Last updated on December 7th, 2023
Why Do You Want to Start a Photography Business?
Being a business owner is hard. You need a business plan, business cards, and excellent business ideas if you want to get off the ground with your new business. Starting a photography business is no exception. Not only should you have professional photography experience, but you should also know how to work with referrals, potential clients and have a marketing plan for your photography services. So, why do you want to start a photography business? With so many considerations, it’s not going to be easy. Do you have it in you?
Thankfully, you can follow along as we give you the step-by-step guide on starting your very own photography business.
What Kind of Photography Business Do You Want to Start?
Professional photographers like you know what kind of photography business to start before getting it off the ground. So should you. Here are some possible types of photography businesses:
The Most Popular Type of Photography:
- Wedding photography
- Photo editing
- Portrait photography
- Sports photography
- Real estate photography
- Architectural photography
- Business headshots
- Stock photography
- Family photography
- Newborn photography
Most full-time photographers make the best money as a wedding photographer. But there are plenty of successful photography businesses without having to photograph weddings or families. You could be an exceptional photographer in places like New York or Los Angeles, where editorial photography for websites and magazines are hot. So, no matter what you want to photograph, there is a way to get started. Read below about the basics of starting a photography business.
Basics of Starting a Photography Business
Choose Your Business Name
If you’re reading this, you’re probably just starting a photography business. Or maybe you’ve run another company, and you’re changing this up. But you should know that the name of your photography business is everything. It rings true even if you’re part-time. This is the first step towards creating your brand. It would help if you highlighted the business name in your photography business plan. Many photographers name their photography business after themselves, which is highly recommended for branding. Either way, you want your business name to appear to have the following qualities:
- Be unique and easy to remember.
- Be easy to spell, nothing unusual, or an extreme play on words.
- Make it easy to pronounce.
- Choose something classic that you won’t regret later on.
- Keep it simple.
- Make sure the name is relevant to the types of photography you’re offering in your photography services. But also, don’t make your business name limited to services you may need one day offer.
- Make sure it represents your style.
Photography Business Plan
Every startup business should have a business plan. Yes, even photography businesses. This isn’t a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type of business, even if you’re not a planner. And if you’re a new photographer, you should have this down. Your photography business plan should have the following:
- Executive summary. An executive summary serves as a preview or taste of your business to new clients.
- Company description. What’s the vision for your photography business? Communicate it to your readers, new clients, and potential investors.
- Marketing plan and roadmap. Including market analysis and marketing strategy with a target market, where they are clearly described.
- Photography services you’re going to offer.
- Your financial plan. How are you going to finance all your photography equipment and business marketing materials?
Choose Your Photography Business’ Legal Business Structure
A sole proprietorship is the most common legal business structure for a photography business. A sole proprietorship can be one or more people, like a general partnership. If you want an easy way to handle taxes and filings for your business for you and perhaps a partner, this is the best legal business structure.
A partnership may be an excellent consideration for your photography business if you and another person are running a business together. When you file, you will file self-employment taxes separately, and a specified percentage will split profits. Remember that liability is also split when you’re in a partnership. That way, you get protection if you don’t want to be solely responsible. Your assets may still be vulnerable to lawsuits and such.
LLC and Corporation
Corporations can be a little confusing because there are different types. Small business owners like forming corporations because they get protection from personal liability. But most new photographers may find a C-Corporation too much from a structural perspective. With a C-Corp, you may also run into double taxation, required annual reporting, and more complex problems a small business owner would not want to deal with.
S-Corp and LLC corporate business structures are pretty popular for small businesses. Most photography studios like the simplicity of an LLS because it protects personal assets, and it’s easier to streamline bookkeeping. A level of tax and personal liability is also included with these types of corporations.
Many S-Corp businesses benefit from tax savings on self-employment. Residential studio photographers love filing as an S-Corp business structure.
With any of these options, always talk to a certified accountant for legal advice when choosing your legal business structure.
Register Your Business Name
Registering your business name is pretty simple nowadays. You can simply log on to legal websites like LegalZoom to file your business name.
Get Your Federal Tax ID
A federal tax ID is essential for your business, especially around tax season. You can apply for an employer identification number (EIN) on the IRS website.
