How to Start a Photography Business: A Comprehensive Guide to Get You Started
There’s a difference between being an excellent photographer and owning a successful photography business. This difference demands a lot of preparation, consistency, and perseverance. It also requires an entrepreneurial mindset.
If you are a photographer who is wondering how to start a photography business, you’ve landed at the right place! We will help you bridge the gap between the art of photography, and everything you need to focus on to start and run a profitable photography business.
To ensure that you don’t have to search for multiple resources, we have created a comprehensive guide. Here’s what we’re going to cover in this blog:
- Pick a niche
- Calculate your initial costs
- Write a business plan
- Register your photography business
- Work out your legal requirements
- Decide on a pricing strategy
- Put yourself out there
- Don’t miss out on these points!
Grab some snacks and sit back comfortably because this is going to take a while.
Let’s dive right in!
1) Pick a niche
The first step to starting a photography business should be choosing your niche. It might seem to narrow down your options but can be very effective in the long run as it actually leads to better targeting, which helps you:
- Establish yourself as an expert in your field. This adds more credibility to your name and helps you stand out from your competitors.
For example: If you were a couple looking for someone to take pictures of your newborn child, who would you prefer to hire? Someone who specializes in newborn photography and knows how to handle infants or someone who claims to be good at everything? Of course, a newborn photography expert.
- You get to raise your prices with time as your customers get to know your worth and see what you are capable of through your portfolio.
There are many types of photography businesses that you can choose from. Here are some of the more popular ones for you to get started:
1. Wedding Photography
Wedding photography has become very popular in the past few years. People want to get their best memories captured in the most amazing way. And that’s why this photography genre is quite challenging yet fulfilling. You get to give people a gift of their lifetime! Plus, once you get established, it pays well too.
2. Landscape Photography
With our world constantly changing with every moment that passes, the beauty of landscapes is something that is constant and will never lose its value. Landscape photography includes exploring and becoming one with nature and can be a very therapeutic process. It can be very easy to get into this artform to start an online photography business, however, mastering it takes time and effort.
3. Real Estate Photography
Did you know that homes that use professional photography tend to sell 50% faster than homes with standard photos! This just goes to show how real estate photography is, and will always be, in high demand. Starting a real estate photography business can, over a period of time, really start to make big money!
4. Fashion Photography
Fashion is not a foreign word that pertains only to models and advertising agencies. It is something that impacts the day-to-day activities of ordinary people too! Fashion photography plays a major role in global fashion culture. If you are into fashion yourself, the artform provides you with tons of opportunities to be creative and can be a great way to make a living out of what you love.
5. Travel Photography
If you are a people person who is curious about the different ways of life around the world, travel photography is a niche you can explore. Travel around the world and experience various cultures, delicious food, beautiful landscapes and so much more! Selling your experiences as stock photography, helping with paid promotions, selling prints, etc, are some of the ways you can make money within this niche.
6. Newborn Photography
If you are comfortable around babies and know how to handle them while keeping their parents happy, newborn photography might just be perfect for you. Capturing the precious expressions of an infant requires a great deal of patience and is not something just about anyone can do.
With a good amount of experience and beautiful results to show for it, parents will be willing to pay whatever price you define. Starting a photography studio for the same can be very helpful as it will give you complete control over several parameters such as your surroundings, lighting, camera angles, etc.
2) Calculate your initial costs
Before taking any steps toward setting up a small photography business, you need to have a clear understanding of how much money it would take for you to do so. Answering the question “What do I need to start a photography business?” will give you the ability to decide on what you want to spend your money on and more importantly, what you will have to sacrifice.
These initial costs should consider everything from your equipment to your operational and marketing needs. We have put together some of the costs you will need to consider while calculating your initial investment amount.
Photography equipment costs
The first priority investment to start a photography business from scratch should be your equipment. We have talked about the most crucial pieces of equipment below for your business to take off well.
