Music Photography Blog

by Adam Elmakias

Making Money As A Photographer Before You Go Pro

The best thing you can do for your photography career is just get started. You might be thinking, why the heck does everyone keep telling me this? Well because getting started is important. There are a lot of wrong ways to do something, and you kind of have to start figuring those out. After all, what is right for me, mightn’t work for you, and it takes time to start digging through it all.

Make Money While You Learn

While you are sorting it out, finding your way – it sure as heck would be nice to get paid. You know, like money. For rent, and activities… maybe some new gear or a sweet website? That being said it can be hard to make money in with certain types of photography, especially when you are just starting out. One of the hard-to-make-money-when-you-are starting types is, well –  music photography. This is because it takes a long time to advance your career in any job based on networking. You have to meet people, and it can be hard to speed that up. So while you have your main career slowly growing, it’s nice to work with other areas of photography to make some money. This is basically why everyone who lives in LA, Nashville, or any networking hub has more than one job. They need a job to pay their bills, while they work on turning their passion into their main gig a.k.a career. 

Luckily for the people who want to be music photographers, we can still do photography, just not always music photography. Money isn’t the only benefit you will have from doing these other types of photography jobs. I would even go as far as to say that it’s one of the least long-term benefits. Some of the most beneficial skills you will pick up are things like, what to not forget when you are going to a shoot or how to tell someone to pose in front of your camera. You have to learn these things by doing. And then when you do become pro and reach a point where bigger and more important clients will be paying you more money – you will be ready to go. You won’t make as many beginner-level mistakes with the clients that you want to impress and hopefully work with again.

If you are in school I suggest doing this as well. School is there to teach you how to be a photographer, but it doesn’t help you get hired. You need to get out there and start shooting. Get real-world experience. I used to speak at a college years ago and the teacher would always say that the hardest thing to do was to get the students to go out and shoot on their own. He would complain they would just do the homework assignments and that was it. Trust me, just get going. You will be so much more valuable to potential clients. 

Start Local

So where to start. Well, we always start local. We start with our community. This means speaking with your friends, family, or any other group that you already interact with during your daily life. This could be a religious group, a sports team – anything! Just let them know you are now a photographer. Get in the habit of saying that. *I am a photographer* – and you are looking to shoot anything and everything they need to be photographed. You got this. 

My local group would be my Magic The Gathering team

The important thing these jobs have in common is that clients are looking for photographers of all levels to shoot these. Not everyone needs the most pro photographer, and that is okay – They just need someone who is better at it than they are.

Entry Level Photography Jobs

  • Senior Portraits
  • Engagement Photos
  • Family Photos
  • Pet Portraits
  • Baby Photos

These are just ideas, you can take it to any level, and in any direction. Do not let the fact I didn’t mention it, limit you to not doing it. I am just here to help guide you. 

Getting Paid

I mean sometimes you are going to jobs for free, or very little money. It happens, just use your head. Let’s say your family needs help with a project – I don’t know you are shooting their… Christmas Card – do it for free, sure whatever. It’s a cool thing you can show your friends and do for them. But let say your second cousin removed wants their six dogs photographed in a group for their dog beach party. First of all, hell yea that’s a sick job (I made it up) – Charge ‘em. How much? It doesn’t have to be a difficult equation. Figure out how much you want an hour, and see how many hours you are going to work. Don’t forget to factor in your travel, edit and shoot time – not just shoot time. Just do what makes sense, don’t build it up into something it’s not. People get stuck on this, they get nervous – just don’t. Figure out how much you want to charge, and charge it. 

This is a money photo i took

Contracts Are Agreements

You are going to start gaining confidence (or getting better at pretending you have it) and getting more paid gigs. Contracts are a good idea. Again, they do not have to be anything fancy. In all these smaller jobs where you are making less than a hundred, or a couple hundred – it’s just to agree on terms. I mean let us be real you are not taking Sally and James to see the Judge because they didn’t pay the $100, it’s not worth your time or effort. But it is good if a situation arises and Sally and James say “Hey Adam we agreed on two hours of shoot time”. And you can respond with an e-mail agreement that says “No we agreed to one! Look, here it is!” It’s is as easy as that.  A quick rundown of what you should always include in the e-mail.

Always Include:

  • Who – Who are you photographing?
  • What – What is the shoot for?
  • Where – Where will the photoshoot be?
  • When – When does it start and end?
  • How Much – How much is the payment? When will you be paid?
  • Final Product – Make sure you address what you will be turning in

So an example could be something like this

It does not have to be complicated, just keep it simple.

Grow Local

Sometimes you are going to have to start reaching out to people. Maybe you have found that you are just aren’t getting enough work with friends and family. I suggest reaching out to local businesses and seeing if you can work with them. This might mean stopping into their store or writing them an e-mail. I always try to avoid cold intros if I can – so if you can find a mutual friend and have them introduce you, that is a great start. But I understand that isn’t always an option.

  • Product images for local businesses 
  • Clothing images for local stores
  • Food images for Restaurants  
This is a product shot I took
This is a food photo I took

You get the idea. Anything or anyone that has an idea to sell needs content. You are here to create it.  

Video Is A Good Idea

If you want to be better at everything, I suggest giving video a try as well. There is a lot of overlap between the two and learning it will be very beneficial. Of course, if you hate video, or do not enjoy it at all – it is okay to specialize in photography. But a lot of times when people will hire with the goal of creating content, it’ll be both video and photo. 

  • Recap video for an event (sports, celebration)
  • Music Videos for local bands

Here is one I shot for A Day To Remember, I probably shouldn’t be allowed to do video.

Upgrade Your Image

Your image or how people perceive you is important. The best way to upgrade that is with a website. A website just has to be is an extension of yourself – whoa whoa whoa, let me rephrase that, an extension of your business self. I don’t need any of you artsy types out there getting carried away with this. But really, if someone wants more info on you, or maybe they want to recommend you to a friend – a website is an easy way to pack all that information up in the inter-webs and ship it. Some great websites for starting your website on

  • WordPress
  • Squarespace
  • Smugmug 
  • Photoshelter

They all have their pros and cons, so do some research – just know that they all work. I promise I use them all currently. I will do another blog post next week specifically on this. So if it interests you, please sign up for my newsletter and I will give you my best-informed rundown this time next week.

Upgrade yourself 

We have youtube, no excuses. We have so much information, some might even say we know too much. But if you want to get better, just google it. You can’t learn everything on the job. I do think it is the best way to learn, but that doesn’t mean it has the be the only way. I’ll admit I am guilty of not doing this one myself, sometimes. But once you get hooked, it’s hard to stop. You are never too good to learn, and if you think you are – you are just hurting yourself. 

I Feel Like I Am Making This Up”

You’re going to feel like you are making this up while you do it. And you know what, you kind of are. But that is just between me and you. The people you want to work with, and eventually your clients – do not need to know this.

As long as you are…

  1. Doing great work
  2. On-time
  3. Being a good person

… It will all go accordingly to plan. Honestly just pick two of those things and you will be good to go. Seriously, your work can suck and if you do the other two, no one will even care. That is not how I roll, but it works for some. I am just here to inform. 

Anyway, that is all I have for you this time. Get out there, start shooting, and enjoy the process. By the time you complete your goal, you are already going to be on to whatever is the next. You can do it, we are all rooting for you.