Get Your Business License
Your business license is essential to become a legitimate business. You can easily register your business online and get your license on multiple websites. The Small Business Association has a helpful guide.
Get Your Business Bank Account
A business account is recommended for business owners to make personal assets and business assets separate. It also comes in handy for tax season. These days, you can apply for a business bank account or credit card from most banking institutions. Here’s what you’re likely going to have to present:
- Social security number or employer identification number (EIN)
- Personal identification, like a passport or driver’s license.
- Business license with the name of your business and the owner’s/AKA your name (s)
- Certificate of assumed name/DBA
Register Your Online Accounts – Domain Name & Social Media
When you create a website, you have to register your domain name for your photography business. You can also register your email under your domain name. This will give you a recognized brand identity. After you have your website set up, you want to set up your social media accounts.
For both of these, if your domain name and social media account handles aren’t available, go with the next recognizable names that are easy to remember. Also, make sure your domain name is SEO friendly. Optimization is essential when it comes to getting your photography business website out there on search engines. If necessary, you can hire an SEO professional to help you. The best place to start is to make sure search engines can easily list your website on the front page.
Branding Your Photography Business
By now, your business is registered, and your website and social media accounts are set up. It’s time to start branding your photography business. Here’s what you need to do:
When you work one-on-one with clients, you represent your brand and business. Photographers toe the line when it comes to reputation because most new clients come from word-of-mouth referrals. Always present yourself in the most professional manner possible to represent your clients. Dress professionally and appropriately. Make sure your car is clean if you’re shooting on location. Have everything you need organized and ready to go. Be prepared if you have to shoot for long periods. So, bring enough water and snacks. Bring this stuff for your clients, too, especially if you are a family photographer. Always send a thank-you note at the end, along with a referral gift for respect and professionalism.
It’s the most professional to be on time for photoshoots. But you should arrive early to set up your shoots. And if you’re meeting a new client, you want to be specially prepared by first having everything ready. When you schedule your session, be sure to let your client know the production schedule. Also, tell them how long it will take until they get the proofs and the final copies back. Be sure to be prompt when answering phone calls, texts, and emails when communicating with your clients. The timeliness will set the precedence for your client relationship.
Be Searchable Online
We touched on having good SEO, but sometimes clients will go Google search for your name and company. Make sure you only have high-quality photos and only squeaky-clean information on you online. Make sure all social media accounts are up to date as well.
Set Your Photography Prices
Pricing is complicated for many photographers. As a rule, you should always remember not to price so low that you will lose money. We have an excellent article on how to price your photography services here. Remember to also factor in editing time and business costs that help make your services shine. If it helps, speak to local photographers or search local photographers on the internet to find out what their pricing is like.
The Photography Gear You Need to Start a Business
A Professional Camera
A good camera can take you anywhere when you’re a professional photographer. Consider the best professional cameras when shopping around. Also, consider the elements you want to photograph your clients in. There’s always a niche that fits the camera type, so do your best to find a compatible camera based on what you’re planning to shoot.
A tripod can be your best friend for photoshoots and is essential for any photography business. It will allow you to keep your camera steady and take multiple photos of your subject at once—no blur or shakiness when you have a good tripod.
Having your camera protected is the most critical aspect of a smoothly running photography business. Get a good camera bag so you can keep your camera safe from elements that might break or damage your camera.
All photographers need excellent lighting, whether shooting on location or in a studio. Having a couple of lights and the proper lighting accessories to reduce glare will make your photos look the best.
Lenses make all the difference when getting different types of images. Always have a good collection of lenses to reflect fantastic quality in your photos, no matter the shooting scenario.
If you work in a studio and do portrait photography, it may make sense to invest in some backdrops for better quality photos.
When you’re a wedding photographer, a family photographer, or even a branding photographer, props bring meaning to photos. They also give your subject something to focus on. For instance, you might want to have a notebook and pen for a branding photoshoot. Or baby toys for newborn photos.
If you’re having clients come to you for your photography business, it makes sense to invest in some studio space. You’ll look more professional by having one, too.
You might also find it necessary to rent or purchase some studio space for your photography business, especially if you plan on having clients travel to you for photos.
Photo Editing Software
After your photo shoots, you should have some editing software to make your photos the highest quality when presenting your work to clients. Photoshop and Lightroom are the most popular investments for photo editing software.