- Camera – Since this is the most important piece of equipment for your business, make sure you conduct thorough research (based on your niche, requirements, budget, etc.) before making a purchase. It is always good practice to have a backup camera so that you can continue your shoot just in case something goes wrong.
- Lenses – You will also need to research thoroughly about the lenses you would want to purchase as these could vary depending on your style or niche of photography.
- Computer/ Laptop – You are going to need a desktop computer or a laptop to edit your photos before finally sending them to your customers. Ensure that the device you choose can handle the load and is compatible with your editing software as well. Laptops give you the ability to edit on the go, which can be a lifesaver during last-minute situations.
- Editing software – Editing is an absolute essential in the photography world today. Consider using the software which works the best for your niche, and that brings out the best in your photographs. Consider investing in well-known software like Adobe lightroom, Skylum Luminar AI, and DxO PhotoLab to make your photos look breathtaking as well as professional.
- Memory cards and external drives – Keeping your images stored in your computer can only take you so far. Since your images can take up a lot of digital space, you will need somewhere to keep all of this data. Cloud storage is also something you can consider but external drives and memory cards give you the ability to access your photos offline too.
- Lighting – I cannot emphasize the importance of lighting in photography enough, and you know it better! Equipment like flash units and reflectors can bring out the best of your subject, leading to incredible photos. Ensure that you invest in them wisely.
Pro tip: If you don’t have enough funds to buy good equipment, rentals can be an affordable alternative.
To set yourself apart from your competition, just opening a photography business is not enough. For your business to reach the right set of audiences, you must have a strong marketing strategy. And marketing your business will require its own budget, so ensure that you allocate a sufficient amount of your funds towards the same.
Here are some of the most important ways to market your business::
- Website building and advertising
Your website is like the official source of your business information. Therefore, ensuring that it’s the best it can be is crucial. Don’t hesitate to hire a professional to help you design and create your website.
Organic marketing like SEO can bring in traffic but may take long term. However, working out a healthy mix of SEO and paid advertising can bring in better results in lesser time. Ensure that you research well before investing in paid advertising.
- Social media marketing
Social media platforms are highly visual and popular, and this makes them the perfect marketing channels for a photography business. You can showcase your work here and can even use them as your digital portfolio.
Analyze competitor profiles and audiences to create and upload relevant content, and reach out to a larger number of people. You can also invest in paid advertising on these platforms to get yourself in front of a larger audience.
- Designing your business cards
The design and professional feel of your business card could be your prospect’s first impression of you. This impression has a huge impact on their decision to avail the services you offer.
Hiring someone to design your business card for you or putting your money into tools to help you do so yourself is a worthwhile investment. Tools like Canva and Vistaprint can be very helpful when it comes to designing your business cards.
To run a successful photography business, you need to invest in some tools and software that help you automate and improve efficiency. Not doing so can make it extremely tiresome to manage everything. Here are the steps you can take to ensure smooth business operations:
- Setting up a payment system
Contactless payment methods are extremely important in this digital world. It gives your customers a payment option that is secure and easy to use while also drastically simplifying your accounting process.
Although it can seem to be a large investment, not setting up a payment system can prove to be an expensive mistake in the long run.
- Acquiring your business licenses and insurance
Your business licenses and insurance are an absolute necessity. They can help you acquire customers much faster.
Your local city hall and state licensing board can give you all the information you need to make sure you are adhering to the necessary regulations.
Insurance can act as an effective layer of protection for your business in case of accidents that may lead to liability disputes.
- Smoothening your accounting process
Keeping track of finances and submitting tax returns can get very challenging, and not to mention, hectic. Hiring someone to take care of this for you or using accounting software like Wave Financial and Studiocloud can save you from a lot of stress and worry.
- Investing in scheduling software
The process of scheduling and managing appointments can be a tiring process. However, a scheduling software can make your life easier by taking care of this process. It also provides your customers the ability to self-schedule appointments with you.
A photography scheduling software like Appointy can help you accept appointments round the clock, helping you focus more on your business and photography. Appointy has features that help you reduce no-shows, market your business, personalize your services, and much more!
