How to Start a Photography Business
Industry reports estimate that there are over 200,000 photography businesses in the U.S. and likely even more independent photographers. This creative industry attracts established professionals and newcomers alike.
Whether you have years of experience or are just getting started, founding a business may be a worthwhile pursuit if you’re looking for a creative way to make money on your own. Photography can easily be a casual side hustle you pursue during your free time, or a full-time business.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to start a photography business, as well as some bonus tips for how to take your business to new heights.
Why Start a Photography Business?
Before we get into the how-tos, let’s discuss the benefits of starting a business in the first place. While the ability to make money is certainly one benefit, there are many other advantages that might entice you to take the plunge.
Knowing these benefits can help you stay motivated even when you experience struggles while getting started. Every business owner experiences hurdles, but the payoff is usually worth it.
Benefits of Starting a Photography Business
- Creative outlet: It gives you the opportunity to channel your creativity into something productive that can also generate income at the same time.
- Money: There is a high demand for photographers across a range of industries and you can make a decent living as a business owner. It may also open the door to other employment opportunities.
- Independence: It’s something you can do from anywhere, as long as you have a camera, a computer (for editing) and a Wi-Fi connection. This means you can work from home or travel the world as your own boss.
- Travel: Some professional photographer jobs will take you to other cities, states or countries. You can essentially get paid to travel while doing what you love.
- Job opportunities: Gaining experience as an independent photographer can open the door to other employment opportunities in-house. This often comes with benefits and a certain degree of job security.
There are countless other advantages to starting a career as a professional photographer and they’re worth considering if you’re looking for that added encouragement to get started. With your eye on the prize, you’ll be better able to weather any setbacks and stay working toward your goals.
Can I Start a Photography Business with No Experience?
Yes, you can certainly start a small business with no experience but having experience definitely puts you a few steps ahead. Your clients will expect a certain degree of professionalism and are paying for high-quality work. That said, experience can always be gained.
If you’re starting from zero, don’t worry. Many photographers gain experience by starting their own portfolio or offering free or low-paid work. There are also tutorials and courses available online on sites such as Coursera that will help you fine-tune your photography skills.
Types of Photography Businesses
So you want to start a photography business. First, you will need to decide what type of small business you want to start. In fact, there are over 50 types of services to choose from!
Here are just a few of the many types of services you could specialize in:
- Wedding photography
- Business photography
- Portrait photography
- Fashion photography
- Wildlife or landscape photography
- Stock photography
- Event photography
- Travel photography
- Food photography
- Sports photography
- Fine-art photography
Do You Need to Choose a Specialty?
You might decide to be a generalist and not focus on any particular type of photography. However, most professional photographers recommend choosing a specialty, as it makes it easier to establish your brand and market your business to a specific audience.
Know that you can always pivot or change your mind later on down the road. To start, simply focus on the area you are most passionate about and then see how it plays out. You’re likely to learn amazing things along the way.
What’s Needed to Start a Photography Business
While you don’t need to rush out and buy a ton of expensive photography gear, there are a few bare essentials that you’ll need in order to get to work.
It’s OK to start with a basic camera and middle-of-the-road equipment, as you can always invest in higher quality later on. Don’t let your budget hinder you from simply getting started.
Here are a few things you will need:
- Camera: The camera you use will depend on your needs and preferences. We recommend going to an electronics store to compare options and get advice from one of their in-store professionals. You can also check out reviews online.
- Domain and website: You’ll need a place to host your online portfolio. You can buy a domain name at registrars like GoDaddy or Namecheap and set up your website using a platform like WordPress for only a few dollars per month.
- Computer or laptop: Having a computer is essential if you plan on editing your photos. You don’t need anything fancy to start off with, but it should be able to accommodate basic photo editing software and functions.
- Adobe Lightroom or Aperture: These photo editing software options are the standard for photographers looking to provide high-quality photos.
- External hard drive: Your computer will quickly fill up with photos, so you’ll need an external hard drive where you can back up your work.
- Camera lens: You’ll need at least one good lens besides the lens that came with your camera. This is essential if you want to cover different types of photography projects beyond simple landscapes.