Others choose one of the alternative options to photoshop.
The only place you should be storing your photos is a computer and a cloud drive. Where else are you going to edit your photos and keep them?
We also recommend backing up your photos, learn more.
Business cards are still relevant and a great way to show off your brand. Business cards are helpful when your clients need to find a way to get in touch with you, too.
Create Your Photography Business Website
After you’ve bought your domain and server, you need to create your photography business website. Here is what you need to do:
Use the Best Website Platforms for Photographers
What You Need to Put on Your Photography Business Website
When you purchase a website, you can build your website using a template from one of the above website platforms. Next, fill in the following for your photography business website:
Photography Business Location
Many photographers forget to fill in their location information. But it’s something that should be showcased on your website. How else are your local clients going to know you’re in the same area? Most people spend around 20 to 30 seconds on a website before moving on to the next. If your location isn’t on there or in an accessible place, you might miss that potential client. You’ll notice a considerable change when it comes to showcasing your location front and center on your website.
Contact Information Page
Along with your business address, you should also have your contact information on your website’s page. Make sure the contact information is accessible to input and functioning. You may want to test it out if you have a contact form. Also, list your contact information like your email and business phone number separately if someone wants to contact you right away. If potential clients are trying to get you and it’s not working, your chance will likely be lost. That’s less money in your pocket and less of an opportunity for referrals. You can always get a business phone number from Google or Skype for forwarding if you don’t feel comfortable giving away your personal phone number. Pro tip: add “contact” buttons throughout your website so people can get straight to you.
About Me Section and Page
When people go to your website, the first impression they’re getting is who you are and what your photography business is all about. Wedding photography clients and family photography clients want someone personable and who is excellent at relationship building. They want a taste of what you’re like. A great way to describe yourself on your about me page and section is to be yourself and tell a story. You can start by listing fun facts about yourself. Describe your personality, including your quirky likes and dislikes. The fun will make everything lighthearted and personable. If you are doing more editorial photography, talk about your accomplishments and your story. They already know you love photography!
Around 10-15 Portfolio Photos
Your portfolio photos should showcase your best work. So, regularly update your portfolio photos with about 10-15 pictures at least once or twice per year. Being consistent with updates will keep your brand relevant, too.
If you want to up your brand, include client testimonials. They give you credibility as a professional photographer and business owner. Always ask your clients to provide you with a Facebook, Yelp, or Google review or directly email you. Later, you can put a quote of their published testimonials on your website front page.
Start a Blog
Blogs are a necessary part of SEO, so you show up on search engines. Use target keywords to write blog posts as a way for clients to learn more about you and your photography business.
Tips for Designing the Perfect Photography Portfolio
Be Careful About Selecting Featured Portfolio Images
Creating your portfolio is the most critical and time-consuming step of the website process. You want to be meticulous about what you provide to your future photography clients. Take your time and choose the unique photos. No two images should look the same. Make sure it’s a variety that you showcase in your portfolio. You should focus on a varying portfolio with high-quality photos from different landscapes and elements to poses and backgrounds to lighting. It will make you come off as more creative this way.
Order the Images with a Plan
Remember that clients won’t see your entire portfolio. So, the first few photos should be best. Just make sure every image is well-received and remarkable.
Produce High-Quality Prints
Photo prints and pixels should be the highest resolution and quality possible. Nothing should be grainy or blurry. If it is, then it shouldn’t be in your portfolio.
Remember that your portfolio is a sneak peek of your work to your new clients. You don’t need to focus on a lot of photos, just the best ones. Anything with a mistake shouldn’t be included.
Images Should Be Impactful
Your photos shouldn’t require an explanation. So, only include ones that show and tell in photography. The best photography speaks for itself.
Seek a Second Opinion
You should talk with other photographers in your niche and see what their opinions are on your portfolio. They’ll give you an objective answer to photos that you love, but the masses just don’t care for them.
Have Your Target Audience In Mind
Your target audience is everything when it comes to the design of your website and photography portfolio. Put yourself in their shoes when you think about what they will want to see.
Keep it Simple
Your portfolio should be clean, easy to navigate, and only showcasing your best photos of all time.
