How to Start a Photography Business

Denise Elizabeth P
Senior Financial Editor & Contributor
Last Updated: July 8, 2021
Date Published: July 8, 2021

If you have a passion for photography and find that you are actually really good at it, starting a photography business can be a great way to earn some secondary income and even turn it into a full-time business.

While we know that the photography market is very saturated, there is still room for aspiring photographers who can narrow down their niche and style to build a solid career.

In order to be successful in the photography world, you need to not only have passion for what you are doing but also be business savvy.

Building and growing your photography business requires both talent and marketing.

Marketing is what is going to grow your business and bring you more clientele.

As a photographer you will need to continually work on your photography skills while evolving your branding, online presence and interpersonal skills.

Because both talent and business knowledge go hand-in-hand, you will need to know what it takes to start a successful photography business.

Today we are going to take a dive into what it takes to get your photography business up and running!

Let’s get started!

Startup Costs

photography business

The very first thing you will need to do is gather your equipment so that you can be ready to take on your first client.

If you’ve been doing photography as a hobby, you may already have what you need to get started but if not, you will need to shell out some money for good quality photography equipment.

Good quality photography equipment is expensive and so you should plan to budget anywhere from $7,000 – $10,000 to start your photography business.

Whenever possible, it is wise to avoid going into debt, so avoiding debt if possible is going to be your first choice.

Here is a basic budget based on other professional photographers with what you will most likely need to start.

To make this article as helpful and realistic as possible, we have also included other startup costs that you should anticipate:

  • Professional Camera: $1,500 to $2,000
  • Multiple lenses: $500 – $1,000+ each
  • Flash: $500 – $700
  • Memory Cards: $50+ each
  • External drives for storing photos: $120 each
  • Backup drive or cloud based backup services such as Dropbox or iCloud: $120/year for 2TB
  • Computer or Laptop: $2,000 (plus or minus)
  • Lightroom and Photoshop subscription for photo editing: $120/year
  • Business licenses: $150 (varies depending on your state)
  • Insurance: $600 (varies depending on insurance provider)
  • Accounting software or services: $300+ per year
  • Business cards and marketing materials: $50+
  • Studio expenses if you plan on having your own studio and these expenses will include rent, furniture, additional equipment, and utilities

Officially Form Your Business

Once you have all of your equipment, you can officially form your photography business.

To do this you will need to come up with a business name, choose a business entity type (sole proprietorship, limited liability company, etc), register for an EIN, and open a business bank account.

In order to be legally recognized as a business and pay taxes, you need to register your business in the state in which you will be working.

If you don’t want to deal with all of the nuances of forming your business, there are business formation services that do it for you.

Many of them are very affordable – you can learn about the top business formation service providers here.

Here is everything you need to know about forming your business: How to Start a Business

Branding

wedding photographer

Now that you are a legally recognized business, it’s time to work on your branding!

As a professional photographer, your work is the brand and you are the face of your brand.

This means that the way you present yourself can either make or break your reputation.

Most of your business will come by word-of-mouth referrals and so here are some tips to help you leave a positive lasting impression with clients:

  • Dress professionally or for the occasion. If you are shooting a wedding, try to dress up a little or dress in neutral clothes that blend in (for example, all black).
  • Smile and be friendly and patient throughout the photography sessions (even when there are crying kids or clients that do not cooperate well, just remember not everyone feels comfortable taking photos and you need to make them feel as comfortable as possible!)
  • Be organized which means prepare your gear in advance and know how to use your gear. Also, make sure you gear is fully charged and have a backup battery with you. Extra memory cards are also important!
  • Never talk negatively about other clients to your clients or potential clients. The world is smaller than you think and you don’t want to be known as the photographer that gossips about their clients.
  • Always show up on-time, if not early, to setup and be ready when your client gets there.
  • Deliver your product when promised
  • Be responsive to communications with clients
  • Post your work online – most of your clients will refer you by word of mouth and potential clients will want to see examples of your work. This means posting your work on your website and social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram.

Building a positive reputation as a photographer is vital to your ongoing success.

Really focus on being professional, on-time and prepared and it will take you far!

Pricing

Once a potential client decides that they love your work, they are going to want to know your pricing.

Have a price list available to send to potential clients when they request it.

Many photographers skip this step and have a hard time setting their pricing or they do different pricing for each client which isn’t the best business practice.

If you offer one client a certain price and another client a different price for the same type of session, you may risk the two talking and realizing one paid more than the other.

It is recommended that you either do photography session packages or charge by the hour.

When putting your pricing together, you will want to account for roughly 3 hours of editing for every 1 hour of shooting time.

On average, photographers charge $50 per hour to cover standard costs.

Don’t forget to factor in travel time or travel expenses.

Furthermore, most photographers ask for some sort of up-front deposit in the form of cash or cashier’s check.

Serious clients won’t have an issue with a down payment to secure their session with you.

Contracts

We have seen many photographers do client work based on conversations and when expectations are not meant, it is hard to remember who said what.

This is why contracts are so important in managing client expectations.

Writing down what your clients expectations are will help you stay on track and deliver what is expected and not what you thought was expected.

It also protects you should your client come back and try to say you didn’t provide the service you said you would.

Contracts should include details about the shoot such as how many hours or photos they should expect, the total due plus the down payment amount, and any other details that are discussed with your client.

You will also want to include a section that details how your clients are allowed to use the images.

If contracts are not your thing, you can actually search sample photography contracts online and tweak them as needed.

Bottom line, a contract can really save you from a lot of misunderstandings with clients and it could even protect you legally should it ever get into that sort of situation.

Once you and the client are satisfied with the contract, both parties should sign and date and both parties should receive a copy for their records.

Marketing

photography

The type of marketing you are going to do will depend on the type of photography you are doing.

For example, wedding photographers are going to market on social media, wedding venues, bridal conferences, etc.

Real Estate photographers are going to want to reach out to local real estate agents.

You will want to look into the different places that you can market yourself that are related to the niche you are in.

Aside from that, every photographer should market themselves online.

As mentioned before, Instagram and Facebook are great places to network and showcase your work.

Create an Instagram feed with client photos and your best work.

Create a website that also shows your work and consider hiring someone that can help with SEO specific to your niche and city/state.

There are also photography forums and groups that you can join to network and get your name out there.

Conclusion

As you can see, having the right equipment, forming your business, and building a professional reputation are extremely important.

This can propel you into a successful photography career that can be very lucrative with hard work and determination.

As your business grows, continue to sharpen your photography skills and market yourself.

Most successful photographers end up building a loyal client base that uses their services over and over and are eager to promote your work by word of mouth.