How Street Style Photographers Make Money

With the hordes of photographers outside of Fashion Month shows growing exponentially each season, it takes a lot of hustle -- or some top-tier name recognition -- to turn shooting street style from a hobby into a lucrative business.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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With the hordes of photographers outside of Fashion Month shows growing exponentially each season, it takes a lot of hustle -- or some top-tier name recognition -- to turn shooting street style from a hobby into a lucrative business.
Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The scene is the same after every show of Fashion Month: Hordes of photographers wait outside of show venues in all four cities, hoping to capture that one perfect photo of Anna Dello Russo, Hanne Gaby Odiele or another of the industry's favorite street style stars upon her exit. Sometimes, the crush of young men and women with their cameras -- often shoving each other and innocent bystanders in order to get the shot -- makes it impossible to walk by, creating post-show atmosphere that can only be described as chaos.

This crowd of photographers seems to grow exponentially every season, and in a cutthroat industry with so much established talent, it's easy to wonder why fledgling street style photographers would try to go up against the big guys (seemingly) so late in the game. While it's easy to dismiss street style photography as not much more than a hobby -- aside from the lucky few who pioneered the field early on -- with enough dedication, it can prove to be extremely lucrative, even for the new guys. All it takes is a little thinking outside the blog.

Daily street style galleries are at the core of Fashion Month programming for many media outlets, and because of this, many publishers pay top dollar to secure the best talent. A photo editor at a prominent publishing house told us that a top-tier title -- think Harper's Bazaar or Elle -- will pay an established street style photographer upwards of $30,000 for an entire season of shooting. When a big-name magazine hires a photographer with less experience, he or she can still earn up to $12,000 for the month -- though it's important to note that photographers established and fledgling generally have to pay for their own flights, hotels and meals out of those fees.

Of course, some brands are notoriously stingy, and according to our source, one Condé Nast title will only pay its street style photographers $6,000 for the whole month of shooting, which doesn't account for any travel, board or expenses. In these cases, photographers often try to earn some extra money while abroad: Some will shoot for clients in other countries, whether for an ad campaign, a lookbook or product placement images (read: native advertising) for their own sites.

As is the case in most industries, the key is getting yourself noticed. If an editor comes across a street style image on a blog that he'd like to use online or in print, each photographer has an individual rate that each image goes for. For example, well-known photographers (think Candace Lake or Phil Oh) can charge $75 and up per image online, and $250 and up to run it in book. If a photographer reaches a certain level of fame, he can charge magazines more per photo because he's represented by an agency, like Trunk Archive, where minimums can run up to $600 for a quarter page. According to a former photo editor at an A-List fashion magazine, it isn't uncommon for a full-page street style shot to cost up to $1,200.

Photo: Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Photo: Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Photographers who are just starting out and want the exposure are often paid less -- around $100 or $150 per photo -- but they're happy to oblige: Once you get your name and image in a magazine or online, it will likely get attention and people will start to seek you out. Many new photographers will send portfolios and links of their work to photo editors, which, according to our source, is great way to get your name out in the industry.

"Most people have a go get 'em attitude -- it takes a lot of time and drive to reach out to photo editors who are overwhelmed and [they] appreciate people sending their images," says Adam Katz Sinding, photographer and founder of popular site Le 21ème. "That's not how I do it, but [mine is] probably not the best business strategy."

Sinding says his success in the world of street style has come from being at the right place at the right time, and while he says his job is never boring, the influx of new photographers each season does make it more difficult to get a photo. "Today it's not as much about the quality of the image, it's about having the image and the name value that goes along with it. That said, if none of the top guys can get the image, it levels the playing field a little bit."

Sinding shoots all year round all over the globe -- Copenhagen Fashion Week, Pitti twice a year, Men's Fashion Week, Couture Week, Art Basel and Coachella are just a few of the stops on his itinerary -- and he pays for the travel and board on his own. For fashion weeks, he shoots street style for W magazine, but in between, he'll shoot international ad campaigns or lookbooks with select designers for extra income. "W is my biggest client, and I took them on because they're in line with my personal aesthetic," he says. "During Fashion Month, photographers work 21 hours a day. We stay in groups of three or four because it's cheaper that way."

While the street style photography industry is much more saturated than it was just a few seasons ago, the excitement of it still isn't lost on Sinding -- even if he does spend 10 hours on some days sitting inside editing photos. "It's fun to run around and sweat and dodge traffic, and it's difficult to get bored. Plus, there's the fear of missing out. If I'm not there, I feel like I should be. I don't go to make money."

According to Sinding, shooting editorials and big-name ad campaigns can earn photographers huge sums of money, which is why studio photography is often the end goal for street style photographers when they first start out, but that's not the case for him. "I'm more interested in shooting brands that I really love, but I'm always open and won't immediately turn anything down. Why do I need to get rich? [Shooting street style is] minimal effort, and it's cool if someone wants to pay me. But I know that I should probably ask for much more."