- Insurance (recommended): Getting insurance on your equipment will protect you if anything breaks, someone gets hurt at your shoot, or if you get hurt on your way to a job. It is an investment, but one that will pay off if you find yourself in a situation where you need it.
Your photography setup could be as basic as a simple DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera and a laptop, or as complex as a multi-camera stack and split monitors for editing. When you’re just getting started, it’s OK to keep things simple. You can always grow once the clients start rolling in.
How to Start Your Photography Business in 15 Steps
Ready to start a photography business? Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to uncover the 15 steps to establishing your photography business like a pro.
1. Know Your ‘Why’
Earlier we touched on the benefits of starting a photography business because they can work as key motivators to keep you working toward your goal. In the same vein, you’ll want to identify your “why” for starting your photography business.
Your “why” might be something like:
- “I want to quit my full-time job and work for myself”
- “I want to travel the world taking beautiful photos”
- “I want to get more experience and launch my photojournalism career”
- “I want a side hustle to supplement my existing income”
- “I love being creative and I want a way to express myself more”
Whatever your “why” is, establishing this from the beginning will not only help you define your goals but keep you working toward them. That way, you can set tangible milestones and stay focused even when the going gets tough.
As famous photographer Aaron Siskind put it, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever … It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” What’s your “why”?
2. Research Other Photographers
One of the best ways to figure out how to structure your business is to research photographers who already have thriving businesses. These are people who have already overcome the beginner’s hump and have found success with photography.
While you may be years away from where they are, you’ll get a sense of how you should set up your business. From how they package their offers to how they market themselves online, established photographers can reveal a lot about what it means to succeed.
When researching other photographers, consider:
- Who is their target audience?
- What kinds of services/packages do they offer?
- Do they have a portfolio or website?
- What platforms are they using to market themselves?
- How much are they charging?
- What are their clients saying?
In doing this research, you’ll gain valuable insight into how successful photographers are structuring their businesses and attracting new customers. Then, you can determine how you might want to set up and promote your photography business.
3. Assess Potential Startup Costs
As stated earlier, professional photography equipment is notoriously expensive, so we recommend starting off with the basics until you have more clients coming in. The goal is to get your business up and running so you’ll have more money to invest in higher-quality equipment.
Here is a basic budget for starting your photography business:
- At least one professional camera: $1,500 to $2,000 each
- Camera lense: $1,000+
- Memory cards: $50+ each
- External hard drive: $120+
- Computer or laptop: roughly $2,000
- Business website: $50+ for domain, CMS (content management system) and hosting
- Business license: $150
- Photo editing software: $120 per year
- Business insurance: $500 per year (varies)
- Business cards: $50
- Accounting services: $300+ per year
With this in mind, the expected startup costs for a photography business comes to about $5,000 (assuming you don’t have any of the above items already). This is higher than many other small businesses, which typically require less gear.
Fortunately, there are always ways to cut costs and many of these costs are offset once you get a few clients. With the right gear, you’ll be in business in no time.
Think you need fancy equipment? Let your business grow organically and opt for better equipment as your budget allows. Otherwise, throwing money at expensive gear too early could wipe you out when you need those funds to fall back on if you happen to have a slow month.
4. Write a Photography Business Plan
Every small business owner should establish at least a rough business plan to lay the foundation for their venture. Doing so will keep your company organized and help you set goals for where you want to take your business.
Your business plan can be as simple as a one-pager or as in-depth as a 30-page strategy. It’s up to you how thorough you want to be, as long as it covers the basics.
Typically, your business plan will define what your business does, who it serves, how the work is delivered and how your business will be marketed. It may also cover market research, how income and expenses will be handled, and more.
Your business plan can serve as an internal document that you reference, but it may also come in handy if you end up partnering with a branding or marketing agency. These professionals will likely want to know more about your business in order to help you grow.
We love this step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan on the Small Business Administration (SBA) website. Get started here to establish your own photography business strategy.
5. Secure Startup Funds
If you already have enough money in your bank account to start your photography business, you’re already ahead of the game. But it’s quite common for new entrepreneurs to need startup funds in order to get their business off the ground.
