How to Start a Photography Business

We live in a time where visuals seem more important than ever. People really need to see things to believe them, so photos are of great importance. 

Whether you’re looking to be a travel photographer, a fashion photographer, an event photographer, or any other type of photographer, you must understand the business side of things from the very start. 

This ensures that your interest in photography is more than just a hobby, but that it actually turns into a business where you can make money, and potentially even make photography your full-time job. 

The advances in technology and the availability of camera gear have made photography a much more realistic job for many people. Thus, you must tap into your skills and your creativity to set you apart from amateur photographers. 

To help you get started in building a photography business that has the potential for success, we have crafted this article. Read on for all the information you need to stick clicking for cash.

The Easy Parts of Starting a Photography Business

As is the case with any kind of business, there are some easy parts and some hard parts. What those specific parts are will vary from business to business. 

When it comes to photography, there are a couple of things that you may think are difficult, but are actually quite easy. 

Finding Your Niche

As mentioned above, the photography industry is quite saturated today, largely thanks to smartphones that can take some pretty incredible photos. 

Thus, you must figure out what type of photography you’re good at. This is a crucial first step in the process of starting your business, but it doesn’t have to be hard. 

If you aren’t sure yet what kind of photography you like, try a few different things. Take a trip and see if you’re able to create photos that way that would push you more towards a career in travel photography. Do a photoshoot with a model and see how that goes–maybe you’ll find that you are great at fashion shoots. Or volunteer to shoot an event and you may be surprised at how well your photos turn out. 

Have fun with this part of the process. Be flexible and open to different styles of photography, and pay attention to what one(s) you are good at, and what one(s) you enjoy. 

Set Boundaries

As much as we all love friends and family discounts, when it comes to your photography business, it is important that you, from the beginning, establish rules about discounts. 

If your rules include no discounted prices, that’s okay! You are trying to make a living, so you have no obligation to offer lower prices to people you know. Just make it clear what your friends and family rules are so that the lines don’t get blurry down the road. 

It is inevitable at some point in your photography career that you will have people ask you to shoot for free, and you have to decide if you are open to that. You may find that as you start in this career, you are willing to do shoots for free to gain experience. 

However, set boundaries so you know at what point you will no longer do free/discounted shoots. 

Start Small

Before you decide to take the plunge into a full-time photography career, begin by doing a few small shoots here and there. 

In other words, don’t quit your day job yet. Especially because building a business like this can take some time. And if you put too much pressure on yourself by quitting your job before you have a steady stream of new income, you may find yourself under a whole lot of stress. 

Do some shoots on nights and/or weekends and grow from there. 

Start Social Media Accounts

Because of the highly visual world that we live in, you must get your photography out there where people can see it. And the best way to do that is via social media.

As a photographer, you will want to utilize Instagram and TikTok but should also consider LinkedIn and Twitter as well to link to your portfolio and Instagram. Some photographers treat Instagram as their portfolio, while some use it in addition to a website portfolio. 

What many people who only use social media for fun don’t realize is that it can be a full-time job running a business social media account. 

That’s where a tool such as Later will come in handy. This social media marketing platform can help you plan, analyze and publish your content. 

We will share more on this below.

The Difficult Parts of Starting a Photography Business

Starting a business in a creative industry is never an easy feat. Though you are likely doing it because you have found your passion, know that following that passion doesn’t come free of struggles. 

Here are some of the difficult things you may face when starting your photography business. 

Create A Business Plan

Though you may think this is unnecessary for your photography business, think again. 

A business plan is essentially a roadmap of what your business is and how you plan to make money from it. This is crucial to do so that you can see whether this business has to potential to provide you real income or now. 

A business plan will cover things such as cash flow, expenses, competitors, and more. 

This part of the process will take a lot of time, research, and thought, but is important to your success. 

If you feel that you can’t do it on your own, hire someone who is experienced in business plans to help you through it. 

Covering Up-Front Expenses

There is no way around it–camera gear is expensive. Even if you start with just the basics, that includes: 

  • Camera body
  • At least two lenses
  • Tripod
  • Adobe Suite subscription
  • SD cards
  • Monitor
  • Lighting (depending upon the type of photography you do) 

You’re looking at thousands of dollars with that equipment alone. And as your business grows you will likely find yourself investing in more lenses, a drone, and much more. 

Photography is an expensive business because of all the equipment involved. And, as much as we love how quickly technology advances because it makes our lives more simple, that means that your camera gear can become outdated quickly. 

Be realistic about how much you need to spend on gear to get things started and what your budget is.

Step 1: Decide Your Business Type

When it comes to a photography business, you have options of how you want the business to be structured legally speaking. 

Here are the top three options that photographers usually go with.

Sole Proprietor

This type of business is the easiest to get started but makes you more vulnerable to issues than the other options. With this business structure, if a client ever sued you, they can go after all of your assets, personal and business.

Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)

This type of business is one of the most popular because it separates your business liability from your personal assets. Thus, if a client sues you, they cannot come after your personal assets. An LLC does require that you fill out some paperwork, which varies depending upon the state you set up your business in.

