This will either be a controversial or completely non-controversial statement depending on your perspective but I think it’s worth stating anyway. You don’t have to make money from your street photography (and I’ll be honest and say that I’m telling myself this too). I recently saw someone write an article about what makes a successful street photography blog and basically, it was all stuff to make money from your photography. That’s fine, but if you want to make money from photography, street photography isn’t the best idea.
Ways to make money from street photography
Street photography has less of an obvious money making path, especially with its risen popularity. Unlike portrait, product or wedding photography where there are clear reason people want photos at certain times, you won’t (or at least it’s very very unlikely) get commissioned to take candid photos of people in public (using the classical definition of street photography rather than fashion photos that were taken on the street). You could sell prints and photobooks but it’s not easy to make a career just from selling street prints and books.
So that leaves one thing…teaching via courses, books and workshops. (Please feel free to correct me).
Now let’s ignore the fact that you may not be the best street photographer, and you may not be the best teacher, you still have competition from other street photography teachers and you have to have a big following to be able to live just off this. If you look at many of the workshop leaders, most of them also do other photography work in addition to their teaching. So basically, you probably can’t fund yourself entirely from street photography.
Now there’s the selling side. This probably means spending time marketing, and also trying to create (or stoke) the desire in people to purchase what you sell. Maybe you’ll resort to some underhand methods, or you’ll deal with the self doubt of whether you should be doing this (hi there imposter syndrome). And that’s not to mention the paper work and time spent marketing that could be used to do your passion. You know, take photos.
Don’t kill your passion
So many people I’ve spoken to have admitted that once they start doing their passion for their job, they don’t actually get to do their passion more, they just have to promote doing their passion instead. And that can actually kill their motivation. This is one of the themes that Sean McCabe mentioned in his book overlap, where he advocates protecting your passion first and foremost. Instead of trying to make money quickly off your passion, only seek money in ways that fit with your ethics and don’t harm your passion (I.e. don’t go into shooting weddings if you hate weddings and the editing of wedding photos. You may find you no longer feel the same passion for photos.)
Don’t make money from your passion
Perhaps the alternative for you, and me, is to just enjoy our passions. Sure we can make and sell prints but without the need to finance our career from this we can just delight in making them cheap and accessible to whomever. We may even find that we have more time for our passions and funds by letting our day jobs pay the bills.
I don’t think it’s an easy question to answer in general but in street photography, due to the difficulties in making it pay the bills, I believe it is much easier to answer. We should enjoy this passion and make the most of it and for some people make a living off it. But the majority of us should not pursue that goal as well probably end up pursuing making money rather than our passion. (If you are an exception to this, I am very happy for you).
Also published on Medium.