Don’t believe us? See for yourself with our 14-day free trial.
- Designing client contracts
If you don’t have client contracts signed, the situation can be very difficult to handle when things go wrong. Therefore it becomes very necessary to ensure that your customers sign a clear contract before starting to work with you.
Purchasing contract templates or simply hiring someone to make your contracts for you can help give your contracts the professional look you need.
3) Write a business plan
Once you have calculated your initial cost to start your business, you need to consider writing down your photography business plan. Your business plan will act as a GPS giving you a sense of direction going forward with your business. By setting your goals for every stage of your journey, you get a clear insight into what you need to sustain your business.
It can also act as a brochure for investors to persuade them to fund your business. A good business plan will help give them a sense of confidence in the returns they will get by investing in you.
While writing down your business plan you will need to take the following steps:
1. Describe your business
Use your business description as a way to introduce yourself as a photo business to the reader. You can do this by talking about the history of your company and the nature of your business. Go into detail about who your customers are, and how your service will tend to their needs.
2. Conduct market research
While crafting your business plan you need to conduct thorough market research on your field and the demographics of your potential clients. Gathering demographic information and analyzing your competitors will give you a better understanding of the opportunities and limitations within your market.
Your research should give you a clear notion of what your target customers need, as well as their preferences and behavior. You can use this information to make yourself stand out as a photographer in the space.
3. Highlight your financial projections
Financial projections can give your investors a clear picture of your company’s economic status and the path it will likely take in the future. Use this section to talk about how much you hope to earn and how you hope to do so by setting financial goals to reach within specified time periods.
4. Consider an exit strategy
While putting together your business plan it is always a good idea to consider an exit strategy. By doing so, you are forced to look into the future of your photography startup. Your exit strategy will ensure your business as well as your investors are protected. You can always come and tweak it as time passes by and the market changes.
4) Register your photography business
Once done with your business plan, the next step is to register your business. This includes deciding what type of business entity you want to operate as.
Each entity has its own advantages and disadvantages with regards to how much paperwork is required, how your personal belongings are tied to the business, and the type of taxes you will have to pay. Below are the 4 main entities for you to pick from:
5) Work out your legal requirements
When you’re just learning how to start a photography business, legal and tax processes can seem very complicated. We’ve done the dirty work and have listed down the common requirements for the same below.
Employee Identification Number (EIN)
Although not compulsory for sole proprietorships, photographers tend to find it difficult to pursue a lot of business endeavors without an EIN. It acts as a social security number for your business and is crucial for opening a photography business bank account or applying for a business loan. You will also need to include it while filing your taxes with the IRS.
The process is absolutely free and takes only about 5 minutes to complete! Click here and fill out the form to receive your EIN.
Income tax forms
To fulfill your federal and income tax obligations you will need to fill out certain income tax forms. These forms will vary depending on your business structure. You can check your state’s website for information on state-specific and local tax obligations.
By doing this you are setting up a proper foundation for your business, making it easier for you to manage your taxes in the long run.
6) Decide on a pricing strategy
As a photography business start-up, you need to understand how to price your services to be successful in the space. For this, you will need to strike a balance between what your customers are willing to pay and what your services are worth.
It is important to keep in mind that what you get paid is not what you will make. You have to consider several factors like administration, travel, equipment, the time and effort spent to click and edit pictures, taxes, and so on.
Here are some factors to help you evaluate and decide on your pricing strategy:
1. Years of experience
Your pricing strategy should factor in the amount of experience you have. As time passes and you grow as a photographer and business, you can start to increase your prices as people will begin to trust your service quality.
This, however, does not mean you should undervalue yourself when you’re just starting out. Opting for meager prices while starting your own photography business will only decrease the perceived value of your products and services, bringing you lesser customers and even lesser revenue.
2. Area of specialty
By developing yourself as an expert in a certain niche, your work will automatically be valued higher. However, some niches tend to pay more than others. This usually comes down to the difficulty and amount of skill required for the job.
