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How to Start a Photography Business: 6 Helpful Steps

If you’re thinking about starting a photography business, check out this step-by-step guide to setting up a photography business

If you’re thinking about starting a photography business, you’ve probably got a lot of questions.

Is it worth the work? What are the pros and cons? How much money can you make? What equipment do you need? Should you specialize in a particular type of photography? How can you get clients?

There’s a lot to consider.

Still, if you love taking photographs and you’re willing to put in the work, it’s possible to earn a good living from your passion. As Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

In this article, we’ll run through how to start a photography business step-by-step.

(Psst! While we feature certain third party brands in this article, we are not affiliated with them, other than those related to Shopify.)

 

The Pros and Cons of Starting a Photography Business

Hobbies and businesses are two very different things. 

So, before you turn your passion into a livelihood, take a moment to consider the pros and cons of starting a photography business.

The Pros and Cons of Starting a Photography Business

5 Pros of Starting a Photography Business

1. Make Money from Your Passion

The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

If you decide to start a photography business, you’ll have the opportunity to spend a lot of your time doing the thing you love: taking photographs.

2. Find Meaning in Your Work

Photographers are hired to capture and preserve special moments forever. Whether the subject is nature, family portraits, weddings, or etc, photographers can find much meaning in their work.

3. Meet New People

Whether you meet people at weddings, in your portrait studio, or on location taking wildlife pictures, photography can be a great way to meet lots of new and interesting people. Most cities even have active meetup.com groups, who meet regularly to socialize.

4. Flexibility

Running a photography business can provide a lot of flexibility to you and your family. Unlike a traditional nine-to-five, you’re in complete control of your schedule. This makes it easier to prioritize childcare, vacations, and time with those you love.

5. Travel Opportunities

Do you love to travel and experience new places? Many photographers make travel a regular part of their work. Simply book clients in locations you’d like to visit.

5 Cons of Starting a Photography Business

1. Expensive Equipment Costs

Depending on how much equipment you already have, it can be expensive to purchase everything you need to start a photography business.

Photography Business Equipment, via Unsplash/Jeff Hopper

2. Fickle Customers

Some customers can be difficult or draining. Also, some events can be stressful and bring out the worst in people. For example, if you decide to photograph weddings, you may come across the occasional “bridezilla.”

3. Unsociable Working Hours

Many photography shoots happen outside of normal working hours during the evenings and weekends. This can make it challenging to spend time with friends and family who work or go to school during the week.

4. Inconsistent Income

As with any small business, income isn’t always consistent, and it can take time to build a regular flow of work. When starting, you’ll likely experience surges and dips in your income. 

5. You Could Spoil Your Passion

As mentioned above, hobbies and businesses differ in many ways. Turning your hobby into a business can take the fun and spontaneity out of it, and photography could end up feeling like boring, tedious work.

9 Photography Business Ideas

The most successful photographers specialize in a particular type of photography. Why? In short, specialists are most sought after than generalists.

Think about it: If you’re getting married, would you rather hire a general photographer or someone who specializes in weddings?

So, before you start your photography business, take some time to decide what type of photography business you want to run.

To help, here’s a list of nine common photography business ideas.

1. Wedding Photography Business

Wedding photographers are needed to help capture and preserve every couple’s big day.

Wedding Photography, via Unsplash/NeONBRAND

2. Portrait Photography Business

Families, actors, models, and business people all need a portrait photographer from time-to-time.

3. Real Estate Photography Business

Realtors, property managers, homeowners, hotels, and even Airbnb hosts all need stunning photos to help them market their properties.

4. Travel Photography Business

Travel photographers provide stunning photographs to countries, cities, magazines, blogs, hotels, and tourist attractions. These photographs can be used for entertainment or promotional purposes.

Travel Photography Business, via Unsplash/Persnickety Prints

5. Event Photography Business

Event photographers are needed for birthday parties, graduations, business events, and religious celebrations.

6. Food Photography Business

Restaurants, food brands, and advertising agencies often use specialist food photographers to showcase their products or menu items.

Travel Photography Business, via Unsplash/Szabo Viktor

7. Fashion Photography Business

Designers, magazines, and runway events all need fashion photographers to capture and promote the latest styles and creations.

8. Sports Photography Business

Sports photographers specialize in capturing the excitement, action, and drama of sports events.

9. Product Photography Business

Businesses selling products need presentable photos to use for marketing and sales.

How to Start a Photography Business?

Now, you’re probably wondering:

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Photography Business?

Before you start a photography business, it helps to have a rough idea of how much getting set up will cost – especially as professional photography equipment isn’t cheap.

So, how much does it cost to start a photography business? 

Well, Jamie Swanson, a wedding photographer in Wisconsin, USA, calculated the total costs of starting two different types of photography businesses. Here’s what she found:

  • Total costs of starting a portrait photography business: $8,524 – $12,319
  • Total costs of starting a wedding photography business: $13,182 – $16,977

She summarized by saying, “For less than $10,000, you can start a portrait photography business and for less than $15,000, you can start a wedding photography business.”

