Starting your own photography business is a extraordinary way to add a second income or a fundamental income, if you work hard. While the photography market is competitive, many photography entrepreneurs have been able to discover their niche and build a sustainable career. Like most creative endeavors, you need to balance your passion for photography with genuine business skills in order to be successful.
To build and grow your business, you need both raw talent and a skill for marketing. One photographer we spoke with said a capacity “to market yourself” was one of the most important factors in success. You should continually be working to improve your craft and evolving your product, and work reliably on your own branding, online marketing and people skills. Without the two, the outcomes will likely just be an expensive hobby rather than a viable full-time business.
In this article…
1. Startup costs
2. Your branding and reputation
4. Customer expectations and contracts
5. Where to find work
Quality photography equipment is famously costly, so you’ll need to begin off with the minimum: Buying a $5,000 lens doesn’t make sense if your business isn’t making money yet. Many professional photographers say to plan on budgeting about $10,000 to begin your photography business.
According to professional photographer Austen Diamond, “building slow and smart” will help you remain nimble. Permit the organic growth of your business to fund gear improvements, and avoid debt if possible, he said.
Based on interviews with professional photographers, here is a fundamental budget for beginning your business, not including studio or office space. All costs are yearly estimates or one-time purchases.
- Two cameras: $1,500 to $2,000 each
- Multiple lenses: $1,000+ each
- Two flashes: $700
- Multiple memory cards: $50+ each
- Two external drives: $120 each (keep one backup off-site)
- Computer or laptop with sufficient memory: $2,000
- Website (Wix, PhotoShelter, SmugMug and/or Squarespace): $60+
- Lightroom and Photoshop subscription: $120 per year
- Business licenses: $150 (varies)
- Insurance: $600 per year (varies)
- Accounting: $300+ per year (varies)
- Contracts: Free to $1,000+ (varies)
- Online proof gallery, such as ShootProof: $120 per year
- Business cards: $20+
- Business training, such as Lynda.com classes
- Photography workshops and classes
- Stylish camera bags and straps
- Second computer
- Printed marketing materials
- Studio and office space
Other things you’ll need to do (that may be free or low-cost):
- Market your business via social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to start)
- Create your business name and logo
- Research the best business structure (LLC, S corporation or other)
- Acquire sales tax permit and employer identification number (EIN)
- Obtain image licensing and usage contracts; Creative Commons offers free services
- Set up business bank accounts
- Find a way to manage client contact information and emails (see BND’s list of the best CRM software)
- Choose a spreadsheets and scheduling solution (Google Docs is free)
- Find an expense tracker (mileage, expenses, billable time), such as Expensify or BizXpenseTracker
- Research credit card payment processing, such as Square or PayPal
- Establish a referral program
Your branding and reputation
Our expert sources offered the following guidance for building your personal brand and reputation as an expert photographer.
Your person and gear: If you work with individuals, you are your brand. Even the little things affect your reputation, and most of your business will come by word-of-mouth referrals. When you go to a shoot, dress suitably. Iron your shirt. Wash your car. Be organized. Bring your own water and snacks. Charge your electronics. Thank-you and referral gifts should be classy. Being ready shows regard and professionalism.
Being timely: Always arrive to the shoot early, and don’t neglect to deliver your product when guaranteed. Print out directions so you don’t get lost. Ensure that your customers understand your production schedule and how long it will be for them to receive their proofs and final product, and stick to your agreements. Answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner.
Online: Anonymity is nearly impossible nowadays. Many potential customers will be looking for you and your work online. The pictures you post online should not only be high-quality but also the kind of images you want to be taking to attract the kind of work you want to be doing. Avoid contentious social media posts, and keep your language positive. Keep your LinkedIn profile and contact data on all sites up-to-date.
Many photographers have issues with setting their cost and determining their value. Certainly, you should never price work to result in lost money or less than minimum wage, but many do. You can investigate your area to see what your competitors charge, but ultimately, you’ll need to charge what you are worth.
Generally, you’ll want to estimate 3 hours of editing time for every hour of shooting. Some photographers utilize a gauge of roughly $50 per hour to cover standard costs. Be sure to factor in travel and preparation time. Consider your ongoing costs, such as insurance, gear, accounting services and your website.
