Money Matters: Why Photographers are Switching to Art Careers

Making money as an artist is even more rewarding than with photography! Many photographers and artists are considering making the switch from photographer to artist this year. There are many kinds of photographers and artists and finding common ground may not be as hard as you think.

We cover the pros and cons of a change in career from photography to creating art as an artist!

Why are photographers moving from photography to art? In a word, it’s ‘money.’ Both art and photography are rewarding for creative people. Within the last 10 years, most people in the world have a camera on their phones capable of taking decent photos so making a living as a photographer is getting very difficult.

We’ve been seeing this since the early days of the iPhone, and really right when the iPhone 10 (X) was released. From that point on, there were millions of people capable of taking photos they had only dreamed of before. Today, the level of photography capable on an iPhone 13, 14, and upcoming iPhone 15 is astounding. The in-phone app to edit images and video is also mindblowing.

Photography has gone mainstream and it’s very difficult to make money in the field. So what to do?

Is making money in art the right career path for you? Let’s find out!

Introduction to Switching Careers from Photography to Art

A career in photography and art are very similar. and you may have even considered changing your career from photography to art at one time but thought that the learning curve was too much to get over. You may have thought, like I have, that artists are born, not made.

I was caught in that myth for a while so I kept at my photography career for years when I probably should have switched to creating art much sooner than I did.

I did a lot of travel photography for resorts in Thailand for a while before deciding to switch to an artist career. @ArtDayJob.com

What Is the Major Reason for the Move Toward an Art Career?

Photography is everywhere. Not only do we have more cameras in the world, but phones capable of good photos are now ubiquitous. Everyone can produce photos. Sure, that doesn’t mean that everyone is good.

It does mean that there are millions more people who are finding out they ENJOY taking photos and are looking at getting into it as a career! The competition is fierce. Art requires skills that you cannot add to a phone.

Fewer people think they can create art because they just don’t try. Photographers realize how close it is to what they’re already doing, and they want to give it a try!

Commonalities Between Photography and Art Careers

Mastery of the principles of art and photography. There is much overlap between the two, things like composition, 3D vs 2D vs empty space, lines, depth of field, light, reflections, color theory, perspective, texture, subject, cropping, shadows, emotional impact, and so much more.

Final product. Though the methods used to reach a final product are vastly different, the final product can look very similar, can’t they?

Creative expression. Both offer you a way to creatively express yourself, even if doing regimented photography like weddings or advertising where the shots are extensively planned out. You can add a bit of you into your art or photograph.

Differences Between the Two

Immediate gratification. Almost anyone can take a great photo by accident and put it up on a stock photo agency like Dreamstime.com and start selling immediately. The commissions are abysmal and you probably won’t make much no matter how many images you upload to your account there, but it’s something.

With art, you probably can’t just whip something up by accident and sell it on any platform I can think of, unless someone feels sorry for you. Art is different.

Learning curve. Creating art that can sell has a longer time frame for the required learning unless you’re naturally gifted. You’ll spend more time honing your art to perfection before you’re actually able to sell a piece. The reward when you become good can make it all worth it as you can start earning money from the many different kinds of art you become skilled at.

Options. As an artist, the media you use need not only be paper or canvas. You can draw or paint on walls, buildings, cars, skin, and floors, or work with clay, metal, wood, plastic, stones and gems, mud, or anything else that makes you happy.

Media options are fewer, but the type of photography is wide-ranging. You can focus on making money with weddings, art shows, fashion catalogs, portraits, advertising/commercial photography, travel, textbooks, stock, food, time-lapse, paranormal, forensic, medical, and miniature photography.

Tools. Of course, the physical tools you use for both can be wildly different but the software you use for digital art created on an iPad with ProCreate is not that much different than Adobe Lightroom and other digital image editing applications you can use to change details of your photo to make them more artistic or perfect for publication.

Financial Implications of Working on Photography and Art

US Dollars - making money with art is difficult but rewarding.

The time taken to create a photo or piece of art that is salable can take similar amounts of time. The financial reward can often be comparable as well. Some paintings and photos make in the neighborhood of $100 to $1,000 USD but there are exceptional photographic images that regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars for advertising and other commercial clients.

Art pieces can easily fetch this much for an established artist working in any medium, especially with large format pieces that become the focal point of a home, hotel, city, or landmark. There’s a woman on YouTube, Lori Mirabelli, you should watch who creates large-scale abstract art for businesses and hotels mostly.

