Starting a photography business is not what it once was. Instead of letting their talent speak for themselves, creatives must now also self-promote their work to become successful. This new business landscape has pushed creative entrepreneurs to find innovative ways to build brand awareness and market their work.
With photography jobs on the rise, now is the time for aspiring photographers to pursue their passion and start their own businesses. We’ve put together a guide on how to start a photography business so that creatives like us can navigate this new business landscape and make their photography dream a reality.
Pursuing Our Passion: A Guide to Starting a Photography Business
We’re fortunate to live at a time in which digital tools have transformed today’s photo industry and made it easier to make money with photography. As enthusiastic professional creators living out our creative dreams, we’re keen to convey the hard-earned lessons learned over the years.
We know how fantastic it feels to achieve financial independence from doing work we’re passionate about. This guide offers an overview not only of what professional photography involves, but how to start a photography business off on the right foot and make it a success.
Step 1: Choose a Photography Career
Photography is a broad career with numerous niche areas. While some photographers may dabble in several styles, the most direct route to achieving long-term success involves choosing one specific photography type and working consistently to achieve a quality, focused portfolio.
This provides a clear focus for branding and marketing, letting potential clients know that we specialize and excel in one area. It also narrows down the target audience for marketing, making sales more manageable as the business launches.
Some potential photography careers include photojournalism, portrait photography, food photography, and event photography. Other photographers also specialize in taking pictures of pets, real estate, landscapes, and newborns.
The final decision depends on various factors, including location and demand. We must consider what the local market is like and what potential clients would like. For example, suburban photographers may earn more money with family or pet photography, while urban artists can create a successful sports or fashion photography business
Step 2: Find a Niche That Inspires
Of course, another critical factor in choosing photography careers is our passion. When figuring out how to start a photography business, we want to find the perfect combination of something that inspires us and also brings in some money.
Even if there is a high demand for pet photography in our local area, we shouldn’t settle for that if it’s not our passion. On the other hand, there are various ways to incorporate our inspiration into a successful business.
For example, if photographing people is what inspires us, potential business options include photojournalism, portrait photography, fashion photography, and sports photography.
Step 3: Select the Right Business Format
Budding professional photographers are often bursting with so many ideas, they rush to execute them as quickly as possible. Yet it’s important to not hurry. We need to take the time to consider how much time and funds we can realistically invest in our new business.
Of course, our dream would be to live out our passion full time. However, jumping right into a photography business full-time may not be financially possible for some. Also, burnout is a real risk, and losing our passion is no joke.
Running a photography business is mostly working on logistics and business matters – but it’s the passion for our art that keeps us going. While having a full-time business may be the final goal, it’s okay to start as a part-time photographer until the business really flourishes.
One way to begin a part-time gig is to start advertising work in our local networks. We can talk to family and friends, and tell them about the new business. Perhaps they or somebody they know would be interested in setting up a photography session. Other ways to gain clients include posting on local social media pages or leaving flyers at local businesses.
Another option to consider is freelancing, which can be done as either a part or full-time gig. If investing in a studio space and marketing sounds overwhelming, freelancing our work out on platforms like https://www.fiverr.com/ can be an excellent way to start a business and build a portfolio.
Step 4: Set up a Business Plan – Define Goals and Strategies
Organization is key to success. Once we decide on a business format, it’s time to start mapping out our business plan.
We can start simple, just brainstorming ideas, short and long-term goals, and a financial plan. Before registering the business, though, we should have a clear business plan that includes the following:
- Executive summary, which includes the mission and vision statement
- Company description
- Service description
- Market analysis and marketing plan
- Financial projections
Step 5: Secure Appropriate Registration and Licensing
A business should be registered, or legally established. The steps may vary slightly by state, but the general process remains the same.
Once a photographer has a business plan, they can select the correct structure – or business entity. The two most common structures for new businesses are sole proprietorships (incorporated under the state of our home or residence) and LLCs (limited liability corporations).
Essentially, a sole proprietorship makes the owner self-employed. Photographers that do not have much credit or are not ready to hire employees can start with a sole proprietorship. On the other hand, an LLC is a separate business, allowing the owner to pay staff, apply for business loans, and have liability insurance.
Another differentiator between a sole proprietorship and an LLC is how owners handle the taxes. Having an LLC may save creatives money in taxes since they can pay themselves a salary. Yet it depends largely on corporate tax laws.
While there are many advantages to establishing an LLC, photographers may opt to begin a sole proprietorship until they have better credit and increased income to hire a staff.
Once they have decided on a business entity, the owner must establish a physical location. Photographers that already have studio space may list that address, while others who are freelancers or travel photographers can list their home address. This is mainly for tax and mailing purposes.
