In 2008, I started a photography side hustle from my dorm room. My goal was to become a professional photographer. It wasn’t easy, especially at the height of the recession, but I’m glad I never gave up.
Today, at 35, I’m a self-made millionaire and run a wedding photography and education business, Katelyn James Photography. With my husband Michael, who joined as Chief Financial Officer in 2013, we’ve helped more than 100,000 people learn about photography.
In 2022, we brought in $240,000 a month in revenue — 80% of which I put back into the business. Roughly $230,000 of our monthly revenue was passive income from online courses and training materials.
I now work just four hours a day and shoot about four weddings a year.
From $750 to $160,000 in one day
In the first year of my side hustle, I was a full-time college student, but I still worked 40 or more hours a week.
My rates started low: $750 for six hours of photographing and editing. As my skills improved, I started charging more. And by 2013, I was earning six figures.
I was lucky to have a great mentor, Jasmine Star, who photographed my own wedding. I also took some online courses, attended workshops, and took on projects for free to build my portfolio.
But there wasn’t a lot of affordable photography training out there, so I started sharing tips on my blog. About eight years in, I realized online photography education could be a scalable business.
Through word of mouth and a consistent social media presence, I grew an email list of 7,600 photographers who wanted to learn from me. All the while, I developed outlines, designed a workbook via Adobe InDesign, and recorded and edited course content with help from a videographer friend.
In November 2015, Michael and I launched our first online training program to teach photographers how to edit and streamline their workflow. The course cost $397, a price point that was far more accessible than a semester’s worth of college photography classes.
Our goal was $15,000 in total sales. But the first day, because of the trust we built with our customers over time, we made over $160,000.
Bridging the photography knowledge gap
The success of my first course showed me that it was more valuable to make photography education accessible, rather than just shooting weddings and continuously increasing prices.
We’ve created over a dozen downloadable courses, e-books and templates for various photography skills. Our resources are inspired by questions asked by our online community of over 70,000 people, and cover topics like posing couples and natural light photography.
We also have a membership product, KJ All Access. For $29 per month, photographers of all experience levels get to follow me as I shoot events and handle all sorts of unpredictable situations — like wedding dresses getting covered in mud or weather delays.
New videos are shot by my videographer, edited by me, and released each month. Members also have access to a library of past videos.
Our goal is to change people’s lives
I love my job. Being in complete control of our schedule has allowed my husband and I to spend more time with our three kids, and to pursue projects we’re excited about.
This year, we co-founded a school geared towards entrepreneurial families called Acton Academy West End. We focus on equipping children ages five to eight with the tools to find their unique passions through hands-on activities.
Whether we’re creating tools that teach photographers how to build a career that supports their family, capturing wedding moments, recording podcasts, or just simply sharing the ups and downs of our everyday life on social media, we want our life and our business to change lives.
Katelyn Alsop is a business coach and founder of Katelyn James Photography. Over 100,000 students around the world have used her platforms to learn about photography and entrepreneurship. She is also the co-founder of Acton Academy West End. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.