This article is for aspiring photographers who want to turn their passion into a full-scale photography business and make money doing what they love.
Note: this goes beyond using your iPhone and slapping on a filter.
Photography is a creative medium of expression; you get to capture moments that last throughout time. You can still start a photography business even though you’re not an expert. Why not? Everybody wants to capture their most precious moments (weddings, event speeches, kids growing, family portraits, etc.). Still, they can’t take the perfect shot themselves, so professional photographers are being hired daily.
Read on to learn how to start a photography business and become a professional photographer. We cover everything from choosing a business name to officially registering and promoting your photography business.
How much does it cost to start a photography business?
Starting a photography business can cost anything from a few thousand dollars to over $10,000, depending on your setup. For instance, a professional-grade DSLR camera costs anything from $2,000, and individual lenses can reach up to $1,000 each. So, if you have been using only your iPhone, you’ll need to splurge. But if you already have that equipment and a good laptop, the cost of starting your business drops considerably.
When starting a professional photography business, you’ll need the best equipment to compete in this industry. A professional photography studio needs lights, tripods, reflectors, and beautiful backdrops.
You also want to invest in multiple external drives to save large image files, costing about a hundred bucks each.
You may need a lawyer or an online business formation service like Incfile to make your photography business legally recognized. While lawyers charge several hundred dollars, you pay only a fraction of that for online services.
You’ll also need an editing software. Most professional photographers start with Adobe Photoshop, with subscriptions costing $20-$55 monthly. There’s also marketing to do.
Create a business plan.
The first step to starting a photography business is to create a business plan. This becomes your photography business roadmap, guiding you every step of the way, from the type of photography service you’d offer to understand your target market and profitability.
You can see if your business will be viable from your business plan. Lenders will also want to know the viability of your business to see if it’s a worthy investment.
There are free business plan templates online to get you started.
Choose a photography business niche.
Your photography business plan should include the service you’d be offering. There are different types of photography, and most professional photographers specialize in focusing their marketing efforts and potentially commanding better rates as a “specialist” in that niche.
Types of photography businesses:
- Wedding Photography
- Event Photography
- Portrait Photography
- Stock Photography
- Headshot Photography
- Real estate Photography
- Pet Photography
- Fashion Photography
- Nature Photography
- Food Photography
- Landscape Photography
Consider what type of photography is in high demand or more profitable in your area. Aside from profitability, consider choosing a photography niche you can be comfortable working on daily. Something you have a real passion for.
You can also decide to freelance by selling photos to stock image companies and magazines.
Choosing your niche will help you identify your target audience and required equipment. For instance, real estate and wedding photographers may need a drone to take aerial photographs. But this isn’t expected of a portrait photographer.
Define your target audience.
Who is your target audience, and where can you find them? How would you market to them? What are their needs? Identifying your target audience is key to building a successful business with great potential to flourish.
A wedding photographer’s target audience will include wedding planners and engaged couples. These people like to visit online wedding services like Zola and The Knot in search of ideas. So, hopping on such services can bring the photographer right in front of their target audience.
Check out the competition.
There are many talented photographers, but to give yourself an edge, do what most of them aren’t doing: offers that clients would love. Conduct market research to find this gap. It could be a lower price or an additional service.
Decide on a Pricing Plan
Will you charge by the hour or offer a flat rate? You may also choose to offer a premium service at an extra cost. Whatever the case, ensure you are being compensated well for your time.
Enable clients to appreciate that photography goes beyond the shot itself (which can take a second). It includes the advanced gear, the editing process, and every other value you bring. Factor these into your pricing.
For high-priced photography gigs, it’s advisable to charge an upfront deposit.
Conduct competitor research to ensure you are not overpricing your service.
Form a business entity.
You can start accepting clients and making cool cash, but it won’t be legally recognized until you officially make your photography business a legitimate business entity. This is one of the most crucial steps to start a photography business.
Forming a business entity means making your business legally recognized by giving it a business structure and registering it with your secretary of state. Photography businesses’ most common structures are sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Read on to find out how to set up your photography business legally.
Name your business
You must choose a name for your photography business before registering it. Ensure this name is memorable and captures the essence of the business. For example, Just Right Photography LLC is more suitable than Just Right & Perfect LLC.
Do a name search on the Secretary of State’s website to ensure your chosen name isn’t already used by another business.
