Maybe you’ve been dabbling in photography as a hobby (and realized you’re actually fairly good at it), and now you’re wondering how to start a photography business? Great! You’re in the right place!
Being a professional photographer isn’t for everyone, but if you’re passionate about the craft and have what it takes to run your own small business, a photography business might be a perfect fit for you.
Wondering How to Start a Photography Business?
There’s more to it than just snapping some photos and hoping for clients! In this article, we’ll cover 10 important steps to take when starting a photography business so that you can find success and fulfillment in your new career.
But first, let’s address a few common questions from people trying to decide if it’s time to go pro as a photographer to make sure it’s the right choice for you. If you’re already sold on the decision, go ahead and scroll to the 10 steps!
Common Questions When Starting a Photography Business
Is photography a good career?
Is photography a good business to start? Is it a fulfilling career?
It definitely can be!
That being said, it’s not necessarily easy.
The answer to this question depends on what you’re willing to invest into your photo business (in time, money, and energy), how much you enjoy creating images (and everything that comes along with that), and whether or not it suits the lifestyle you want to live.
Of course, you need to spend a lot of time improving your skills and honing your style. You also need to invest in equipment and software. When starting a small photography business, you should also be prepared to wear many entrepreneurial hats in a given day. The time you spend shooting is only one piece of the puzzle!
If you’re good at it, you genuinely enjoy it, and you are able to invest the necessary time and energy into it, becoming a professional photographer can be rewarding and profitable!
Which degree is best for photography? Can I learn photography on my own?
This is a tough question to answer, because it really depends on the person. Some people do go to school to study photography and some photographers come from backgrounds in art, design, or marketing. If you think pursuing some formal education in photography is the right choice for you—if you’re the type of person who needs to learn by a combination of theory and practical education—then pursuing a photography education may be exactly what you need. And there are many photographers out there whose amazing artistry has been built on a scholastic photography education.
Other photographers would advise against going to photo school because they believe it’s something that’s best self-taught. And there are many photographers out there who are incredibly talented and self-taught.
That all being said, it definitely is possible to learn photography on your own and you don’t need a degree to become a photographer. The trick is to practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more!
Either way, finding a photography mentor who you connect with can also be a great way to propel your skills (and career).
How much money does it take to start a photography business?
If you’re thinking about starting a photography business, you’ve likely asked this question!
Starting a business always costs money. But the nice thing about starting a photography business is that you can adapt to the funds you have available and start small if you need to. Then, you can continue investing in your business as you go.
Here are some things you will need to consider:
- Camera gear (camera, lenses, tripod, lighting, etc.)
- Editing software, like Lightroom or Capture One
- Camera bag
- Memory cards
- External hard drives and backup storage
- A computer
- A website and domain name
- A business license
- A CRM software
- A photo gallery software
- Backdrops and props
- Marketing budget
- Travel budget
- Education and workshops
Starting a Photography Business in 10 Steps
Alright, now let’s dive into the steps to take when starting a photography business!
1. Learn to shoot, build a portfolio, and find your style
Before you even think about starting a photography business, it’s important to make sure you have something of value to offer your clients.
To put it bluntly: a lack of technical skills is one of the number one reasons why photographers fail.
It might feel like anyone can be a photographer these days. But the truth is that if you want to run a successful photography business, and make a good living doing it, you need to bring shooting skills to the table.
That means not only possessing the talent and skills it takes to be a professional photographer, but finding your style. Is it dark and moody? Light and airy? Vibrant? Warm and neutral? Something completely different?
How to find your photography style
Finding your creative voice and unique style comes from years of practice and trying new things. If you’re not sure you’re quite there yet, ask friends to model for you. Take your camera everywhere. Try different styles of editing. Eventually, you’ll find something that just feels right.
Photographer: Luke Liable | Preset: Fuji Original
You can also start by looking at the work of other photographers you admire. What is it that you like? What do they have in common?
Another way to find a consistent look for your work is by using presets. For example, Mastin Labs presets have several different styles that emulate the look of real film. Try taking our preset quiz—it might get you headed in the right direction!
Your photography niche
You’ll also want to determine your photography niche.
What type of business do you want to start?
A wedding photography business?
A family photography business?
A newborn photography business?
A boudoir photography business?
A commercial photography business?
There are plenty of options, but there must be something you’re especially drawn to and good at!
Of course, you don’t have to be at your peak photography-wise to start your business. You don’t have to yet know everything or have it all figured out. One of the joys of being a photographer is that you will always continue to learn, grow, and evolve. But you should be able to answer the question: What is it about my images that will make people want to work with me?
2. Make your photography business legal
This may not be the most fun part, but it’s important!
3. Build your photography website
Your photography website is not only a place to showcase your work. It’s also how people can find you, learn more about you, and get in touch.
Building a website is pretty easy these days, and there are plenty of user-friendly website-building platforms out there for photographers. But be aware—it’s really important to make sure that your website is built properly. If not, it might not come up in search engines like Google, which defeats a big part of the purpose! Not to mention, a website that is unappealing or hard to navigate might actually deter clients from working with you.
Depending on your time and skills, you might be able to build your own photography website. But you might want to strongly consider hiring a professional to take care of this part for you.
4. Make a marketing plan for your photography business
This is a big, important step! Coming up with a plan for marketing your photography business will make all the difference in how successful you are.
