Whether you’re taking a picture of the Moon on your smartphone, or taking a picture of a distant galaxy using a telescope, there are many different ways to capture the vast beauty of our universe, but can you make money as an astrophotographer?
I’ve been making money from astrophotography for several years now and I’m going to share all the different revenue streams that are possible to you as an astrophotographer.
Do I Need Qualifications?
There are no formal qualifications required to become an astrophotographer, but as you’re taking pictures of objects in space, an interest in space and science will of course be key. You certainly don’t need to be an astrophysicist to be a good astrophotographer!
In fact, a good astrophotographer may end up teaching an astrophysicist how to capture the cosmos, as they’re two completely different fields.
As an example, I have a BSc degree in Computing & IT, which clearly has nothing to do with space or photography. I’ve always had an interest in space and have owned a telescope for many years and spent hours at the eyepiece staring at the wonders of space.
However, it wasn’t until 2017 that I started to become interested in taking serious pictures of space and in 2018 I purchased my first deep sky astrophotography gear. From there my interest developed into a more serious deep sky rig and I decided to see if I could earn some money from it – spoiler alert, you can!
How Much Money Can You Expect to Make?
Clearly this depends on several factors. There are no astrophotography jobs to apply for on LinkedIn! Many astrophotographers, like a lot of photographers, are passionate people doing this as a hobby for free. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but if you’re wanting to make this your full-time job, you want to know how much potential it has before deciding to quit your job.
Really your income is limitless (to a point) depending on how much time and effort you’re prepared to put in. A successful website and YouTube channel alone can make you a six-figure salary each year. If you then add on an online store, and the other revenue streams below (plus any others you can think of) then you can see just how lucrative of an opportunity this could be.
Of course, that’s not where you’re going to be starting, that’s the end goal. If you’re starting this as a business to make money, then you’re essentially starting from $0, and you need to spend a lot of time and effort, plus a bit of money, to make this a success.
Everyone’s definition of a full-time income is different, if you’re early on in your career and on a reasonably low income, it takes significantly less money to make this your full-time job. It is absolutely possible to do this, if you’re prepared to put the work in.
9 Ways to Make Money
With the ever-increasing adoption of AI in blog posts on websites, it’s easy to overlook this as something to make money from. You might think, like I did when I first started, that starting a website now is too late. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Having a website is still the number 1 best way to make money, because it’s linked to everything else you’ll create.
Whether you’re making money directly with ads on your website, or indirectly by pointing posts to your YouTube channel, or online course, having a website is an absolute necessity for any business. You can make thousands of dollars every month just from running ads on your website alone.
As previously mentioned, it will take time, effort and a lot of dedication to create a successful website that earns money, but the rewards are big when you do make it.
What better way to compliment your website than with a YouTube channel! That blog post that you’ve just written about how to take amazing astrophotography images, well guess what? It’ll make an awesome YouTube video too! This is where you can really grow your online presence, you can continually send people back and forth between your website and YouTube channel by linking everything together.
You can capture your audience on YouTube with a video explaining something, then funnel them to your website for more info, where they may take a look at your online store, or check out your paid course.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine, after Google, who of course also own YouTube. Your YouTube videos can also show up on the Google search results page if it’s relevant to the search, so by not having a channel, you’re missing out on so much opportunity, and the platform just keeps growing and growing.
Selling Prints/Online Store
Perhaps the most obvious way for any photographer to make money is by selling prints. There are many ways you can do this but an easy way is to set up something like an Etsy store, and link your store to a print on demand service such as Printful. You upload your image to the web, create a catchy title and description, and when someone places an order on Etsy, Printful takes care of the rest!
Just make sure you’re selling quality prints and receive some test prints first so that you’re not left with disappointed customers.
Astrophotography is hard. When something is hard to achieve, people are willing to part with money to learn something, provided that the service they’re going to receive is some quality information. I run astrophotography workshops, which are in-person events where a group of people get together and learn how to take pictures of the night sky with their camera gear.
I walk people through the basics of what astrophotography is, the type of gear required, and help them capture the first stunning astrophotography images. This one is obviously weather dependent, but people are willing to pay money to get time with experienced photographers who can help them up their game in just a couple of hours.
Much like the workshops above, but much more scalable. Now you’re able to teach everything you would in a physical workshop, but to a global audience, and the best part is you only need to create it once! This can be a very lucrative market, online course revenue has significantly increased in the last few years and is expected to continue to grow.
You will need somewhere to host this course, and some place you can market this so that it reaches your intended audience.
Again, very similar to a workshop or course, but in a different format. This doesn’t have to be a physical book, so you don’t need to go through the effort of finding a publisher who is willing to work with you. You can create an e-book as a PDF and have it in your online store and promoted on your website. See now why a website is so important? It really does link to everything!
People have different learning styles, some will prefer a book over an online course or in-person workshop. That’s why it’s important to offer variety, as you’re going to reach more and more people. One could also lead to another. For example, somebody could choose to take your online course, and then purchase your book.
If you’ve never heard of affiliate marketing, then essentially, it’s where you link to a product on your website or YouTube channel, and somebody uses your link to make a purchase, and you take a commission on the sale. There are lots of affiliate programs out there, but Amazon is probably the easiest one to get started with. Other organisations promote their affiliate programs so that anyone can sign up, others keep them a bit more guarded and will reach out to people who they think can drive traffic to their website to increase sales.
I’m an affiliate with several organisations and in any given month I can earn upwards of $500 from affiliate marketing alone. This income stream only works if you have a website and/or YouTube channel that has traction so that people are actually seeing your links to click on.
Develop an App
There are lots of different things you could do here. If you’re tech savvy enough, you could write your own app, but the vast majority of people will want to outsource this to someone who knows how, which in turn will cost you some money.
You could choose to recreate an app that will give you an overview of the night sky, though the competition for that one is pretty high. You could also choose to create an app that has its own forum, which also hosts your online course and a night sky catalogue for example. There are lots of possibilities here and the limit is really your imagination.
You will make money here from ads within your app, or creating a paid for version that is ad-free, or simply making it a paid only app. If you make it available on iOS and the Google Play store, then you’re potentially reaching millions of people and could earn significant revenue from this.
Work at an Observatory
This is perhaps the most traditional thing on this list. Remember earlier when I said astrophotography jobs aren’t available on LinkedIn? Well that’s not entirely true.
There are roles available working at an observatory, whether that’s as an operator or engineer, or another role entirely. These jobs do exist, but like all roles they will require a level of experience and education, which will be role dependent.
This isn’t technically a role as an astrophotographer, even if you do get time on the telescope to take pictures, but it’s a great way to make a full-time living from working in astronomy, which can then compliment everything else on this list.
You might also be required to do a level of outreach to local schools and other organisations if working at an observatory, which is a good way to get yourself known in the community.
As you can see, there are LOTS of different ways to earn money as an astrophotographer. I’ve listed 9 on this page, but there will definitely be more if you use your imagination. As someone who is actively working to replace his full-time income from his regular job to a career in astrophotography, I can safely say that it is possible and I know I will get there one day.
Some people are already further on their journey than me and are doing it full-time already. Others, like you, are potentially at the start of that journey, but there’s no reason why you can’t be the next big name in astrophotography.
All it takes, as I’ve repeatedly said in this post, is time, effort and dedication. Oh, and also some money to buy the gear in the first place! If you’re looking for where to start in astrophotography, then check out this post here to help get you started.