If you’re operating a sole proprietorship, your business takes your own legal name by default. So, you’ll want to file a DBA (Doing Business As) when registering.
Choose a business entity.
Let’s consider the three common entities:
- Sole proprietorship: It is the easiest way to register your photography business as it is the least formal option. In a sole proprietorship, your business takes your own name, and everything goes into your personal tax. The problem is, when things go south with your business, you are also personally liable for it. Hence, you may lose your photography equipment and personal assets if you’re sued or can’t repay business debt.
- LLC: LLC and Corp both separate you from your own photography business. That is, the business is taxed separately, does not take your name, and does not affect your personal assets, even when the company is in debt or sued. The paperwork in LLC is much less complicated than in Corp, making it preferred among professional photographers. An LLC can have multiple owners (partners).
- Corporation: If you’re a single-person photographer, you don’t need a corporation as it’s more complex than is necessary for this kind of business. But if you wish to raise capital from investors who will own shares in the company, a corporation is the way to go. Again, since you don’t need hundreds of thousands to start a photography business, you’d hardly need to go this route.
It’s advisable to seek professional advice from a lawyer or accountant when choosing a business structure. If you’re unwilling to add their fee to your startup costs, you should do just fine with a ton of research.
Register your business
The exact requirements for registering a business will vary by state. You’ll want to check your secretary of state’s website for your required information.
Generally, when registering your photography business as an LLC, you will need to:
- Provide your business name.
- Determine your registered agent. This person or company is responsible for receiving and forwarding essential documents, such as lawsuits and notices from government agencies, to the appropriate party within the company.
- File articles of organization with the Secretary of State.
- Provide your business address.
- Create an operating agreement that spells out how your photography business will be run, responsibilities distributed, and profits shared. This document isn’t always required but is recommended.
- Check if your state or local government has any additional requirements
All of this can be quite tedious. Thankfully, there are LLC formation services that can help you file your business formation and even act as your registered agent for a small fee. Some of the best options include Northwest Registered Agent, Incfile, LegalZoom, and Zenbusiness.
Also, remember you’d need to provide your business address when registering your photography business. This address goes into the public record. If you work from home, you may not want your home address to be public as it exposes you to risks, such as an angry client storming into your home and causing chaos in front of your family.
To avoid that, obtain a virtual business address a real street address in a commercial area. Such a business address can bolster your professional image in the eyes of potential clients. They’ll likely take you more seriously than the guy who “works from a basement.”
Secure an EIN
One of the steps on how to start a photography business is to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You’ll need this number when registering for tax after filing your LLC or Corp and when you want to employ staff. Apply for an EIN online through the IRS website. It costs $0.
Buy domain name
It’s wise to quickly buy a domain with your chosen business name before someone else takes it. About 33,000 domain registrations occur daily, so the chances are quite high.
Get a business bank account and business credit card
Having made your business legal, open a bank account for it. This reinforces that you’re keeping your business and personal finances separate.
Open a business bank account.
You’ll need to provide your EIN to open a business bank account.
Get a credit card.
With a business credit card, you can obtain credit and make payments on behalf of your business. Since it’s different from your credit card, it further helps keep your personal and business finances separate.
You can seek funding as a small business owner if your startup costs more than you can shoulder.
Setting up your photography studio
This is where your clients will come to take portraits, so there should be stellar equipment and eye-catching backdrops. Even if you capture photos outside at the client’s venue, you still need a studio space where you’ll do your photo editing. This is your office space.
Get the right photography equipment and tools.
Below are the tools you’ll need in your studio as a professional photographer:
- 2 Professional-grade cameras (one serving as a backup): $2000+ each
- At least two lenses and flashes: ~$1000 each
- Professional grade drone (only for aerial photography): $3000
- Memory cards: ~$50 each
- Tripod: ~$200
- Lighting accessories (reflectors, diffusers, etc.): $500+
- High-performance laptop: $1000+
- Backdrops: $500
- Equipment travel cases: ~$500
- Props: $300 total
- Photo editing software subscription: $60 monthly
- Business cards and other marketing materials.
Create client contracts
It’s good to offer a contract form so you and your potential clients have clear expectations. This will protect your rights when offering your photography services.
Thankfully, you don’t always need a lawyer to create contracts; free templates are online. But having a lawyer review it to verify everything is covered is also a good idea.
