Receiving a grant for your photography can boost your confidence and future opportunities — learn more about getting your first funding
Creating photography and art takes time and resources. Personal photography projects can be costly and time-consuming, even if you already support yourself. If you want to create photography work full-time, you need ways to fund your career.
So, how and where can you find the right financial aid for your photography?
How funding can help your photography
Receiving funding for future projects or already completed ones can relieve financial pressure so you can focus on your art. When an organization picks you for its grant, it can lift your confidence. How would it feel to be selected for a grant based on your photography, skills, and ideas?
A project selected for funding may also boost your photography career. It could be a financed exhibition or a photo book, an expanded network of other artists, curators, and organizations, as well as other opportunities.
"How would it feel to be selected for a grant based on your photography, skills, and ideas?"
Finding and applying for grants and funding takes time, but don’t give up before giving it a real shot. Some organizations and major photography industry brands offer support and opportunities that could change your photography career. Or at least help some of your personal projects come to life and receive recognition.
Different types of grants
You have many opportunities to look into, from photography competitions and portfolio reviews to fully-funded project grants in the thousands. Each organizing body will offer (and expect) something different, so we collected a few different resources to help you fund your photography.
1 Photography competitions
Most photographers consider submitting an entry to a photo competition at least once in their photography career. Some competitions you have to pay for, others are free to enter, but most offer tangible rewards if you win. Gear and money prizes for successfully placing in the top three are standard for many competitions, but some also offer mentorship, portfolio reviews, and guidance from accomplished industry leaders.
LensCulture, for example, runs regular photography awards you pay to enter, but prizes for winners reach $10,000 cash awards. While that’s nothing unusual, the organization offers portfolio reviews to receive feedback from industry professionals.
An external review of your work can help you better understand how to discuss your photography projects and position your artist statement when applying for grants. While your work takes center stage, learning how to put your photography concept and ideas into words when sending grant applications is essential.
So, the next time you submit a single photo or a photo series to a competition, ensure the process is worth your time. Receiving a digital winner’s badge or a shoutout on social media is likely not worth it — instead, look for competitions that offer financial rewards and career-advancing opportunities.
You will find every photography genre has many available awards. You can start browsing different competitions by checking out websites that regularly keep you up to date with the latest contests, like C4E directory and publications like PetaPixel.
Learn more about how to prepare your photography for competitions with our guide.
2 Artist residencies
If you wish to work on a project in an environment that stimulates your creativity, you can look for artist residency programs. Residencies will often involve temporarily living in an accommodation where you have access to different resources and communities to help you grow as an artist and focus on your photographic work.
Some residencies offer free accommodation, others pay a stipend for your time, and some ask you to pay to participate. The type of accommodation offered varies too – you can work in a research-oriented residency in Brooklyn, New York, offered by non-profit Amant, or you can pack your bags for an art program in picturesque locations across the National Parks through National Parks Arts Foundation.
"Residencies will often involve temporarily living in an accommodation where you have access to different resources and communities to help you grow as an artist and focus on your photographic work."
Artist residencies regularly reopen their applications for the next round of submissions, so don’t be discouraged to keep applying.
To learn more about the different artist residencies, look at some of our picks below before starting your search:
- Light Work
- More Art
- Smack Mellon
- Sulfur Studios
- Moab Arts
- Recycled Artist in Residence
- Create London
- BTFA Collection
3 Private and public grants
If temporarily moving away to work on your photography is not what you’re looking for, privately and publicly funded grants can help realize your projects. Some photographers have already completed projects that need funding for exhibiting or publishing, while others have an idea that needs support from the beginning. The funding available varies and each grant has different requirements for each applicant.
Besides arts, culture, and education centers and organizations, check local community centers, schools, and Universities that may have calls for artist submissions. Arts and culture weeks, fairs, exhibitions, and events in your local or regional area may also offer funding opportunities.
Some organizations that offer funding work in the arts and culture industry, but you can also get aid from different agencies, organizations, and private donors who support causes your projects may promote or educate the audience about.
For example, if you’re a wildlife conservation photographer, don’t just look for photography grants – research different not-for-profit organizations that work on raising conservation awareness. If that information is not publicly available, get in touch to see if they support artists whose work relates to conservation.
Start by mapping out the type of photography you are passionate about and the topics you cover with your projects. It could be social, cultural, political, environmental, or simply creative expression. A clear understanding of the topics and issues you're sharing with your work will help you see what type of organizations to reach out to.