She’s Canadian. She seems to be doing quite well. What can you learn from her? She has some great videos about the business of creating large abstract art – Check Her Out!

I have an artist friend who makes large aluminum art structures. He creates the concept, plans it, cuts the aluminum, and welds it all together for large displays he is paid very well for. Each piece takes him months, but in the end, it all works out financially.

He is much happier now than when he was a wedding photographer in St. Petersburg, Florida, though he is making a similar yearly income.

Challenges of Becoming an Artist

  1. Financial Instability – “Starving artists” are everywhere you look. It can be a struggle to find a stable income source, especially when you’re starting out. Starting part-time is a great idea until you get a stable monthly income from your art.
  2. Self-Doubt and Criticism – Dealing with internal and external criticism is difficult. The art world can be brutally honest, and not everyone’s going to love what you create. Some people will tell you!
  3. Market Competition – With platforms like Etsy and Instagram, it’s easier than ever to share your work. But that also means you’re competing with a lot of other budding artists. It’s not nearly as bad as photography!
  4. Getting Exposure – Creating art is one thing, but getting people to actually see it is another. Marketing is a huge challenge, although with your background in photography and marketing your work there, you will have a good headstart.
  5. Time Management – Balancing creating art, managing a business, and maintaining a social life can be like juggling chainsaws.

Benefits of Being an Artist

  1. Creative Freedom – You get to call the shots on your creative vision. There’s something incredibly liberating about that!
  2. Emotional Outlet – Art is therapeutic for a lot of people. It provides a safe space to express feelings, work through issues, or just vent. Creating art can be more emotional because it comes directly from you, you don’t need to find a subject that reflects your emotion as you do with a camera.
  3. Flexible Schedule – Be your own boss. Set your own hours.
  4. Influence, Impact, and Legacy – Your artwork can move people, inspire change, or simply make someone’s day better. Art affects people’s emotions more than photos usually do. You can create traditional or iPad art for your legacy that is remembered for hundreds of years!
  5. You Get Out What You Put In – You’ll need to find a group of people who like your art and who want to buy it, but once you do that it is all up to you.
  6. More Rewarding – When you sell something you created in its entirety, it’s more satisfying than selling wedding photo packages or stock photography. There’s a huge difference in selling art and how good it is for your soul.

The Current State of Photography as a Career

  1. Oversaturation of the Market – Everyone’s a photographer these days. With the rise of social media and easy access to quality cameras, there’s a flood of photographers—both amateur and pro—competing for the same gigs and eyeballs. It’s tough to stand out in a crowded market.
  2. Smartphone Revolution – Let’s be real, the cameras on smartphones like the iPhone have gotten ridiculously good. While they may not replace DSLRs for professional shoots entirely, they’re good enough for a lot of clients, particularly those on a budget. This puts a dent in the demand for professional photographers for smaller gigs or everyday clients.
  3. Lowering of Rates – With so many photographers around, clients have more options, which often leads to a “race to the bottom” in terms of pricing. Plus, there are platforms where anyone can buy decent stock photos for cheap, so why hire a photographer?
  4. High Start-up and Maintenance Costs – Professional-grade cameras, lenses, and editing software cost an arm and a leg. Add to that the ongoing costs of storage, website hosting, and marketing, and you’re looking at a hefty financial commitment. With art, you might start out with paper and pencil and increase as your competency evolves.

Traditional Art or Digital Tablet Art?

Apple iPad Pro 11-inch tablet computer with M1 chip, ideal for creating digital art.
Apple iPad Pro 11″ is great for learning how to create digital art. You can of course, print the files as well. ©Apple

If you want to learn how to create art in the form of drawings and paintings, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use traditional art methods with paper and pencil, canvas and paints or charcoals, or digital art from a tablet like the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro tablet.

With the advent of the iPad and other tablets and excellent drawing and painting apps like ProCreate, learning about the traditional methods of drawing with pencils, pens, markers, charcoals, watercolor, oils, and other paints and ink on paper or canvas of many different kinds seems overwhelming.

Just get an iPad Pro and a $10 ProCreate app subscription and begin learning about all the different brushes, effects, and functionality you get with just these two simple tools. Yes, there is an expense here. An iPad Pro a year old runs around $600 for the small 11″ option, which is appropriate for beginners.

The cost is similar to what you’d spend on all the other traditional supplies and the iPad and ProCreate don’t get used up. You have unlimited color. Unlimited brush durability.

Our iPad Mini 2 lasted 8 years. Our iPad Air 2 is still going strong after 9 years. We bought a new iPad Pro 11″ with the M1 chip last year, or maybe the year before and we love it. The responsiveness now is exceptionally fast and the refresh rate is 120 Hz. You won’t notice any lag. We think it’s the best way to go if you want to get into drawing. Especially if you’re going to draw cartoon-like, internet graphics, diagrams, ads, or realistic art.

Here is a lot of information about choosing an iPad to work with.

Financial Advantages of Using an iPad for Art on ProCreate

  • Lower startup and operational costs compared to photography. About $600 is all you’ll need to spend, and that can last you 5-10 years.
  • Potential for diversified income streams (e.g., NFTs, digital prints, licensing, etc.) It’s nice to be able to sell each copy as an original not different from the original you created. It’s lossless. Perfect. You don’t need to rely on photography to take a photo of your traditional painting or drawing – which introduces some unwanted artifacts.
  • High demand for digital art skills in various industries. Not only could you create your own art and sell it, you could easily work for someone else across the world creating graphics or art they required to be printed there or for use online or in print.

Quality Advantages of Using iPad Drawing Programs to Create Art

  • Drawing in layers, you can reverse and/or change any part of your artwork at any time. You can even make different versions of it easily by changing key areas. So much easier than Drawing on Paper!
  • Erase function that perfectly erases your last stroke. You can also revise nearly anything you’ve done with perfect precision. The level of precision available using an iPad and drawing app is stunning.
  • Millions of colors and unlimited brushes, even customizable brushes you can create yourself. Easily.

How to Move from a Photography Career to an Art Career

If you already have a photography career that is supporting you and your family and lifestyle, you shouldn’t quit that right away and jump into art unless you have plenty of money to support you not making much for a year. Or so.

Go Full Steam Into Learning How To Create Art

You can learn how to create art that sells. Anyone can. I don’t want to exclude anyone. Anyone can do it. However, not everyone can do every kind of art successfully. Of course. I can’t make realistic art drawings or paintings. At all. I’m working on it, but I may never get it. I don’t know if I even want it badly enough.

You have to WANT to learn it. You have to WANT to succeed. You have to TRY. Without these 3 things, just stick to photography or whatever else is currently paying the bills. Creating certain kinds of art is really difficult. It may take years to master some styles or techniques. Others you can learn in a day or a few hours.

Art that Makes Money

Here are some basic art projects you can make money with once you get up to speed. These won’t take as long to make money with traditional or digital painting. I think my favorite idea for selling something quickly is to create some t-shirt art that is relevant to your area like a major attraction or animal that can be found there. That, or bidding on logos at Upwork, which I do a lot of now.

3D Printing

  • Custom phone cases
  • 3D-printed planters
  • Personalized cake toppers

Resin Art

  • Resin-coated wood slabs
  • Epoxy resin jewelry
  • Resin paperweights

Glasswork

  • Stained glass panels
  • Fused glass pendants
  • Hand-painted wine glasses

Ceramics

  • Pottery mugs
  • Ceramic planters
  • Tile coasters

Jewelry

  • Beaded necklaces and bracelets
  • Wire-wrapped gemstone pendants
  • Hand-stamped metal tags

Dremel Creations

  • Engraved glassware
  • Wood-burned designs
  • Cut-out wall decor

Walk Before You Run!

Focus on what you CAN DO quickly and successfully at first. Master that. Master something that you can sell to give you income to start. You don’t want to try to paint like Van Gogh to start. You don’t want to try to paint ultra-realism to start out. It will destroy you because it takes a long time to progress!

Start with small projects and master them, then go further. This is what every artist does. Unless you start out in abstract art, and then anything goes. Abstract artists can start with no background in anything and just start throwing shapes, lines, and colors together.

Some can make it work immediately and find buyers. If that’s you, by all means, ignore most of what we’re telling you here. Just go start making art every day, learn about marketing, and sell it.

Develop Your Artistic Style

Artistic style, simplified, is just your personal preference for how you create art and what the final product looks like as a result of your own unique style. An easy way to see what I mean is to study paintings by Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh, Hieronymus Bosch, or Francis Bacon. The style of these artists is unmistakable in most cases.

Artistic style can be the style of brush strokes you use, the brushes, the colors, the textures, the reality or the abstract qualities of your work. It can be the surreal nature of what you paint, the horror, or the purity. It can be the media you use, the subjects you choose, the completeness/incompleteness of your art, or any of hundreds of other variables.

