Visualizing the gig economy and side hustles in commercial Licensing

Photo Stories

From January 2016 to December 2019, data from Twitter revealed that mentions of “side hustle” had soared by 231%. By 2019, a survey from Bankrate revealed that 49% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 reported having a side hustle. In August of 2021, research from the Pew Research Center indicated that 16% of American adults have earned money through an online gig platform, including ride-hailing apps, grocery delivery apps, and more. That percentage jumped to three in ten among 18- to 29-year-olds.

Our understanding of work and the workplace has evolved drastically since the start of the pandemic, as interest in the gig economy—already brewing before lockdowns—boomed. At the same time, demand for advertising images that capture these experiences has risen, inspiring more commercial photographers to think of new ways to visualize the modern workforce. In this story, we’ll take a closer look at just a few topics to consider, across a variety of industries, for future photoshoots.


parenting with fun by Junior Asiama on 500px.com

Note: As with any photoshoot, remember to make diversity and representation a priority. While university students have built side hustles tutoring or research assisting, retirees have also joined the gig economy, with some selling crafts or baked goods online. There is no one way to start a small business, so remember to champion entrepreneurs and creatives of all ages, backgrounds, experiences, genders, and more.


Courier On Bicycle Delivering Food In City. by Matej Kastelic on 500px.com

Spotlight on: Delivery services

In 2020, online purchases for food delivery more than doubled in the US, according to the market research company NPD Group, with 71% of millennials saying that they were more likely to get delivery than they were before the pandemic, according to research from the National Restaurant Association. Last year, one study found that about 70% of 2020’s growth in sales for US food delivery businesses was due to the pandemic.


Young woman with smartphone ordering food at home, coronavirus and by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

From groceries and home goods to restaurant meals and more, delivery services offer a timely point of departure for commercial photoshoots. If you know someone in the business, consider documenting their work (with a model release). You can photograph their commute from the pick-up location to drop-off, whether it’s by car or bike. Alternatively, you could team up with a restaurant or local shop to document the process of packaging groceries for delivery. Finally, consider the consumer experience of ordering food and accepting delivery and mail order packages once they arrive.


Two big burgers with cheese in package on orange background. by Valeriia Sviridova on 500px.com

Keep in mind that while we’re all familiar with brands like DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates, and Amazon Flex, photos in your Licensing portfolio can’t include any branded details, such as logos or design elements often found on bags and takeout containers. Instead, stick with plain packaging that could belong to any brand. It’s also important to consider reusable packaging options or at least paper bags, as opposed to plastic bags. Not only are single-use bags wasteful and harmful to our planet, but they’re also banned in some places.


Couple eating lunch indoors at home, relocation, diy and food delivery by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Spotlight on: Rideshare services

As vaccines became widely available, demand for rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft rebounded. In many cases, the demand outpaced the number of drivers available. But in May, for example, more than 100,00 drivers reportedly returned to Uber. Meanwhile, Lyft experienced a 25% increase in driver leads, or people interested in becoming drivers on the platform, according to The New York Times.

As with food delivery photoshoots, take care not to include any copyrighted details, including car design features or logos and buttons on phones used to hail a ride. You can keep things generic with creative framing or remove any tiny trademarked details in post-production. “Things like headlights or clear views of the dashboard/stereo can be specific to car brands and therefore unsuitable for Licensing,” the 500px team elaborates. “Instead, show cropped images of people getting into cars, creative shots through the window, or people making payments or ordering through their phones.”

When it comes to delivery and rideshares, safety is the priority, both for couriers and customers, so feel free to incorporate details like masks, social distancing, sanitizing, or contactless pickup when conceptualizing your shoots.


Delivery man courier with face mask and bicycle using smartphone in by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Spotlight on: Passion projects

Consider this: Etsy experienced an influx of new shops opening during the pandemic, with almost two million joining in 2020—a 62% increase from the previous year. Similarly, the creation of new stores on Shopify rose by 79% in 2020. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs opened new businesses at double the rate pre-pandemic. From the rug-making movement of 2020 to the NFT boom of 2021, the last few years have inspired artists, artisans, designers, and creatives to market and sell their work to new audiences.


Fashion designer drawing template on digital device by Carina König on 500px.com

Another avenue to consider is thrifting or resale, which also speaks to the emerging circular economy. The resale market is booming; now a $36-billion-a-year industry, it’s expected to double in the next five years. You can photograph vintage collectors or thrift shop owners upcycling their goods or curating their collections.


Asian girl is freelancer with her private business at home office by Pakorn iYara on 500px.com

For these shoots, team up with fellow creatives and small business owners. “Consider capturing the process of making a handmade item, and also show the artist creating the listing, packaging, and mailing the item to their customers,” the team at 500px says. “Consider documenting designers working on tablets, or show photographers shooting still lives for brands.”

Again, steer clear of intellectual property that might be associated with a brand. Also, keep in mind that any design or creative work will require a property release to be accepted into commercial Licensing, so that’s something to work out with the creator prior to the shoot.


Working on a piece by Adriana Samanez on 500px.com

Spotlight on: Life online

The emergence of remote and hybrid work has given rise to new ways of interacting and working online, starting with telework and the proliferation of video conference calls. Technology has also allowed for the creation of online gig jobs, including side-hustles. For some, that might mean accepting a virtual assistant position, while for others, it might mean starting a vlog or blog devoted to a specific theme or subject.

Online learning is another avenue worth exploring; photograph a makeup artist friend giving a tutorial, or photograph a university student following along and taking notes in a virtual lecture. The future of work is not set in stone, and we’re likely to see dramatic innovations in the coming years.

As part of their Future 100 trend report this year, for example, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence included “Metawork” as one of their trends, citing the mixed reality platform Microsoft Mesh and Meta’s VR space, Horizon Workrooms. Virtual workspaces offer new opportunities to illustrate how we interact with technology in our everyday lives, while also speaking to larger cultural movements. The 500px team suggests incorporating technology wherever appropriate for images that feel fresh and relevant.

Want more shooting tips? Check out our article Capturing the side-hustle in commercial photography.

Not on 500px yet? Click here to learn about Licensing with 500px.

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