During the internet age, and particularly in the last 10 years or so, we have seen a clear rise in what are commonly called side hustles. These are not “gigs” or side occupations, like picking up shifts at a local coffee shop on weekends or driving an Uber in the evenings. Rather, a true “side hustle” is the pursuit of a passion or interest in a monetized manner. As an author quoted on CBSNews.com put it, a side hustle is about figuring out what skill you have that others find valuable — a way to channel creativity for earnings.
Now, if it remains a “side hustle,” this sort of pursuit is typically looked upon as an extra. It’s a way to earn spare cash without feeling like you’re working. In some cases though, when it really works out, a side hustle can become a primary source of income, and even the beginnings of a career. This is an excellent thing for photographers to keep in mind. For most, the practice of photography is looked at as a hobby. But for those with deep interest in and passion for the art, there’s no reason not to consider its potential as a “hustle” and even a long-term occupation.
I understand that it’s easy to look at all of this as over-optimistic internet talk. And there are certainly some articles out there that overstate the ease of turning a passion into a career. But for those who doubt the idea entirely, it may be worth considering some of these examples even beyond the world of photography.
Crafting used to be looked at almost entirely as a hobby. At most, people might have sold their items in flea markets, or maybe in their own boutiques after a lot of savings. But today, various online platforms have made it incredibly easy for people to sell their own crafted goods for regular profit. Etsy is perhaps the best known of these platforms, and according to a SmallBizTrends piece on selling goods it now has “over 60 million active buyers” — more than enough to sustain people’s crafting businesses. Additionally though, many have also found ways to build their own ecommerce sites and leverage social media to essentially establish their own craft stores.
Only in the last few years has video gaming become an activity people associate with careers. Now, however, there are multiple ways for passionate gamers to monetize their hobby. Some join competitive teams playing in professional leagues. Some stream their activity and profit off of subscription and ad revenue. And many simply blog or podcast about their gaming experience to the point that they can make money from their audiences via ads or sponsorships. All of these possibilities require a great deal of time and effort, but they can turn video gaming into a profitable hobby.
Poker is an interesting one to consider, because we tend to see a fairly clear divide between professionals and amateurs. On the pro level the World Series of Poker sets the tone. Players compete for millions, with the main event buy-in now up to $10,000, according to a WSOP overview on Poker.org. Amateur players, meanwhile, are perceived largely as people playing for free, or with $1 buy-ins at online sites. The truth of the matter though is that there’s a lot of middle ground! In between the extremes, there are a lot of people who take poker seriously, pursue games with valuable prize pots, and participate in some of the countless tournaments that exist aside from the WSOP. There is of course always risk involved, but plenty of amateurs who love the game play enough games and tournaments to earn regular income, effectively making poker their job.
Playing music is another hobby that people have found more ways than ever to monetize of late. No longer does a musician necessarily have to play local gigs, earn radio play, or sell a studio album in order to make a career. With a good website, strong social media exposure, and a bit of talent, musical hobbyists today can build their own audiences, teach lessons, earn crowd-funded support, and in some cases earn revenue through streaming or subscriptions. None of this is to say it’s easy, but a musician today has more ways than ever before to make money off of the hobby.
Frankly, the list could go on! I could discuss how graphic designers and writers can build freelance careers, cover the possibilities for fitness enthusiasts to engage in virtual training, or even touch on the possibilities for travelers to go full “digital nomad” and make money while exploring the world. But you get the general idea: Turning a hobby into a job is difficult, but it’s not just something people talk about in over-optimistic, “follow-your-passion” internet posts. There are modern tools and resources that have made it quite doable with regard to many hobbies.
Photography is certainly one of them. As with the examples explored above, it takes a great deal of commitment and effort. And photography also carries the extra hurdle of typically requiring some degree of investment. Whether that means expanding your collection of lenses and accessories, subscribing to pro-level editing software, or simply buying the latest high-end Canon, you’ll need to take steps to ensure you can capture and create professional-caliber images. Of course, you’ll have to hone your craft as well.
With talent, dedication, and investment however, you can absolutely turn your photography hobby into a profitable business, just as people with the hobbies listed above have found so many ways to monetize their activities. And if you do pull it off, you’ll be fulfilling that wonderful, dream-like aspiration we all have growing up: to do what you love for a living.