9 min 25 sec

Oh Snap! Photography Site Turns Into Passive Income Hustle

A traffic engineer begins shooting wedding photography to make some cash on the side, but it’s his niche tutorial website that earns the real money… at least until it doesn’t.
Affiliate Blog Passive Income Photography Transition Story

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What It's About

Lessons in affiliate sales on other platforms!

Business Model
Skills Required
Photography & Content Writing
Profit Potential

Words of Wisdom

If you're having a hard time coming up with ideas, Ryan says that your first step should be to make a list of things you're good at. He also said that it's good to ask your friends and family because sometimes it's hard to see what you're good at because we can be so critical of ourselves. Then take these skills and traits and apply them to solve problems.

Fun Fact

In 2014, Ryan’s affiliate income was slashed by 90% because a single partner changed their affiliate program terms. Yikes! Be careful when building your business on someone else’s platform.

Notes from Chris

Episode 544
Ryan Oakley’s a man who loves his day job. He’s a traffic engineer, which means he helps set speed limits, build strategic crosswalks, and make intersections safer. But while he loves the steady income, he wanted a bit more—$1,000 more, to be precise.

He also had a hobby, one that is constantly evolving with all sorts of new technology coming out every year. That hobby is photography, and a few years ago, a new camera lens came out that Ryan was captivated by. The only thing was, there wasn’t an extra $1,000 in the family budget to splurge on a hobby.

So he found a way to make that extra $1,000.

Ryan had received some requests from other photographers about how he made his website, so he made a video tutorial for the program he used, SmugMug, and published it on his blog for anyone else to learn from. When he wrote the blog, he attached some affiliate links for people interested in buying the product. This was an afterthought because he really didn’t expect them to do anything. But if people visited and clicked through and made a purchase, he’d earn a commission.

Except, they did.

Ryan still remembers the rich satisfaction he felt when a complete stranger left a comment on the blog saying how grateful they were for his tutorial. He can also remember the satisfaction of that first affiliate sale.

Within a few months, Ryan’s video tutorial was ranking #1 on both Google and YouTube for a few popular search terms. His monthly affiliate earnings jumped to $500 a month, and $1,000—and they just kept growing!

Ryan quickly learned all he could about affiliate marketing. Clearly, it was something he should focus on.

A couple years and dozens of popular tutorials on photography business tools later, Ryan was making upwards of $10,000 per month in affiliate income—and nearly all of it was profit.

That is, until disaster struck.

SmugMug was altering its affiliate agreement significantly. Instead of allowing affiliates to take commissions from people already signed up for the free trial, the company would only pay out for 100% new leads.

This was a huge hit to Ryan’s income. Many of his readers were coming for help after they had signed up for the free trial and realized they needed help to get things going. Just like that, PhotographyOnTheSide.com’s income went from several thousand dollars per month… to several hundred.

These days, Ryan’s still creating video tutorials for tools and software that photographers use in their business. Most of his content still ranks high on Google and YouTube.

He admits he’s not done a great job with scaling his hustle since losing those big bonus paychecks. It’s always been an on-the-side thing for when he had time, and he imagines it’ll stay that way. He’s still looking to create new content every couple of months to keep his audience engaged, and he loves all the positive feedback he gets from viewers.

But the best part? “Gravy money”—that’s what Ryan calls his affiliate income. With very little hands-on work, Ryan is building an emergency fund for his family and helping his ex-wife pay for nursing school. It’s not $10,000/month anymore, but it’s still making a real difference.


  • Photography (On The Side): Have your eye on a photography side hustle? Head on over to Ryan's resource blog to pick up some tips!

  • SmugMug: The platform that Ryan uses to bring in affiliate income


Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,


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Quote of the Day
"Probably 90% of my traffic comes from Google. I'm not an SEO guru, but I think I do the basics well and create content that people like and find useful. I love how Google rewards good, helpful content."
—Ryan Oakley #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau