How To Earn Money From Photography & Feel Great About It

It was weird.

Naked. Immersed in healthy spring water from deep within the earth’s crust.

Snow howling down like a sandstorm.

The heated water slowly boiling me alive.

It was my first time and I was WAY out of my comfort zone.

So I grab the thing they call a towel and make my way out of the hot pool.

And as I stood in the locker room it dawned on me.

I’d just spent all this time in these majestic hot pools and not taken one snap!

In fact I was kind of glad I didn’t take my iPhone in.

I’m sure a bunch of furious ninjas would have pummelled me if I had.

There’s a lesson there, somewhere.

While I was hanging out in a weird Japanese onsen, taking cautious steps into steaming rock pools.

I realised…

You Don’t Need To Photograph Every Experience!

In fact, many experiences happen without a camera anywhere in sight…

I mean, to be able to travel, jump on trains, planes and ferries, bath in natural hot water while it’s snowing outside – you’ve got to LOVE this crazy, amazing world!

I guess that particular moment I was feeling grateful. Although I couldn’t tell what the other Japanese men were thinking because they had little towels covering their faces.

That might have been something to do with the way I looked too. 🙂

But anyways…

This particular Japanese trip I definitely drank from the well of humility and toasted the Gods of efficiency.

I got to hang out with amazing people and did it all without having to stay in dodgy backpacker dormitories.

I ventured into one of them in Manly, Sydney once and it was total debauchery! (Note to self: never stay in dodgy backpacker dormitories!)

earn money from photography japanThe morning after we snow-trekked for about 20km to get to the top of this Japanese mountain.

But the Japanese onsen was only a small taste of some of the somewhat bizarre experiences I’ve had.

In the above pic my friend and I snow-trekked about 20km to the summit of Katsuragi Mountain ( 葛城山 ). We finally collapsed arrived at the door of this ryokan ( 旅館 ) at the very top.

A sight to behold. Had just started arguing with myself. 🙂

Thermometer hovering around the -4 degrees mark…

Of course, you need money to flirt around the world at a moment’s notice.

And what if you’re not rolling in the green or a recognised photographer?

What if you just want to travel all the time? (Like, ahem, someone I know).

Well this here is sort of what I do. It doesn’t always work perfect, but it mostly kind of runs along without me nursing it too much.

How To Earn Money From Photography

In A Good Way…

So here’s how I make money from my photos, my travel & photo inspired blog, the odd photo products and other bits and pieces.

We’ll call it “The Hurley Boy Green List”

It looks something like this:

  1. Stock Photography (as Affiliate and Contributor)
  2. Photo T-Shirts (Amazon’s Merch & E-Commerce Store)
  3. Amazon (Affiliate for Photographic Products)
  4. Website Hosting (Promote Photo Websites)
  5. Shopify (Help People Create Online Store)
  6. Print On Demand Products (P.O.D)
  7. YouTube Videos And Blog Posts
  8. Photo Books, Calendars, Aerial Photos
  9. Photography Royalties & Designs
  10. Travel Recommendations

Yeah there’s a lot of stuff there. You might be wondering which one works best.

Or maybe your boy Hurley just smoked way too much crack! *

Success comes to those who dedicate everything to their passion in life. To be successful, it is also very important to be humble and never let fame or money travel to your head — A. R. Rahman

But why not strive to be an independent free spirit roaming the world doing creative work once and getting paid for it forever? (Ie stock photos, designs, books etc).

Because right now it’s never been easier to be a photographer or creative. With high res mobile phones, Mavic Pro drones, Go-Pros, whatever-me-bobs (etc) – you don’t need to get someone’s permission, go to a special school or need certificates or diplomas.

Just got to go out and do it!

As long as you’re not paralysed by the “Credentials Myth” then you’ll be OK. 🙂

So here’s the different ways I promote this stuff:

1. Write blog posts for my PhotoLife blog
2. Create YouTube vids as often as possible
3. A consistency on Instagram (especially when in travel mode)
4. Facebook page and Facebook ads etc
5. Cross promoting using Google Plus and others
6. Interviews with photographers & travellers
7. Consistently upload images to stock photo sites
8. Network and talk to people (friend them up on social media)

The good news is a lot of these work really well if you do them right.