Make a Portfolio of Your Artwork

You can see my portfolio here. It’s a tiny fraction of what I’ve done over the last 20 years in online graphics, but it’s almost enough to show someone for them to decide if I could do their book cover, logo, or web graphics.

Pull together a portfolio as soon as possible and remove old works replacing them with updated art that better showcases your talents.

Market and Sell Your Artwork

Some of you may find the most difficult thing to do when beginning your art career, is marketing. You’ll need to do some research to find out where art like yours is selling. Or you might go the other way and only produce art that has a chance of selling. Visit galleries, art shows, art forums, and anywhere you can gather intel about where you might sell some of your art.

Online Marketing

If you prefer doing graphics, you can connect with website owners who have graphics-intense websites that may need your services. Get in with a good rate so they use you and get used to your work. You can then raise your prices a bit, or move on into other areas with a body of work already published.

It can’t be overstated how important it is to get some things sold and/or published so you can build on that success.

Your Art Website

Create a website quickly. This will let you post art as often as you make it and start to get noticed in Google. The Google search results are fantastic for surfacing art that you describe in unique terms that other people may be looking for. If you need a website, we build them fast for budding artists. Send us a note. We can create one in days for you at a very reasonable cost.

Make your website an E-Commerce site and sell your art right there, even while you sleep. It’s a simple (and free) plugin that does the bulk of the work for you. You just need to create a product for sale for each item you want to sell.

Advertising to Sell Your Art

Ads on FaceBook, YouTube, or Google is a great way to get started selling your art. Choose an item that is around $50 and price it at $48.00 on your website. Run ads to it for as little as a few cents per visitor. Eventually, someone will buy one.

You’ll be able to check the stats and see that when you paid for x number of people to arrive at that page for that piece of art, 1 person bought it. Over time that number will be fairly steady. It will tell you approximately what you might price other similar things at.

It will also clue you into how much you could afford to pay in ads to get one sale. If it takes 30 visitors to the page before someone buys, and you want to clear $20 on your piece, you could offer it for $48 and spend $28 on ads to make it worth your while.

Using ads gives you immediate feedback. If it takes 100+ visitors to see your $48 art before someone buys, it may not be the right thing to sell. But, if the cost of it is $350 it’s a great thing to sell because the higher cost covers your ad costs.

Network with Artists and Other Art Professionals

Talk to anyone you interact with about your art. Visit printing shops, printers, gallery owners, critics, online magazine staff, and common people who might be interested in purchasing or mentioning your art to others sometime in the near future.

Photographer to Artist Success Stories

I mentioned my good friend Mic who went from wedding and portrait photography to creating huge aluminum (and other metal) sculptures for cities, hotels, and well-off homeowners. He was really enjoying himself, and this was back in 2001.

I only recently changed from a primary photography focus to art. I have been wanting to get into art since I was in my 20s but I never felt like I had the time or the talent. Finally, I created ArtDayJob.com and went for it. If you’re on the fence, just go for it and see what happens.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Getting Started on ProCreate

If you’d like to focus on drawing and painting, you should probably start digitally. You can always learn how to paint with a paintbrush and paint later if you insist, but I think the learning curve is significantly longer.

  • I’d buy an 11″ iPad Pro with the M1 or M2 chip. These are super fast and reliable. The drawing experience is magical. Not to mention, the thousand other things it can do well. If you have the money, buy the 12.9″ iPad Pro with M1 or M2.
  • Download/buy ProCreate from the Apple store for around $15 I think it is now.
  • Follow some tutorials on YouTube to learn as much about it as you can before you get started so you’re not intimidated. There are many options. I don’t use them all or even a large fraction of them. You’ll pick up what you need to.

Takeaways

  • The Photography space is extremely crowded and competitive and even great photographers are giving it up for other pursuits.
  • With the advent of the iPad and apps like ProCreate, anyone can start learning to draw quickly. With perseverance, you can become good enough to sell your art and make a living.
  • Making art well enough to sell isn’t easy, but it’s fun and super rewarding as a career. Few artists, once they get a taste of success, ever leave.

Video Tutorials to Help You Begin Learning Art Now

[Featured Image (top): © Vern Lovic. We have this one at Dreamstime Stock Agency. Our account name there is Nouubon, you can search all of our photography there. We have around 300 or 400 images there. One dollars image from unsplsh, ©AndrewDawes]