Making Money in Photography

Talent + Opportunity

Josh Rose
10 min readFeb 26, 2023

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“Money.” Photo by Josh S. Rose, 2022.

There is no photography question asked more often than how to make money at it. And as I see it, this can be answered in two ways.

The first way is to list out all the things that the professional photographer has learned to do over their years of keeping at it: build a great portfolio, do all the business aspects of it (accounting, advertising, etc.), get repeat business, find a niche, diversify your income, and on and on.

In my experience, all this advice has very little effect on an amateur photographer and feels, probably accurately, like the result of making money, more than a roadmap for it.

There’s a second way that making money at photography can be described, but most people avoid talking about it. Because it has to do with talent. And talent is complicated business.

Let me tell you the story of how I landed my first three big gigs after I left advertising to pursue photography full-time. They’re the same story. In each case, someone told someone else they should hire me and the deal was done within minutes. The commonality between all three was that I was part of an exchange in the business of talent.

To understand how talent works, and makes you money, you have to look at the business of talent. One of my clients is United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the largest talent agencies in the world. In all likeliness, that’s a billion dollar business, filled with people who make money from the talent of their clients. Talent at that level is an extremely rare commodity and a business that understands that, and knows how to deal in it, can be very lucrative.

So, okay, let’s go back to my friends who recommended me to some clients. Two things to think about: one, the exchange between my friends and the clients is a type of business in much the same way — albeit at a smaller scale — as a talent agency. Whether someone made money from suggesting me or gained a favor, it doesn’t matter — they were performing a kind of transactional business over my talent. And the second thing to think about is that the level of my talent is commensurate with the level of that relationship. I’ll explain:

If an acquaintance of yours who knows only very little about what you do or how…

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Josh Rose

Filmmaker, photographer, artist and writer. Writing about creator life and observations on culture. Tips very very much appreciated: https://ko-fi.com/joshsrose