You have a couple of options if you need financial assistance. For one, you might ask friends and family to support your endeavor, perhaps with a promise to pay them back later. Alternatively, you could keep your current job or take on a side job until you have the extra cash.
Finally, securing a small business loan may be an option. This isn’t typically recommended, though, if you are worried about your ability to pay it off. If you do plan to go this route, avoid taking out more than you need.
Note that having your business plan mapped out may help you secure funding, as you’ll have a clearly defined concept and a marketing strategy to start generating revenue as quickly as possible.
6. Choose a Business Name
Many photographers choose to go by their own name, but many do not. Some prefer to go with something more creative, whether that’s because their business name is already taken or because they have a certain brand identity in mind.
Going the creative route with your business name can certainly help you stand out, and it makes it easier to expand to a full-on agency down the road. However, if name recognition is what you’re aiming for, running your business under your name should do just fine.
Once you’ve chosen a business name, we recommend securing the domain name for your website or portfolio. You can look to registrars like GoDaddy or Namecheap to do this—usually for just a few dollars—to make sure no one else snags it.
7. Start Your Photography Portfolio
Assuming you’re starting with no experience, it’s time to get your first photographs to grow your professional portfolio. This is quite easy to do once you have your camera at the ready.
By now you should have an idea of the type of photography you want to focus on. With this in mind, you can begin taking photos that align with that specialty, edit them and publish them on your online portfolio.
You might also want to network with friends, family and other online contacts to offer free or low-paid photography work to get a few samples under your belt. Once you have a portfolio you’re confident in, you can begin charging higher rates.
8. Build an Eye-Catching Website
Where should you post your photography portfolio? Most professional photographers recommend hosting your own professional website.
Platforms like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace allow you to create beautiful websites for just a few dollars. Choose from a wide range of templates and build your site with drag-and-drop simplicity.
Most portfolio sites have a home page, about page, services page, contact page and portfolio page. You can add your own images to this site, add some enticing web copy and entice visitors to contact you.
Later on, you may decide to hire a professional web designer to build you a website from scratch. This will make it easier to customize the look of your site and optimize your site to attract organic traffic.
9. Establish a Pricing Plan
Pricing one’s services as a small business owner is always a bit challenging. If you have no experience, you may not be confident enough to charge premium rates. But you also don’t want to underprice yourself.
One of your best options when it comes to setting your pricing is to see what your peers are charging; particularly those with the same experience level. Google and industry-specific Facebook groups are great places to find this information.
Just because you are new doesn’t mean you need to have bottom-of-the-barrel rates. Charge what you feel comfortable with and increase your rates as you gain more experience.
10. Fine-Tune Your Branding
With so many photographers out there, the key to success is your ability to stand out from the crowd. To set yourself apart, you’ll want to establish a unique brand identity.
Consider investing in a professional logo, brand colors and fonts to apply to your website and marketing materials. These should all align with the “feel” of your business and what you think will resonate with your target audience.
You’ll find that each photographer has their own unique style. Your goal is to find yours and make that apparent to potential clients. What kind of personality do you want to portray online and in your work?
11. Define Your Unique Selling Point
Your unique selling point (USP) is what sets you apart from other photographers. This goes beyond physical branding and taps into what you provide that your audience can’t find anywhere else.
For example, you might be an “adventure photographer that helps couples capture their journey into love”. Or, maybe you “help brands stand out online with bold product photos.” What is it that makes you unique?
You will work this USP into your marketing in order to attract clients who are looking for someone just like you. By highlighting what makes you special, you’ll avoid blending into the sea of generalists.
12. Grow Your Network
Many people get their first clients by networking with people they already know. This social approach to client generation is also one of the first people consider, since it can take some time to launch a digital marketing strategy.
Networking can take place in person or online—like on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook groups or other social media platforms. By taking the time to build connections, you give people an idea of who you are and potentially get your foot in the door.
Once you’ve secured a few clients, you can further grow your network by asking for referrals. Photographers also often offer a bonus to people who send new business their way.
13. Promote Your Business
There are many ways to promote your business. How you promote your business will greatly depend on who your target audience is and where they spend their time searching for photographers.
For example, many couples in need of wedding photography search in their local area using Google. As a result, you’ll want to get started by looking to search engine optimization (SEO) as a means of attracting organic traffic to your site.
