If you’re considering a career in product photography, one main question on your mind will be whether or not it’s a profitable line of work.
Or you may already be in the photography business, but you’re concerned about changing niches and being able to make a living for the long term. Doing work you love is great, but you need to be able to make a viable salary from it.
The truth about whether product photography is profitable is that, like many photography niches, it can be extremely competitive. In fact, the industry continues to move pretty quickly, shifting around the winners and losers.
Product photography is still a very profitable industry, however the demand is changing. An amateur product photographer can make between $10-$30 per image for an E-Commerce store and complete a job quickly, while a professional can charge day rates in excess of $3,000, not including licensing.
Perfecting your craft, choosing a difficult-to-master niche, setting competitive rates, and effective marketing can all contribute to your success as a product photographer. Read on to learn how to make your product photography business a profitable venture for the long term.
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Why Product Photography Is Profitable
It’s no secret that in order to survive in an online world you need to have good content, and as the internet becomes more competitive it raises the bar on what is considered acceptable.
If you’re a content creator who knows how to make an inanimate object sexy and enticing, then there is a place for you! A lot of companies and brands know this, and pay accordingly.
Product photography is one of the few niches where your work is directly responsible for influencing the purchasing decisions of potential customers and can demand licensing and royalties should you have a performance based contract. Some other benefits include:
- Low Overhead. While it’s true that you’re going to need lighting equipment, cameras, and lenses, you don’t necessarily need to have the overhead of a commercial studio. Much of the product photography can be done in your garage or at your house, limiting your exposure to overhead.
- Limited Travelling. Unlike weddings or real estate, products that you shoot come to you so there is very little travel involved unless you are hired to perform the job at a specific location.
- Flexible Schedule. And since a majority of your subjects will be coming to you, in most cases you can work when you want so your creativity is fully optimized. In fact, you can shoot many more products in a day then you can attend weddings.
For these reasons alone, I believe product photography is not only profitable, but preferred to any other type of commercial work.
A typical freelancer can make between $2,000-5,000/mo if they market themselves accordingly, and a professional can exceed $5,000-50,000 per job.
How To Make Product Photography Profitable
With that said, not everyone is going to be successful.
Many people think they can just pick up a camera and start earning some money, which is driving a lot of the prices down as clients have a lot of options to choose from – even if those options aren’t very good.
In fact, many clients aren’t seeing the value in hiring a photographer anymore since the images they produce are comparable to what they can get with their smartphone.
So in order to get to the level where your services are in demand, you’ll need to:
- Produce high-quality, unique images
- Excel in a challenging niche
- Charge competitive rates for your work
- Market yourself effectively
And here’s a video I made on my thoughts about where E-Commerce product photography is going:
Understanding The Different Markets in Product Photography
Of course, it’s going to be difficult to pick a niche if you don’t know what they are! And if you think about it, most everything can be considered “product photography” if its used for commercial intent. Weddings, landscapes, and family portraits excluded.
In fact, product photography extends to things such as food and real estate, and each of those fields have their specialists who can demand high rates.
When you think of product photography, physical goods are usually what comes to mind. Take a stroll down every isle in your local grocery store, Walmart or target, and you start to get an idea of the sheer scale of potential demand. After all, someone needs to take all of these images.
Food & Beverage
Did you know that the juicy, delicious burger that you see on the menu was carefully crafted? Or maybe you’re more into salads?
The point is, food and beverage photography is an equally large industry in the product photography space, so much so that special food stylists are hired to make a particular item look the best it can be before it’s photographed.
Similarly, beverages for either liquor, beer, soda, etc. is another world you can get lost in.
Real estate, homes, and large buildings are all products too, just bigger!
There is a very big difference in the type of work you do for a real estate agent vs an interior designer, and architects hire photographers that specialize in showing off their masterpieces.
Understanding The Different Types of Product Photography
While the world of product photography is vast, so is the profitability and the intended commercial licenses you can charge for your work.
When first getting started in product photography, the natural order of things is to begin near the bottom – and that’s what E-Commerce is. These are typically your Etsy and Amazon FBA sellers who buy bulk products from China so they can private label them.
And their margins are tight.
You can typically make $10–$30 per image with this type of product photography although that rate can climb significantly as your reputation grows, but don’t expect to get licensing or royalties from this group unless they are bigger brands.
A step up from the private labelers are the manufacturers of these products. These are the companies that actually create the products and they need images just as bad as everyone else. Here is where you can start licensing your images and charging higher rates.
Companies at all levels need content for advertising their products and services, and this is where your product photography can start getting creative.
Companies with large advertising budgets will usually have a creative director on staff that will source the talent, i.e. you, for fulfilling the needs of their campaigns – whether it is on a billboard, on boxes of the product, or online, etc.
If you’re at this level then you will want to be represented by an agent so that you aren’t undercutting yourself, as you can make some significant money with day rates in the thousands of dollars, and licensing in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Much like Advertising, these types of projects will require the use of your work for a long period of time.
Your images will be used in print media, online advertising, and even on the product packaging itself. If that’s the case, get yourself an agent to represent you so you can license your images accordingly.
Companies wanting to order branding material from you range from all over the spectrum, from restaurants and private labelers to manufacturers and famous brands like Coke or Nike.
Create High-Quality, Unique Product Photography to Stand Out
Product image requirements for large platforms like Amazon tend to result in product photos that are cookie cutter, none standing out more than the other.
You have a white background with a product-only image — pretty basic. How do you compete so you can maintain a successful product photography business?
The most significant way to keep the clients coming to you in a market like this is to create superior product images that stand out from the crowd.
