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How to Start a Photography Business

Written by Gail Bjork

Photography is generally just a hobby for most enthusiasts.

However, some photographers are leveraging their love of snapping pics with their desire to make a living doing what they love—In other words, start a photography business!

PhotographerSure, photography is all about creativity, but you need more than that to not only start, but also maintain a successful photography business. Unfortunately, a lot of photographers never make enough to forge out a living, instead making enough to pay a bill or two.

This article is intended to motivate you to push past the pitfalls, securing your seat at the abnormally small table reserved for those whose small businesses succeed!

Business Basics

Realistic Goals

Regardless of the type of business, any ambitious entrepreneur will tell you that every business begins at the end. Essentially, as a business owner you need to establish goals—both short-term and long-term—and stride to reach those goals within a realistic time frame.

Are you going to work your photography business like a traditional 9-to-5 job, working 40 hours or more? How much would need to make annually to create a comfortable living environment for you and your family? These are just a few examples of questions commonly asked by ambitious shutterbugs when establishing goals.

A photographer also has to address more specific goals too. For instance, what type of clients would you be working with? Some photographers are jack-of-all-trades, snapping pics of any occasion. Others may was to specialize in certain types of clients. Examples include:

  • Wedding and bridal pics
  • Family pictures
  • Fashion
  • Action & sports
  • Animals & landscape
  • Advertising, ecommerce, products, etc.

A Business Plan

Now that you have realistic goals established, it’s time to get down to business. As with any business, you need a plan of attack. To put it simply, you need a business plan.

First and foremost, you need to summarize your business. This is where you actually determine what you will be doing in the business, what needs your business fulfills, and what makes your photography business stand out from the rest.  You also need to figure out the structure of your business and how it will operate. Do you have any partners, employees, etc.? Will your business operate as a sole proprietorship, limited-liability company, or some other legal entity? By answering these questions you not only become more organized, but you also determine any implications you may face regarding legalities and taxes.

Woman photographerA business plan will also usually encase an intricate analysis of the market surrounding your field of business (in this case, photography). It is here that you will research and analyze industry trends and outlook, client needs and desires, demographic size, market shares, and of course, your competitors. While this part of a business plan is complex and tedious, the insight derived from it makes the research well worth it.

From there, you will move on to the financial aspects of your photography business. This includes fixed, variable, and overhead costs, as well as revenue and cash flow. By deciphering the financial aspects of your business, you will be able to plan ahead for any unintended happenings such as recession, slow periods, and so on.

Finally, you have the marketing, advertising, and promotional aspects. In other words, how are you going to promote your business? Most photographers utilize the standard business card as an effective marketing medium. Others turn to more high-tech methods by using Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for business, as well as other social media platforms. The potential for advertising is seemingly limitless.

The Business Itself

Naming Your Business

This is where you actually register a business name. While it may not seem like it, the business name is extremely important. This will ultimately become part of your overall brand so the name needs to be unique, but also easy to remember.

Instead of choosing one name, compile a list of around 5 potential names. Show the list to friends, family, colleagues and anyone else you’d like. They will provide critical feedback which you can then use in making a decision. You also need to consider how the name will be used in logos, social media platforms, and even in the search results of Google and other popular search engines.

Once a name has been chosen, you can then register the name and business to make it official with local, state, and federal government bodies. Moreover, registering the name also prevents others from using the name.

Organization and Bookkeeping

This is all the intricate details regarding the inner-workings of your photography business. For starters, since cash will consistently be flowing in and out of your business, you will need to create a way of handling this cash. Most banks offer accounts specifically for business, usually featuring a number of incentives too. After establishing a dedicated bank account, you can connect outside payment sources such as PayPal.

An established business and bank account open the door for you to apply for one or more business-oriented credit cards that not only give you a new funding source, but can also lead to a number of incentives.

Business insurance is also something you will need. Unfortunately, this type of insurance isn’t the cheapest, but can be extremely beneficial in the long run. Aside from business insurance, you will also need to obtain certain types of business licenses. Operating a business without the proper licensing can put you on the receiving end of some potentially harsh fines and penalties.

A portfolio is a showcase for your work

Photo portfolioMost photographers don’t just go and start a business just because it sounded appealing. Usually they have a great deal of past experience with photography. This means that you should already have the right ingredients to concoct a fantastic portfolio!

In a nutshell, a portfolio is a showcase of your work—both past and present—that give prospective clients an idea of what they can expect if they hire you. While the concept is pretty simple, actually developing an effective portfolio can be fairly complex.

Any past work that you are especially proud of will make exceptionally good additions to any working portfolio. Another option would be to offer a few free sessions to generate more portfolio content. This would allow you to tailor the sessions to show off your strengths.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.