source? The more photos you are willing to sell, the better your odds are of earning income.

Some of the marketing websites listed above are completely free, while others have paid options. The paid options will generally offer more features, such as a custom photographer website or unlimited photo storage. But you can easily get started for free with others as a place to showcase your photos to the world!

Check Side Hustle Websites

People hire photographers all the time for major events such as weddings, anniversaries, and birthday parties. Or maybe they just need an updated, professional-looking headshot for work. Try some websites to help you locate part-time gigs, like Steady or Craigslist. 

Check out several of these types of side hustle websites to find gigs that appeal to you, whether it’s newborn photo sessions or family reunion shots. Many people don’t need a photographer with a fancy degree, just someone with a decent camera who can take a better picture than a selfie! 

Your Own Photography Website

The next way to make money online through photography is somewhat obvious: a website. Your website can serve as your portfolio, showcasing your best work to potential clients. You can sell your photos directly from your website to earn some cash. 

A photography website doesn’t have to stop at being an online portfolio. It’s also a valuable resource that tells people how to hire you as a photographer. Plenty of freelancers and side hustlers find new clients who discovered his work through their websites. 

Be sure to set up the website in a professional manner. You don’t want to project an image of laziness when prospecting new clients online. Share your best images in a logical layout, making it easy for visitors to browse and locate what they want. 

An excellent, almost indispensable tool for website building is Bluehost. They’ll provide hosting for your site, give tons of step-by-step guidance along the way, and they offer several pricing tiers. Check out Bluehost offerings here

Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing your website. You should probably include the following:

  • Contact information, so they can reach you
  • Breakdown of your photography rates
  • Types of sessions or services you offer
  • Social media sharing buttons, so people can get the word out about your services
  • Great photos, so people can see the great work you do!

Related: Create Your Own Money Making Small Business from a Hobby 

Photography Blog

Similar to a photography website, a blog centered on photography may be a lucrative way to use your skillset. Again, you can use Bluehost to help you get set up. In a photography blog, you can post articles about various skills or tips, including quality images to go along with those tips.

For example, you might write and take photos on the topic “How to Take Great Family Photos on Your Smartphone” or “Tips for Great Action Shots.”

Any kind of lifestyle blog is an opportunity to display your photography skills. Blogs about food and recipes, family fun, and travel are just a few that lend themselves to eye-catching photos. The key is that your photos need to be amazing, so you’ll stand out among all the other blogs. 

Your photography blog can present a nearly unlimited number of ways to earn money. You can sell e-books or merchandise (more on those later.) Perhaps you’ll offer a course that teaches photography skills. You could even sell camera equipment through an Amazon affiliate.

Sell Photo Merchandise

If you’re still asking, yourself, “How can I sell my photos?” here’s another option: selling photo merchandise online. Just think of the many everyday items people like to purchase with specific photos:

  • T-shirts
  • Hoodies
  • Tote bags
  • Cell phone cases
  • Coffee Mugs
  • Blankets

The trick may be selecting photos that appeal to a large audience and are thus marketable. If the image is right, you may be able to make quite a bit from it. Several websites, including Teespring, allow you to upload your photos to all sorts of items. Teespring even shows you how to create different types of merchandise, and they have many styles to choose from. As the photographer, you will also have control over pricing your items for sale. 

Create Postcards

Who doesn’t love gorgeous photos to send to others? Creating postcards or note cards of your photographs is another way a photographer can make money online. 

Images like richly colored sunsets, jaw-dropping mountain ranges, and pristine beaches make beautiful postcards. Depending on where you live, you might be able to promote your cards as souvenirs. 

Postcards aren’t the only paper-based version of photos you can sell. Think of stationery and note cards as well, which people may love to buy from you because your photos and your story are unique. Many of us prefer to buy items like cards from an individual rather than a big, impersonal corporation. Use your blog or website as a place to sell the cards. 

Related: How To Make Money on Etsy

Edit Photos

Nine times out of ten, if you’re a photographer, you’ve got some knowledge or experience with PhotoShop or other editing software. You’ve probably had to touch up or edit photos at one point or another. Editing people’s photos is another great option for making money online. 

People are busy, so they don’t always have the time to make their photos look the best. Business owners and bloggers who outsource photo editing will pay you for editing services. 

You can advertise this type of service on a freelancing platform like Fiverr. Professionally edited images are obviously more desirable than ones with poor lighting and blurred faces, so if you’re skilled in this, you’ll find a market for it. Here’s more info on Fiverr

To use your editing abilities even more, you might pick up some work as a virtual assistant, or VA. Your photography and photo-editing skills may ramp up your appeal to potential VA clients. To learn more about becoming a Virtual Assistant, check out the 10K VA course

Create an eBook

A final strategy for making money online as a photographer is to write and create an eBook. Then promote and sell it through your photography website or blog. There are hundreds of possibilities with eBooks.  

One simple idea would be to create a beginner photography guide. Within that guide, you could share your expertise on how to gain photography skills, tips for editing your images, best ways to photograph certain things, and more. Another option: sharing your recommendations for the best cameras and related equipment, in general or for specific niches. 