S-Corp

If you are starting your photography business alone, this is not the right option for you. It is much more expensive than an LLC and will seem quite complicated. This may be a better option for you down the road when your photography business grows.

Step 2: Secure Funds

If you have enough money of your own to get all the gear you need for your photography, and also to fund other things such as branding, a website, social media, and more, then you won’t have to worry much about this step. 

However, if you don’t have the funds to cover all those expenses, then you will have to figure out where that money will come from.

You have a couple of different options here. You can ask family or friends to loan you money and once your business gets rolling, you can pay them back. 

Or you can head to the bank and apply for an official loan.

Either way, you will need your business plan to prove to your friends/family or the bank that you have thoughtfully planned out what each dollar you’re asking for will go towards and how you will pay the money back.

Step 3: Come Up With a Pricing Plan

Once you’ve got your business plan and your gear all sorted, it’s time to decide what you need to charge for your services. 

This is a tough part of the process but is important for setting your value. You can start off with lower prices and as you become more experienced and have more shoots under your belt, you can increase prices. 

There are three parts to pricing: shooting, editing, and picture sales.

Decide on Your Hourly Shooting Rate

Think about what an hour of your time is worth when shooting. Take into account this may include you coming up with ideas for the shoot, finding locations, setting things up for a shoot, taking things down, and more. 

You may decide that a good place to start with this is between $50-75 an hour.

Decide on Your Editing Rate

Many photographers charge different rates for editing than they do for shooting. The choice is yours. If you charge $75/hour for shooting, you may only charge $50/hour for editing, as editing allows you to sit on your computer and do your work at home, or anywhere else you can take your laptop. 

It is a good estimation that for every hour you spend shooting, you spend three hours editing. 

Knowing these prices will help you give clients an estimate of what a shoot will cost. 

Decide How You Will Sell Pictures To Your Clients

Most photographers offer sales packages where clients can purchase print or digital images of pictures from their shoot. And while it’s customary to include a small number of these images at no extra cost as part of the shoot itself, a typical shoot will yield dozens or hundreds of photos. If a client wants more than the included number, these packages allow them to purchase more. 

This is particularly important to keep in mind for more personal shoots where the client is an individual, like weddings, fashion shoots, and branding shoots. Brides and business owners want lots of pictures of themselves!  

Offering picture packages as add-ons also can help cover editing costs–you might choose to have one package where the client gets unedited photos they can play with themselves, and another that covers a certain number of professionally edited photos. 

Step 4: Create Your Brand

Once you’ve decided what kind of photography you want to pursue, an important step is your branding. 

Who is your target client? How do you speak to them using your brand? 

Here is how to create your brand.

Decide What Makes You Unique

What sets you apart from other photographers? Are you the best event photographer in town? Can you capture a model’s identity in just one shot? Are you amazing at corralling kids for family pictures? Figure that out and use it as your selling point.

Create a Visual Identity

Since photography is all about visuals and how those visuals make people feel, your visual identity is key. 

A photographer’s goal is to have someone look at a picture and immediately recognize who took it without seeing the photog’s name. So what will you do in your photos to make that happen? 

Establish Your Editing Style

Your brand is also represented in the way that you edit your photos. Most photographers tend to stick to the same tones and colors in their work, so you should aim to do the same. 

This will also help you save time when it comes to editing. Presets are a major bonus for photographers to work on creating. Though each photo requires special attention, once you’ve established your brand style, you can use the presets you create as a starting point and edit more from there.

This allows your portfolio to be visually cohesive. 

Step 5: Market Yourself on Social Media

Most photographers turn to social media to promote their work, and we think it’s a great place to do so. 

Instagram is a major platform for photographers, but we are also seeing TikTok grow in that area as well. Get creative on how you turn your photos into videos for TikToks. 

Facebook may not be at the forefront of your mind, but there are still a lot of people out there using it. So make sure you think about social media marketing on this platform as well. You also want to tap into the power of Pinterest, a powerful platform that is underrated. 

A great way to make use of multiple social media platforms without having to spend all of your time on the apps is by using Later

As mentioned above, this marketing platform allows you to plan your content ahead of time and schedule it to post automatically so that you don’t have to deal with manually posting to multiple different platforms. 

Later also provides you with Instagram analytics so you can see how your posts are helping you grow, and whether the strategies you’re using are working. 

Step 6: Network

Though marketing online is a big piece of your photography business, what may be even more important may be putting yourself out there and networking. 

Many photographers get their gigs via referrals from previous clients, so make sure you put in the work to establish relationships with people. 

Networking is also another way to let people know what you do who may not see you on social media. You never know who may need a photographer, so always be on top of networking, even if you’re just out to dinner with friends and happen to meet a stranger. That stranger can easily become a future client who refers you to someone else, and the next thing you know, the domino effect is in full effect.

Step 7: Reinvest in Your Business

It is a good rule of thumb to set aside three months’ worth of income to fall back on in case anything with your business goes wrong. Once you have that in safety, then start thinking about reinvesting money into your business so that you can continue to grow it. 

Since photography gear becomes more and more advanced every year, and your photography skills become more advanced every year, you should invest in new equipment. 

Keep a list of what you need to take your business to the next level, and see how you can make it financially happen. 

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