Sometimes you just go all rogue and throw things out there to see if they’ll stick.

Take my creative Youtube videos for example.

Out of my 215,000 views on YouTube I have had…

A Shag Load of ‘Nuthin’ Videos!

Put heaps of time into those (editing, creation, sound, theme, concept etc) and they’ve pretty much got zero views. Hence my ‘do nothing’ videos.

You can spend hours planning, filming, editing and mapping out a YouTube video for it to be dominated by a one take, random Apple Photos video I made just so I could remember how to do something!

Boggles the mind.

My Youtube story is that you can put a lot in and get a little out.

But when you win, you can win really big.

Here’s what I mean:

youtube views hurley 2018Some of my Youtube videos I put lots of time into and they get very few views. The others do well.

As for Etsy, I’ve squandered much prized time there and heard mostly crickets.

The Etsy posse keep “liking” my stuff but only one in a thousand seems to buy. Likes don’t pay for the Tesla, man.

Even though I run paid advertising through the Etsy marketplace and through Google Ads.

Boggles the mind.

You could look at Etsy and Youtube thing in two ways:

1) It sucks. Better to give up. No donut.

2) It still sucks but you refine the approach, make better videos and fine tune the Etsy audience and your product. You could also explore new platforms…

But anyways… I’d suggest finding a process that resonates with you with the highest return for your time.

So with that said let’s get into this.

1 – Stock Photography

As Affiliate and Contributor

Stock photo agencies will tell you exactly what they need. Look it says it right here, clear as day. See?

earn money from photography - alamy stock photo requestExample of architecture and interior stock photo requests on Alamy

You can go out there right now and create a body of work on a “needed” subject theme and totally make that your focus.

And if you know that every good picture can potentially earn you an income for the next 10+ years then what’s not to like?

Let me say that again. Stock agencies will actually tell you what images sell best and what type of images their clients ask for.

Do a search on the stock photo websites for photo requests.

When I travel I take note what the stock photo agencies need and keep it in mind. Then I might focus on getting a bunch of images around the themes they need.

I just looked and it turns out Alamy has stock photo requests for the theme of ‘architecture and interiors.’ You can probably get some of these images without leaving the comfort of your own home!

Hanging out in Japan again. This time in Nagoya. (Captured on my iPhone 8 Plus)

The other way I’ve earned income from stock photography is by promoting stock photography as an affiliate. There’s a LOT of people out there that need stock photos for their websites, designs, advertising etc. Be the person that brings the two together.

Being an affiliate means the stock photo agencies will pay you a small commission for each person that signs up through your unique reference link and purchases stock photos from them or contributes images as a photographer or film maker.

My earnings from stock photography are not huge but if you do it right, and you’re more consistent (than me) you can make some good coin from it.

Many of my early YouTube videos I focused on the themes of generic photography, travel photography and stock photography. Underneath these videos in the description I would put a little (affiliate) link that pointed to the stock photo website.

When people click that link and sign up to the stock photo site I get a small commission.

That little YouTube reference link looks a bit like this:

earn money from photography youtube linkSlipping a little affiliate link underneath my Youtube videos.

Alternatively I’ll promote the stock photo website on my blog, usually as a recommendation inside a blog post. Here’s an example of that:

earn money from photography - affiliate linksLittle recommendation link on my photo blog kinda looks like this.

You can sign up to be an affiliate (or photo contributor / both free) on these stock photos websites:

1. Alamy
2. Dreamstime
3. Getty / iStockphoto
4. 123RF
5. Fotolia (Now Adobe Stock)
6. ShutterStock

Might seem like a lot of work but hey…

If you’re not ready to actually start selling or contributing sellable images then you can still promote these stock photo sites and earn income from it. 🙂

earn money from photography - shutterstock

Most of these stock photo sites now realise a lot of photographers are contributing images from iPhones and smart phones. So they have apps you can use on your Phone to instantly upload images to them, check your stats and earnings, and so on.

