How To Start a Photography Business: 9 Things You Need To Know

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 26, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated August 26, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Starting a photography business can provide a source of fun, flexible and rewarding work. However, it requires more than just creative talent. It also involves having the right equipment and taking steps to prepare yourself for the photography business. In this article, we explain what a photography business is, provide steps for how to start a photography business, list some advantages and challenges of taking on this business venture and give tips for making it successful.

What is a photography business?

If you're considering starting your own photography business, you're likely already familiar with the art form. That means you're aware of the necessary skills and software required to create quality photos and you're ready to establish your career by becoming a professional photographer. A photography business is an official, branded entity that charges clients for photography services.

Some photography businesses operate solely out of a studio, requiring clients to come to them for portraits. Other business owners decide to skip the cost of having a location by establishing a mobile photography business. In these cases, the photographer either comes to the client or chooses to shoot at an off-site location.

Though some photographers choose to operate strictly from a studio or mobile location, most photographers provide a combination of services. Studios provide an environment in which the photographer can control and manipulate the setting more easily, but they also impose overhead costs that can put a financial strain on a new business that is still being established. Many decide to start a mobile photography business to build their brand and portfolio before eventually taking the leap of purchasing or renting their own studio.

How to start a photography business

Here are some steps you can take to start your own photography business:

  1. Determine which services you'll offer

  2. Create a business plan

  3. Develop a business structure

  4. Name your company

  5. Obtain official documentation

  6. Gather necessary equipment and supplies

  7. Create a pricing plan

  8. Establish your brand

  9. Market yourself

1. Determine which services you'll offer

First and foremost, you'll need to decide your niche. Most photographers specialize in a style or type of photography and build their brand around their ability to effectively execute that photo style.

Do you want to focus on helping businesses by taking product photos? Would you prefer to capture images of houses for realtors? Do you want to take editorial photos for magazines? Are you passionate about capturing people's wedding day?

Photographers have been known to specialize in several areas, including portraits, pet portraits, newborn shoots, maternity shoots, concert photography and sports photography. Whatever you decide, fully embrace the specialty and make sure that your brand and portfolio reflect your unique abilities in that area. Your specialty can also help you stand out among your competitors.

2. Create a business plan

After you've decided the services you would like to offer, you'll need to consider some of the more administrative details of your business. Sit down and write out your plans for the business, how it will be profitable and your financial projections. Things you should consider are:

  • Cash flow

  • Competition

  • Ownership details

  • Expenses

  • Income necessary for the business to be sustainable

Your business plan will guide you through establishing and growing your company. Though you can start a photography business without developing one, a business plan helps ensure that you have thought through what you need to make your business successful.

3. Develop a business structure

You'll need to decide on the type of business structure that will best suit you and your business's needs. Registering your company as a sole proprietorship is more cost-effective, but a limited liability company, also known as an LLC, provides protection for your personal assets if any legal issues arise.

4. Name your company

An appropriate business name will vary depending on the niche or specialty you choose. For instance, a wedding photographer will likely choose an elegant name, while a business photographer will want to pick something that sounds more professional. Whatever name you decide, be sure that it is still available by checking with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

5. Obtain official documentation

After you have established a business structure and have chosen a name for your company, you will need to apply for any business licenses or permits that your city or county requires. Depending on your state, you will also need to be aware of any sales taxes that should be charged for your photos. You can check with your local tax office for information about necessary forms and taxing protocols.

After you obtain your business license, you'll want to open a bank account for your company. This will give you a way to keep business finances separate from your personal finances and allow you to effectively grow your business in the future.

6. Gather necessary equipment and supplies

To start a photography business, you will need the necessary equipment. If you already practice photography as a hobby, you likely already own many of these tools. You may have to determine if the equipment you already own can offer a quality that you will feel confident using for paid services. You'll need to gather or obtain equipment such as:

  • A professional-grade camera

  • Flashes

  • Batteries

  • Lenses

  • Photo editing software

  • A computer

  • Backdrops

You'll also need to decide if you will need access to a studio or office space. In many cases, photographers start their business by creating a space to take studio-style photos in their homes.

7. Create a pricing plan

Creating a pricing plan can be one of the more difficult aspects of creating a service-based business. First, you'll need to decide what you feel that your time is worth. From there, you will need to factor in that for every hour you shoot, you will likely be editing for three hours. For example, if you decide that your time is worth $50 an hour, you would charge $200 for an hour-long photo session.

In addition to pricing offered to the public, you can also come up with a friends and family pricing plan. Typically, friends and family are a photographer's first customers. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to build your portfolio and improve your skill set, so you may want to offer them a discount.

Related: How To Build Your Work Portfolio

8. Establish your brand

Your next step will be to build your brand. To do this, you'll want to:

  • Purchase a domain

  • Develop a logo

  • Build a website

  • Establish your company on social media

  • Buy business cards

When working with a client, ask for their permission to share some of their images from the shoot. Then, create an online portfolio by regularly uploading your projects to your website and sharing images on your social media networks. Make sure that all your profiles can link back to your site and that your contact information can be clearly and easily found.

9. Market yourself

You have a business; now you need clients. These days, most of your marketing can take place on social media, but you may still need to utilize more traditional methods. Depending on your niche, you can attend photography trade shows specifically geared toward your specialty. These opportunities will allow you to network and meet other people in your market.

When using social media, be sure to post frequently. You can use social media apps and sites to post finished work as well as behind the scenes images from exciting, new projects.

Related: 7 Ways to Market a Small Business

Advantages of owning a photography business

As with any entrepreneurial effort, there are advantages and challenges to owning your own photography business. Some of the advantages include:

  • Turning something you enjoy doing into a profitable career

  • Having plenty of opportunities to attend interesting events and meet new people

  • Having a flexible schedule that allows you to choose whether you'd like to work full- or part-time

  • Helping people capture some of their best memories and moments

  • Booking shoots in places you'd like to travel to, allowing you to make money while on vacation

Challenges of owning a photography business

Though there are plenty of positives to owning your own photography business, it can present some challenges. Here are some examples of the challenges you might face:

  • Events you are hired to shoot are sometimes held on weekends

  • Turning a hobby into a career can make it less enjoyable

  • The money can be inconsistent, especially in the beginning when you're still building up your clientele

  • The photography equipment and software required is expensive

  • Some events you're hired to shoot can be demanding, especially when you're working at events where clients may be stressed, such as weddings

Tips for starting a photography business

Here are a few additional tips for starting a photography business of your own:

  • Consider selling any additional, unpaid photos to stock photo sites. This can be a good way to build your portfolio and generate supplemental income.

  • Remember that your business will take time to become sustainably profitable. You may need to work an additional job to pay your bills and allow you to do what you love.

  • You'll need people skills just as much as you'll need to be a skilled photographer. Creating a positive experience for your clients will build trust, improve the shots and increase the likelihood that they will refer you to others. Take time to sit with your clients beforehand to get to know them, their needs and their expectations from you.

Related: How To Balance Working Two Jobs at Once

Explore more articles