Photography can be a rewarding career choice, allowing you to exercise your creative talents as you earn money. A photography career can take you in so many directions, from product photography to photojournalism and more.
Whatever path you pursue, you have to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset if you want to make money. Establishing a formal photography business will help you attract new clients, boost your professional profile, and get paid.
Find out how to start a photography business below.
Credentials Needed to Become a Pro Photographer
You don't need a formal education to start a photography business. However, if you're just starting out, you may benefit from hands-on training (e.g., by working as an assistant to an already established photographer). This can help you hone your photography skills.
You might also take photography courses to further your expertise in select fields. For example, the job of a wedding photographer differs from that of a product photographer. Focusing on a specific area can help boost your marketability (more on that below).
Joining relevant professional associations can also help confirm your credibility and prove yourself as an expert in a certain field. Check whether there is an association for your target niche. Here are some examples:
- International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers
- National Press Photographers Association
- Society of International Nature and Wildlife Photographers
These kinds of organizations can also be a great way to network.
How to Plan Your Photography Business
In this section, we lay out the key measures you should take when planning your photography business.
These steps will also inform your business plan. In this document, you provide a description of your products and services, a market competition analysis, financial data and projections, and more. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has tips on writing business plans.
Select Your Niche
When you're planning how to start a photography business, you might think it's best to take a broad approach and offer all types of photography services. In fact, honing in on a target area can help establish you as an expert in your field, making you more marketable to potential consumers.
Here are some of the possible types of photography you might choose to specialize in:
- Wedding photography
- Event photography
- Commercial photography (e.g., professional headshots)
- Real estate photography
- Family portraits
- Pet portraits
- News photography
- Boudoir or glamor shots
- Sports photography
- Product imagery
- Food photography
- Music photography
A market analysis can also help you figure out what niches to target. If there are already three working wedding photographers in your county, you'll have a tough time penetrating the market. But if there are no wedding shutterbugs in the area, you have better odds of success.
Also, take your personal experience, training, and strengths into account when selecting your niche. For example, if you love to interact with people, family or wedding photography is a great pick. Do you prefer working solo? Product imagery may be preferable.
Lifestyle is also a factor. Sports and music photographers are often on the road and working odd hours to capture the moments of sports teams and live shows. The same may be true for photojournalists. In contrast, commercial photographers will likely work more traditional hours.
Invest in the Necessary Equipment
You will have to invest in some basic equipment and supplies if you plan to start a photography business. Here's an overview of some basic items you will likely need:
- Photo editing software (Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.)
- Photo paper and packaging for printouts (or a print provider)
- Screens and lights to control lighting
- Backdrops for portraits
- Memory cards
- Props (e.g., if you're doing baby photography)
These costs can add up to thousands of dollars, depending on how high-tech you get. You can usually save money by buying used supplies. This can be a smart way to cut startup costs. You can always upgrade later.
There are also some non-photography-specific items you'll need. For example, you'll likely want your own car to get to photoshoot locations with your gear. Some types of photography, like portraits or boudoir, may also require you to rent a commercial space.
Do Your Research Regarding Pricing Structure
Establish a set pricing plan before you open up shop. You need to charge for the time you spend shooting and editing photos (this is usually done by the hour). You also have to consider the cost of materials, such as photo printing paper.
In general, photographers charge for their time and a set number of images (digital and/or prints). As you determine your pricing, you can go by the rule of thumb that one hour of shooting will mean three hours of editing. According to Thumbtack, hourly rates for photographers typically range from $50 to $350.
Getting an idea of pricing can help you determine how much work you'll have to do to turn a profit. You want to make sure you have the capacity to handle the requisite hours if you want your business to thrive.
Draft Photography Contracts, NDAs, and Other Legal Paperwork
Drafting legal paperwork before you start operations will save you time and stress later. As a photographer, you may need to have potential clients sign contracts, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), model releases, or (more recently) pandemic waivers. Having a business attorney review this paperwork can ensure it's legally binding and will bring you peace of mind.
Starting Your Photography Business
With the above preparatory steps taken care of, you can go ahead and begin the formalities of commencing operations. Follow these guidelines.
How to Make Your Photography Business Legal
You likely won't need any permits or business licenses to open your own photography business. However, you might consider establishing your business structure as a legal entity, like a limited liability company (LLC).
This can offer tax benefits and will help protect your personal assets in case your business faces legal troubles. Every state has unique guidelines on business formation requirements, so check with your Secretary of State for guidance.
When you register your new business, you'll have to designate a legal business name. Make sure to choose something unique that's distinct from any competitors' names. Your business name will appear on marketing materials like your website domain name, so choose wisely.
At this point, it's also a good idea to go ahead and set up a business bank account. This will allow you to keep your personal and business finances separate, simplifying bookkeeping and tax filings with local entities and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You will likely need proof that your business is a legally registered entity to show the bank.
You will have to declare the income you earn through your successful photography business. Exactly how your business is taxed will depend on the type of business entity you set up (sole proprietor, LLC, corporation, etc.).
If you plan to set up a brick-and-mortar photo studio, you'll have to ensure it meets local health, fire, and safety codes. It's also a wise move to get commercial property insurance. This can help cover damages in case someone is hurt or their property is damaged on your studio's premises.
Finally, double-check what other business insurances you may need for your photography business. For example, it's wise to insure all of the photography equipment you purchased.
How to Market Your Photography Business
A mix of traditional and digital marketing methods can help you boost your photography business's profile when getting started. The first step is to create a photography website. You can showcase your portfolio here and provide essential information about details like pricing.
You can set up a website yourself using tools like Squarespace or Wix. Alternatively, you can hire a professional to do the job for you. Freelance platforms like Upwork can connect you with skilled web designers to create a beautiful site. You can also collaborate with copywriters to tweak your content and marketing professionals to improve your search engine optimization (SEO).
Setting up business pages on platforms like Google My Business and Yelp can also help your photography business's website climb the ranks. Your clients can also leave ratings and feedback on these platforms. Such testimonials serve as valuable word-of-mouth referrals.
A photography business can also benefit from social media marketing. Visually oriented platforms like Instagram are a great way to show off your work.
Your marketing plan should reflect a cohesive brand. You might consider getting a professionally designed logo, selecting a color palette to use in marketing materials, and even coming up with a slogan. You can include these elements on your website, business cards, and more.
How to Get Your Photography Business Running
The work doesn't stop once your photography business is set up. You have to put processes in place to ensure streamlined day-to-day operations. Creating beautiful images is just one part of the job. There is also the business side to consider.
This could include providing quotes for photography jobs, sending and following up on invoices, tracking expenses, and more. If you ship high-quality prints to customers, you also have to manage packing slips. As a professional photographer, you might find this part of the job less interesting.
Luckily, there are products to help. Skynova offers a customizable invoice and other business templates to make these administrative tasks less time-consuming. And with our all-in-one invoicing and accounting software, you can keep all your money management in one place, streamlining bookkeeping and recordkeeping.
Start Your Photography Business With Skynova
You're starting a photography business because you want to pursue your passion. You don't want to spend any more time than necessary dealing with pesky administrative tasks like invoicing. Skynova simplifies these processes for business owners with user-friendly software products. Find out how we can support your photography business's success.