Photography is all about capturing stories in still frames. It is the art of converting moments into memories.
If you’re passionate about snapping photos, you should consider turning your hobby into a profitable business. But here’s the million-dollar question: how to start a photography business for real?
To help you start your business, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide that will take you through the entire process.
We will be covering the nitty-gritty, the common misconceptions, and tell you exactly how you can establish your own photography business online.
How to start a photography business
There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to starting a photography business.
You should consider the operational costs, business legalities, business plan, market share, and your value proposition before getting started.
If you have already done your work, here are a few tips that might just help you out.
Step 1. Find your niche
It doesn’t matter whether you’re from a metropolitan city or a small town – how to start a photography business is much more about your specific skills than your location.
Having a specific niche to work within is vital for you when you’re starting your photography business. It means that you can specialize in something (wedding photography, or pet photography services, for example), meaning that it’s easier to find a few clients to get your business off the ground.
Many photography business owners understand that not all types of photography are equal. Otherwise, everyone could claim to be a world-renowned wedding photographer.
Successful photographers follow a unique style and pattern, so knowing your niche will help you identify your target market and ideal customer, and establish your own successful photography business.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out your niche, it is time to ask yourself a few questions.
What kind of photography do I enjoy?
This is a basic question but an important one, as a successful photography business will often focus on one area specifically.
Your photography business could focus on landscapes, food, fashion, family portraits, stock photography, or events. Wedding photographers are in high demand, but you could strike out as a portrait photographer or an event photographer, too.
Perhaps you are interested specifically in high-quality photo editing, which is also a specialist service that can become the basis of a small business.
As a photographer, business depends on your ability to create a large amount of potential and regular clients. It is easier to build networks in one sector, so if you are going to pick one it should be something that you enjoy.
What are my strengths?
Strengths can broadly be split into two different categories: photography strengths and business strengths.
Photography strengths are your technical abilities that create your amazing photos, such as set design and overall studio space design, location scouting, creative direction, lighting, or professional software.
Your business strengths will help you decide on your eventual business structure and manage your business day-to-day. Important business skills a small business owner should know include things like knowing how to create contracts, managing startup costs and other ongoing costs, understanding the legal structure of your business, and knowing the sales tax you need to pay.
To start your photography business you’re going to need to consider your existing contacts and potential clients, your current portfolio, your social media presence, and your standing in your field before you are ready to start.
Step 2. Make a new business plan
Your plan doesn’t have to be the most detailed analysis of your photography business, but it should show an understanding of your business structure and act as your photography business roadmap for the future.
Even if you’re only a small business owner, you still need to plan how to make money and understand what types of business licenses you need.
How will you sell your photos?
A successful photography business plan often relies on having established clients on retainer for regular work. Outside of these relationships, many photographers also sell their photos for additional income.
One way to do this is to take stock photos and sell them to stock photo sites. However, many photography businesses also sell prints of their work through their website or social media (we will cover that later).
Here are some of the most popular websites to sell stock photos online:
Choose a business name
Your business name doesn’t have to be particularly difficult to choose. Many photographers will choose their own name as their business name.
You may want to include your specific field or niche in your name. For example, Jane Doe Wedding Photography would be a good choice for your business and your business cards.
Create a pricing plan
Pricing determines the value of your photography services. Having a balanced pricing plan is important if you’re seeking to sustainably grow your photography business in today’s fiercely competitive scene.
A well-defined pricing plan will not only reward your services but will attract clients from all walks of life.
While pricing your services, you must consider everything from the cost of travel to the time you invested in the project, as well as your professional photography equipment – especially if you’re renting equipment for the gig.
Here is a standard price scale to work into your plan:
- Starting photographers: $50 – $150/hour
- Experienced photographers: $100 – $250/hour
- Specialty photographers: $250 – $500+/hour
Make sure that also consider your costs in these calculations.
Remember, costs can be direct or indirect.