3. Your competitor’s prices
Having an idea of the pricing of successful photography businesses in your area will help you gauge the paying capacity of your potential customers. You can then charge accordingly to stand out amongst your competition. However, as we spoke about earlier, do not keep your pricing too low as people might undervalue your service.
Keeping a pricing range is also a great way to offer your services. It provides flexibility to your customer while keeping you well within your profit margin.
Pro tip: It’s fairly reasonable to estimate three hours of editing for every hour of shooting.
7) Put yourself out there
Knowing how to click beautiful pictures and edit them to perfection will only take you so far as a photographer. Once you have figured out how to set up a photography business, marketing yourself and bringing awareness to your brand is what will ultimately decide where you stand among your competitors.
Marketing is about putting your business in front of a new pair of eyes. Branding your business, however, is about giving it a personality and a strong foundation of values to stand on. You can do this by simply being authentic and true to your style to build trust amongst your audience.
Here are a few ways to really put yourself out there as a :
1. Establish an online presence
Building a photography business website is one way to take your reputation online. People tend to use the internet a lot to find a business that can perfectly cater to their needs. Creating your website is one way to get yourself noticed by them, acting as digital proof that your business exists. It can also act as a great way to interact with your customers.
To stand out as a brand, consider blogging. You can use blogging to showcase your values, opinions, and experiences, helping you stand out in your own way. You can also look at marketing techniques like SEO to bring more organic traffic to your page.
2. Social media
Social media can act as the best promotional tool for your business and its services. Consider creating business accounts on all major social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, etc, to reach a variety of audiences.
Being very visual platforms, social media can act as the perfect medium for you to showcase your talents. You can also create content explaining your daily experiences and struggles to provide the most value you can to your audience.
Studying the kind of content your competitors put out will help you get started with the same. As time passes you will start to get a grasp of the type of content most suitable for specific platforms.
You can also use these platforms to connect with your customers, interact with them live, advertise your offers and events, and so much more.
You can also use your business cards and brochures along with your personal and business connections to spread the word about your business.
Setting up your marketing strategy does not have a strenuous process! Consider these 7 simple photography marketing ideas to help reach a wider audience and get more clients.
8) Don’t miss out on these points!
Since you might be only just starting out with photography entrepreneurship, there are a lot of experiences for you to learn from and a lot of mistakes you should avoid making. Here are a few bonus tips for starting your photography business effectively:
You are not just a photographer
The sooner you realize that you’re going to need to become good at a LOT of different things, the sooner you can start improving at them all. You have to develop as a photographer, customer service expert, bookkeeper, treasurer, CEO, and so much more.
People skills are very important
Learning how to build a photography business includes learning how to deal with people… Even if you’re a landscape shooter, your clients are people. And the better you can work with, and take care of, the people you do business with, the more success you’ll see.
Along with getting paid to take professional photos, you can also sell the photos you take yourself (not those you’re paid to take). Many stock photo sites will buy or allow you to sell your photos helping you survive the lean periods comfortably.
People expecting free service
Friends and family always tend to undermine the effort you need to put into your photographer business shooting sessions by asking you for free or discounted services. Sometimes it can be really hard to say no to these people you dearly care for. It is, however, important to keep your worth in mind, along with the effort you will need to put into your project.
If you are indeed willing to give them a discount, make sure to write the invoice for the full fee, then subtract the discount at the end. That way they really understand that they got a decent discount on your original price and not just a cheaply priced service.
Now that you have a clear understanding of how to start a photography business step by step, and all that you can expect in your entrepreneurial journey, it is important not to overthink your process and just begin! As Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Start with your friends and family, and work your way up. Build contacts by networking within your area and build up your portfolio with everything you have achieved. Once you catch the momentum of it all and start getting comfortable with the process there is no one who can stop you!
We wish you all the best!
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, and resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day.
If you have any thoughts on this blog or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below.
We love a good talk!