As cameras become more affordable and easier to use photography as a hobby and a profession continues to grow at a fast rate. With the technology advancements in the last decade, more people are joining the photography profession.
But, even with the large numbers of photography businesses, it’s still possible to become a professional photographer. For success, you need a passion for the field and a willingness to work hard at making your photos stand out.
Starting a Photography Business from Scratch
Setting yourself apart from the competition is the key to a thriving business. Branding and developing a specific niche helps you stand out in an otherwise saturated market. If you take wedding pictures, narrow it down and cater to those looking for unique and unconventional wedding photographs. Instead of just portraits, maybe do human and animal portraits. The choices are endless for narrowing down your chosen photography field.
Even with a competitive market, many amateur photographers are building a successful and sustainable business. As with any endeavor, you must balance your photography passion with good business skills. You need creative talent and a few marketing skills along with these seven business building steps:
- Start with a business plan.
- Get business startup funds. (We choose: Kabbage)
- Gather your camera gear.
- Get professional experience and build an outstanding portfolio.
- Buy a domain name. (We choose: Go Daddy)
- Set up a website hosting account. (We choose: BlueHost)
- Build your portfolio website. (We choose: Wix)
1. Start With a Business Plan
The first step to starting your photography business is developing a sound business plan. You want your thoughts and ideas laid out on paper. Make your plan a detailed roadmap of the route you want to take while building and running your business.
Start with an opening that describes your plan for building a profitable enterprise. Include all pertinent details like type of ownership, sole proprietor, partnership, or LLC, starting capital, expenses, and cash-flow. It’s also beneficial to add information about who your competition is and how you plan to compete.
Next, you must decide whether to work from home or use an off-site studio. Having an off-site studio involves renting or leasing commercial office and studio space and comes with associated utility costs.
With the amount of competition, a photographer needs exceptional business skills to make a good living. A sound business plan including all the possible business costs helps you roadmap your path to success.
2. Startup Funding
Entering the photography business field takes securing startup funding. You need money for standard costs like licensing, insurance, accounting software, and a website. Besides the basics, you need the photography equipment which can set you back by $10,000 or more.
Funding comes from many places including savings accounts, bank loans, and family and friends. But if you don’t have access to these funding sources or you don’t qualify for a traditional bank loan, you must look elsewhere for money.
Kabbage is an alternative lending company, offering single line of credit loans to new startups or other businesses that don’t qualify for bank business loans. Their line of credit works like a credit card loan; you draw against a set loan amount and only get interest charged on what you withdraw. Each payment you make goes back to the money available balance.
The important thing to remember is in the beginning; you won’t see profits. It takes a while to pay the bills and any loans back. Sometimes, you might need to work another job
3. Gathering your Camera Gear
Starting out, a professional photographer needs the following list of camera gear:
- Two professional cameras
- Two flashes
- Two high-quality lenses
- High-quality tripod
- Professional photo editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom
As your business grows, you can add new equipment and upgrade existing equipment. In this guide, cover the most important needed equipment: the camera.
Malfunctions happen making a backup camera a welcome addition when something goes wrong. Like your main camera, you need a professional-level backup camera. No trying to save money by using an amateur camera. With that said, you don’t need a $10,000 camera either.
Start with the best professional cameras you can afford, but don’t blow your entire budget on cameras. As your business grows, replace your existing cameras with higher grade equipment. But, if you’re happy with what you have and the results you get, there’s no need to upgrade. Invest your money elsewhere, like adding lenses or marketing your business.
When choosing your cameras, it comes down to two considerations:
- What is your niche or what are you photographing?
- How are you using your pictures?
The first question from most budding photographers is, “What brand of camera?” So, is a Nikon better than Canon, or a Sony better than Pentax? The essential point is, you need a professional camera, but the camera doesn’t make that great shot. The creative mind behind the camera makes the best selling photo.
When choosing a camera one brand isn’t always better than another brand. Select your camera by what you plan to photograph. Some cameras work better for portraits while others work better for wildlife and action photography. Research each camera and decide which one offers the settings needed for your photography purposes.
Here we’ll cover our top five professional camera picks to help you find the one best for your business.
- Full-Frame CMOS
- 4 Megapixels
- 61-Point Autofocus
- 7fps Continuous Shooting Speed
- 4K Movie Capability
- A 3.2-inch Touchscreen Viewing Screen with 1,620,00 Dots-Per-Inch
This camera offers stunning performance for the expert-level user.
Prices start at $3,499.00 for the body only.
- Full-Frame CMOS
- 3 Megapixels
- 51-Point Autofocus
- 5fps Continuous Shooting Speed
- 1080p Movie Capability
- A 3.2-inch Viewing Screen with 1,229,000 Dots-Per-Inch
A somewhat dated camera, soon to see a replacement model, but still a good choice for the expert-level user.