Here are some important questions to answer:
- What is your photography brand? (This is so important, we have a whole blog about it that you can read here!)
- Who is your ideal client?
- What are your goals?
- Where do you want your business to be in 2, 5, 10 years?
And some important marketing elements you should consider implementing:
- Proper branding
- Search engine optimization (SEO) for your website
- Blogging (and incorporating SEO)
- Social media
- Public relations (PR) and photo submissions
- Referrals and word-of-mouth marketing
- Digital ads
- And more
If this feels overwhelming to you, don’t worry. Your plan can involve incorporating one thing at a time, so you can learn as you go. Or, better yet, you can hire an assistant or company who specializes in the stuff you don’t enjoy, so you can spend more time on the things you love!
The important thing is that you realize the importance of marketing your photography business, and that you have some kind of plan. Photography is a saturated industry and, on top of producing amazing work, modern marketing is your best chance at standing out.
You might have the most beautiful images in the world, but it’s up to you to make sure that people see them.
5. Subscribe to a gallery software for photographers
Having a reliable gallery software is going to make your life as a professional photographer a lot easier!
Gallery softwares allow you to save all your edited images in one place and easily share them with clients. Some even have additional built-in functions, like built-in print shops and automated email marketing (which is great for maintaining client relationships and earning passive income as a photographer!).
6. Decide how much to charge for your photography
Now, it’s time to get your finances in order and determine your pricing.
Start by figuring out how much money you need to make in order to cover all your overhead costs and live comfortably. You need to charge at least that much, so set your prices accordingly. Adjust as you go. When people start buying your highest priced photography packages, increase your rates.
There isn’t one specific formula for deciding what to charge as a photographer. Many new photographers struggle with attaching prices to their work, but try to really consider the value that you offer to clients. You’re not just taking pictures—you’re capturing important memories, telling a story, helping a company create their brand or sell their products—you’re making art.
You’ll also need to decide whether or not you should post your packages and prices on your website.
And don’t forget to avoid these common pricing mistakes for photographers.
7. Set up a photography CRM software
A customer relationship management software is another tool that is going to make your life so much easier!
A CRM is a place where you can store your client information and interactions, making it easier to keep track of what’s going on and foster relationships. Many of them have automated functions for things like sending reminders and billing. Trust us, you’ll want this one!
8. Decide what to outsource
When you’re a solopreneur, outsourcing is your friend!
One of the hardest things about running a photography business is having to take care of all the aspects of running a business on top of being a photographer. Client management, accounting, marketing...doing it all—or, at least, doing it all well—isn’t always realistic.
If you find there are tasks you dread doing or always procrastinate, those are the ones to outsource. Because, just like how you specialize in photography, there’s someone out there who specializes in the stuff you don’t want to do! And they’ll probably do a better job at it, too.
Business owners often feel like they have to do it all, but that’s simply not the case and often leads to the dreaded burnout. So hold onto the things you enjoy, and outsource the stuff you don’t like or just aren’t good at. It’ll save you a world of headache in the long run.
Some pros you might want to outsource work to:
- Professional photo editors
- Marketing agency
- Social media expert
- Web developer
9. Set boundaries and tighten up your workflow
You’ve probably realized by now that while running a photography business can be an incredible experience, it can also be extremely draining. That’s why it’s so important to set boundaries, and stick to them.
Along with outsourcing, setting clear boundaries and sticking to them is one of the best ways to avoid burnout as a photographer.
Some areas where you might want to create boundaries in your photography business:
- Schedule: the hours and days you’re willing to work.
- Clients: the types of client you’re willing to work with.
- Volume of work: how many shoots you’re willing to do at a given time (for example, per month).
- Deliverables: your client deliverables (ie. how many edited photos you will give clients per shoot).
- Editing time: how much time do you want to spend editing.
It’s also important to continue tightening up your workflow and taking advantage of tools that can help you save time while producing great results. Here are some articles and tips you might find helpful:
- How to Cull a Wedding with Photo Mechanic and Lightroom
- How I Cut My Editing Workflow Time in Half
- Stuck in Editing and Album Hell? Try This Workflow
- 10 Lightroom Keyboard Shortcuts That Will Change Your Life
- What are Presets and Their Benefits?
10. Learn and grow as often as possible
When running a photography business, it’s important to keep things fresh! Not only for your clients, but for yourself. Learning and trying new things is one of the best ways to stay inspired.
Attend workshops, take courses, sign up for mentorships...whatever helps you feel like you’re continually improving and not falling into a mundane routine!
Learning from other experienced photographers is always useful, even if they don’t shoot the same genre or style as you. They might pass along what they would tell their rookie self, or what they wish every new photographer knew.
BONUS STEP: Find a supportive community
Creating relationships with other photographers will help you learn, grow, and probably avoid some mistakes (because they’ve already made them before!). Join forums or groups with other photographers you vibe with, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from experienced shooters. They won’t bite! Share your experiences and listen to others.
The Mastin Labs Facebook Community has thousands of photographers at all stages of their journey, from seasoned pros to new hobbyists. It’s a space to share work, ask questions, and support each other!
Ready to Start a Photography Business?
We hope you found this article helpful and informative! If starting a photography business is a dream of yours, we can’t wait to see where it takes you. We’re rooting for you!