If a photographer sets up an LLC, registering the business name may be part of the entity registration. Yet sole proprietors may need to file a “doing business as” (DBA) name, depending on the state they are in.
The next steps include applying for an EIN and registering with local government agencies. Photographers also need certain business licenses, like a sales tax permit issued by a state revenue department. Contact the city hall and state licensing board to check compliance with all necessary regulations.
Step 6: Manage the Finances
Another core part of owning a business and pursuing photography careers is managing finances. This may not be the most exciting part of a photography business, but it is crucial. Here are some photography business tips for beginners that aren’t experienced with financial matters.
To avoid any mishaps, set up a financial plan early. Keep careful track of all expenses, including travel and equipment. These can come in handy come tax time because self-employed individuals can list work expenses to get tax reductions.
We understand that handling financial matters can be overwhelming, especially when we want to focus on our craft. Thankfully, tools like Fiverr workspace help make financial management easy.
Step 7: Research the Competition
As we develop a new business, one of the first things we should do is research the competition. Look up local photographers and take note of their pricing options, branding, and marketing strategy. This can give us insight into how to price our own services, advertise our services, and market our business.
Following the competition on social media can also provide insight into what marketing trends work and what don’t. For example, some photographers may offer holiday sales or post behind-the-scenes videos to get clients interested in their work. Use the competition as a source of inspiration and a guide on what to do – and often what not to do!
Of course, when taking inspiration from the competition, we must always trust our creative intuition. If something in our gut says to avoid a specific trend or advertising technique, we should listen. Not everything our competition posts online or on social media will work for our specific brand.
Step 8: Design the Branding
Branding helps establish and grow a business. It develops the company’s identity, attracts the target audience, and makes people remember the service.
The most obvious part of branding is the logo. Photography is visual by its very nature, so of course, the branding must be eye-catching and representative of the specific photography style. With an attractive logo, people can remember our business or name easier. We want repeat clients and referrals, which means our logo – and the rest of our branding – must be memorable.
Branding goes beyond just choosing a logo. It covers fonts, slogans, and color schemes – anything that makes a company stand out from the others on the market. When designing a brand, it’s also important to consider advertising materials, such as Instagram posts, flyers, business cards, emails, ads, and brochures. Online tools like Fiverr Logo Maker help simplify the design and creation process of such advertising materials.
Step 9: Create a Portfolio
If someone is interested in starting a photography business, they likely already have some experience taking pictures. The trick is organizing those images into an accessible, attractive portfolio.
An online portfolio is the first place to start. We want to bring in traffic to our business website, so we should make our portfolio easy to find on our website. While it may be tempting to include as many images as possible, select the best to showcase. We want to give clients a taste of our talent without overwhelming them with hundreds of images.
Also, make sure it is organized in a logical way for people to browse. We could organize them by photography event, location, subject, or time, depending on the niche.
Photographers with a studio space may also have a physical portfolio available for clients to browse. Whether they are walk-ins or clients looking for inspiration, they should be able to look at previous work.
Step 10: Target the Right Photography Market
The first step is deciding on the type of photography business. From there, we can pinpoint potential clients interested in our services. Photographers may research who the competition is targeting and create similar campaigns, or they can do soft ad launches towards a specific demographic.
For example, a family photographer may find that the competition targets primarily families with children. They can soft launch ads directed to that demographic as well, then also launch ads targeted at younger or older couples for things like engagement or anniversary shoots.
A successful marketing campaign is constantly evolving. Try multiple tactics to find the right market by using social media, Google Ads, search engine optimization (SEO), and cold calls. Make sure to keep track of the results through tools like Google Analytics to improve the process.
Also, ensure the branding, studio, and overall ambiance fit the target market. For example, family photographers should make sure their studio, website, and brand are family-friendly. On the other hand, boudoir photographers should have a more risque ambiance to promote their sensual photography style.
Step 11: Invest in the Right Equipment
Before acquiring clients, photographers need professional equipment. One common misstep is immediately investing in the most expensive cameras and photography equipment.
This really isn’t necessary!
Sure, a great camera and appropriate camera accessories are certainly important, but take a moment to consider what is really needed. Depending on the type of photography, some creatives can begin with simply an iPhone. Photography is often more about perspective, lighting, and composition than camera quality.
Still, the actual products depend on the type of business we’re starting. An entry-level DSR may work well for some rising photographers, while others may prefer a mirrorless camera. Again, the best camera may not always be the most expensive or innovative option.
Consider what features are important to a given photography niche. For example, a sports photographer needs a camera with a high shutter speed while landscape photographers may need one with superior low light performance. Those who take stock photos may start with just their iPhone.
