Sometimes I feel like I got into the photography industry too early. I mean that in the sense that I got started before social media was really a thing, YouTube was still in its early years, and online education was just starting to launch. There are so many resources these days that will show you how to start a photography business.
If you have a passion for photography and want to turn it into a business, there are some important steps you need to take. From creating a business plan to building a portfolio and marketing your services, this guide will provide you with the essential information you need to start a successful photography business.
How to Start a Photography Business
Here’s my disclaimer before we dive into the content. You don’t have to monetize your photography skills. Just because friends or family tell you, “Oh you should start a photography business” doesn’t mean you have to. If you find joy from taking photos as a hobby and that makes you happy, then keep doing that!
However, if you’re ready to start a photography business and everything that comes with it, I’ll be sharing all the things I wish I knew when I first got started.
Define Your Niche and Target Market
One of the most important steps in starting a photography business is defining your niche and target market. This will help you focus your marketing efforts and attract the right clients. Consider what type of photography you enjoy and excel at, and who your ideal clients would be. Are you interested in wedding photography, family portraits, or commercial photography? Once you have a clear understanding of your niche and target market, you can tailor your services and marketing materials to appeal to them specifically.
Create a Business Plan and Set Goals
Before you dive into starting your photography business, it’s important to create a solid business plan and set achievable goals. This will help you stay focused and on track as you navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship. Your business plan should include details such as your niche, target market, pricing, marketing strategy, and financial projections.
Setting goals will help you measure your progress and stay motivated. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, and realistic. For example, you might set a goal to book 10 clients in your first month of business, or to increase your revenue by 20% in the next quarter.
The idea of “business plan” may sound overwhelming, but the main idea is to create some goals and plans to move your business forward in the direction you want to take it.
Choose a Business Name and Register Your Business
Once you have a solid business plan and goals in place, it’s time to choose a name for your photography business and register it. Your business name should be memorable, easy to spell, and reflect your brand and niche. You can check if the name is available by doing a quick search on your state’s business registration website. If you can’t think of a name, you can always use your own name, too.
After you have chosen a name, check with your state for rules and regulations pertaining to starting a business. Here in Texas, you can file for a “Doing Business As” (DBA) certificate from the county. If you want to form an LLC, you usually go through the Secretary of State office, so do your research to find out what paperwork or fees are involved for your state.
I also recommend checking with your state and county for sales tax rules on services and products. It is different depending on where you live, so be sure to do your research. If you need to, obtain a sales tax permit so that you can collect sales tax to remit to the state when due.
Invest in the Best Equipment and Software for You
As a photography business owner, there’s a lot you can spend your money on! From cameras to computers and software, you can easily spend thousands of dollars.
But, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to do it all at once. I recommend creating a budget to fund your business startup. Whether that’s $500 or $2000, you can make it work for you until you save up enough money to fund all your purchases. You may hear from other educators to get the best of the best up front — but I will argue that you don’t need to at the start.
If you can afford a top of the line camera, then go for it. However, personally, I’d opt for a midlevel camera + nicer lens to start, then upgraded as I see fit.
Bare minimum camera equipment to start a business:
- DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
- Kit Lens or “All-purpose” 50mm lens
- Memory Card – choose ones with fast writing speed
- Computer or Laptop to edit
- Adobe Creative Cloud for Lightroom ($9.99/month subscription)
Build Your Portfolio and Market Your Business
Once you have your equipment and software in place, it’s time to start building your portfolio and marketing your business. Start by offering your services to friends and family for free or at a discounted rate in exchange for permission to use their photos in your portfolio. This will help you build a strong portfolio that showcases your skills and style.
This is what I did back in 2007-2008 when I was first getting started. I asked a couple of my coworkers if I could take their photos, because at the time I wanted to get into wedding photography. Looking back at those photos now…they were pretty terrible! But we all start somewhere. Through lots of practice and more practice, you’ll hone in on your craft.
From there, create a website and social media accounts to showcase your work and attract potential clients. Consider offering special promotions or discounts to new clients to help build your client base and establish your brand. Networking with other photographers and industry professionals can also help you gain exposure and build relationships that can lead to new business opportunities.
How do you learn to take good photos?
So I’ve been asked before about how I learned photography. The honest answer is trial and error. Practice on practice on practice. Experimentation. I watched a handful of YouTube videos, but for the most part, I’m 100% self taught.
When I was in college, I had a roommate who took a photography class. Back then, all the photography classes were taught on film cameras. She told me all about the critique portion of the class and I felt too scared and intimidated to even try. So it’s kind of funny to me that I became a photographer.
If you’re looking for some photographer education, I’d recommend these educators:
How to Start a Photography Business: Workflow Resources
From my experience, it’s super important to think about workflow before it’s too late. What do I mean by that? Well, often times, new photographers get into the business, start booking clients, gain a full roster, and then get overwhelmed. When you established workflows and systems as soon as possible, you’ll be able to manage clients more easily.
If you’re looking for user friendly software that will help you manage your clients, I highly recommend checking out Honeybook. You’ll be able to send proposals, send your information, send contracts, collect payment, and track emails with your clients. It’s great at tracking your leads and will help you know how clients found you.
After I started using Honeybook, I started to see more leads overall. I love embedding my contact forms on my website and it creates a streamlined and professional way to capture leads.
How to Start a Photography Business: Mistakes to Avoid
If there is one thing that I would caution new photographers about, it would be this: avoid using PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, and CashApp for collecting payments. These platforms may work for you at the beginning, but it is best practice to use proper payment processors such as Stripe.
I don’t recommend PayPal even if there is a business option because I’ve heard one too many stories of a client disputing payment, and PayPal is known for siding with the customer 99% of the time.
If you’re concerned about paying fees in order to collect payments, raise your prices about 3-5% in order to cover those fees. You could (in some states, check your local area) add on 5% for processing fees, but as the consumer, I would be annoyed to see that extra fee added on top vs. a higher overall price.
Recommended camera gear for beginner photographers
If you’re just getting started in photography in 2023, I’d recommend going for a mirrorless system. Mirrorless is the way of the future and the technology is amazing.
The best way to try out a camera without committing to a particular system is to rent a camera. My favorite rental company here in Dallas is Aperturent because you can pick it up at their location off the Dallas North Tollway. They also ship nationwide and they have locations in Atlanta and Washington, DC.
It’s hard to know what brand of camera you’ll like best without trying it out. The two big camera companies are Canon and Nikon, but you shouldn’t overlook Sony or Fuji either when it comes to mirrorless.
And it’s important to know that it isn’t the camera that makes the photographer. A skilled photographer can use any camera to take amazing photos. So please take this as advice that you don’t have to buy the fanciest camera when you’re getting started. Practice, practice, practice and take your current camera to the limit. You’ll know when you’ve outgrown it.
Ready to start your own photography business?
Are you interested in starting your own photography business? But all of this sounds super overwhelming? And you wish you had someone to “hold your hand” through the process?
You’re in luck! I’ve got something for you!
When I started my business, I wished I had a checklist that I could follow to know if I was getting everything I needed to get done. Because there are SO MANY THINGS to do when it comes to starting a photography business.