Check out Amazon listings for similar products and try to come up with a creative way to make your image grab attention from consumers. When you can create product photos that stand out in a large online marketplace, you’ll have an edge over the competition and be able to charge higher rates.
Give Clients Product Images They Couldn’t Produce Themselves
With the technological advances in smartphones and their cameras in particular, more businesses are choosing to save some money by taking their own product photos. Although they can obtain better product images than phones could in the past, they’re not foolproof.
Use techniques and lighting tricks in your work that are difficult, if not impossible, for a typical business owner to reproduce on their own.
When you can create unique product images that potential clients don’t have the time or budget to try to recreate, they will find more value in paying you to take care of their product photography.
Develop Your Skills in a Challenging Product Photography Niche
One of the best ways to keep business coming your way is to get really good at a product photography niche that is known to be challenging to others.
Some of the more difficult niches in product photography are:
- Reflective surfaces
- Glass and liquids
- White products on white backgrounds
- Black products on black backgrounds
If you can master the techniques needed for one or more of these types of product photography, you’ll encounter less competition and you can become the go-to product photographer in that niche.
Setting Prices for a Profitable Product Photography Business
Part of running a profitable product photography business is setting competitive rates. You’ll want to determine what price range will garner you a profit by analyzing your local competition and your cost of doing business (CODB for short).
Never charge less than your CODB.
But you’ll also want to make sure your prices aren’t too high for your intended clientele. It’s important to stay competitive in your market while still being able to make a good living.
See what your competition is charging and keep your prices in the same range as long as it’s enough for you to make a living.
It’s helpful to know what your competitors are asking for their work when you’re trying to set your prices. If your prices are considerably higher, you can lose out on potential clients.
The best method is to simply call your competition and be honest with them. Tell them you will be marketing in the area and would like to be respectful by not undercutting them, and if they can share their rates.
However, if you’re charging too little for your work, you risk not making enough money to be profitable. In fact, you may even turn off some clients who want better quality, simply because they don’t want to go with the cheap option.
What I like to do is “overcut” my competition by charging 10-20% more than them. What we have found is that cheap clients, the ones you don’t usually want anyways, will naturally find themselves calling our competitors – so we tend to deal with clients that like our work and want our quality.
Marketing Yourself as a Product Photographer
When trying to attract business as a product photographer, especially as a newbie to the field, it’s important to consider a wide variety of options. Of course, you’ll want to create an appealing website for your business but you can’t just sit around and wait for people to find your site.
It doesn’t work that way.
To make your product photography business successful, you need to be proactive and creative in how you find clients.
Or rather, how clients will find you.
Take Marketing Courses to Help You Promote Your Product Photography Business
Marketing and business courses are extremely helpful when starting a business venture. The strategies that worked in the past aren’t always relevant as the market matures and shifts around, so it’s important to stay up to date.
There are a few premium marketing courses available online, so the good news is that you don’t need a degree. In fact, marketing degrees from a university tend to lag behind the current trends by a few years.
When you’re new to the field or if your budget is low, you can look into free or discounted online courses, youtube videos, or even stick around on our site – as we will be covering this topic in the future.
In short, here’s what’s worked for us:
- Google Ads
- Word of Mouth
- Facebook Groups
And the best part? Our portfolio does most of the speaking for us.
Sell Your Images on Stock Photography Websites
A good way to get publicity for your business is to sell your images on stock photography websites, since that is where a lot of creative directors and marketers spend their time.
This gives you access to clients all over the world without having to market directly to them, and these people will usually be the ones to recommend hiring you.
One of the perks of this option is that it provides passive income if you take more generic/widely applicable photos; upload your work to the sites and let your high-quality photos do the talking. You can typically make between 24-45 cents per image sold.
Some great stock photography sites for selling your product images are:
Join Freelancing Sites to Find Product Photography Clients
When you’re new to the site, you may need to settle for lower pay while you build up your ratings. Once you earn a good reputation through positive reviews from clients, you’ll be able to pick up better paying gigs.
A search for product photographers on Upwork currently shows freelancers with rates between $25–$300 per hour.
Offer Complimentary Product Photography to Your Local Businesses
As many small businesses are shutting their doors and moving from brick and mortar to online stores, the demand for product photography will increase. While some of them will still maintain a physical storefront, in order to stay in business, they may need to also sell online.
They’ll need to present their products on a website using professional and attractive images.
Even if you’re not turning much of a profit, it’s important to offer some complimentary services in the hopes of gaining a paying client. A great place to do this is in your local community.
As we mentioned earlier, some of those businesses may try taking their own product photos, so you may want to start your networking with those that are not particularly tech savvy to get some quick gigs and build up your reputation in the community.
They won’t be hard to find. If their images are so bad you can’t stop laughing, reach out to them (in person).
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get product photography gigs in this market, because higher paying clients are more likely to accept your bid without much question.
Reach out to your local businesses and offer some freebies. Most likely, this will lead to getting hired for paying gigs. Develop a good rapport with your local business owners and provide them with high-quality product photos. Your happy new clients will start to spread the word of your talents and you can get even more business.
The trick here is to specialize in a niche so you can use those “free” clients as a way to gain valuable insights for marketing your services. Do not take on a free gig just for the sake of doing it. It must benefit you in some way.
To stay the most competitive in the product photography business so you can continue to make a living, you need to keep building your skill set.
Stay on top of what’s already out there and find a way to make your work top quality and unique. Take professional development courses to grow your knowledge base. Keep your business costs down. Consider a variety of platforms to sell your services.
Most importantly, offering clients product images that capture attention and aren’t able to be easily reproduced is your key to staying profitable in product photography.
Do this, and you can easily make over 6 figures each year with service work, licensing, and possibly even royalties.