Perhaps you’re somewhat poetic and you’d like to create an eBook showcasing a selection of your favorite photos. Alongside each photo, you could share unique memories the photos evoke. Maybe include details of the equipment and process you used to capture each shot. You might even share unique commentary or memories that the photos evoke. 

Photo books can also be based around a specific theme, like bridges or antique barns. Think about your strengths as a photographer and try out a few options to make money. In certain locations, you could narrow down your images to ones from a particular county or tourist destination. 


Photography is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but your photography skills can make you some serious part-time money. Why not try out a few of the options outlined above and start earning from a photography side hustle? 

For an example of someone making a part-time income as a photographer, check out the following podcast interview!

Podcast Interview

In this first episode of the Part Time Money Podcast, I talk with my friend Justin, who started a part-time photography business (on the side) to help fund the international child adoption process.

Justin has a great story and has earned around $5,000 towards his family’s goal in just six months. He isn’t a classically trained photographer and so he talks a lot about:

  1. how he gained the skill and confidence to do this;
  2. how he developed some ninja marketing tactics on Facebook;
  3. his beginner technical tips.

Justin’s Story: How to Start a Photography Business on the Side

As a husband and father of 2, soon to be 3, Justin Bufkin needed extra money. He and his wife were adopting a child from Africa, and it was going to cost around $30,000, much more than his salary as a media director in a church afforded him.

Justin knew there were a lot of ways to make more money, but he wanted there to be value in what people spent their money on. He wanted to offer a service that families were already seeking, not add to the list of things people didn’t need to spend money on.

“That is kind of why we came up with photography, kind of reallocating money that people were going to spend somewhere else but to use it for a good purpose we thought.”

While working as a media director, he picked up some basic photography skills alongside the videos he was producing already. Once he got good at photography, he decided to begin One Smile Closer and offer mini-sessions on the side at the price of $100 each. With each session, the family would be ‘one smile closer’ to bringing their daughter home.

Justin said as his business grew, his confidence did too. He got better and faster and sessions which originally lasted over an hour were eventually honed to 45 minutes flat. Within 6 months, he had raised $5,000 towards their adoption goal.

Related: Best Freelance Invoice Software

Tips for Growing the Photography Business

Relationships = referrals. Another contributing factor to the growth, Justin said, was building relationships with his clients. The more confident he became in photography, the more time he could devote to interacting with them. This led to repeat customers. Several months later they would call again for another session. At the beginning, friends and family were Justin’s primary clients, but that quickly moved beyond his own personal network.

Creating a blog and Facebook strategy. Justin set up a blog to showcase photography sessions and used Facebook as a primary tool for getting the word out about One Smile Closer. Justin’s Facebook marketing method was simple: Soon after the session, he would post his 5 best photos from the session, tag the family in the photos, and link to the blog in the comments. He didn’t want to overwhelm people with large albums of photos to click through, and he wanted to showcase his best work. He never set up a business Facebook page; he used his own profile. This allowed him to bypass the problem of limited audiences without paying Facebook to boost a post. To find out more about setting up a blog to make extra money read this article.

Keeping things simple. Many photographers know that there is substantial money to be made in allowing customers to order printed photographs through their company. Because this was a part-time gig and Justin had a limited amount of extra time, he opted to give his clients a CD of images. It prevented him from being consumed with tedious tasks that can take too much time. If you’re trying to balance a full-time job with a side hustle read this post.

Have a story to tell. Justin also believes that the story of what he was doing was an important part of the success of One Smile Closer. He said that through his work, people could see they were investing in the life of a child.

“I went to a conference and got to hear Donald Miller speak, and he talked about you need to not just give people an idea of a product but give them a story to latch onto. Not that I am trying to peddle our adoption as being something artificial that we need to cling onto, but I really wanted people to be able to see what they are investing in, and they are investing in a child.”

Questions I Ask Justin on the Show

  • How did you get into photography and how long has the business been up and running?
  • Has this side business been able to help you achieve the adoption?
  • How did the first couple of photo shoots go? How did you gain confidence?
  • How did you get your first clients and how do you market your services?
  • How exactly do you market your services on Facebook?
  • Talk us through some of the technical parts of taking and editing the pictures.
  • When did you find time to do this?
  • Anything else that you do to maximize your efforts?
  • Any resources you can recommend for beginners?
  • How are you going to structure this business to make it ideal for taxes and the adoption?

One Smile Closer - Justin and Family

Links from the Show

Visit Justin’s site: One Smile Closer

See Justin’s camera: Nikon D40

See Justin’s Software: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe DNG Converter

See Justin’s Educational Resources: Pioneer Woman Photography

Read the transcript of this podcast: just click show

Bear with me as I learn to do this podcasting thing. I’m a horrible interviewer. Need to work on my questions. But if you can fight through me, you’ll get some good insight into this popular part-time money-making business.

How to Start a Photography Business

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