A Side Hustle for Amateur Photographers: Take Holiday Family Portraits

A woman takes a picture
Getty Images
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

The holidays may abound with opportunities to spend money, but for the savvy Penny Hoarder, they’re also filled with opportunities to make money.

If you’re a shutterbug, one easy way to make money is by taking family portraits.

People flock home for the holidays, which means a rare opportunity for whole families to be together. Many would love to capture this special time, but they assume (probably correctly) a professional photographer would cost more than they want to spend.

That’s where you, the amateur photographer, come in. Since it’s not a super important one-time event (like a wedding), people are more likely to hire you even if you don’t have an impressive portfolio. Basically, they just want someone who knows how to use a camera, so they don’t have to go into a studio or use a self-timer.

And I speak from experience: I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve earned money taking family portraits over the holidays. Here’s how you can get started with this fun and creative side gig.

What You Need to Take Family Photographs

If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you have an interest in photography, which means you might already have some or all of the tools you need to take family photographs.

Here’s what I use and recommend:

  • DSLR camera: I have a Nikon D5100, which I love — but I don’t think it matters what type of SLR you have, as long as you’re comfortable with it. Just don’t think you can get by with an iPhone; why would people want to hire you to take photos they could take themselves?
  • Photo editing software: I use both iPhoto and Adobe Lightroom. iPhoto came with my MacBook, and Adobe Lightroom cost around $80 when I purchased it. There’s a plethora of photo-editing software out there; just find a program you enjoy using.
  • Photo sharing and storage software: I use the basic version of SmugMug to store and share my photos, which costs $5 per month. I like sharing photos with clients through this platform, because they can order prints and products directly from the site. Similar services include Zenfolio, Flickr and Photobucket.
  • Website and/or business cards: Though, as I’ll explain below, my work has been via word-of-mouth, a website and business cards could help your business grow much more quickly.

How to Find Work as a Family Photographer

All of my work as a family photographer has been through word-of-mouth. Since people know I have a travel blog and am always taking pictures, they figured I might be able to take photos for them.

If you’re interested in taking family photographs, start by reaching out to friends whose families are going to be home for the holidays. (Working for friends has an added bonus: everyone is more comfortable around people they know, which means they’ll photograph better.)

Then tell your entire network you’re offering this service, and ask them to help you spread the word. If they know of anyone who might be interested, call up those potential clients yourself. Don’t wait for business to come to you.

Even if you don’t have business cards or a website, you can announce your service on Facebook or other social media sites. Package it as a great family gift and outline how you’ll do everything: drive to their house, set up the portraits and send them digital copies. All the client has to do is look nice.

Even if people had never thought of taking family photographs before, they’ll probably jump on the opportunity once you demonstrate how easy you’ll make it.

Just remember: the more work you put in marketing yourself, the more business you’ll likely get.

How Much You Can Earn Taking Family Photographs

A man takes a photo of a woman and her child on a park bench.
Getty Images

What you can earn from taking photographs completely depends on your experience, level of professionalism and target market. If you’re in New York City, for example, chances are you’ll earn a lot more than if you’re in the rural Midwest.

To give you an idea of what you can earn, I’ll share my own experience. My first gig was taking family portraits for a friend as her Christmas present to her parents. She wasn’t earning a lot of money, and I’d never taken family portraits, so I did it for free — in exchange for a yummy dinner and some photos to add to my portfolio.

Since then, I’ve charged $100 per session, which involves about three hours of work: a half-hour of driving, an hour to take the photographs and an hour and a half to edit them.

I keep my rate low because I’ve only done this for friends. And $33 per hour to make my friends’ families happy is more than I need. I haven’t pursued this as a serious side business, but if I did, I’d probably charge a lot more.

When setting your rate, here are a few things to consider:

  • Travel costs: How long does it take you to get to the family’s home or portrait location? What about gas?
  • Post-session work: How long will it take you to edit, upload and share the images?
  • Equipment and subscriptions: This includes your camera, website and software costs
  • Tax deductions: If you’re earning money through photography as a sole proprietor, you can deduct your business expenses — so save your receipts!

Your Turn: Do you enjoy taking photographs? Have you ever thought of earning money from your hobby?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.