Why stories sell photographs: 6 Steps to Generating a Profit (How I earned 7k From My Own Passion Project)

Florence in front of a mine dump on Oklahoma Street in her family neighborhood.

Florence in front of a mine dump on Oklahoma Street in her family neighborhood.

Florence in 2014 holding her Butte High School letter in front of the same mine dump on Oklahoma Street.

Florence in 2014 holding her Butte High School letter in front of the same mine dump on Oklahoma Street.

My stomach was fluttering.

My palms were sweaty.

Would anybody show to my gallery opening, or would it just be myself, my husband and the gallery curator drinking these two Black Boxes of wine and 3 Quarry Brewery part pigs?

20 minutes later it was standing room only, and an hour later the wine was gone (what a shame, I had so wanted to get tipsy)

Sometimes you go out on a limb to create a photography project.

You don't know if people will think your idea sucks.

You're worried you'll hear crickets when you announce the model call.

You ALMOST back out of it....

 

....and then, you click "send" on an email to 500 people.

And you're committed.

But, can you actually make money from a "passion project." Can you make REAL sales from something you are doing purely for yourself?

Yes.

Wait. Yes and no.

What the heck does that even mean?

Florence "Toots" Vucurovich is seated next to her old neighbor's front steps at camera right (the home is now demolished) and in front of where her old family home used to exist (where the new brewery is now).

Florence "Toots" Vucurovich is seated next to her old neighbor's front steps at camera right (the home is now demolished) and in front of where her old family home used to exist (where the new brewery is now).

Well, here's the pretty ugly truth of it all:

You can only make money if your project is something people want.

A documentary photography project on underwater basket weaving in the Dead Sea? Hm...I'm thinking not.

A documentary on the dogs at your local animal shelter? Probably not. While it's a good cause, and you might get nice "exposure," the truth is, the animals don't have owners to buy the photos (and "exposure" alone doesn't pay the bills).

 

Here's what your project needs if you want to create an income from it:

1. Somebody who WANTS the photos you are creating.

2. Somebody who has the MEANS to pay for what you are creating.

3. A STORY. This is twofold. You must have the story BEHIND why you are photographing this subject, and you must have the story OF the subject.

{ Lovely Rose } When the mining industry was expanding in Butte and plowing down McQueen & Meaderville, she was plucking apple tree's, copper rose bushes, everything worth saving, and transplanting them around Butte. Here she sits in her back yard on the flats, beneath the McQueen apple tree she planted in the soil with her own hands.

{ Lovely Rose }
When the mining industry was expanding in Butte and plowing down McQueen & Meaderville, she was plucking apple tree's, copper rose bushes, everything worth saving, and transplanting them around Butte.

Here she sits in her back yard on the flats, beneath the McQueen apple tree she planted in the soil with her own hands.


Action Steps:

1. What do you WANT to photograph? What are you passionate about? Make a list of 10-20 things.

2. Evaluate your ideas part 1.  Put one star next to those ideas where somebody would actually want the resulting images. They would want to purcahse it.

3. Evaluate your ideas part 2. Put a star next to those ideas where somebody would have the means to buy the images. Toddlers can't buy photos. Orphan dogs and cats can't buy the images. Millionaires who own their own private jets? Um, hell yeah!

4. Cross off any ideas that don't have two stars next to them (unless, of course, you want to do a project and know you won't make any money from it).

5. Pick one project of the remaining ideas and write a model call email.

6. Click SEND. Don't get all "I need to write poetry" on me here. Just write it, try to fix any misspellings (one time my spell check change "oxytocin" to "Oxycontin." THAT was embarrassing.)

I'll be doing a follow-up post answering the best questions asked in response to this blog post.