Prices start at $2,796.95 for the body only.
- Full-Frame CMOS
- 6 Megapixels
- 61-Point Autofocus
- 5fps Continuous Shooting Speed
- 1080p Movie Capability
- A 3.2-inch Viewing Screen with 1,040,000 Dots-Per-Inch
The 5DS has superb image quality, and detail, dynamic range, fantastic noise control and is another great camera for the expert-level user.
Prices start at $3,499.00 for the body only.
- APS-C CMOS
- 9 Megapixels
- 153-point Autofocus
- 10 fps Continuous Shooting Speed
- 4K Movie Capabilities
- 2-inch Viewing Screen with 2,359,000 Dots-Per-Inch
The D500 DX doesn’t have the same resolving power as other cameras, but it’s still a nice expert-level camera.
Prices start at $1,996.95 for the body only.
- APS-C CMOS
- 2 Megapixels
- 65-Point Autofocus
- 10fps Continuous Shooting Speed
- 1080p Movies Capability
- 0-inch Viewing Screen with 1,040,000 Dots-Per-Inch
The EOS 7D Mark II brings an autofocus system to the amateur photographer with superb sports and live action shots.
Prices start at $1,499.00 for the body only.
4. Getting Professional Experience and Building Your Portfolio
All photographers starting a business need a portfolio for showing prospective clients their work. Start by taking advanced photography classes or workshops and working as an intern to a professional photographer.
Intern with different photography businesses, both small and large, and in different niches. Do field work with a food photographer, then move to a fashion photographer. The more experience in the various photography niches, the better. The pictures you take while working can quickly build a photography portfolio.
5. Buy a Domain Name
The domain name plays an important part in your branding. You want the domain to reflect your company while speaking to your customers.
GoDaddy helps you find your perfect domain name with an easy to use search function. If you haven’t decided on a name, their search engine offers suggestions when typing in a keyword or phrase. If your domain choice isn’t available, GoDaddy offers suggestions for domains like your first choice.
Choosing your domain name isn’t complicated if you follow these tips:
- Use a short domain name
- Forget the hyphens
- Make the name easy to spell, don’t purposely misspell the words
- Make the wording simple and memorable, something easy for people to share
6. Setup a Website Hosting Account
After you have your domain name, it’s time to set up a website hosting account.
BlueHost starts at $2.95 each month for your first year and has several hosting packages to fit your needs. Building a site is easy, and BlueHost offers several tools for building the perfect website.
For a professional looking site look for these features provided by your hosting company:
- Amount of bandwidth
- Website and data storage space
- Number of allowed websites
- Amount of scalability
- Sufficient backup and security options
- User support
- Marketing options
- Package pricing
BlueHost with its long lists of features is a perfect company for hosting your new photography business.
7. Build your Portfolio Website (when Starting Your Own Photography Business)
For those with zero website experience, an easy to use building platform can help. Plus, when funds are limited, the Wix website building system has a free of charge low-end package.
Wix is a site building tool and hosting service rolled into one. The easy to use drag-and-drop building tool makes it easy for anyone, regardless of experience, build a professional web presence.
The layouts are beautiful and designed for photographers, artists and musicians, online stores, restaurants, and small businesses. Wix lets you reach more customers with their mobile device optimization that’s easily expanded with the numerous available apps from their app marketplace.
Perhaps the best feature for the new business owner is their service is free. If you need professional features, they have five premium plans to help you out.
There are pros and cons to using the Wix platform:
- Large selection of professional, pre-built templates covering many business industries.
- Flexible building platform for moving around the webpage
- Allows adding animated text and pictures to your website.
- Hundreds of third-party apps available through the Wix Marketplace.
- Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) assists in website creation within certain projects.
- The free plan displays Wix ads.
- The cheapest plan without ads, called the combo starts at $8.95 per month.
- You can’t change templates. You can change the design within the template, but not the actual template. With other hosting companies like BlueHost, you can change templates whenever you want if using WordPress.
- You can’t edit the HMTL or CSS codes for your website.
- Can’t transfer the website to other hosting platforms.
When you’re in your beginning stages and testing the market, Wix provides a free platform that can grow as you grow.
8. Design Your Website Well
Your website represents you and your work. You want an easy to navigate site with a smooth flow. The site should highlight your work, but not overpower it.
Keep the portfolio site organized in categories that are easy for the customer to understand. Include an About Me page describing your experience and background, and a Contact Me page. Make sure you include a picture of yourself so people can see the person behind the camera.
Develop a Price List
Listing your prices helps you manage your customer’s expectations and eliminate people negotiating for lower prices. But, figuring out what to charge is difficult, especially for those new to the field of photography.