Get business insurance
So many photography business owners forget to buy insurance when starting their business. When you incur equipment damage, theft, lawsuits, or other incidents in your business, your business insurance can cover the financial losses. So you don’t want to ignore this step. Moreover, some clients want to ensure you are insured before hiring you.
Set up business accounting.
You want to be financially savvy when running your business. You can use accounting software to calculate your startup costs, break-even analysis, track expenses, and monitor cash flow. It’s always good to monitor your business finances to avoid mismanagement.
Get business licenses and permits.
It’s worth noting that most jurisdictions in the US do not require photographers to have a business license or permits. But be sure to confirm with your local city hall or licensing board.
Promoting your photography business
The next step in how to start a photography business is the marketing side. Apart from your art, you need good business skills to succeed as a photographer. Of course, you must put your brand out there for people to know it exists before coming to you. Let’s go over the steps:
Create your photography portfolio website
With the domain name you’ve bought, build a simple portfolio website to showcase your best works. When prospective clients check you out online, you’ll want to blow their minds with your amazing photos.
Having a website also fosters credibility and professionalism. Optimize your content for local SEO to increase its chances of showing up on Google when people in your area search for a photographer.
Start a photography blog.
Start writing blogs about your target audience’s concerns and your niche on your website. For instance, if you’re into wedding photography, you can write blogs like “What to look out for when hiring a wedding photographer.”
Social media marketing
You can build a successful photography business right on social media. Post your work on social media to let your connections know what you do. Instagram is the best platform to use. Engage them and build relationships so you’ll become the go-to photographer they think of when they need one.
With paid ads, there’s a higher chance of your website appearing when potential clients search for a photographer.
Word-of-mouth and referrals
Nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals. As you tell people about your photography services, encourage your friends, family, and clients to recommend you to their acquaintances if they ever need it.
Wedding photographers can reach out to local wedding planners and florists. Recommend them so they can recommend you as well. This is an excellent way to get clients despite your low marketing budget.
Aside from listing in local directories, list your photography business on sites like Yelp, Four Square, KeepSnap, and Yellow Pages.
Local advertising and Print ads (billboards and brochures)
Don’t underestimate the power of traditional marketing using business cards, billboards, and brochures.
Pros of Starting a Photography Business
Here are some reasons you may want to start a photography business:
- You get to do what you love, converting your hobby into a revenue source
- You get to be your own boss, work whenever you want
- You meet new people and see new places
Cons of Starting a Photography Business
Here are some reasons you may find a photography business challenging:
- There is no definite cash flow; you can go months without a single client and start turning down jobs because you’re overbooked.
- The starting cost can be quite high if you don’t already have a good camera and laptop.
- Many photography businesses struggle in their first year to get clients, and surviving on the business alone becomes difficult. But once you’ve built your brand and customer base, it does get easier.
If you’ve got a passion for photography and have been doing it as a hobby, it may be time to make cool cash out of it.
Many professional photographers say to budget from $10,000 to $15,000 to start your photography business. Cameras, lenses, and a laptop take the biggest chunk of this budget, so if you already have those, your startup costs should be relatively easy to navigate. You can also save money by buying less expensive models now and acquiring higher-quality ones when your photography business grows.
The running cost is also meager as you’d rarely make additional business expenses beyond external storage and commuting to meet clients.
So, there you have it! Now, you can go ahead and register your photography business, open a business account, market your photography services, and make money doing what you love.
Frequently Asked Questions on How to Start a Photography Business
Can I start a photography business with no experience?
You don’t need a degree to begin your photography career. If you have the passion and basic knowledge about lighting and angles, start by taking random photos for free and learn editing. Practice makes perfect. Preferably, work alongside a professional photographer to understand the nitty-gritty of the art before taking on projects.
Is a photography business profitable?
The profitability of a photography business can vary depending on factors like market demand, competition, pricing, and business strategy. But clients will happily hire you and pay your rates if you can offer something better than your competitors.
Should a photographer be an LLC or sole proprietor?
Many photographers choose to form an LLC due to the limited liability protection it provides, separating personal and business assets. A sole proprietorship offers fewer formalities, but you’re personally at risk when your business gets into trouble.
Does my photography business need an EIN?
You don’t need an EIN if you operate your photography business as a sole proprietor. You need an EIN if it’s an LLC, corporation, or partnership.
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