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How to make money selling photos: 3 photographer tips

Looking to boost your bank balance or take up a side hustle as a photographer? Check out these three tips from the experts.

Compilation photo image of Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon holding a book about money mortgage, finishing a run and at a speaking at an event
The money shot: Nicole reveals how to boost your finances with these photographer tips. (Source: Supplied) (Samantha Menzies)

This is part two of Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon’s ‘boost your finances with photography’ series. You can read part one of How to take photos you could sell, here.

Everyone is an amateur photographer nowadays, thanks to the incredible power of the cameras on our phones.

But there are pictures and there are pictures.

Read more from Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

An expertly operated smartphone can get a shot that looks print-worthy - or sale-able. And who isn’t looking for every possible side hustle right now?


Well, I have persuaded the three favourite photographers I have worked with to confide their top tips to making your pictures look professional.

They have generously shared their secrets so you can emulate – and even monetise – them.

Get the composition right

Compilation image of Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon after a race, cuddling on social media and on the stairs
(Source: Jim Trouse, Instagram and social media specialist)

What’s called your photo ‘composition’ is key.

“If you are photographing a person, you could have the person dead in the middle with an even background on each side to almost outline and highlight them,” Instagram and social media specialist Jim Trouse said.

“This is often more effective if they can be bathed in light.”

For other shots, says Jim, the ‘rule of thirds’ can be a great ‘rule of thumb’.

“What you do is position your subject to one side or the other of the middle,” he said.

“Don’t be afraid to use foreground too – most novice photographers forget about this. Whether it’s a portrait or a landscape, use the lines in the vista to lead the eye.”

compilation image of Nicole Pedersen-mcKinnon through halo light and in black and white
(Source: Jim Trouse)

What are Jim’s specific tips when it comes to landscapes? It’s a similar deal.

“Use the rule of thirds to position your landscape composition too,” he said.

“Say you are taking a coast pic. Either get bulk sky – so two thirds – or, if you have a really good point of interest in the foreground, position the pic two thirds on that. Never split the photo evenly in two, and make sure the horizon is perfectly straight.”

Position your subject to perfection

In what seems a vital tip, another of my favourite photographers also names the ‘rule of thirds‘ right up front.

“My first tip to make any photo look good is to use the rule of thirds and draw the eye to a third of the image,” Nicola Holland, an accomplished wedding, portrait and magazine photographer, said.

Nicola explains that she uses a particular trick.

“If it is a photograph of someone, make sure that their eyes are on one of the lines of the rule of thirds,” she said.

You can see this technique used in two photos Nicola took for my recent book - one for the front cover and one for the back page.

Compilation image of Nicole by the pool and at the top of the stairs.
(Source: Nicola Holland)

This next tip is also important, and an error I’ve seen many rookies make.

“If you are taking a full-length photo, get people’s feet in it,” she said.

“Otherwise, shoot from the waist up. That’s a big tip – often people crop people’s feet out and it looks like they’ve got no feet!”

And it’s unflattering. Which is not going to make your subject happy or predispose them to let you photograph them again.

Use YOUR feet – and angles

Speaking of feet – use them yourself.

Meg Keene is a photographer who is renowned, in particular, for capturing ‘events’ and candid, action shots.

Accordingly, her advice is: “Remember your client and the story you're telling and move your feet to tell it.

“I was photographing for the 2022 Women in Media Conference so I was looking for shots that showed the good turnout and an engaging speaker. When Nicole came out from behind the lectern – something no one else had done – I knew I could get a good shot from the back of the auditorium that included the audience, the conference signage, and a good angle on Nicole, all in one.

“There were perfectly good shots to be had from the front row or the far side, but they wouldn’t tell the full story in one shot. So, off I went up those stairs for the 100th time that day. A workout and a banger shot.”

And Meg, your efforts and expertise are greatly appreciated.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon speaking at a conference.
(Source: Meg Keene)

Using a phone to fake it

Those three favourite photographers of mine also have tips for how to use a phone to fake it. Firstly, timing is everything.

“For example, if there’s wind blowing, snap the precise moment a subject’s hair and dress are on the same angle,” Jim said.

But, without honed photographic reflexes, years in the making, this can be difficult.

Jim says you will give up a bit of editing functionality but simply putting on the ‘live mode’ on your phone means you will get multiple frames from which to choose – and you’ll never miss the shot.

While Meg says it can be tricky to mimic the old heavy long lens to get dramatic depth of field with an audience shot, she concedes ‘cinematic mode’ works well for portraits.

Nicole Pedersen McKinnon sitting at a news desk smiling
(Source: Supplied)

What apps can you use – if we ask the photographers to speak totally out of school – to cheat and make a phone photo look like the real professional deal?

Nicola likes Lightroom: “You can develop and download pre-sets to make their images really stand out from others.”

“It’s very, very user-friendly.”

Jim is a fan of Hipstamatic, which does a great job of replicating an official single light reflex camera.

“For iPhone, this app shoots authentic-looking analog photographs and has brilliant retro effects.”

Graphic design program Canva also comes highly recommended and allows you to do all kinds of things with your images.

Indeed, Canva is how I stitched together the images for this story.

With massive thanks to our three insiders for their pic insights and phone photography hacks, could you turn a budding photography interest into actual income?

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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