How to Launch a Profitable Side Hustle as a Photographer (Drones, Video, Film, and Digital!)—NEW for 2021.

by Doc Kane

by Doc Kane

Updated: May 12, 2021

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1. Why Start a Side Hustle as a Photographer?

A recent acquaintance of mine, a former USAF vet living here in Japan reminded me of this age old side hustle: photography. Not hobby photography, but commercial and wedding photography.

In thinking about how to spin it for those of you in the military, I got to thinking about how here in Japan there is a particular market for “western weddings.” Did you know that? Western weddings are weddings held in a western style for Japanese couples and their families. Sometimes people with a little extra money to spend have two weddings! One, a traditional Japanese wedding, with kimonos and yutaka, a Japanese dining experience… the whole deal. But, then, they'll also throw a western wedding with western food and dress, spoken in English, with (get this) occasionally welcomed western “guests” to make it feel all the more real.

I have friends who are officiants, and here in Kobe at least, I've seen advertisements for wedding hall reservations featuring a western bride or groom in the photography in an effort to simply to make the particular advertiser's effort a little more appealing if you will. My wife tells me that a western officiant is paid more than a Japanese officiant. What sort of craziness is that?!

Shooting weddings of this sort might be a good opportunity for you. If you're non-Japanese, you have immediate advantage over local photographer in the sense that you're already fitting the need by being said westerner, and if you were to grab a local friend to help introduce your business to those in the wedding industry around the base, you might really be able to have an impact locally.

The said, you've also got a tremendous opportunity to shoot weddings, portraits, drone footage and other types of commercial photography for, and within your own community.

And, you have several tremendous advantages in this space. First, on base you've got a built in community and an ecosystem ripe for promotion. In the larger cities of Japan (Tokyo, Yokohama, Okinawa) flyering and promoting in the city can be a competitive adventure. There's a certain  blindness to English promotional flyers that exists—even I miss them most of the time. Not so in and around your homes near the base.

Secondly, you likely have a little more free time than local photographers, because for part time hustlers in Japan, weekends still remain quite important. So, if you have weekends free yourself, either because a spouse is working, or if you're contracting during different days of the week, you can capitalize on that time vacancy.

There's also a certain economy of scale you can live with because of how financial arbitrage works here in Japan. A local photographer needs to make the yen go a bit further than Americans with a savings or extra income in U.S. dollars, so you may be able to charge a slightly lesser rate than a local photographer, or the same rate, and still come out ahead in a sense. At least it can “feel” this way.

Capitalize on this emotional difference to certain expenses here in Japan to your advantage. Want to see what this looks like in practice? Check out the site of the gent I mention at the top of this piece… Joseph Drotos. Say hello. Tell him I said, “hey.” It might be a great way for the two of you to network. Heck, maybe you'll both get a course idea, or membership idea out of it!  Okay… so, as is the case… below are a few of my resources for you, and platforms you can use to launch this particular military side hustle here in Japan.

  • Maybe there's an opportunity for you to team up with a shop like LA-VIE Photography who does “pre-wedding” photography. With an entire website in English, you can better they've either got native English speaking clients, or Japanese clients with a desire to communicate in English. 

Point. Shoot. Edit. Print. If you're a fan of flying machines, and camera gear of all sorts, you should be shooting more than just your food. That pays too, though! Check out how Creative Live and see other photographers revealing their secrets to creating a sustainable side income as a photographer.

This is my absolute favorite book
on starting a Side Hustle.