An indirect cost would be something that helps you to run your business but is not directly associated with the project. These could be things like office space rent, marketing materials, and other advertising expenses, accounting software, your business license, the development of your own branding, or insurance for high-quality equipment.
Direct costs are expenses that contribute to running your business, like your camera gear and lighting equipment.
Here are some standard prices for the basics that you will need before starting your photography business:
- Camera: $1,000+
- Lenses: $400+ each
- Flash: $300 each
- Laptop: $1,200+
- Website: $100+ per year
- Photoshop and Lightroom: $120 per year
These calculations will be essential for you to work out how many hours you will need to commit to your photography business each week in order to start making a profit as soon as you can.
How much time can I dedicate to my business?
Is your photography business going to be full-time, part-time, or one-off work by commission? This choice will depend on the reliability of your relationships with potential clients.
If you’re going to dedicate full-time hours to your business you need to have enough regular work to support your business plan.
Consider your current schedule and where your photography work could fit in. If you specialize as a wedding photographer, it will be necessary to work a lot of weekends. Portrait photographers, however, might expect to put in a lot of evenings or gigs at schools and offices during the day.
How much equipment will I need?
Take stock of your current photography equipment inventory and think about what else you are going to need. This will also include professional photography software. Plan your budget accordingly to make sure that you can afford all the necessities.
Setting realistic goals is a great way to make sure that you are working with a viable business plan. Before you start, you’ll want to consider how you make your goals.
One common process is to make SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).
Let’s say you want to make $80,000 in a year as a fashion photographer. Each shoot that you do earns you $1000 but will take you at least a few days to complete. Is it feasible to complete 80 shoots in one year?
It is important to set goals that drive you but remember to keep it realistic. This is going to be an essential aspect of your business strategy.
Get the necessary paperwork done
On top of client contracts, you should also make sure you have the right business license and personal liability insurance in place before you start invoicing for your work.
It might also be a good idea to consult an accountant in order to choose the right legal makeup for your business.
Most people opt for a limited liability company, as it helps to keep your personal finances and other personal assets separate from those of your business. This will also require you to open a separate business bank account to manage all of your business expenses and revenue.
If you plan to also hire people, you need to apply for an employer identification number.
Step 3. Build a portfolio
Chances are that if you’re ready to start a photography business, you already have some impressive snaps to show people.
An impressive portfolio goes a long way when attracting prospective clients. It showcases your style, skill set, and artistry and most photographers will already have an extensive portfolio before they are ready to start their own business.
Building a portfolio is a process, similar to starting a photography business overall. Every photo in your portfolio should justify its existence. So, how to start photography business portfolios?
Here are a few tips that will make the process easier:
- Limit your portfolio to your best work. When people see your portfolio they are essentially reading your CV. This will decide whether they want to hire you.
- Vary it up. Unless you work in a very specific niche, try to show people something different, and let people see the whole range of your skillset (from wedding photography to pet and portrait photography, for example).
- Consider your audience. Understand what your potential customers would like to see. More importantly, what message do you want your portfolio to communicate? You can’t start a photography business without clients, so make sure you’re meeting customer expectations.
- Have multiple formats. While the printed format is a great way of showcasing your portfolio, you should also have a website.
An extensive portfolio will not only serve as the basis of your marketing strategy but also help you evaluate your work.
Take time to reflect back on your work. It will help you get better at what you do best. Also, don’t forget to update your portfolio as your skillset improves.
Step 4. Identify your target clients
Understanding your customers is also important because it will help you serve them well. Great service is often rewarded by positive word-of-mouth recommendations and other leads.
You should also stay on top of your Linkedin, many potential clients for work on retainer will be scouting for talent online. While websites such as Upwork are great for connecting freelancers to potential customers.
You can be the most technically advanced photographer in the world, but if people don’t know you, it will amount to nothing.