When figuring the price for each hour you work, add the time you spend editing. Many photographers make the mistake of only calculating the time spent photographing. You must add to that the time you spent editing those pictures you shot. So, if you spend an hour shooting and an hour editing, you have two hours’ work, not one.
Your pricing plan is whatever you want to charge, but make sure you include every activity involved in a photo shoot.
If you stay within a certain mile radius, a flat fee might work. Your prices vary depending on the photograph venue. If you’re taking portraits, your website pricing page might look something like this:
Single Portrait Session $200.00
Portrait Fees Include:
- 1 Hour Portrait Session Time
- Private Portrait Viewing
- Private 2 Week Online Portrait Proof Gallery Viewing and Ordering
Includes studio time (if you have a studio) or the following areas:
(List cities or areas you cover)
Also, include your address, telephone number, and email address. Place this information on your website and add to brochures and flyers.
Now you need a client base. There are many ways to market including doing it yourself or hiring a marketing company. If your business is new, you may want to do the marketing yourself. Eight popular forms of marketing are:
- Family and Friends
- Social Media
- Business Flyers
- Placing Google Ads
- Working with Charities
- Build a Blog
- Build an Email List
1. Family and Friends
When starting out, family and friends are a great beginning customer and marketing base. This group of customers spread the word and show your pictures to their friends. Even though it’s a good marketing source, the downside is your inclination to discount pricing. You might consider making special family and friends pricing scale.
Networking is a very successful marketing technique. When you’re new to the photography business world, people don’t know you. Networking gets your name and face out there and helps you bring in new customers.
Join groups, clubs, and forums both online and offline. You want to make acquaintances and earn respect in your field. Fellow members of these groups are great sources for referrals.
3. Social Media
A fantastic promotional tool is social media. Start out using only two sites, like Facebook and Instagram. Both are great marketing tools, and Instagram is a highly visual platform for displaying your work.
4. Business Flyers
Print business flyers and post them on bulletin boards and leave at the barber shop or hair salon, grocery stores, and other places you frequent. Include a short introduction, your pricing, any special promotions, contact information, and website.
5. Place Google Ads
As your business grows, it’s time to use more advanced marketing methods. Make room in your budget for buying keyword-based Google Ads. Visit Google Ads to learn more and get help from their free online support.
6. Work with Charities
Offer free prints to charity fundraisers like silent auctions. These high-end fundraisers attract wealthy supporters and many times, those bidding on your donation item end up buying.
7. Build a Blog
Adding a blog to your website establishes authority in the photography field. You can highlight your knowledge and talent by posting photography opinions and tips. Providing relevant content to your blog builds a loyal audience.
8. Build an Email List
Build an email list through a newsletter or new post notification list. Email is a top marketing tool that reaches readers and past customers. Email marketing through newsletters keeps your photography business in front of the customer and brings in repeat business.
Once You’re Up and Running
Once you have the basics in place, it’s time for profits. Make saving a portion of the profit a top priority as your business grows. All businesses, photography, or others, have slow periods. Saving money while business is busy, helps make the slower months less difficult.
Reinvest the Money
Once you save three months of income, reinvest the money back in the business. Put your reinvestment in better equipment, new lenses, updated software, or new technology pieces for improving your pictures. List the equipment and supplies you want or need to update. Prioritize your list by the most needed items. Take your time and look around for the best pricing before spending your reinvestment money.
Once your business is profiting, and you’re reinvesting, it’s time to diversify a portion of the revenue. Add a new sub-niche to your existing photography category. If your specialty is portraits, add glamor shots, or if you do children, add newborns. Branching out into sub-genres or categories adds another income stream to your business.
The best tip for any photographer is, keep learning and updating your skills. Go to workshops, take continuing education classes, or watch instructional videos. Explore a photography genre different from your current genre. Look for local photography groups offering field shoots to expand your knowledge and further develop your skills.
Starting a Photography Business: Add Part-Time Help
When starting out, you probably can’t afford help, and you’ll do the work yourself. But, as your business grows, you’ll soon find you can’t keep doing everything, and you need part-time help.
Make a note of your strong and weak areas and delegate the things on your weak list to someone else. Of course, you take amazing pictures, but maybe you don’t have the greatest editing skills, or you don’t like editing. Consider hiring a freelancer, for as-needed work doing your photo editing tasks. If you have a friend or colleague to help or to refer a freelance editor, great. But if not, place a job ad on freelance job sites like Upwork. You can also find freelance photo editors on Fiverr, with jobs starting at $5 per gig.
While professional photography is a very competitive field, it’s still possible to make a good living. Your chances of success double if you understand the art of photography and take the time to gain working experience. Start by interning or assisting an established photographer and joining workshops or classes related to your field of interest. Once you gain experience through education and field work, you’ll reap the rewards of running your own profitable photography business.