There are too many grants to list, so we will highlight a few:
- The David Prize
- Bronx Council on the Arts
- The Aftermath Project
- Black Women Photographers
- Innovative Grant
- The Puffin Foundation
- Women's Studio Workshop
- FACE Foundation
- Pulitzer Center
- Indigenous Photograph
- Photographers Without Borders
- Arts Council England
- Hopper Prize
4 Brand-led grants
Some of the well-known photography industry brands run funding programs not necessarily limited to photographers who use the brand products. For example, Sony runs regular Alpha Female contests, Getty offers creative and editorial grants, while Adobe has two programs, Annual Residency and Community Fund.
The luxury camera and lens brand Leica has an annual Women Foto Project Award, or if you have a Kickstarter campaign for your idea or photo project, you can apply for a Kickstarter, Creative Capital, and Skoll Foundation grant that supports projects by Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx creators.
How to apply for grants
You will need to fill out an application form for most grants. Your photography work can be unique, but the ability to explain how your project benefits the local community or what you want the audience to take from it will help your application stand out. For a solid grant application, you can follow the steps below.
1 Research the right funding body
The number one rule for any grant application is to ensure you know what the organization or funding body is looking for, what causes and types of artists they have supported in the past, and how your work fits within the funder’s philosophy and principles.
Consulting designer and civic technologist Jaye Hackett told Picfair, “From my experience, every funder or grant-giving org has their own audience of people they’re trying to reach, and causes they want to advance in society. Talk in terms of what they want and understand, not necessarily about your own strengths.“
Hackett uses “leveling up” as an example. It’s a term used to describe a UK government-led social, economic, and cultural program to help residents and towns outside of London increase their potential, for example, by moving the arts outside of the capital. Artists can pursue projects that amplify this message and ask for financial support for this relevant cause.
Look at the organization’s mission statement, blogs written by its leaders, and any published strategy documents. These can help you learn more about the type of work the organization may support. Don’t forget to check previous finalists to avoid submitting work with the same narrative. If that’s the case, you can still change it up and tell the story using an alternative approach.
2 Write your artist statement
You don’t need to be a professional writer to create your first artist statement. Depending on the application requirements, a typical artist statement shouldn’t be too long to avoid the jury skipping it over. You can aim for around 200-300 words.
Keep your language simple and tell the judging panel what inspired you to create your work and what message you want to send to the audience. Remove any words that don’t add value. Show why you're the right person for the grant and how your experience, contacts, and dedication will make it worth it for the organization to invest money and time in you.
“A good skill to practice, I find, is ‘thinking both big and small", says Hackett. “Whatever your personal motivations, build empathy for it on the smallest possible, person-to-person scale, and at the same time relate what you do to massive, society-scale issues like climate change and social justice. People who can do both of these things convincingly get funded.”
3 Fill in the paperwork
Describing the logistics of your project is one of the least enjoyable parts of applying for grants. But showing the judging panel that you are realistic about executing your project will go a long way. Promising too much or making your topic too broad can hurt your submission; it's always better to be clear on how you will bring your project to life using realistic timelines.
Make a spreadsheet of all your projected expenses. Consider unexpected costs like additional travel expenses if you have to revisit a location or printing more copies of prints if they need replacing. Be sure to include a payment to yourself as an artist. Your grant doesn't go just towards billable expenses like travel and printing — your time working as an artist also needs covering.
4 Explain your presentation
If your project calls for a series of photos, don't just upload your files before seeing if your story could be more powerful by switching up the order. Print test prints and lay them on the floor, or attach them to a wall to see if your story can be more impactful using a different image sequence. Like any story, the sequence should have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusive end.
Consider your preferred print size and type in your submission for public displays. For example, if you have an intimate project that you want the audience to absorb by stepping in closer, make that clear in your submission.
If you want to provide your audience with a tactile sensory experience where they can touch or hold your work, explain why you chose this method and how it fits into your conceptual framework.
You can always get a second pair of eyes from your peers, but don't blindly follow someone's advice. Listening to how they perceive your photo idea may give you ideas on what you could improve or if the judging panel may misunderstand something.
5 Be ready for a ‘no’
It’s no surprise that applying for grants can be taxing. You may send out many applications and get a response weeks later. You shouldn't take it personally because other people judge your grant submission, all of whom have their personal tastes and bias. It may also be bad timing – the organization may have recently commissioned a similar project, or the topic may not be as relevant right now.
If you were unsuccessful, follow up with the organization or the jurors. They may advise why your work wasn't a good fit this time or recommend other directions you could explore. Not everyone will reply, but it's worth checking in to thank them for reviewing your work and inviting a response that could help you with future submissions.
Above all, it takes patience and determination to find funding for your photography projects. Waiting weeks or months for a verdict can be challenging. Having a support person or a network of fellow photographers can help you sound your frustrations and exchange advice. It may be a “no” today, but there’s a possibility for a “yes” in the future.