Expand Your Online Photography Presence
Putting your photography business online is an easy step. Creating a widespread photography presence is the next step. Here’s what you need to do:
Make Your Website Memorable
Your website should be impactful yet straightforward. Again, only go with several of your best photos-not the entire collection. Any more than 15 photos will just be overwhelming. If you have multiple photography services, create separate pages for each portfolio type, and only have about ten pictures for each.
Building your network will help you when you start as a new photography business owner. How else are you going to build up a client base? Collaborate with other photographers and begin working relationships with them. Offer to assist for free on photoshoots. They’ll think of you next time their clients ask for a referral.
Get Your Work In Front of the Right Eyes
You want your work to be seen. So, once you’re done creating an excellent portfolio, reach out to editorial publications and ask if they’ll post your work. It never hurts to ask if people are looking for photographers, too. Put yourself out there!
Use Social Media Networking
Your business should be on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and everything in between. You should regularly share on the relevant social media accounts. Every time you have something to share, post your work, share a story. And connect with people in the photography community.
Have an up to date LinkedIn profile and join groups within your photography niche to network and build business relationships.
Use Instagram to Grow Your Business
Instagram is a powerful social media tool that can double as a blog. Share posts and stories from behind the scenes. Post frequently using your location and appropriate hashtags (but not too many). That way, collaborators and potential clients can find you. Post at least a few times a week and create a cohesive aesthetic on your feed to look the most professional.
Use Facebook to Grow Your Business
Your Facebook page is another way to attract local business. Fill out your business profile appropriately with your hours, contact information, and location. Then, join Facebook groups. There are local city Facebook groups that people ask for recommendations all the time. Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell them about your photography business. Join groups similar to your niche to network with other photographers. The opportunity to network with others is endless.
Get Your My Google Business Listing:
- Log into your Google Account for your business. If you don’t have one, create a business account specifically for your photography business.
- Go to google.com/business and select “Start now” in the top right-hand corner.
- Enter your business name. Enter your information in your profile.
Get Your Yelp Business Page
Follow the following steps when you go to biz.yelp.com to get started:
- Type your business code and business name.
- Create a free business account by entering your email address and password.
- Verify your account with a verification code.
Create Profiles on Photographer Review Sites
If you’re a wedding photographer, theknot.com and Wedding Wire are popular review sites for photographers. You can find review sites in your niche by searching Google for “photographer reviews + (niche name).”
Find Work on Freelance Photographer Job Sites
Some popular freelance sites for photographers:
- People Per Hour
- Virtual Vocations
- General job boards like Indeed
Get Your First Paying Clients
Once you’ve secured your first photography clients for your business, there are some steps you can take to build your reputation in the photography industry:
You Need to Prove Yourself
Being on time isn’t the only advice to take with your first clients (and all clients, TBH). You should be courteous and respectful. But also make sure you make their experience a pleasant one.
Then, in the end, you can ask for a review (tell them where they can leave the review) after you’ve sent thank you’s.
The Best Place to Find Your First Clients
Nothing works better than word-of-mouth referrals. You may have just moved to the area, and you may not know anyone. Join any local business organizations within your community. Facebook and LinkedIn are full of local groups you can join. Network either in real life or in person with your new friends. Ask around if anyone is looking for a photographer. Then, go from there.
What to Charge for Your First Clients
New photographers are often worried about how much to charge their first clients. You should ask around in your photographer network to find out their pricing levels for similar services. Ask what perks they offer new clients too. And ask about referral bonuses when someone refers you to a friend. You want to provide incentives so clients can keep coming back. Here are some helpful tips for pricing your work.
Use Craigslist to Find Initial Work
You may think Craigslist is a little outdated, but it’s not. Safely put out a posting to build up your portfolio. Your first couple might be free mini-sessions so they can refer you to their friends, and then you can introduce pricing down the line. Remember to vet your potential clients to make sure you don’t get catfished or scammed. There’s likely to be people searching for Craigslist photographers, especially when they don’t know your area as much. They might have moved to the site for work or school.
The Photography Workflow
You’ve just secured your first clients, and now it’s time to establish a rapport with your work. Here are the best things you can do for the photography workflow of your photography business.