Okay, but what exactly do you need all of this money for?

What Do I Need to Start a Photography Business?

If you’ve been an amateur photographer for a while, you may already have most of the equipment you need.

Still, you should consider whether the quality of your equipment is high enough to produce work that you can confidently charge for.

What’s more, you’ll likely need to purchase some additional equipment and services to run your photography business. 

Here’s a list of everything you may need to start a photography business.

Photography Equipment

Let’s start by running through the gear you’ll need when setting up a photography business.

1. Professional Camera

Of course, the most important piece of equipment you’ll need is a professional-grade camera. Before you purchase a camera, make sure to do plenty of research on the best make and model for your type of photography.

Photography Camera, via Unsplash/William Bayreuther

2. Backup Camera

As a professional photographer, it’s always good practice to have a high-quality backup camera. That way, if you’re ever mid-shoot and something goes wrong with your camera, you can continue the shoot. 

Just imagine if you were hired to photograph a wedding and your camera broke during the vowels!

3. Lenses

Every photographer needs a set of professional lenses to capture their subjects. Again, make sure to research the types of lenses most suitable for your style of photography.

4. Tripod

Tripods are a vital piece of equipment for all photographers. Not only do they help keep your camera steady, but they also allow you to take many photos of a subject without altering your frame.

Photography Tripods, via Unsplash/Oleh Morhun

5. Camera Bag

Professional-grade cameras and lenses aren’t cheap, so be sure to protect them from damage with a dedicated camera bag. These bags also make it easier to organize and access your gear while out on a shoot.

6. Lighting

Great photographs require great lighting. Although natural lighting is often best, you’ll need to get some lighting equipment or reflectors to help you take great photos when there’s not enough sunlight. 

7. Backdrops

If you plan on starting a portrait photography business, you’ll need to create or purchase some backdrops.

Photography Business Backdrop, via Unsplash/Cody Lannom

8. Props

Depending on the type of photographs you plan to take, you may want to source some props. For example, if you’re an events photographer, you could gather some party props like oversized glasses and silly hats.

9. Reliable Car or Van

As a professional photographer, your livelihood will depend on your ability to provide a quality service to clients. In other words, turning up late – or not at all – because your car broke down is very bad for business. Make sure that you have reliable transportation for you and your gear.

10. Studio Space

Depending on the type of photographs you plan to take, you may need to purchase or rent some studio space. Alternatively, you could create a small studio in your home.

Photography Studio, via Unsplash/Alexander Dummer

11. Computer

You’ll need a reliable computer to market your business, edit photos, and manage your photo files.

12. Editing Software

You’ll also need some professional photo editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom to fine-tune your photographs.

13. Laptop

If you use a desktop computer with a large screen for photo editing, you may also want to invest in a laptop to edit on-the-go.

Laptop and External Hard Drive, via Unsplash/Ibrahim Rifath

14. External Hard Drive

High-quality digital photos can take up a lot of hard drive space on your computer – and this can slow your computer down. Instead, invest in an external hard drive to store your photo files.

15. Photo Printer

If you plan on offering prints to your clients, you may want to consider investing in a photo printer. Alternatively, you could locate a local printing service to use whenever you need to print photos for clients.

16. Smartphone with a Quality Camera

Although you’ll need to use your professional-grade camera for shoots, you can use your smartphone to capture behind-the-scenes content for social media. You can use this content to promote your photography business.

17. Mobile Photography Apps

You may also want to download some photo editing apps to polish your smartphone photos before you share them online. Check out Snapseed, Lightroom CC, Scratch Photos, and Photoshop Express (picture below).

Adobe Photoshop Express App

Marketing Tools

Now that you’ve got your gear sorted let’s take a look at some of the tools you’ll need to market your photography business.

18. Website and Online Portfolio

You’ll need a professional website that presents your services and showcases your previous work. (More on this later.)

19. Social Media Channels

It can help to be active on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. You can use these channels to promote your work and network with potential clients.

20. Business Cards

Business cards are a tried-and-true form of personal marketing. Always keep a few with you and share them with new contacts at events and shoots. To create yours, check out services like Vistaprint, Office Depot, and Staples (pictured below).

Staples Photography Business Cards

Operational Tools

Now, let’s take a look at some tools to manage your business operations.

21. Payment System

As a business, you’ll need an efficient way to collect payments from clients. Ideally, this system would allow you to take payments online, over the phone, and in person.

A cost-effective and straightforward way to do this is to use Shopify’s Point of Sale system

Shopify is a complete commerce solution that you can use to build your website, manage your business, and take payments.

Shopify Point of Sale

22. Business License

You may need to register your business with your local or state government. Make sure to look into the requirements for photography businesses in your area.