The Apps I run on my iPhone are Companion (by Dreamstime), Stockimo (by Alamy) and also Twenty20.

It can be tricky uploading all your iPhone images to different stock photo sites. A couple of things I’ll do to make it easier is look for competitions on say Twenty20, and upload your iPhone images straight into the App (without using a filter on them).

2 – Photo T Shirts

Using Amazon’s Merchandise Program

Like many good things Amazon Merch will steal your precious time away faster than you can say freakin’ hotel. But if you’ve ever thought your photography would look good on a t-shirt or hoodie then by all means give Merch a go.

Sometimes life is about risking everything for a dream no one can see but you.

Kind of re-discovered Merch after a chunk of money landed in my bank account. Traced it back to good ol’ Amazon paying me for t-shirt sales!

Many moons ago, I cranked out a few photo designs, uploaded to Merch and a whole bunch of people bought them. Who knew?

With Merch you potentially have thousands of people seeing your work

Since then, Merch has been another income stream for me. It’s sweet considering I have only about 15 t-shirt designs uploaded. Heard there’s a bit of a waiting period to join though.

Keep in mind to get where I am now, something like 5000 of my own different photo designs got rejected by Amazon or didn’t sell (if they don’t sell Amazon removes them).

And oh yeah, throw in a suspended account too (eventually reinstated – yes!) 🙂

earn money from photos - instagram ideasSome of the images I create for Instagram.

But you know what’s real weird?

People buy t-shirts that you’d think would never sell!

You can create t-shirt designs for children and specifically for male / females too. So keep your eyes peeled when you’re out shopping or travelling for interesting designs that people are wearing. You can emulate that type of thing, in your own style.

All the photo t-shirt designs I have on Amazon Merch at the moment came from pretty much three things: my iPhone to capture the image, Adobe Photoshop Elements (you can use Adobe Photoshop or any free design tool), and Canva to help with the design.

You can trial Adobe Creative Cloud here – Adobe have made it easy to access great editing tools on a low monthly price, instead of paying a small fortune for Adobe Photoshop.

Here’s an idea of my Merch income:

earn money from photos - merch t-shirt incomeSmall insight into my Amazon Merch photo t-shirt income

Basically with Merch it really pays if you have some design creating skills that’ll look good as photo t-shirts. I’m not the greatest designer but I just take some of my images and play around with text, design and filters. (Or I outsource them!)

Once you upload the image you need to do some hard core intellectual copyright and trademark checks to check the description / words / text you’re using is NOT trademarked by any other living soul on this planet. Read up on that here.

earn money from photography amazon merch t-shirtOnce you’re signed into Merch, you upload the image onto the shirt template, add descriptions, details, t-shirt name etc.

Amazon pretty much does everything else for you, like the promotion, packing and shipping, etc.

And hopefully sells massive amounts of your funky photo t-shirt designs!

My profit per t-shirt currently hovers around US$5.38 (it’ll depend on how much you sell your photo t-shirt for).

I like to keep my photo t-shirts priced at US$19.97.

The things you need for Merch:

1. Your photo design, illustration concept
2. Canva for adding text and designs
3. Photoshop Elements (or use Adobe Creative Cloud)
4. Patience for the long haul (and the odd sleepless night)
5. Amazon Merch. 🙂

There’s a lot more fine tune details that go into using the Amazon Merch program. I just touched on it to give you an idea how it works and the cupcakes I’ve been earning.

And on the subject of Amazon…

3 – Promoting Amazon Products

Affiliate For Photographic Products

earn money from photography - leica r3You could get a commission on this $9,999.00 Oskar Barnak Gold Leica R3.

How does USD$399.00 sound?

That’s roughly your commission if you were to promote high ticket items like this sweet Oskar Barnak Gold Leica R3 at only $9,999.00.