Budding photographers should buy sensibly for the actual venture and within a calculated budget. We don’t want to invest so much in new equipment that it takes us years to pay it off. Yet we also don’t want to lose clients over a lack of professional equipment. This systemization of business processes is crucial when learning how to start a photography business and make a profit as quickly as possible.
Additional equipment also depends on the business type. A professional working on a public relations campaign or a corporate photoshoot needs good lighting equipment and backdrops. Those with their own studio space also need these items on hand. Portrait and pet photographers may need specific props to engage the subjects and set up the scene, while wildlife photographers might invest in waterproofing equipment like a bag and lens hood.
Other expenses to consider are studio space rent, travel costs, and photography software. One of the most popular software is Adobe® Photoshop®, which lets photographers edit everything from lighting to cropping out unwanted things in the background.
While these costs may add up, there’s no harm in purchasing equipment one piece at a time. Start with the essentials to get the business going, then add equipment over time as the business grows.
Step 12: Price the Services
As we consider the cost of equipment, we must also look at our pricing packages. Beginner photography professionals may tend to underprice their services to gain clients, yet that can step them up for slow business growth.
Photographers should consider experience as one of the pricing factors – but they shouldn’t undersell themselves. Factor in time commitment, equipment costs, location, travel, and studio rent. Creating a simple budget for each job can help us come up with a fair price, both for us and the client.
Researching the competition can also offer us a great starting point so our prices are reasonable for the market and area. Another point to consider is how to price. Depending on the photography type, we may charge per hour or session. Event photographers often provide various package options, with potential discounts for larger packages.
Step 13: Market the Photography Business
Just as there are diverse photography niches, there are numerous ways to market a photography business. The best place to start is to develop an online presence.
Start by creating an attractive website using website-building platforms. WordPress is one of the more popular website builders, but it offers a more general set-up. Others like Wix, Shopify, and Squarespace offer templates specifically for online businesses. Those who simply want a space to showcase their portfolio might opt for WordPress while those who want to sell prints or photography packages may choose an e-commerce site builder.
The next step is creating accounts on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok. We want to ensure each platform has links to our other accounts and website in our bio so that potential clients can easily find more information.
Photographers can create organic traffic through consistent content production. For example, regular social media posts can help build a larger audience and bring in clients. Consistent blog posts can do the same for a website. Researching trending keywords and SEO can help rank a photography business site higher on searches. We can also find what potential clients are searching for online through tools like https://answerthepublic.com/AnswerThePublic.
Another marketing option is paid online ads. Many new photography businesses may not initially have the budget for this, but it’s something to consider. Other marketing strategies include cold calls, flyers, and email campaigns.
Step 14: Manage Time Wisely
With all these business, financial, and marketing components, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s why time management is one of the most critical factors to consider when learning how to start a photography business.
Allocate time to each portion of the business while still making time to enjoy photography. Burnout can creep up on us all, so setting aside personal and family time is also essential to the success of a photography business.
Step 15: Keep on Learning
One of the best photography business tips for beginners is to keep learning. Although the phrase ‘just do what we love’ sounds great, it doesn’t mean that making an easy profit will come naturally. To ensure we are at the top of our game and offer our clients the best images, we must continually learn and improve our craft.
Photographers can take online courses to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques, business models, and editing software. If we put in the effort to provide an excellent product, the rewards could be incredible.
1. What type of photography business is the best choice?
There is no one correct answer here! This depends on the photographer’s passion. After all, photography is an art, and that’s why we’re pursuing it!
Some people prefer wedding photography, whilst others are interested in providing corporate services. Factor in other issues such as starting costs, investment, and demand. Ideally, the best choice is a photography business that inspires and meets client demand.
2. Should I accept work that’s not aligned with my passion when I’m just starting out?
This is a difficult question, one that all of us creatives have struggled with. When money is tight, it may make financial sense to take on photography gigs that don’t exactly align with our passions. Not every job will inspire us the same way, and that’s okay.
But if the work is too far from our passion that it makes us feel burned out or not excited to photograph, then that can become a problem. If we want to start a photography business to pursue our passion, then we should pursue our passion.
It is okay to turn down work, especially if it preserves our passion for our craft.
3. Can someone start a photography business with no experience?
Yes, of course! We all have to start somewhere. If we have a passion for photography and the motivation to succeed, we can make our creative dreams a reality.
Through careful business planning, a developed portfolio, and some online classes to learn the basics, a budding photographer can launch their own business.
4. Should a lawyer be consulted before starting a business?
The short answer to that question is: it depends. Every state and municipality has different requirements. Yet here are the general guidelines, regardless of location. A business owner needs to get the following items, in this order:
- A business name
- A registered address
- A federal employer number (EIN)
- State and local permits or licenses
- Any other legal requirements for businesses in the locality