Networking is more than giving out business cards, it is an art that every business owner needs to master if they want to sustainably grow their business.
Starting a photography business also means that you should constantly seek ways to expand your network. Reach out to people who might be interested in your services.
You can also connect with other photographers and people who can help you enhance your skillset:
- Attend trade shows, photography workshops, or meetups in your town. Photography events are a great means to meet like-minded people. Such events are held frequently and you can easily learn about these events through Facebook or websites like Meetup, Eventbrite, 10times, and Eventful.
- Join photography forums and communities online. Apart from attending photography events, you can also connect with like-minded photographers and your potential customers through various online forums. A few of the most popular photography forums include Flickr, Behance, EyeEm, OneEyeland, and 500px. You can join these forums for free and start building your network today.
Manage your social media
Nowadays, the vast majority of photographers will advertise themselves through their social media accounts. A well-curated feed with high-quality images can garner tens of thousands of followers pretty quickly. Among these will be brands, companies, and a whole host of people that could be potential customers.
Remember to make your content shareable and accessible on as many platforms as possible to create a network of people who follow your work.
Social media is also a good way for photographers additional money, you can sell your prints or original photos directly through Facebook marketplace or advertise them on Instagram.
The bigger your social media presence is, the more likely it is that you will see an increase in Google searches to your website, too.
And the more organic traffic you can get by having brand awareness overall, the easier it will be to reduce your marketing budget and invest in better equipment instead.
Step 5. Choose your equipment
How to start a photography business relies heavily on your photography kit and how well you know how to use it.
When it comes to picking your equipment, your biggest concern is going to be which camera to use and which lenses to buy. Obviously, when picking a camera and lenses you should make your decision based on the type of photography that you do.
An all-around general camera should be lightweight and compact. You’ll probably want to carry this one with you to every job, even when you are taking another, specialist camera.
Wedding photographers, for example, often have a different setup for the more posed engagement and wedding photoshoots but want to be more mobile when they photograph weddings at the venue during the big day.
If you are doing still photography, your main concern will be having a camera with a high megapixel resolution and having a good macro lens.
For sport, or action photography it is all going to be about high-tech image stabilization and a high frame-per-second rate.
And with portrait photography, search for a prime lens and a large aperture.
As you can see, there are many options for skilled photographers depending on the niche that you work in.
Here are a few great options for beginner cameras and lenses for new professionals:
- Canon EOS R5 – 45mp, 12 fps shooting, Mirrorless, Full Frame Sensor, Canon RF mount
- Sony A7 II – 24.3MP, 5fps shooting, Mirrorless, Full Frame sensor, Sony E-lens mount, IBIS
- Nikon 7200 – 24.2MP, 6fps shooting, DSLR, APS-C sensor, Nikon F-lens mount
Lenses are seriously important in getting the right image. And when it comes to professional photography you are only going to get a professional quality image when you are using the right lens for the job. Many people don’t know that lenses are so important to the final image that most experienced photographers will actually spend more money on their lenses than on their cameras.
There are two main types of lenses – prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses) and zoom lenses. Choosing between the two will determine what kind of photos you are able to take and will dramatically change the final image.
A prime lens is a lens with a single focal range (eg. 50mm). There is no zoom feature on a prime lens so if you want to get a close up you are literally going to have to walk closer to the subject.
A positive of the prime lens is that they work better in low light and are able to provide photos with a better depth of field. While a negative is that each time you need to reframe a shot you are going to have to physically up and move all your equipment. This makes things difficult if out on location or looking to get a snap-shot.
A zoom lens has multiple focal ranges and is capable of “zooming-in” or “zooming out”. Zoom lenses are great because they are more versatile but they are also typically more expensive and have smaller apertures.
Step 6. How to create a photography business website
A website is the cornerstone of your photography business. Having a digital presence means new customers and more engagement. Through a website, you can showcase your best work, and gain traction and credibility.