As long as it duly sold of course. 🙂

Did you see how I subtly did it in the above sentence? Well when I write blog posts many of the links point to Amazon products. High ticket items are the go. You can earn a small (approx 4%) commission on any product someone purchases through your links.

My Amazon earnings have been a (very) slow trickle. But still, people often buy more than one thing on Amazon when they’re shopping which means you get a commission for the other things they purchase too.

If you want to mail that Leica to anyone I’ve heard the guy at this postal address is cool: P.O. Box 1111, Castlemaine, Victoria Australia 3450.

earn money from photography - aerialAerial photography using my Mavic Pro is fun and amazing to do

4 – Website Hosting

Promoting Photo Websites and Related Services

This is another way of starting out to earn money from photography (except you’re not really using your own photography). That said, you could focus on helping photographers / creatives to create websites for their own needs.

Most photographers & creatives need a website. So you could become an affiliate for a web host (the ‘home’ where your website lives) and earn a commission every time someone purchases through your link.

You could also talk about how cool Shopify is (see below for more on Shopify), as well as webhosts that are specifically for WordPress websites (example WP Engine).

The affiliate earning per sale tend to hover around US$60 to US$200.00. 🙂

Ask yourself how can you help other photographers, designers, creatives? (Get them on your email list and help them to create their own websites, using your link as you do it).

Apart from caffeine, here’s other things these photographers might need.

1. An email client (like ActiveCampaign)
2. A funnel or landing page like ClickFunnels so they can sign up customers
3. A domain name
4. A website theme like ThriveThemes or Shopify.

earn money from photography - 2004 websiteHow my website looked on January 27th, 2004. Hopefully it’s a bit better now.

You really need to go about it with good intentions and good ethics. I know you’d do that anyway, right?

IF you truly have skillsets and the ability to help others then it should be your obligation to get out there and start doing so

You want to help people out so they can move forward. You don’t want to just bombard them with all your affiliate links. One can lose all credibility that way.

5 – Helping People Create Online e-Commerce Stores

As A Shopify Affiliate

Shopify is an online ecommerce store that helps you sell your products. I haven’t pushed Shopify really hard but the earnings have dribbled in over the year.

Most of the promotion I’ve done have been from a few YouTube videos and consistently mentioning Shopify in my blog.

I like Shopify because it’s a recurring commission which means you get paid every month (as long as the person stays signed up). And oh yeah it’s a great product too.

earn money from photography - shopify

Shopify allows you to create your own e-commerce or online store where you can sell anything you want, including print on demand photo products (see below).

They do the hosting for you and provide great themes to use.

6 – Print On Demand Products (P.O.D)

Create and Outsource Your Own Photo Products

Imagine if you could put your photo designs on surfboards, bedding, fabric, wallpaper, pillows, cushions, wall posters, phone cases, iPad covers, clothing, skateboards and heck even fridges (why not?)

Yep print on demand is freakin’ cool!

earn money from photosYou can experiment with high prices and totally personalise products.

You could create a photo t-shirt design for people who LOVE alien muppets, weird sports like indoor soccer, strange countries like Swaziland etc. 🙂

Print on demand is basically just a product that gets printed only when it is ordered.

In other words you don’t spend gazillions printing products that might end up in a box in your garage.

To be totally transparent I’ll admit that I’m stuck-in-a-hamster-wheel phase of experimenting with my own Shopify store.

It’s called Shopafoo and I’m playing with my own print on demand products.

Still, let me explain how it works using my Shopafoo site:

1. Upload my photo t-shirt designs to Printful.
2. Printful connects (syncs) to my Shopify store.
3. Customer goes to my store and purchases.
4. My store “tells” Printful who then create the product and ship it to the customer.
5. The difference between what I paid for the product (wholesale price) and what I charge the customer (retail price) is my profit.

That’s way over my head man.

Here is an illustration I borrowed from Printful that might help:

earn money from photography - printfulThe Printful Lifecycle. Click on the image to see it better.

I’ve sold a few things already but they have mainly been to people I know so that doesn’t really count, right?

Like I said, you can use print on demand for things like photo calendars, photo books, framed photo prints and WAY more too!