Booking Your Client
When you first book your client, you may get a little overzealous, thinking about how excited you are to shoot your first client. But it’s time to get down to business. Arrange a time to talk with your clients on the phone, via Zoom chat, or in person at a place like a coffee shop. Explain the contract they’ll be signing (if any). Always include how much is due in advance and how to pay their bill. Let them know how far in advance they should commit to a schedule.
Carefully explain the details of the contract. If you need to be careful about how clients use the photos, explain them carefully, and highlight them in the agreement. Everything necessary should be in writing. This professional step is the most essential to get your photography business running smoothly off the bad. If you’re looking for contracts, do a web search for standard photography contract templates. You can also find model releases, wedding agreements, photo licensing, and other essential photography contracts easily by doing a web search.
Meeting Your Client
The number one goal here is to meet your clients’ expectations. This will guarantee your photography business’s success. Always lay out what they can expect from you before meeting for your photoshoot. Many wedding photographers confer with their clients before engagement shoots or wedding shoots to talk about these expectations. If you’re a wedding or family portrait photographer, you should always organize timelines for photos and ask your clients their vision before the photoshoot.
When shooting newborn photography, always give suggestions on clothes and accessories, the proud parents should be. Tell your headshot clients how you think they should dress. Have a conversation around the vision of your photoshoot. Plan, plan, plan.
Again, be on time and have everything ready to go. If you’re photographing families, bring juice boxes and treat bags or small toys to your photoshoot. If you’re a wedding photographer, you can give your clients a photo book of all their digital wedding photos.
Be personable and prepared on shoots with tissues (for the bride, groom, and their families) and other helpful things like wet wipes or Tide pens for champagne or wine (bring one to kids shoots too). Your clients will be impressed with how prepared you are throughout the whole thing.
Finally, always have a smile on your face and be warm and friendly to your clients. No one wants a grumpy photographer.
Editing / Post
Let your clients know how long to expect your edits with proofs to come back to them. Try to get them done as soon as possible. Remember, they’re paying you good money. The least you can do is give them your work promptly. If they have any special requests for editing, ask them before you begin your editing process.
Final Delivery of Photos
Send your clients the files. Most photographers give their clients an online drive with a username and password. From there, they can download the images. Many photographers also include ways to order prints. You can easily add a program for images using an applicable web platform. Make sure your software is easy to use and understand, especially for those unfamiliar with the internet.
Many corporate clients will outline how they want their photos delivered or released. Be sure to ask them before assuming, of course.
Scale Your photography Business
Using Tools Like Podio to Keep Track of Everything
When you scale your photography business, you may start working with collaborators, assistants, and second-shooters. Keep everything organized by using an online workspace like Podio, Slack, and Trello. This way, timelines and communications are correctly together in one place.
Business Insurance for Photographers
Business insurance is crucial for protecting you if your studio gets damaged, your equipment becomes stolen, or if someone gets injured in your studio and decides to sue you. If you already have an insurance policy, ask your insurance agent about policies that might be best for you and personal liability. You don’t want to get stuck paying out-of-pocket in any of these scenarios, so insurance pays off in the long-run.
Having everything adequately recorded ‘in the books’ will keep your business organized. Quickbooks offers software that helps calculate spending and revenue made just for small business owners and freelancers.
Again, having all your expenditures properly recorded will help you tremendously during tax season. Many freelancers do taxes every quarter. Always have an accountant or accounting software to track any deductions to make sure you save money in the long run. Again, Quickbooks and TurboTax are great tools for taxes that are low cost.
Scaling Up Your Prices
When your photography business starts booming (and we hope it does), you can start scaling up your prices. Don’t be too overzealous, but don’t be afraid to bump up prices with industry standards and inflation. You never know what clients will be willing to pay for your fantastic work. But do talk to other photographers at this stage to see what you should charge.
Attending Conferences and Meetups
Keep learning as you go. Attend local meetups and conferences near and far. As of lately, many conferences have moved entirely online, which is cost and time-efficient.
Sell Your Prints
Look online for selling platforms, as long as legally allowed. A quick Google search can help you find platforms that will give you money for your prints (such as stock photography). This may help you build up an online reputation as well.
Becoming a Professional Photography Business Owner
Look, we know that starting a photography business is not for the faint of heart. It will take a lot of steps. But, with the right resources, you’re on your way to success. Remember to have fun with your business as you continue to grow and live your passion day-by-day.