I'm a full time underwater photographer - my sole income is from underwater photography and I make a comfortable living (I'm paying rent, bills, food and still saving for a house) but my needs are also different. I'm 25 and have no kids
3 years ago I decided I wanted to go 'pro' after finishing uni and realizing I didn't even enjoy what the career path I had chosen.
"What other methods are people using to eek out a living from their passion and skills?"
The key (for me) was diversity. I started shooting fashion and commercial underwater work. That was really hard for the first year and I basically lived off rice and soy sauce (i'm not kidding) and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I now have quite a few regular clients and a solid agency backing.
The fashion shooting had the roll on affect of enabling me to shoot model portfolios as well which helped to fill the gaps between commercial gigs. I now shoot at least one private client a week and have the sales skills to make a comfortable living from prints/canvases from this.
I also have managed to do quite well from exhibitions contrary to what most people think of art shows. The trick to the art shows for me was advertising. I printed several of my pieces up to 2x3m sizes and invested a few grand in advertising slots in various magazines. My first show nearly sold out and I've booked on for two more shows next year. Printing huge enabled buzz, higher prices and a different target market.
My gear is old but still rocks - I use a d90, Ikelite housing and some ds 125 strobes. I have a backup D80. People always ask me why I don't upgrade and to qoute Alex "once you are operating without serious expenditure then sales become profit" . I still make the same sales from my gear that I would from a newer system. When I do need something special for a client , I hire it and include it in the invoice.
I have also started taking bookings for university lecturing spots. These barely pay anything but it's good fun (plus I get to suit up awww yeah! )
Anyway, that's how I make my living from underwater photography. Do I make huge amounts of cash and drive around in a Ferrari? No, but there is nothing else in the world that I would prefer to be doing.
Hope that helps?