How One Photographer’s Side Hustle Became a $330K a Year Business


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In the heart of Orange County, Christopher Todd’s transformation from a freelance photographer capturing life’s fleeting moments to leading a business that grosses over $300,000 a year embodies the essence of a side hustle success story.


With a background that spans from psychology to the corporate world, and finally to photography, Christopher’s narrative is not just about following one’s passion but strategically turning it into a profitable venture.

To that end, we asked Todd to share a bit about how story, how exactly he got started, and his best tips for emulating his success. 

Meet Christopher Todd

An Orange County, California native, Todd grew up like many kids in the area: getting humbled on the regular by thunderous waves [at the beach] with friends and family.

christopher todd, orange county, ca photographer
Christopher Todd Studios

It was the magnificence of those same waves that Todd sought to capture as he began to dabble in photography during his junior high years.

Surfer friends getting swallowed by waves, only to emerge unscathed.

Skateboard buddies mastering the ollie and then moving on to whatever trick came next.


Unforgettable moments in time, captured at the click of a button.

Soon after shooting a few rolls, he was hooked. He started learning how to develop film and make prints himself.

While Todd continued to learn about the art and science of photography throughout high school and college, he never considered it to be career-worthy. After getting his BA in Psychology from UCLA, he entered the workforce as a corporate recruiter.

Like many graduates in their first post-grad job, he was less than enthused about the route he had chosen. “It was a terrible fit for me, which I realized almost immediately. I decided almost immediately to pursue photography, and so I went back to school [to pursue that] and graphic design,” reflected Todd. 

“I started working in a restaurant to pay rent.” 

beach wedding photography by christopher todd
To scale, Todd later expanded beyond wedding photography to include headshots, event photography, and more. Christopher Todd Studios

Once school started, Todd began freelancing at weddings and took portraits for people he would meet. “To describe that work as a side hustle would be very generous…I was paid almost nothing,” he joked. 

Persistence in perfecting his craft — through copious amounts of trial and error — combined with what he was learning in school began to move the needle in terms of learning what it took to become a professional.

Higher quality showcases led to better-paying jobs. “It became clear when I made a month’s worth of restaurant wages in a single day as a photographer that was time to exchange my full-time job for my photography side hustle.”

Related: 20 Low-Cost Business Ideas (with High Profit Potential) 

From Then to Now 

Todd was sure to highlight that like many interested in photography, his initial investment was that of only his camera [and film]. 

“That’s the beauty of photography. You don’t need much to get started. I spent very little in the beginning and invested in more equipment as my business grew.”

During his first year as a freelancer during school, Todd earned a modest $10,000. Not a living wage, but enough to supplement the income he was earning at the restaurant. Fast forward to now and his business — Christopher Todd Studios — eclipsed $330k in revenue last year.  

“It’s hard for me to tell you what you could expect to make, but I think the sky is really the limit. In my opinion, there is more opportunity now for photographers than there has ever been,” suggested Todd. 

While Todd recognizes that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, he implores people to just start. “I got pretty lucky and had the good fortune to have a lot of opportunities come my way [early on]. I was young and I knew a lot of people getting married, so it was an easy side hustle to slide into photographing weddings.” 

christopher todd wedding photography
Christopher Todd Studios

While Todd appreciated any opportunity that came his way in the beginning, he acknowledged that even within photography, certain niches interest him more. 

“These days I barely photograph weddings. Sometimes the stars just align and you end up working in a niche you like. However, I’ve heard lots of photographers say that they want to do something different in photography. My advice is to think about what type of photography suits you while you’re side hustling.”

Once you’ve found what [gigs] you like most and who you enjoy working with, start being more intentional about the direction you move and the opportunities you seek. 

“I probably wouldn’t change a thing,” mulled Todd, who reflected that the time spent in various niches helped make him a more well-rounded photographer. 

Getting Clients 

The seemingly most difficult part of any freelance gig is finding consistent work. Todd echoed that sentiment. “After working as a photographer for many years I can clearly say the most difficult part of the job is getting new clients. If you can figure out a way to get consistent work, you will have a great business.”

While word of mouth alone may be enough to land meaningful, high-paying work, he suggests digital marketing skills are essential to reaching your income goals. 

In our experience, SEO has been the most effective area to focus on and the most important factor in reaching our revenue goals,” said Todd. 

The second most important thing he focuses on is often overlooked by many photographers. “Customer service is an often underutilized aspect of marketing your business to more people. We get tons of leads from organic search (through SEO best practices) but we also get tons of referral clients that come through our website [via word-of-mouth references].” 

He added that the beauty of SEO is how long [the content] lasts. Articles on their website have pulled in traffic from people interested in their service for years on end.  “When compared to social media’s need to keep posting to feed the algorithm, it makes sense to commit more resources to SEO.” 

