We need to get something up front here; photography is currently among the worst paid professions in the United States. It requires long, hard hours for low levels of reward. While it is true that some photographers make a bundle of cash, the vast majority do not.
Want to know something else? It’s even harder to make money from photography remotely. OK, if that hasn’t put you off – let’s take a look at how to find remote work as a photographer and what you might want to consider doing to prevent yourself from starving.
Remote Work Vs Freelance
Remote work is not the same as freelancing and that’s not always good news. A freelance photographer works for a variety of clients on individual projects, they can do this from a time and place of their own choosing – as long as they meet the client’s deadlines.
A remote worker is an employee. A remote working photographer does not need to find clients, they have a boss instead. Their boss will instruct them on what to do and how to do it and as long as it gets done, they’ll get a nice paycheck and some benefits.
That is, in theory.
The Harsh Truth About Photography Work
In reality, photography jobs are disappearing at a rapid rate. The advent of a camera on every smartphone has killed many of the traditional jobs for photographers, particularly those on the move.
Who needs investigative journalism when there’s always someone on the scene videoing whatever’s going down with their iPhone?
Who needs travel photographers when Instagram overflows with images created by amateurs? Particularly, when many of those amateurs will happily give away their shots for “exposure”?
And so on…
Most photographers who want to earn a living from their photography will need a studio, some serious sale skills and a lot of luck.
This isn’t good news for the photographer who wants to be a digital nomad and work remotely or as a freelancer.
Why Not Stock Photography?
We’ve seen several people on social media insist that you ought to get into stock photography, but this is terrible advice. Companies like Pixabay and Unsplash now give away great stock photography for free – how much do you think you’re going to earn from an end product that’s free? (That’s right – nothing).
And while there are still plenty of paid-for stock photography sites (with better images than Pixabay in the main), they don’t pay very much to their photographers and they only pay when an image is sold.
There are a few people still carving out a living from stock photography but they almost all have a studio of their own and they try to predict trends in demand so that they can be ahead of the demand curve.
You cannot pack a studio and drag it around the world with you. Which leaves you at a huge disadvantage in stock photography as a digital nomad.
Worse, the demand for stock photography of the countries that you visit is tiny at best.
It’s fine to take stock photos as a hobby and then see if they bring in a little cash every now and again. But it’s a really bad idea to base your digital nomad life on income from stock photography.
So, What Can You Do?
Well, there are still photography jobs out there for the digital nomad if you’re hungry and willing to work to find them. We’re not convinced that on their own they are enough to live on (see later down the page) but they may be enough for you to work part-time as a photographer while you spend time as a digital nomad.
Where To Find Remote Work Photography Jobs
We’re also including freelance work here because there are so few opportunities that it seems like you’ve got to cover all your bases:
We’ve seen a fair few calls for photographers on Facebook. They tend to be in the closed expat groups and are mainly for product photography. We even saw one company in Vietnam paying $3,000 a month for a ton of product photography – nice if you could get it but the competition was fierce.
Our search for remote photography jobs on LinkedIn drew something of a blank but maybe you’ll do better? We think you might be able to harness LinkedIn to reach out to commissioning editors or product teams in certain places to see if they use freelance work, but we don’t think you’ll get much from a passive job hunt.
You can monetize an Instagram account though based on our observations – you really need to be young and attractive to make Instagram work for you. And the kind of photography most people feature makes us want to throw up a little. If we saw one more person leap into the air on the top of a mountain, we may take a shotgun on our next mountain hike. (I’m joking, I promise).
It’s telling that the biggest job site for remote work (that isn’t coding) has pretty much no remote work available for photographers. Flexjobs require a monthly fee to look for work and we can’t see any good reason to pay it. You might want to check back and then gamble the price of entry if they ever have anything perfectly suited to you.
Well, they do have remote work for photographers on the Working Nomads job board. At least once a year by the looks of things. Compare that to 10,000 active jobs for programmers and even 1,000 for us writers and you can see how meager the pickings are.
The biggest job board of them all with infinite amounts of localization is Indeed and even there – the opportunities for truly remote work are scarce. There is freelance work available but if you check most of it out carefully – it’s really employment without benefits and a decent contract.
Then there all the usual suspects which pay terrible money, but which do offer some photography work:
These are competitive job boards where you bid for work and the client selects the lowest-paid professional, they think might be able to get the job done. In a field like photography where competition is very high and opportunity nearly non-existent, rates are appalling.
How To Make Your Photography Pay As Remote Work
Confession time. I would love to make a full-time living as a photographer. I’d give up my arty black and white street photography in a heartbeat if I thought that taking photos of Skidoos on Thai beaches would keep me in beer and board.
It won’t and the days where photography on its own paid enough to live on as a remote worker or digital nomad are long gone (if they ever existed at all).
However, that’s not to say that a photographer can’t make money out there on the road but it does mean that most of the time you’re going to have to combine photography with another discipline to get paid as a remote worker.
We think that means either:
- Taking up blogging. This can be on any subject that you can illustrate with your photography, it doesn’t need to be travel and/or photography (though it can be).
- Or taking up vlogging. There are a lot of fairly average photographers making a fortune with YouTube channels. If you’re passionate about photography or even about other things (just as with blogging, you don’t have to do photography and/or travel though you can) you can launch your own YouTube channel.
These are the two remaining big opportunities for photographers and even then, we doubt that they will last forever. Artificial intelligence is going to put the squeeze on content creators of all types in the coming decades but for now, at least, if you want to go full entrepreneur and develop a second skillset – there’s no reason that you can’t make a living as a photographer.
If you want to find remote work as a photographer you have three choices: constantly scrap for bits of freelance work or be the lucky winner of a remote job (and you’d have to be very lucky – no matter how good you are to get one of these) or get entrepreneurial and carve out a space online for yourself. You could even, to begin with at least, mix them all up together… good luck with it.