Other clients might use Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media platforms. Know that you don’t need to spend your time trying to be everywhere at once, but you should attempt to master at least one marketing channel to secure work for your business.
A Google search for “marketing for photographers” is sure to yield tons of results. See what other photographers in your niche are doing and then focus your efforts on what you need to secure a steady stream of clients for your business.
To get you started, here are some common marketing strategies:
- Facebook ads
- Google ads
- Email marketing
- Instagram ads
- Referral sites (like The Knot)
14. Create a Marketing Plan
No matter which platform(s) you choose, you’ll need to establish an effective marketing plan to attract new clients to your business. We recommend focusing on a single platform first so you have time to fine-tune your approach until you have a plan that works.
Typically this involves researching your target audience, determining which platforms they use most, posting content that’s relevant to them and then enticing them to contact you. Each platform is a bit different, so you’ll need to test out your approach to secure the best results.
For example, here’s what an effective marketing plan might look like:
- Ask your followers on Facebook what questions they have about hiring a travel photographer
- Create content that answers their questions and provides valuable information about these topics
- Post similar content on your portfolio blog to be shared to social media
- Respond to comments and other posts in your industry to boost engagement
- Direct potential clients to your inbox or website for more information
- Collect client testimonials as social proof to compel more people to work with you
- Optimize your website for search engines to attract organic traffic to your website
The point is, every marketing plan will look slightly different for each photographer. The goal is to find out what works best for you and your audience, make a decision, and then expand to additional platforms when you are ready to grow.
15. Deliver Amazing Work
Finally, the key to success is your ability to deliver amazing results to your clients. Make your clients happy and they are likely to work with you again and also refer new clients to your business.
Consider taking classes to improve your skills or seek out a mentor to help you hone the skills you need. You’ll naturally improve as long as you are willing to make an effort.
Hopefully, people will come to know you as a reputable photographer in your industry, opening the door to even more opportunities.
Tips for Growing Your Photography Business
Starting a photography business is incredibly rewarding and many new photographers are pleasantly surprised by how quickly their businesses took off once they committed to their goals. You can accelerate this growth by constantly learning and also applying new techniques to your business.
With that in mind, here are some bonus tips to help you grow your photography business, fast.
Invest Back Into Your Business
Once you have revenue coming in, it’s time to manage your finances and make decisions about whether you need to invest back into your business. While photography invoice templates will help you bill your clients with ease, deciding how to manage your funds is a different beast.
First, you’ll want to assess how much revenue is coming in versus how much money is going out due to expenses. Then, a portion of your funds (roughly 30%) will be allocated to taxes and the remainder is your business profit.
Having a photography accounting system in place will make managing your finances much easier. Then, you can make informed decisions about whether you can invest back into your business by opting for things like a new website, branding materials or social media marketing campaigns.
Collect Client Testimonials and Reviews
Client testimonials are a powerful way to show potential clients that you’re great to work with and deliver amazing results. Adding testimonials to your website, business Facebook page, LinkedIn and Google My Business page can help you attract even more clients.
Always ask your happy clients for a review and thank them for working with you. That personal touch can go a long way.
Grow Your Photography Blog
Keeping up with your blog can attract new visitors and clients to your website. With SEO, you can even get your content to rank for the key terms your audience is searching for when looking for services like yours.
Not only that, but you can share this content on social media and generate traffic that way. New and existing customers will love to see what your business has been up to and how you can help them achieve their goals of getting great, professional photos.
Months into running your photography business, you may realize that you need some help. Photographers regularly hire people like web developers, graphic designers and marketers to help their business grow.
Before you hire someone, do your due diligence to make sure they’re legit. Avoid throwing money at a problem before you have weighed your options. That way, you can avoid ending up in the hole of overspending.
Launch Your Own Photography Business
Launching your own photography career on your terms is exciting. With this guide, hopefully you’ve learned that starting your own business is simple when you have the right steps in place. While there is no single path to success, the key is believing in yourself and paving your own way.
Follow the tips and tricks above to establish your own photography business and attract new clients right away. You’ll be capturing amazing moments in no time.