Related: Should You Work for Free? 5 Scenarios You’ll Be Tempted To

Advice for a Photography Side Hustle 

Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Whether you’re side hustling on top of your nine-to-five or scaling your side gig to a full-time business, Todd recommends — broadly speaking — finding a side hustle you can wake up and do every day. 

“Picking a side hustle you’re passionate about. Then pursue it relentlessly. Meet everyone you can in the niche. Tell all your friends what you do. Commit to being a lifelong learner.”

Todd added that it doesn’t hurt to think about future goals even early on. “I found that I spent much more time learning about photography in the beginning, but our needs transitioned much more to business education. I think a more balanced focus…might have gotten the business on its feet faster than we were able to.” 

To that end, he said he made a concerted effort to diversify their service offerings in light of lessons learned when the real estate market started to collapse in 2007. 

“The first few years of our business took place during an incredible stock run and robust real estate market. People were taking second mortgages on their houses to fund incredible weddings. Being the benefactor of that situation helped our business in the beginning. However, when the real estate market collapsed, our wedding business was cut by 60%. The same thing happened during Covid in 2020.”

wedding party photo by christopher todd studios
Christopher Todd Studios

Fortunately, Todd had employed lessons learned during the first downturn and was better equipped to handle the broader market downturn. 

“We had pivoted our business from a single job type (i.e. just weddings) to a multitude of offerings.” Headshots, dating profiles, event photography, engagement shoots, you name it. They were no longer [as] vulnerable to a niche market crash.

“Diversifying the type of photography we do was the best thing we ever did for our business. Many photography gurus will tell you to focus on one niche. For full-time businesses, this is sometimes unrealistic as one type of work probably will not get you to your revenue goals.” 

“Besides, variety is the spice of life. It’s fun to shoot an online dating session, then a family photo session, and a headshot in the same week. Bouncing around keeps everything more fun than doing the same thing over and over.” 

Related: 189 Side Hustle Ideas for Making Extra Money in Your Spare Time

On His Biggest Challenge

As with many things in life — and virtually every single side hustle story we’ve ever featured — the path to success isn’t always as straight as many may make it seem. Todd was quick to reinforce that notion.

“[Early on] the biggest challenge we faced was getting clients. I really had no idea what I was doing in the beginning years…or the middle years,” joked Todd. “After twenty years, it feels like we’re just starting to figure out how to serve clients better and communicate more effectively so that they understand our value and our process.” 

The big epiphany they’ve had for getting consistent business is really “old-school” Just do great work and don’t be flaky with clients. Another important part, he suggested, is how you determine a client’s [desired] experience, and what steps you need to take to make that happen. “When clients are happy, business booms.” 

Tips for Getting Started

Sometimes as photographers, it’s easy to stay in a little bubble. “You should fight that urge,” said Todd emphatically. “Get out in the community and stay humble. Even if you’re good. Be a lifelong learner. There’s always something you can learn from almost any situation.” 

More specifically, in-person networking was a huge part of his business in the beginning. As a wedding photographer, he participated in many networking events with other vendors in the wedding industry.

“We were able to build lots of relationships that led to lots of jobs. However, after many years of industry drama, I realized I didn’t like networking with non-photographers. So I stopped attending the events and watched our wedding business shrink,” admitted Todd.

“I think it’s important to figure out your likes and dislikes as well as your strengths and weaknesses so that you can find a type of marketing that works best for you. If you’re new to the industry, try them all and see what feels right.”

He added that joining professional organizations and going to conventions was a calculated investment worth the ROI. “Take the time to take webinars and learn from others who are further along in the photography journey.” A tremendous resource for new photographers is WPPI. “They have a convention in Las Vegas every year that will blow a newbie’s mind.”

Lastly, he noted that the best way to find your comfort zone is to spend time experimenting with different tools and techniques. Nothing replaces getting out from behind a screen and actually going out there and practicing. “Some of my favorite tools are very simple. Like using diffusion panels to soften light at any time of the day or reflectors to fill in shadows for portraits.” 

Related: 11 Places That’ll Pay for Your Photos 

On the Future

Like many service industries, there’s an unavoidable amount of churn that requires fostering new relationships on an ongoing basis. While businesses can use customer relationship management (CRM) software to maintain contact with past clients, scalability is a by-product of adding new clients to an existing portfolio of customers. 

Looking forward, Todd says he and his studio look to expand on the growth strategies that have worked for them so far (SEO) but also desire to add new marketing weapons to his arsenal. “I think email marketing to potential leads and past clients will increase customer acquisition, lifetime value, and help [grow] repeat business.”

“We’re planning to develop a more robust email sequence for each job type as well as develop lead magnets to capture more website visitor info.” It’s easy to become complacent and that’s when business starts to dry up.



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