Photography is an expensive hobby. With all the lenses, filters, lighting, software, and tripods, a fellow can find himself in the hole rather quickly. I should know. Photography was one of my last obsessions before getting my finances in order. I spent several thousand dollars on equipment. In retrospect, that was excessive.

But if you’re willing to work hard and to sell yourself, it’s possible to turn a photography hobby into something that, at the very least, breaks even. Before I was sidetracked by this blog, I was an enthusiastic amateur hoping to do just that.

I was a l-o-n-g way from supporting my photography habit with my work, but did have a couple small successes. My photography won prizes at the county fair, for example. I sold two prints. Just this month I had a photo published in Audubon magazine (for which they paid me $600):

If you’re interested in making money from photography without spending a fortune, check out Strobist, a blog with the tagline, “Less gear, more brain, better light”. The welcome page says: “Think of Strobist as a lighting idea bank, run by and for the most enthusiastic DSLR photographers.” The blog features articles like:

Most content at Strobist falls into one of two categories: Lighting 101, which explains photography and light, and On Assignment, which encourages readers to practice what you’ve learned. Last Thursday, Strobist published the first in a four-part series about “the blurring lines between professional and amateur photographers, and how your presence on Flickr automatically puts you in the game.”

Hobby wrote about Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, an Icelandic art student who had gained a following for the ethereal images she posted to Flickr. When her work came to the attention of the marketing department at Toyota, she was asked to shoot some photos incorporating the Prius. She did. The marketers loved the shots, and soon they were being used in all sorts of promotional material.

While Rebekka’s experience is certainly the most famous Cinderella Story of the Flickr world to date, it is by no means unique. The explosion of digital photography — and legions of talented new photographers — is combining with the leveled playing field of ubiquitous access to photographs via sites like Flickr. Professional photo buyers are combing through thousands of photos in search of new photographers like you.

I, for one, look forward to the next three parts in this series. I’ll continue to read Strobist for project ideas, and for tips on how to keep my photography expenses to a minimum!

We’ve discussed photography at Get Rich Slowly before. Last spring, I offered tips on how to be a frugal photographer. Last month, Mike Panic shared an introduction to making money selling digital photos; and recently kick_push started an amateur photography thread in the forums.

Edit: In the comments, Chris O’Donnell points to a NYT piece about MWACs (or Moms with a Camera) (registration required): “As digital single-lens-reflex cameras have become more affordable, more people — overwhelmingly women, according to the Professional Photographers of America — are starting photography businesses. They often begin as part-time ventures, sometimes on top of full-time employment elsewhere.” This is exactly what I’m talking about when I discuss hobbies as money-making ventures.

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