Here’s how to create Print on Demand products using Printful and Shopify:

Go here to find out more about Shopify

Go here to find out more about Printful

7 – YouTube Videos and Blog Posts

Youtube Videos and Humpin’ The Blog

I’m always pushing affiliate stuff, but I don’t go crazy. Except when I do go crazy with it.

The most important thing for me is a RECURRING income product.

Recurring meaning a product or service that people would pay for every month, which means you earn a commission every month too. 🙂

Trying to work out where I’m going in Japan. (iPhone 8 Plus)

8 – Photo Books & Workshops / Calendars / Aerial Photos

How Did I Manage To Lump All These Together?

Can you believe people actually paid me to run photo book workshops?

It’s a huge area and a tough sell. Firstly because you’re selling your time for money. And secondly because you have to deal with ten million questions.

Some of them wanted me to actually create the book on the spot and others wanted me to explain the process.

Four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity. – Chinese Proverb

Probably the best way to do a photo workshop is create it on video as a step by step guide or as a Screenflow video guide where you walk them through how to do it. You of course make sure your affiliate links are enclosed. 🙂

That way you are doing the creative work once and then you can promote it forever.

You also make your slide show workshop thingy into a book and sell it on Amazon.

Job done. Everyone happy.

Just remember you’re doing all this stuff to help others.

And when you help others out you feel good about it.

Talking about photo books, all these websites will be happy to pay you if you can get people to make a photo book, calendar etc through them:

1. Blurb
2. Milk Photo Books
3. PhotoBox

earn money from photosI’m up to my 6th photo book. I still think it’ll take me a hundred books to get everything right.

I can say with confidence though that I much prefer the experience creating a photo book with Blurb or Milk photo books.

Blurb just gives you a LOT more design choices in comparison to the lower priced photo book websites.

You get more fonts choices, more precise layouts, professional templates to use, and more paper choices.

It’ll cost you more too, but the quality is worth it!

That Time I Walked Into A Local Accountants Office

And had a chat to the owner-dude there.

He was a nice guy so I pitched an idea: I’d hand design a one-off-edition, local calendar for him. (And take all the photos for it too).

What could possibly go wrong?

I can’t recall the price but it was probably about $300.00.

At the time I was like wow this photo business thing is freaking amazing!

All you need to do is make an appointment, walk in, face to face meet, and walk out with $300 smackers!

creative cloud adobeLittle did I know what was in store for me.

Of course when you jump into things head first like your boy Hurley then often you end up working for peanuts.

The whole exciting make your own calendar thing metamorphosed into a monster that kept growing.

Took me freakin’ days to snap 12 black and white photos of the local area!

Then I decided to source exquisite, one-of-a-kind, hand-made cotton paper that just happened to be phenomenally expensive. My printer just snarled at me. The ink would smudge and I’d look at another sheet and cry. It was insane!

So your boy Hurley ended up working for like $1.00 an hour.

Finally though I presented him with a beautiful, hand-printed calendar soaked through with every last ounce of my sanity, late night tears and desperation.

I hope he still cherishes that calendar now!

If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same result. – Tony Robbins

In hindsight, I could have done it multiple different ways, at a fraction of the expense, and likely walked away as a happy camper.

This is why you need people around who you can contact who have done things like that before! (So they can advise you on the best way to do it!)

Having said that, I still think it’s a great idea to create photo calendars for local businesses. Especially like I’ve mentioned if you use print on demand.

earn money from photos - hurley JapanYou know that Japanese mountain we climbed up? Well we had to walk down it again.

Aerial Photography

I’ve got a DJI Mavic Pro and it’s out of this world. It creates super high resolution images and 4K video. Flown it above a handful of people’s homes and gardens and captured some nice images.

No one has shot it out of the sky yet so that’s a plus.

Don’t worry, I occasionally ask permission. 🙂

With the home owner’s help I selected the aerial images they liked the best, created physical prints and mailed the prints to them. These people really loved aerial views of their homes and gardens!