If you’re ready to take your business online, here’s a quick guide that will help show you how to start a photography business website.
Choose a domain name
It is important to choose a name that resonates with your photography business and niche.
However, there are a few points you should keep in mind while looking for a domain name:
- Keep it simple. Your domain name should be easy to remember. Avoid using slang in the domain name. For instance, you can use yourphotographer.com and not ur-photographer.com. Keeping your domain name simple will help your customers easily find your website and prevent misspells.
- Be creative. A unique domain name can help your business stand out. Share your domain name with your close friends and see if they find it interesting. With millions of domain names online, your business must have a catchy and memorable name.
- Use keywords. Having a keyword in your domain name can help you gain online visibility. When you’re working in a photography business, you would really want to have the word “photography” itself or something related to it in your domain name.
- Don’t wait too long. If you have already chosen your domain name, you should act fast. Because once gone, a domain name is hard to retrieve. Through Zyro, you can easily check whether the domain you seek is available or not.
Pick a website builder
Once you have purchased a domain name, it’s time to start your photography business website. But how do you get started? You neither know code, nor web development, and hiring a professional agency can be expensive. Can you build a website without any technical expertise? With website builders, it’s possible.
With Zyro, we’ve got you covered. Powered by AI-driven features, Zyro is an intuitive online website builder that can help you build a stunning website in a matter of minutes. What’s more, Zyro comes with hundreds of pre-built responsive templates that you can use right away for creating your website.
It’s free to use with no strings attached. Additionally, you can upgrade to a premium plan as your business expands, if you want to keep your startup costs down at first.
Design your website
Compared to starting a photography business, building a website is not difficult, especially when you’re using a website builder. You can start with a ready-made template that looks both attractive and fully responsive.
While it is tempting to pick the most unique template for your website, you should see if the theme resonates with your business niche or not. Also, consider the functionalities that your website will need.
As an example, when starting your photography business website, it cannot be complete without a gallery showcasing your best work, a service page for representing your services, a contact form that allows your clients to connect with you, and a blog too, for sharing valuable insights.
Finding an ideal template for your business can be overwhelming, but we’ve done all the work for you. Zyro website builder comes with professional templates that are tailored for photography sites. Once you have taken your pick, you will be able to get your professional photography website online in no time.
Add relevant content
Add relevant content
Once you’ve picked a perfect template for your website, it’s time to add content to it. Content means everything from your portfolio to services and contact information. You want to leave a lasting impression on your visitors on their first visit.
While adding content to your website, you must ensure it is positioned correctly. The last thing you want is cluttering your website with too much content and very little space. Allow the content (and your visitors’ eyes) room to breathe.
Keep in mind that no visitor is going to read your website from the first header to the copyright notice. Oftentimes, visitors just skim through the pages and read anything that catches their attention. This is why content placement is important on your photography website.
That is why the Zyro website builder takes care of everything for you by implementing a grid system that will help you efficiently manage content placement.
Promote your website
Website promotion will take your photography business a level further. There are several means to promote your website – online and offline. One is more expensive than the other, but each one has its own benefits. Here are a few of the most effective means of promoting your website:
- Social media marketing. Getting your social media accounts in place is the first thing you want after creating your website. They can serve as a supportive framework for your website. Make use of as many platforms as you can. Add compelling Instagram stories, create interesting boards on Pinterest, grow your community through Facebook, and list your business on Google My Business.
- SEO. Optimizing your website for search engines is crucial if you’re seeking to reach your ideal customers. Allow search engines to know that your website exists. Make use of the Google Keyword Planner to find keywords that fit your business niche. If required, you can also consult an SEO professional for promoting your website.
- Guest blogging. By writing for prominent websites under your business niche, you can easily establish the trust and credibility of your brand. If your readers end up liking your content, they will be looking for more.
