Making money with your camera

The subject should jump out at you!
The subject should jump out at you!

Yes it can be done! You can make a small fortune out of photography – provided you start with a large one.

I listened to a BBC radio program the other day, and they mentioned Cartier-Bresson’s photo library called Magnum (not after the ice cream) which has now been going 70 years. To get your photographs into Magnum is difficult; however, even amateur weekend photographers can make some money with their cameras, but they have to understand the marketplace first. It is no good trying to sell a beautifully exposed photo of hydroponic tomatoes growing in magic broth to a magazine called the Bird Fanciers monthly.

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Research the market by going to the bookshops and get a feeling for what is on offer. Then find a subject that interests you and after that start planning your own photo shoots. All that research needs to be done before you even think about the hardware (cameras and tripods) you are going to need.

For anyone starting off, look for magazines and brochures that cover travel. Look at the stock photos of palm trees leaning out over the water from a tropical beach. Seen one, seen them all, but still you should try and get some shots like that for your own portfolio.

Next in the travel pic grab bag are ceremonies. The Vegetarian ceremonies that include demented people sticking rods through their cheek and tongues will always have a market somewhere – and they have these ceremonies in Thailand, so you are miles ahead of your brother photographers in Europe, who only get castles and woods in winter.

In fact, the tropical lifestyle will always be a ready market for good photographs. Note that I said “good”, snapshots are very rarely “good” enough.

The saffron clothed monks remain ideal subjects, especially as you can get one on the corner of your street any morning. Just don’t intrude. A long lens is best for those sorts of pictures. Of course, the temples themselves offer the photographer endless subjects to photograph. But try to get a different viewpoint of a very well photographed subject.


All the images mentioned above must also have another common feature. They must be well exposed and sharp as a tack. Art directors or photo-editors may need to enlarge the image, by 100 percent or even more. You must be 100 percent sure that the subject of the photograph is in focus. Near enough is not good enough! If you are shooting medium format, you can generally expect to get sharp pictures, but the lenses on modern 35 mm equivalent are more than adequate.

That brings me to the next ‘must have’ piece of equipment – a good heavy tripod. You will always get sharper pictures with the camera locked onto a strong tripod. The el cheapo light aluminium things are quite useless for the job you will want of them. I have used a Manfrotto for 30 years and it is still good, despite the scratches that they get from plane holds, rail travel and going twice around the world. Get a good one and don’t try and cheat yourself with the bottom of the market ones.

Similarly, while chasing sharpness, you must have some good lenses, otherwise your work is compromised before you begin. I am not going to join the debate about after-market lenses. Some of them, I am sure, are excellent – but not all of them.

Previously I have mentioned zoom lenses versus prime lenses. The pro marketplace tends towards prime lenses and to avoid zooms. The purist in me agrees, but again I think much will depend upon the subject being shot, and where it will end up.

In my previous life I used 6×6 Hasselblad and had the complete system. (My transparencies were always met with smiles, but I found I could dupe 35 mm transparencies up to 6×6 and still get the same smiles.)

To sell a photo it must tell the story it is illustrating, and it must be sharp. Good luck with the Fancy Birds!

Finally, try and get a copy a Richard Sharaburra’s book, “Shooting Your Way to a Million”. The best textbook you will ever buy. Long out of print, but try Amazon.