I also printed one of the aerial images of a beautiful home and garden as a wall photo canvas and presented it as a gift.

You are what you do, not what you say you do. — Carl Jung

I’ve only had the Mavic Pro a few months so I haven’t really (made) the time yet to get deeper into the opportunities for this.

Plus it takes some time to become a Mavic pilot too.

But feel free to take this idea and use it. Advertise on Facebook that you’ll capture a unique, one-of-a-kind aerial image of home and property, and print this on a wall photo canvas.

You’d have to work out your costs and time etc. You’d also want to focus on unique, high-value homes and clients!

9 – Royalties from Photographs / Designs

Punkin’ Them Royalties

It was hard to believe at first…

photo royalties - earn money from photographyRoyalties for earn money from photography

It was the kind of thing you look at and think can this be really true? (Then you have a quick check for potential spam!)

Sitting in my email it was. A royalty payment from a boutique fine art agency in Canada that landed my work on the walls of the Marriott Hotel in Los Vegas. (And others).

Full disclosure – some of my photographic work ended up on the restroom walls. 🙂

You know how if you’ve ever walked into a foyer of a beautiful hotel they might have this fantastic artwork on the wall ? Well your boy Hurley takes claim to a few of them.

There’s a huge process from getting your work to the boutique agency to then seeing it on the walls of the Marriott, believe me.

You might think the artist lucked out but if it wasn’t for them, my work wouldn’t be on the walls of the Marriott Hotel for all to see…

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value. — Albert Einstein

Still if you look at what the boutique agency earned in comparison to what the artist earns, it can make your eyes tear up a bit.

Having said that, royalties are the way to go.

If you can line up someone to sell your photography designs on a product, wall paper, drawing book, pillow case, surfboard etc then you can earn a royalty from every sale.

This is where things can go quietly ballistic in the background for a photographer!

10 – Travel Recommendations / AirBnB Etc

This One Holds Great Potential!

I’m just starting to get into this but I can see it’s like one of the best things going. Especially if you mix it with fun adventure travel. Businesses will pay you to review, write up and talk about cool travel locations.

And they’ll fly you there to do it too…

One of the best at this is my friend at JustOneWayTicket. Sabrina is a total natural who has mastered the art of location travel and writing fun reviews on the places she visits.

To make this happen you’ll need to travel somewhere interesting and take detailed notes about your trip.

Capture photos or videos of the things that are related to that trip too. Kind of like I did in this post about the Japanese Shinkansen that travels from Osaka to Kagoshima.

Notice I made sure to take some snaps of things like the JR Railpass, the Shinkansen bullet train, and so on.

So for that adventure in a friendly sort of way I promote things like Airbnb, also and also the JR Railpass. All will happily pay you a commission if someone clicks through using your link. (Apart from Airbnb who reward travel cash credits!)

But you can take this further by actually getting say a resort, hotel or specific location to actually pay your accommodation costs (and maybe even your flights too!)

Get A Great Book While You’re Here

Find Your Message, Build A Tribe And Change The World

expert secrets for creatives

Lastly I’d like to recommend a great book that will help you turn your specialised talents, knowledge and abilities into a business that will work for you. It’s called “Expert Secrets.”

This book is 100% FREE all you need to do is pay a few dollars for shipping! Sweet right?

Quick questions to ask yourself:

Do you have a message you want to share with the world?

Do you have specialised knowledge that could help change someone else’s life?

Would you like to get paid for your advice?

Yes? Then this book will help you build your tribe and help the world, in your unique way.

This book is by far one of the best books I’ve ever stumbled across! It has helped me.

Click here to find out more about Expert Secrets

There’s probably a lot more things I haven’t covered but I’ve tried to get most of it.

If I missed some details please let me know! I hope you’ve got some ideas about how to earn money from photography, using your iPhone, or any smart phone or camera.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

Martin 🙂

* PS. I don’t really do drugs. Apart from some good organic red wine and that one crazy night in Japan…


  1. anna prinzi on June 11, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    Effervescent article. U r truly an inspiration mr hurley.

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