- Merchandise marketing. Branded merchandise is a great way of promoting your website offline. Starting from t-shirts to carry bags, you can have your website, and logo printed on almost anything that can get people’s attention. Moreover, you can also send your branded merchandise to your clients as a token of gratitude upon the successful completion of a project.
Promoting your website is important if you’re seeking to gain traction and new clients. However, don’t limit yourself to the above-mentioned strategies. Try different ways of promoting yourself, and keep refining your approach along the way.
Common misconceptions about professional photographers
Like every other business, there are misconceptions revolving around photography, too. Here are a few wrong impressions that might stop you from doing your best work.
A photographer can only take pictures
Being a professional photographer means mastering a myriad of skills starting from marketing to managing finances and everything in between. You don’t have to be a pro at all these secondary skills, but you should at least know the basics.
With deliberate practice, you can hone any skill of your choosing. There are courses, and books that can help you along your way. Moreover, you can also attend various networking events and seek help from other professional photographers.
You need fancy equipment to produce great photos
When people think about how to start a photography business, they often assume that you need to spend on the kit in order to take great pictures.
But the truth is that pricey equipment doesn’t always mean exceptional photos. A lot of starting photographers tend to invest a hefty amount of money into buying equipment they may never need. After all, that’s nothing but a wasted investment. Instead, you can spend that money on promoting your business.
Your niche determines which equipment you will need. For example, if you’re a wildlife photographer, you may need a telephoto lens, teleconverter, and a wide-angle lens. But you absolutely don’t need speed lights or green screens. You can also consider investing a little extra on add-ons such as batteries, tripods, or a durable camera bag.
Clients will come to you
Photography is a fiercely competitive business. This means that if you’re not actively engaging with your customers, your competitors will be rewarded with new clients. Marketing your services is extremely important if you’re seeking to expand your business.
Make irresistible offers and give exceptional services for your business. Look for ways you can add value to every project you receive. If you succeed at making your clients pleased with your services, they will certainly recommend you anywhere they possibly can.
How to become a professional photographer?
There is more to photography than capturing a great shot. Most professional photographers are also responsible for everything that follows after that – retouching, editing, and polishing.
To start out as a photographer, there are a few skills you need to hone. Let’s look through them one by one:
- Technical photography skills. How proficient are you with your equipment? The more control you have over your camera, the better images you will capture. There are a few basic aspects you should consider before snapping a photo. For instance, the light, exposure, composition, angle, and the subject itself. Understanding how these aspects work together will help you snap exceptional photos. After all, photography is less about what you shoot and more about how you shoot it.
- Photo editing software. The only difference between a good photo and a professional-looking one is the editing that goes behind it. Every experienced photographer does it. However, how your photo turns out depends greatly on the software you use for editing. A few of the most popular photo editing software options include Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, Corel Paintshop, and Skylum Luminar. They will allow you to edit everything from colors to contrast, making your photos even more captivating.
- Aesthetics. Understanding the role of aesthetics in photography is really important. This is where your creativity comes into play. Aesthetics is simply the measure of how appealing your photo looks. The orientation of your subject, overall composition, colors, and focus are a few aspects that influence the aesthetics of any photo. Not every photo will be perfect, but adhering to aesthetic principles will help you click attention-grabbing images.
- Communication and people skills. Finding out a mutual area of interest is a great way of building relationships with your clients. Listen to them. Talk with them and be empathetic. Share and discuss interesting ideas. You would be surprised how this will help you build a lasting relationship with your clients.
- Networking skills. Professional photographers have excellent networking skills. Building mutually rewarding relationships can accelerate your success significantly. Networking is about collaborating with like-minded professionals, learning and exchanging insights that foster mutual growth. Networking is a great opportunity to build your client base, too.
How to start a photography business online today?
Whether you look at setting up a wedding photography business with lavish studios or becoming a home-based photography business with a low-cost structure overall, having a website will help you stand out.
With Zyro, you can build your portfolio and eventually add an online store to make extra income from prints.
Are you ready to start?