23. Insurance

Accidents happen. You may wish to purchase business or equipment insurance to help protect you if things go wrong.

24. Accounting Software

When you become self-employed, you’ll need to keep track of your finances and submit tax returns. You may want to consider using an accounting program to help, such as Freshbooks, Quickbooks, or Xero.

Quickbooks Accounting Software

25. Client Contracts

Whenever you get a new client or project, it’s good practice to have the other party sign a contract. This helps to protect you if things go wrong and clarifies to both parties what’s expected from the arrangement. You could purchase contract templates or hire a local lawyer to create contracts for you.

26. PPA Membership

You may wish to become a member of the Professional Photographers of America. This is an organization that provides resources, advice, and education to professional photographers. 

The Professional Photographers of America

How Much Do Photographers Charge?

If you’re wondering how to start a photography business, you’re probably also wondering, “how much do photographers charge?”

Although there’s no fixed answer to this question, we can explore some averages to get a general idea.

According to the business platform Fash, professional photographers often charge between $100 and $250 USD per hour. This typically works out as $25 to $100 per final edited photograph.

It’s important to note that how much a photographer earns is mostly dependent on their level of skill, experience, and the type of photography they’re doing. Check out the image below to learn more.

Fash: How Much Do Photographers Charge Per Hour in USD?

What’s more, average day rates for photography services range from $300 to $500 for birthday parties and $1,000 to $3,000 for weddings.

The image below shows a summary of how much photographers charge, on average.

How Much Do Photographers Charge?

Also, remember that this is what photographers charge – it isn’t what photographers make.

Although a photographer may charge $200 per hour, they need to subtract the cost of administration, travel, marketing, equipment, and editing time. Once they’ve taken these additional costs into account, their take-home pay will be less.

How to Name Your Photography Business

When naming your photography business, there are two basic options available:

  1. Use your name and simply call you business, “Jane Smith Photography” or “Jane Smith Wedding Photography.”
  2. Create a new brand name for your photography services, like “Luxe Photography” or “Luxe Wedding Photography.”

If you chose option number one, you’re all set.

However, if you choose option two, there are a few things to consider. To start, you need to choose a name that fits the type of photography business you’re starting.

For example, “Happily Ever After Photography” will work nicely if you’re photographing weddings. But it might not work so well if you’re shooting corporate business conferences.

To help brainstorm ideas, check out Shopify’s business name generator.

Shopify’s Business Name Generator

Next, you need to make sure that your business name isn’t already trademarked. In the US, to get started with this process, perform a TESS trademark search on the USPTO website using the “basic word mark search” function.

TESS Trademark Search

It’s also worth searching Google to see if another business is already using the name or using a similar name that could be confused, like “Happily Ever After Videography.”

If you find someone else using the name, it’s best to avoid it and find something original.

How to Brand Your Photography Business

Before you can start marketing your photography business, you’ll need to create your brand visuals.

This means choosing a visual style, colors, and fonts. You can use these visuals on your website, social media channels, business card, and any other marketing materials you create. 

It also helps to create a professional logo. You can do this for free with Hatchful.

Brand Your Photography Business with Hatchful

It took just a few minutes to create the logo below. And as you can see from the image, Hatchful provides ready-made branding images optimized for social media.

Branded Photography Business with Hatchful

How to Market Your Photography Business

Now comes the most important part of starting a photography business: landing clients. To do this, you need to market your services.

But before you start marketing your photography business, it helps to have a portfolio of work to showcase your skills. And the easiest way to display your photography portfolio is by building a professional website. 

You can do this with a service like Shopify. This service has tons of website themes built specifically for art and photography businesses.

Shopify Photography Business Website Themes

To learn more about building your photography website, check out our guide, How to Make a Website.

Once you have an online portfolio, you can start marketing your photography business.

Begin by posting on social media and reaching out to people in your network to ask if they know anyone who may be interested in your services. It’s not uncommon for a photographer’s first few clients to be people they know.

Also, make sure that you always have some business cards in your bag to give to people you meet.

Once you’ve done these steps, start networking in Facebook groups related to your target market. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer in New York, you might want to join New York Weddings.

You could also attend trade shows and events in your target market. For example, if you’re a pet photographer you could find many potential clients at dog shows.

Summary: How to Start a Photography Business

If you’re wondering how to start a photography business, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Weigh the pros and cons
  2. Specialize in a particular type of photography, such as weddings, fashion, or portraits
  3. Figure out how much it will cost you to get started
  4. Gather your equipment, like cameras, lenses, and editing software
  5. Get your business in order with a payment system, business license, insurance, and contracts
  6. Work out your pricing model
  7. Choose a name for your photography business
  8. Create a logo, and brand your business
  9. Start marketing your business
  10. Have fun!

Turning your hobby into your livelihood can be very rewarding. Good luck!

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