How to Start a Photography Business and Create Passive Income

How to Start a Photography Business and Create Passive Income


  • Between classes, Charis Cheung runs a photography side hustle focused on creative and editorial images.
  • Cheung booked five figures in revenue last year, some of which came from passive income streams.
  • She explains how she leveraged TikTok to find clients and earns passive income from her side hustle.

When Charis Cheung isn’t pursuing her undergraduate degree at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, she’s running her photography side hustle. 

What began as a hobby she adopted when was 7 has developed into a photography business called Charis Cheung Photography, which specializes in editorial and creative imagery. In between classes, the 19-year-old can be found shooting album covers for emerging musicians or snapping photos of influencers for their social-media feeds.

Cheung is one of many Gen Zers who’ve adopted freelancing recently, according to Upwork’s “Freelance Forward 2022” report, which studied 3,000 professionals. Last year, 46% of millennial professionals and 43% of Gen Z professionals surveyed performed freelance work.

Cheung’s work ranges between three and 12 clients a month, each of which requires about five or six hours shooting and editing. She also earns passive income by selling her “presets,” or a series of photo edits that others can purchase and lay over their own photos to achieve a similar look to Cheung’s style. She booked five figures in revenue in 2022, $2,000 of which came passively through the presets.

She shared how she built and scaled a photography side hustle. This is an as-told-to story based on an interview that has been slightly edited for length and clarity. 

Defining my style helped me find customers


Cheung describes her style as glowy and ethereal.


I’d describe my style as glowy and ethereal, but it took me years to get to this point. I started taking photos when I was in middle school using my iPad or my mom’s camera. Then I bought a Canon EOS 80D and started asking friends if they wanted to do shoots. 

I found inspiration from photographers on Instagram and YouTube, and I’d practice their techniques and styles with my friends. Over time, I created my own style.

Creating that style helped me find clients I was excited about. Instead of traditional headshots or graduation shoots, I’ve been able to work with creatives like me in music, art, and fashion.

TikTok changed my business trajectory

The majority of my clients found me on TikTok. The less I post on TikTok, the fewer clients I have, and vice versa. It’s also been great for generating customers in other creative fields because many of them use TikTok for work, too.

To help prospective clients understand how I work, I share both my behind-the-scenes footage of photo shoots and my final work. I also make sure to include the hashtags #photographer and #LAphotographer because clients often use TikTok as a search engine to find professionals in their area.


Cheung goes behind the scenes and shares the final work on TikTok.


I expanded my services to include passive income streams 

Earlier in the pandemic, I also developed my own “presets.” That was a cool milestone in my career because people liked my work and my editing style enough to purchase it for themselves.

It’s also a good way to make money. I created the presets while editing, which I would have done anyway to edit my own work, and sold them. Now I get random bunches of money automatically deposited into my account, from $10 to $50. 


Cheung also works as a creative director for some client shoots.


I also sell my services as a creative director, where I work on styling, props, and the vision for the shoot. It’s a way to make additional money because clients pay extra for the concept curation, especially singer-songwriters who need a unique idea for their album art.

What I love most about all these jobs is planning the entire idea based on my creativity.