Once you begin adding up the numbers, you can see why undercutting your competitors may not always be the best strategy and may result in you losing cash on a gig. If you cannot seem to make the numbers match, you’ll either have to consider whether you are OK with having a costly hobby or if you need to branch out into a different, more profitable market.
You should also always require an upfront deposit for high-priced gigs. To avoid credit card stop payments, you should require cash, cashier’s check or bank transfer for paying the deposit.
Customer expectations and contracts
Managing your customers’ expectations is essential to your success. Your customers should know exactly what to expect of you and also what is expected of them. For weddings, timelines and group pictures should be coordinated in advance. For infant photos, your clients should know what clothes and accessories to bring. If you are taking corporate headshot images, people should know how to dress.
For contracts, your customers should know how much is due in advance and how to pay it. You should set terms on how far in advance you need them to commit so you can plan. Contracts should be clarified carefully, and if applicable, your customers should know how they are allowed to use the pictures— and that should be in writing as well. While not everyone is comfortable with legalese, your professionalism will help make this necessary part of your business agreement go as smoothly as possible. You can discover free contracts online, such as model release, photo licensing, wedding agreements and other common photography contracts, on sites like Less Accounting.
Finding your niche market not only permits you to focus on a particular skill set but also offers the opportunity to find networking prospects in a specific genre. Wedding and infant photographers are abundant. You can still book these types of gigs, however if you can offer something that others do not, you may discover more work.
The product you offer may cover a particular genre, such as sports, or even a style or mood, such as humorous photos. Or perhaps you are also a writer and can create beautiful picture books with family stories. Maybe you work in the medical industry and have the knowledge to create quality educational medical photography.
Where to find work
A note about wedding photography
With weddings, you get only one chance to do it right. If you have issues with your camera or memory card and don’t have the proper backup gear, you may miss the entire thing and damage your reputation quickly. If you are not prepared for lighting challenges or the chaos of working with emotional, opinionated family members, you will not produce your best work. Despite the fact that weddings are usually profitable gigs, many experienced wedding photographers recommend that you start as a second shooter with an established wedding photographer before going solo. Many part-time or freelance photographers are trying to get in the wedding game, but there are other ways to make money while you work on your skills and buying the proper gear.
It’s additionally important to note that the wedding market is seasonal, and business will likely fluctuate in the fall and winter. If you’re getting into this market, be sure to plan ahead and save for the off-season.
Other photography markets
Not interested in competing in the oversaturated wedding or baby market? Here are some different avenues you can explore:
Stock photography: You can begin your own stock-photo website or sign up as a contributor to popular sites such as Shutterstock or iStock. Pay may be low, but licensing is managed for you, and you can sell in volume.
Contract work: Some picture have obtained contracts that pay a set monthly amount to cover local events or to be on call. For example, perhaps your local tourism or business development department may pay you monthly to cover nearby events.
Commercial photography: All organizations need web images these days. You may be option to find work capturing images of their products or services, facilities, and even headshots of their board members and executives team.
Real estate: Oftentimes, real estate agents will contract with photographers to capture professional pictures of homes, business properties and land. They may also want you to capture 360-degree or interactive video footage.
Food images: Like each other business, restaurants need to have an online presence. You may discover ample work in helping restaurants create online menus and promotional images.
Music: Working bands need promotional images for their websites, CDs and media packages. Some additionally desire video of their live performances.
Paparazzi: To some people, “paparazzi” may seem like a dirty word, but someone needs to snap pics of the Kardashians in their less-than-flattering casual moments. If you live in a city such as Los Angeles, New York or Las Vegas, you may be able to make money from selling your celebrity photographs.
Prints: Some photographers have discovered success selling their prints. It’s a tough way to make money but worth exploring if it fits your genre. Prints can be sold online and in galleries.
Contests: If entering a photo contest is easy and doesn’t cost you anything, it may be worth attempting to garner a little extra income.
There is a lot to know about becoming an exceptional photographer and making money doing it. With skill, careful marketing and a professional reputation, you have a decent chance of creating a lucrative photography career.