Aleksandr Wilde, 32, took some time to figure out what he wanted to do in life. He'd always loved the arts, but his early adulthood was somewhat aimless. After high school he traveled, lived out of his car and on people's couches, and settled in Denver, Colorado, for a few years managing the cheese departments at various grocery stores.
Originally from Gainesville, Florida, Wilde went back to his hometown in 2015 to get a degree in theater at Santa Fe College. While there, he began taking photographs. The hobby developed into a full-blown, high-paying side hustle.
"To me it's like a theater production," he says of the artform, adding that, "I can tell a story in just, like, a moment."
Because he's only doing photography part time, and especially as the pandemic has limited his ability to take on bigger projects like weddings, his income varies. He makes an average of $100 per hour. "I'll have a month when I might pull in couple thousand dollars," he says, "and sometimes I'll have a month where I pull in like $100." Wilde's wife is a lawyer, and her income helps bring the couple some financial stability.
Here's how Wilde was able to build his creative side hustle.
When Wilde's friend first introduced him to photography in 2015, they "loaned me their DSLR camera and sort of showed me how to use the manual settings," he says. With theater training that included lighting design and bringing stories to life, "a lot of the principles were already under my belt," he says, and he was able to pick up photography quickly.
He posted his work on social media, and "people started asking, 'How much do you charge for headshots?'" he says. "I was not very comfortable with doing that when I first started out because I didn't feel that I could promise consistency."
To begin with, he'd charge people just $20 or $50. "It didn't feel like I was promising too much with that," he says. Over time and as he improved, he began to charge more.
Wilde's ability to market himself and find new clients depends on when he has breaks from school and can focus solely on photography.
During such breaks, "I took the time to treat it like a job and just take photos every day whether it was because I was being paid or I was doing it for free." Posting those photos on social media like his Instagram account draws in new clients: "Every time I do that I would generate a whole bunch of work for the next few months."
"When I have the time to create consistently, it pays off," he says.
"I'm interested in all kinds of photography," says Wilde, and his varied portfolio makes that clear. He does headshots for actors, as well as family photography including maternity shoots, engagement sessions, and weddings.
The latter bring in the most money because they are the most time-consuming and involved. During wedding season, he might pull in as little as $600 for a short courthouse wedding, to nearly $3,000 for a full-day or multiple-day affair.
Lately, as Covid restrictions have lifted, Wilde has increasingly gotten hired to do another type of project altogether: cosplay shoots. "People just come to me [and say], 'I have a Spider-Man costume. I want to take pictures [with] it.'" Wilde scouts for the locations and helps them pose.
He loves doing this kind of creative shoot. "It's like theater to me," he says. His clients are characters who he gets to set up scenes and tell stories with. Depending on how long the shoots are, "they'll probably pay, like, $200."
In part, Wilde's growing success comes from the joy he gets from taking pictures. "I love doing it," he says. "I love being able to be a part of people's lives and have these moments with them." That sentiment drives his business.
"I did not set out to make money as a photographer," he says. "I just really liked taking photographs and then people started asking me how much I charge for it." Between the years it takes to perfect the craft, the financial investment in the equipment and tech needed to do it professionally, and the time it takes to learn to use that equipment, the hustle takes a lot of patience and years to build up.
"That investment's really not going to feel like it's worth it if you don't like doing it," he says.
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