The Business of Photography 101

People are often compelled to start a photography business simply because they love to create images. If this sounds familiar, you know you can save yourself precious time, heartache and likely thousands of dollars by giving your images away for FREE.

Yes, you read that right. If you’re not focused on the business of photography, skip it. By giving your images away, you will likely line your pockets with MORE money!

Ok, that might be a little extreme, but in over 15 years of teaching the business of photography to thousands of photographers, it is certainly more likely than not that a new photography business will end up losing money over the first three months rather than making money. In other words, most new photographers pay money, often in the sum of thousands of dollars, for the privilege of calling themselves a professional. Here’s how it typically goes down.

Discover how Nigel Barker created a successful photography career and learn to establish your own photography brand for success. Learn more. 

Nigel Barker portrait photography

Phase One – Building Confidence: In the startup phase of a business, an aspiring professional wants to test the waters to see if people actually find value in their work. They give away their work in the name of getting their name out there and building a portfolio.

Phase Two – The Transition: Once a photographer gains confidence and begins to feel the workload of a growing business, they feel compelled to actually charge for their work. This is often the critical juncture that will determine the long term success or failure of a business.  While some budding business owners compulsively educate themselves of the nuances of running a business (and become the few who succeed), the rest look to their competitors to figure out what to do next. They compare their work to their competitors, copy their pricing structure and then discount enough to compensate for the difference in quality. Photographers are a humble bunch. They typically don’t increase prices more than their competitors, so the price of photography just keeps getting lower and lower until no one can pay themselves. I call this the downward spiral to oblivion.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to escape the tide of oblivion. If you focus an equal amount of time on running your business as you do improving your craft, you will find yourself charging ahead of your competition in no time, and paying yourself a living wage in the process. Here are three rules to help you start thinking like a business owner.

Discover how Nigel Barker created a successful photography career and learn to establish your own photography brand for success. Learn more. 

Nigel Barker portrait photography

Rule 1:

Time and money have a tendency to slip away when left unattended. Decide up front how much of each you are willing to invest to make this business a reality. It is amazing the things that a motivated business owner can pull off in a limited amount of time and on a very modest budget. Conversely, it is equally amazing how much can be squandered by the careless entrepreneur. By simply placing constraints up front on the time and money you are willing to invest, you will immediately be more efficient during your working hours and will spend your dollars more carefully on things that will actually make a difference in the long term success of your business.

Rule 2:

From the moment you decide to start a photography business, you must charge an appropriate rate for your products and services, even if you don’t know exactly what you are doing. I can’t think of a single professional who is compelled to give away their products until they “learn the ropes.” Imagine a new storefront in town who at their grand opening celebration ran a promotion that said ‘Everything is free until we figure out what we are doing.’  Talk about starting off on the wrong foot — a financial disaster!  

But photography is different since it doesn’t cost anything to create, right? Maybe we should compare an intellectual professional, like an attorney. They don’t have any hard costs associated with creating their product either. Can you imagine a neophyte lawyer drafting contracts for free until they get the hang of it? Preposterous! If you are going to be a success in business you have to separate the emotion of creating art from what it takes to make a living. Run your business like a business from the very beginning, even if you are still figuring out what you are doing. Look at it this way, you would never consider a taking a new job without knowing the basics of what the job entails (salary, hours, etc.), so why would you consider starting a photography business without that same information? 

Rule 3:  

Just keep picking yourself up and pushing toward success. Every single person who has ever done anything great has fallen down over and over again. The only thing that separates those who succeed from those who fail is pure, stubborn determination to keep trying new things again and again until they find success.

Running a photography business is an ever changing combination of artistry business savvy, marketing prowess and mental fortitude to continuously pick yourself up in the face of adversity. However, when all of these factors come together in the right combination, the product is nothing short of career bliss. Figuring out that magical combo…well that’s what separates the best from the rest. 

Discover how Nigel Barker created a successful photography career and learn to establish your own photography brand for success. Learn more. 

Nigel Barker portrait photography

Kathy Holcombe FOLLOW >

The Holcombes are a family of three from Boulder, CO, who sold their home in June of 2014 and have been exploring North America in their Winnebago View ever since. They are photojournalists who specialize in bringing their adventures to life for their followers through their photographs, videos and narratives. They have travelled over 100,000 miles through 49 states, explored dozens of National Parks, and have some incredible stories from their adventures across the continent. You can follow their adventures at or on social media at: Instagram: @PeterHolcombe, @Adventurous.Miss, @Famagogo Facebook: @Peter.Holcombe, @Kathy.Holcombe, @Abby.Holcombe.95, @Famagogo